In an earlier chapter, I mentioned that it is often not a good use of your time and energy to engage with Enemies. It does not mean to do nothing, but you probably need to err on the side of indirect action rather than engagement. The reason for this is the combination of a poor relationship and open disagreement. When you’ve put someone in this box, remember that it is usually a provisional assessment and that the title Enemies is there to provoke your thinking, not label them as horrible people!
That said, with anyone here you clearly have some big concerns; and if they are powerful people, you will need to do something, and you will need to judge this one well. The general approach forms a mini process which offers no guarantees, but will at least give you a structure to determine what course of action is best for you.
- Recognise the detail of the problem and become determined to do something rather than avoid or dodge the issue (most of the other chapters in this book can help you here, but particularly the ones about conflicting agendas, understanding power and risk management).
- Seek wise counsel from your Advocates and friends to get their views and ideas about the problem. You can be open with them and get truthful input. They may well also be able to help directly in ways that you cannot.
- Carefully probe around your Enemy to test your theory of what is wrong. Then pull back and give yourself time to consider your options.
- Consider ideas which could reduce the negative impact they could have on your goal or the likelihood that they will be successful.
- Are there any opportunities available for you to build a better relationship with them? Many Enemies are actually people who don’t know you very well or understand what you are trying to achieve. Letting them get to know you at a personal level can make a remarkable difference, so it is worth a go.
- What can you change about your proposal which could shift the basis of their disagreement? If you can remove rational disagreement, that just leaves irrational disagreement – and nobody likes to appear irrational.
- Having considered these ideas, what’s your plan? Make sure you have a Plan B too and be ready to change course if things start to get worse. Test out your thinking with your Advocates.
- Keep your Advocates in the picture so they are ready to help spontaneously when they can. If they know you are about to go and ruffle a few feathers, they can be ready for an expected counter at the next board meeting and stop the counter-attack dead in its tracks. If they don’t know what actions you are taking, they may be unprepared and miss an opportunity to stop it.
And finally, be realistic with your hopes for engaging with Enemies. They always present challenges, and remember that if you are able to counter their negative impact with the help of your Advocates, that is often not only the most likely strategy for success, but also the least stressful. You would also be well advised to be graceful and kind when you succeed. Beating an Enemy can make them more determined next time – so tone down your victory parade!
Proceed with caution, but smile; you’re at the cutting edge of organisational performance. If you can turn an Enemy into an Advocate, your level of skill will be something to be proud of. If you can do this without bloodshed – awesome!
In closing, please remember that people move between the boxes for a number of reasons. They could shift because you made a mistake in your assessment, your engagement campaign works, something changes elsewhere in the organisation, or maybe they just reassess your goal and think it is worth backing. You cannot assume that these changes will always be positive, but you must stay on top of all these changes as you go. That is why the Stakeholder Influence Process includes regular reviews.