Demographics demand change.
With birth rates decreasing, the shrinking group of taxpayers will be unable to fund the pensions of retirees. It’s a problem facing every country. There are many solutions to the problem, but all of them carry a degree of pain. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, chose the arguably least painful option: increasing the retirement age by two years.
And now the riots. Why?
Whenever you take away something that people see as a fundamental right, people will resist. It was a completely predictable result. So what should a leader do? They can back down as has happened for many leaders trying to force employees back to the office. Or they can press on.
Mr. Macron chose to dodge parliamentary approval of the change using special constitutional power to force through the legislation.
Point #1: Sometimes difficult change must be coerced. Some change has little or no upside for stakeholders. It’s going to hurt. A lot. Buy-in is unlikely if not impossible. At that point, a leader may choose to make it policy, to introduce consequences for non-compliance, and push it through. Safety regulations that slow down work and approvals are a good example. People don’t want to be slower, but leaders deem the risk of non-compliance great enough to force the change.
Point #2: Coercion will come back to bite you. Macron is facing a vote of non-confidence. While he is unlikely to lose that vote, a new tone has been set. Stakeholders will look for every opportunity to oppose him. If not now, then when it’s time to vote.
Here’s the punchline from my new book, where I dive deeper into the cost of coercion:
Point #3: Buy-in is best. As leaders, we always strive to help people choose change for themselves. Internally driven motivation is the strongest.
To achieve buy-in for tough change, we must make the reality of the need very clear, drawing a strong connection between the change and the benefit to every person: clients, customers, community, and country. The pain has to be worth it.