Political Capital and Change Management

Political capital is the amount of goodwill you have. How you spend it will influence your ability to create change.

The next posts within The Fundamentals section will concern goal-setting, reform, and chance. But before we delve into those substantive topics, I’d like to introduce you to some important concepts in the change space. First, let’s discuss political capital. It’s the currency with which you will buy your change within your organization. You gain capital by helping and building others. The more loyalty you build amongst your board members, the easier it will be to get things done and the more willing they will be to do it. However, there will be times when you’re asking people to do things they aren’t necessarily keen on doing. In those cases, you need to spend your political capital. Depending on your relationship with each member of the board, you will have varying degrees of capital. In plain language, your political capital is the amount of effort it takes you to convince a person to do something they wouldn’t normally do, or in the worst case scenario, that they’re opposed to doing. The more trying the task, the more political capital it will require. Once you’ve run out of good will with a person, they’ll be significantly more resistant to your requests. Political capital will wax and wane depending on the initiatives you put into place. Spend it wisely.
Second, there’s a general rule about change management that you must understand…the greater the change, the more resistance you will encounter. For instance, if you institute a new policy that you will bring cookies to every meeting, I imagine that would be implemented without too much fuss. First, you’re not asking a majority of members to change their behavior. Second, unless you’re forcing people to eat cookies, people can choose to opt out or opt in to participating in the consumption. On the other hand, if you’re trying to increase team dues, you will likely encounter a high level of resistance. First, it will affect everyone on the team. Second, you’re asking for people to give up something they value. Of course, you’re planning on giving back value in return, but people, in general, tend to place more weight on near term tangible rewards as opposed to longer term less tangible rewards. However, you can also use this concept to your advantage. While a policy that is abhorred by all may be easily changed once someone in the leadership proposes it, the longer a policy is in place, no matter how uncomfortable, the less likely it is to change. People like stability and they get used to ongoing operations. Policies that create discomfort, but not enough to cause too much distress, will be tolerated and even promoted by members of the organization assuming that the policy has been in place long enough. “We’ve always done it this way.” is a very real and powerful reason regardless of legitimacy. So, this will affect how you will approach new policies. The earlier you can get a policy established, the more likely it is to stick around. On the other hand, be very suspicious of policies that appear to hinder an organization without a good mitigating reason. Often people have just been too lazy to change it, and you need to make a concerted effort to get rid of a rule that likely was not well planned in the first place. Of course, listen to legitimate arguments, but if there are none to be found, eliminate with ruthless abandon.

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