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Change Minds, or Change Will Fail: 5 Steps for Winning Employee Acceptance

March 7, 2022
A Ford lean master shares his strategy for turning skeptics into believers on new initiatives.

When people don’t accept new objectives or programs, those initiatives fail. A command-and-control approach will only bring compliance during the “attention period”—when you have a captive audience. As your audience’s attention fades with competing priorities, so do compliance and acceptance. 

The good news is, you can strategically cultivate acceptance or buy-in with an approach called the Circle of Influence. It consists of five components: acknowledge, listen, agreement, rethink, and closer.  We’ll go over those components, and then we’ll share a shop-floor example of this approach in action.

Acknowledge – (Respect)

At the start of a face-to-face conversation or a presentation, it’s crucial to acknowledge your audience. Introduce yourself; engage the audience in conversation about themselves; do not jump right into agenda conversation. If you show that you are engaged with them and respect their time and opinion, they are more likely to be engaged in what you have to say. Acknowledgement conveys relevancy for individuals or groups opinions and stances. In her book “The Power of Acknowledgement,” Judy Ulmas reveals how underutilized acknowledgement is among individuals and how powerful of a tool it can be.

Listen – (Support View)

Individuals showing passion around a topic require time to express their views and opinions. Take a step back and give them ample time to express concerns and reasoning. High-quality listening allows speakers to see both sides of an argument. Refrain from defending or justifying the opposing view. Strategically allow your audience’s expression of their view(s) and defer your points to later in the conversation. Listening is learned and should be practiced in a variety of situations. Passion around ideas drives impatience and escalates defensive dialogue, driving a deeper separation between individuals.

Agreement – (Do not try to justify)

During the listening session, provide agreement and acceptance of the individual’s case. Continue to vocalize your support and supplement that with your body language. Such as nodding in agreement, eye contact to show concern, etc.  Showing agreement with the individuals’ understanding of the concern helps you gain their respect. As they continue the discussion and express their reasoning, it is very important to let them understand you support their view.

Rethink – (Change Mindset)

Successful influencers utilize the above methodology to create an environment for individuals to rethink their views. Helping them realize some of their errors in judgement without explicitly stating that overcomes emotion. Once their emotion is neutralized, providing evidence improves their rethinking stance and helps drive change in opinion.


Simply saying “thank you” is so overused; its impact is minimal. It is crucial to supplement your thanks by making it personal and acknowledging individuals’ extra effort. Highlighting some of the contributions in dialogue helps drive a “One Team” agenda. 

Case Study in the Circle of Influence

A technological-solution proof of concept (PoC) was in the installation phase, but team members did not support the concept and did not want it installed and implemented. Their support was very minimal, and each time leaders tried to get engagement, they were met with resistance. This situation, if not resolved, was very likely to fail, even if the solution was great and useful for the team. Realizing the situation, I decided to visit the location and have dialogue with the users.


Walking into the location, I decided to take a strategic approach and assess the situation. As I approached a workstation, the operator immediately greeted me with, “This is not going to work!” When I asked why, he stated that he does not have time to talk and that he is training someone. I responded that I understood and told him that I plan to just look around. Understanding the passion the operator showed, I hoped, would encourage the operator to have additional dialogue as I hung around the area.

After a couple of minutes, the operator approached me and followed up on his statement. I asked his name, years in the organization, and other work-related information. During this acknowledgement phase, I also obtained critical information to further use within the circle of influence. One thing I learned was that the operator is a seasoned employee who has worked in several other facilities that the company has idled.

State Your Case

Embracing the art of listening, I allowed ample time for the operator to state reasons why new technology is “not going to work.” The operator stated several reasons, from the technology being difficult or use to that there is no need for it. A comment I consistently hear around technological implementation is fear around being replaced. Losing their position or an added workload is a major deterrent for employees to accept and embrace technology.

Value of Opinion

During the operator’s explanation of his reasoning for failure of equipment, I continued to verbally show agreement and supplement my support with body language. As the operator was explaining obstacles to implementation and value—and seeing support for his point of view—his perception changed from me vs. you to us vs. them. As I sensed this migration, he started to add more reasoning why the implementation is “not going to work.”

Plea the Case

Allowing ample time for opposing opinions to be explained in detail is a requirement before proceeding to discuss another point of view. I then started to adjust the conversation gradually, first explaining to the operator the proof of concept: to assess feasibility of solutions. Immediately the operator jumped in and said, “I do not have any issues here and do not need technology.” I then explained to the operator that his expertise/skillset is the reason no issues exist. Since he has perfected his task, this technology would not benefit him, but since things are running great, this is a perfect place to prove out any advanced solutions. If concerns arise, his expertise would be helpful. Who would go against someone referring to them as a highly skilled expert?

In addition, I emphasized the importance of being ahead of the technology curve and its impact on the facility’s longevity. Longevity of facility was one of the operator’s critical concerns early on in the conversation. I highlighted some personal experience and some consumer product companies that did not survive the solidified embracement of technology and the future. The operator immediately started to warm up to technology and started to point out some changes required for successful implementation.

Seal the Deal

Thanking the operator and highlighting some specific insights he provided helped solidify respect for his opinion. The operator stated he still does not agree with implementation but understands the need for longevity of the facility. He apologized to me for his initial approach, extended his hand for a fist bump and told me to come out anytime.

The above outlines a methodology for creating an environment to help influence a different viewpoint. As with any methodology, progression through the phases is not linear and is blended based on situation. Each phase is additive and helps transformation of one view to another. The goal is to obtain some neutralization of idea. Interaction might require several attempts to accomplish embracement and support.

Saso Krstovski is a lean manufacturing Master Black Belt at Ford Motor Co.

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