This morning I was reading about a high profile group of business leaders who are supporting a change I want to see in business and advocate through my work. For a moment, I felt a wave of relief. I thought to myself ‘The cavalry have arrived to save us’. Then I reflected again on what the arrival of the cavalry means to Change Agents working to bring about change.
As someone who has been an organisational Change Agent and a consultant to Change Agents, I have seen the cavalry arrive many times in fights for change. Like the cavalry in old films they arrive late, but bringing the power to drive organisational change. In some cases, just like the films, the cavalry can be a saviour of a beleaguered team of Change Agents on the losing end of a battle. Unfortunately, even when they succeed in forcing change, the organisational heavy hitters arriving can have downsides. Here’s why:
Everyone stops when the cavalry arrives: when the official forces arrive, everything stops. Your supporters stop work expecting a quick resolution. Opponents hide out waiting for this to blow over. Nobody wants to discuss the change anymore because the cavalry will sort it.
The cavalry take charge of the battle: the cavalry are used to being powerful. They are used to winning their way. Usually they will tell the change agents to stop while they make the change happen. They don’t like distraction or initiative.
The cavalry fights a different battle: The cavalry have power. They arrive with a thunder of hooves and lots of weapons. They fight hard and fast and take no prisoners. A quick transactional solution suits their temperament. They aren’t interested in sustainability or buy-in. With power, it isn’t needed. They will definitely tell you everything you are doing is wrong.
The cavalry eat your supplies: all those men and horses are hungry. The goodwill, the momentum and resources of your change efforts will be commandeered by the cavalry. These precious resources will be put to work on the cavalry’s charge. They will also follow the cavalry to its next battle.
The cavalry win their battle but not the peace: the big surprise is to discover that the battle is soon over. You learn that the cavalry is not fighting for the same goal. They just look aligned and when their goal is achieved they declare peace. Sometimes they declare a new goal just to win and declare peace.
The cavalry charge elsewhere: Cavalry are always on the move. Trench warfare or a long resistance is not their style. They sweep people from the field and move on. When you need help to consolidate the fragile peace that they declared they will mount up and ride away.
So if you are a change agent, take care when the cavalry arrives. Use the opportunity wisely to advance your cause. Retain the power to make change and keep your relationships.
If you are a leader, ask yourself whether your efforts to help change agents feel like the interventions above. How are you building the capability to make change?