Should change initiatives ever be hidden from those who might oppose them?

The question makes the implicit assumption that the change would be positive for the organization as a whole even if not for all stakeholders. And, it’s very broad.

Does it include small changes that would force top management into micromanagement if they were to be involved or only more significant change? Does it mean hiding initiatives from political opponents in senior positions of power or from other stakeholders such as customers, partners or the organization’s workforce? exactly is been hidden – the fact that change is being considered and options are being evaluated or the fact that a decision has been made?

Irrespective of the details, the short answer is “no”.

I believe that in order to be a good leader people need to be able to trust you. Hiding change initiatives from those who oppose them undermines your trustworthiness. This makes my position not simply an ethical stance but also a pragmatic one.

Leaders (at all levels) need to respect an organization’s people. This includes those with conflicting opinions and, indeed, it is often these opinions that need to be heard and evaluated to ensure the implicit assumption is correct.

I’ve led change in different industries, in 9 different countries/cultures and, while it has seldom been easy, I have found that being open is the best approach. Rather than keep key opponents to change in the dark, include them. Listen to their concerns and involve them in making the change happen. This has the following effects:

  • If they have legitimate concerns, they are heard and can be taken into account
  • They have less time “outside the room” to work an undermining the initiative
  • As things progress, their involvement detracts from their ability to oppose the change

Don’t compromise on objectives or timelines (unless it really makes sense) but stay open to strategic learning. You won’t always win over opponents but that’s not the objective, the objective is to implement the change.