Consensus vs. Critical Mass

One of the biggest challenges I see in our change management assignments is the struggle to get an entire team on board with transformation.

Let’s face it – the process is frustrating. Exhausting. I dare say exasperating.

My sense is that at the root of the struggle lies in how one defines the success of a change. Many organizational leaders set out with the noble goal of getting their entire workforce on side with their change initiative. The problem with trying to get absolutely everyone on board is that it butts up against everything we know about organizational change. In real life, things generally follows a change curve that looks something like this:



We also know that in large scale transformations, organizations typically experience a 20% turnover rate according to Prosci. The combined effect of both resistance and staff attrition causes a tendency to focus on those employees who oppose the change effort. This can be highly costly, as it often comes at the opportunity cost of reinforcing supporters of change, supporters who are critical to building social capital in driving transformation in a positive direction.

The lesson here is that the first step in implementing a successful change project is to be brutally realistic about what success looks like. The goal is not to attain the elusive ideal of consensus, but rather to achieve critical mass.