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You gotta love the SKEPTICS!

#NimbleVlog Season 1 Episode 6Building on the previous four episodes, ORCHANGO’s president & co-founder Edmond Mellina discusses the importance of the SKEPTICS when executing a corporate #transformation or rolling out an #innovation.…


Reading time: about 7 minutes

Ok, we are getting close to the end of the series of #NimbleVlog episodes focussed on the Ladder of Commitment & Resistance™, which is one of the tools that we use at ORCHANGO to work with and through the politics of change.

And we are left with the middle of the Ladder. With on one hand the SKEPTICS, and on the other hand the political WIND WATCHERS. Both of them are undecided at this stage. They don’t know whether to go up or down the Ladder. But what they are focusing on, how they are going to decide and the kind of traps that they represent for transformation leaders are very different.

Today, let’s talk about the Skeptics. The Skeptics are mostly interested in the technical aspects of the change. And right now, the reason why they are in the middle, is because they have concerns. They have concerns with either what you are planning to do in terms of the transformation itself or the innovation itself; or the way you are planning to roll it out. And the reason why they are concerned is because they care. They genuinely care about the “organization”. They may look at the organization the same as you, as a whole. Or they might just be focussed on their business unit or maybe on their tribe, their team. But doesn’t matter: they care, genuinely.

And the way theirs concerns are coming across, is by throwing challenges at you. The Skeptics keep challenging your plan; they keep criticizing some aspects of what you are planning to do. And this is the first trap. Because in doing so, they look a lot like the FOOT DRAGGERS we talked about during the previous episode.

So how do you tell them apart? Well, just go back to your guts feeling. If you are dealing with somebody and, after a few back-and-forth talking about some of the issues they raise, you have the feeling that they are just interested in throwing challenges at you, guess what: most likely this is a Foot Dragger. Conversely, if you are having this back-and-forth with somebody else and they seem to come across as genuinely concerned – and some of their concerns at least have validity into them – then most likely you are dealing with a Skeptic.

The second trap, which is one that I fell into a lot early in my career, is the tendency to avoid them. Why? Because as a transformation leader you are super busy. And that’s the mistake I made: I was busy, and they were frustrating me the Skeptics with all their challenges. And I didn’t have time for that. Therefore I was avoiding them. Big mistake. Because when they poke holes into your plan, that is actually a very good thing. So, through my mistakes, I learnt to love my Skeptics; and I learnt to go over my frustration and to reach out to them, and to work with them.

However, as we discussed in a previous episode, you have a limited amount of time and energy, therefore you need to be strategic in how you invest your time and energy. Therefore, focus on the influential Skeptics. So go out of your office, interact with them, ask them: “What are you concerned about? I need a better understanding of that. And let’s see what we can do together”.

Typically you have two types of concerns that they raise.

The first type are not really concerns; it’s more a communication issue. The way you explained what you are planning to do, as a result of your explanations which were not accurate or not thorough enough, they became concerns as a result of it. So just do a better job at it. Explain again, in a different way, and most likely these concerns are going to disappear.

The other type of concerns are very valuable. Because these are real issues with your plans. So when they raise this kind of concerns, thank them. Of course, it requires humility on your part, flexibility and a willingness to work in a collaborative way with the Skeptics. But if you have this kind of mindset, this is beautiful.

I’ll give you an example: early in my career, with my team we were working on a technology innovation. And we thought about how to roll it out through the different business units based on the business cycles that we understood of all these business units. And one of them, we knew they were super busy – peak season for them – July and August. So with my team – we thought we were clever – we said: “Hey, let’s implement this thing mid-May, this way by mid-July… mid-June, sorry… everything will be fine and they have two weeks and then they start to get into their busy season.

So I went to meet the business unit [laughing] and I presented our plans. And the Skeptics freaked! They said something like: “Hey Edmond, you’re right July and August is our peak season. But you missed an important point! Which is that June is when we are super busy to prepare for the peak season…” “Ooops…”

So I thank them for raising this very good issue and I said something along the lines of: “Ok, we have flexibility. So let’s work together on that. What would be better: we could do it earlier in the spring; or maybe if it’s better for your guys, wait [until] the back-end of the summer in September?” So anyway, we figured out a plan and we kept moving forward.

So, you won’t be able to always do that with all the concerns they raise. But if you are able to address enough of their issues, in a collaborative manner, well – the updated plans, now they have ownership on them; and they are happy because some of the concerns are gone; and typically this is enough for them to start moving up the Ladder.

And when you have an influential Skeptic who is moving to Helping, you want them to the top – to Campaigning – where they use their influence to get other people onboard. And we discussed how to get an influential Helper to campaigning mode in a previous episode.

But once you have an influential Skeptic that is now campaigning, this is amazing; this is magical!

Because think about it: in the eyes of the other Skeptics, even in the eyes of the Foot Draggers, or even in the eyes of some of the Torpedoes, a Campaigner that used to be a Skeptic has way more credibility than a Campaigner that has been campaigning from day one… someone that has been drinking the Kool-Aid. These folks have no credibility in their eyes. However, they are interested in understanding what happened to this Skeptic to move from Skeptic to Campaigning. That is why they have way more influence; they can be amazing partners-in-change for you.

So the morale of the episode is: go over your frustration, love your SKEPTICS, focus on the influential ones and work with them. And then magic can happen.

Next episode, which will be the last one [about the Ladder] before we move to other topics, the WIND WATCHERS. Very different. They don’t care about what you are doing. They are looking for something else. They can be very tricky, very dangerous, and they are [representing] different types of traps for you, transformation leader.

Stay tuned for the next episode of the #NimbleVlog!

Previous episodes in this series about the Ladder

Playlist with all the episodes

Headshot Of Edmond Mellina, ORCHANGO's President & Co-Founder

Edmond is ORCHANGO's president & co-founder.

He is internationally respected for his expertise in nimble change leadership and culture change. For the past 30 years, he has been executing strategic transformations, building agile capabilities, and advising clients across sectors in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

He is a former corporate transformation executive in drastically changing industries: CIO at Delta Hotels when Expedia disrupted the hotel business; and VP Corporate Development & General Manager USA for the technology business of Envoy Communication Group when design and marketing agencies started to become digital.

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