Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Clint Eastwood school of change

Change is hard, change against people who don't want to change is extremely hard bordering on impossible. In any change programme therefore you need to be clear about what you are up against and what success looks like.

This is where Clint Eastwood can help. Sure Chuck Norris can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head but Clint Eastwood has many more lessons on delivering change in difficult circumstances and presenting different approaches.

This isn't for the collaborative occasions when you need to work with people, Clint isn't very good at that. This is for the occasions where you need to overcome people who are actively working against you and the objectives of change.

So what does Clint teach us? First off he teaches us that there are different types of people who we need to overcome.

There are people in authority who are abusing their position to make sure the change doesn't happen and are instead driving their own competing change agenda(Pale Rider).

There are people within a given group who are working against you (Gran Torino)

There are people who operate in a different management structure and are using that independence to try and prevent change (Unforgiven)

And sometimes there are people who need to be run down and shot because they are never going to be part of the new world (several films)

The point here is how does Clint deal with these challenges? The answer is that there are some obvious similarities and a few key differences.

Firstly the similarities.

Clint never gets angry, at least not against the people who are targeted as the blockers to change. This is a really important lesson. If people are blocking change you really can't just shout and scream at them, it doesn't work and just makes you look impotent.

Clint is focused. Clint doesn't have a huge number of approaches to deal with the situation and he never runs into the situation without significant amounts of planning and thought. This means that when Clint decides to take action he has already determined what the outcome he wants is, and then makes sure that it happens.

Clint is talented. Clint makes sure he is the big guy in any engagement, this doesn't mean shouting his head off it means making sure that he knows exactly what he needs to do and making sure he has the skills and resources to deliver against it. Clint makes sure that what ever the other guy is doing that he has the skills to adapt to the situation and make clear that he is in control ("Do you feel lucky? Well do ya punk"). The point here is that Clint backs his ability against his competition and this is a core way that he ensures the right outcome.

Clint is clear and concise. Why say 100 words when a stare or a grunt will do? Don't waffle, don't prevaricate , just make it absolutely clear what you want and how you will achieve it.

Now the differences

There really aren't that many, its really about how the similarities are applied differently.

The point here is that these key Clint lessons are how anyone should be looking at difficult change where you have a group of people who are adamantly set out against you.

Know you facts, know what they know, know what you want and concentrate on achieving that.

The lesson of Gran Torino is also that losing a battle can also be winning the war. I've had a number of experiences where you pull people into a "Road Runner" moment, i.e. you draw them to a point where they think they have won, then as the dust clears they realise they have stepped off the cliff and are about to fall.

The lessons of the "Dollars" films is that sometimes you just have to face it that people won't come on the journey and they need to be sidelined or exited. Don't try and get them on-board, its pointless, just work out the easiest way to eliminate the,

The lessons of Unforgiven are that people in groups often act in an uncoordinated way if you attack them individually. Don't go for the overall group, work out individual weaknesses and use that to drive the group apart.

The lessons of Pale Rider are that coordinating those that do support change behind you (also known as the Magnificent Seven approach) and using your focus and talent can overcome the larger but over-confident blockers.

Change programmes come in lots of guises but often you'll find yourself come to a moment where you realise that there is a group of people who just won't be coming on the journey with you. Then you've got to ask yourself the question

What would Clint do?

Technorati Tags: ,


Alistair said...

Brilliant! thanks for that. Perfect reading for the morning cuppa.

Jason said...

Very entertaining and memorable metaphor. Rising and Mann's book, Fearless Change..., also includes some good patterns for change agents.

Unfortunately they don't including any tips on sneering or blowing people away.

BigJ said...

Well written. I still refuse to be assimilated.

Daniel Spangler said...

Now you just have to hope that the people you are trying to change don't read this and figure out your methods. :)

Colin Jack said...

Great stuff as always, I have to admit keeping my temper is one thing I'm very poor at but I'll have to start trying to be more like Clint.