Lessons on change leadership from the Rolling Stones

Rock and roll can offer guidance when you’re feeling between a rock and a hard place in a seemingly disastrous change management effort. I speak specifically about managing expectations and that sage and London School of Economics grad Mick Jagger of Rolling Stone fame.

In the zillion articles and books and consultants’ thoughts about change management it’s commonly advised that it’s super important to get employee buy-in. Do it through communication, consultation, and cooperation–but never cooptation! Easy advice with hard application.

Employee feedback is all well and good until you’re taken seriously and flooded with ideas and suggestions. I know from my work in both the private and public sector that the thoughts offered from employees are not given lightly. They can be a very serious, heartfelt, and even an urgent call for help. The ideas coming forward show trust in management. Trust and hope that systems, structure, and behaviors will change.

And when things don’t change, or actions don’t meet expectations, the situation can be a lot worse than before. The fallout can be a radioactive and contagious lost of trust and faith in managers and leaders. Why does this occur?

Mick Jagger once wrote in a snappy song that “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need.”

The failure in a change process to understand and differentiate between “want” and “need” is one of the basic blunders of managers/leaders. First off, what does the workplace really need to succeed in its purpose? What do employees (including managers) absolutely need to accomplish that purpose? It can include various resources, training, and communication needs. What they want can be a fulfillment of emotional desires, ego, or other factors with little to do with achieving purpose.

The gap between want and need can be narrow or wide. It can certainly be different for each work unit. Successful change understands this difference and acts accordingly. In the end employees (and managers) through two-way communication come to understand that “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need.” And that is the difference between change leadership and change management.