Should you Convince or Coerce People to Embrace Change? A Surprising Answer

Influence comes in a wide variety of flavours. Great salespeople use subtle methods of moving you towards a decision. Taskmasters use blunt force: coercion. When you need people to get on board with an important change in an age where people want to decide for themselves, what do you do?

Broadly, we can divide influence into two buckets: Authority and Influence. At first glance these seem like opposite approaches. Let’s take a second look.

In general, we ALWAYS want to persuade people about the merits of a change. To the extent someone makes their own decision to participate, they will be more committed to the cause. They will work harder and persist longer to support it.

Authority, on the other hand, enforces action regardless of what an employees thinks or feels. There is no ownership. You get compliance without commitment.

The right answer is that you need both.

Persuasion involves presenting evidence that a change is in your best interest. It requires a deep dive into employee perception of a change. What’s important to them. What are their and their top hopes and fears? Tap into a network of trusted employees that can give you honest insight. Armed with that information, you can tailor your benefit statements and weave them into your vision and narrative for change.

But what if they aren’t buying in? Time is of the essence. You may not have enough runway to convince them. That’s when to dial up authority. As a leader, your every move sends signals. Begin weaving authority words and statements into your communication:

  • This is necessary, mandatory, required
  • Avoidance is not an option because…
  • 100% success requires 100% participation
  • This direction has been endorsed by the entire leadership

Keep checking in with your network about how the message is being received and what concerns you can respond to. Share stories about where you are seeing success. Reward efforts towards change.

If resistance continues you may need to further raise the authority position by communicating consequences of non-compliance, applying consequences and/or exiting a negative influencer.

In summary:

  1. Seek first to understand – what are the benefits to employees?
  2. Lead with persuasion.
  3. Ramp up signals of power if needed. Never stop the focus on persuasion.
No one likes to be forced into compliance but sometimes a power play is the right play.
Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper


Please follow and like us:


Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.