Sales Management
The attitude bell curve and mental
toughness as business tools

by Bill Cole, MS, MA and Rick Seaman, MBA

   You have a brilliant idea for your company that will increase revenue and create more profits. There's only one problem. The employees who have to implement the idea aren't buying into your vision, so it isn't going anywhere. How can you get them to change their opinion and embrace your great idea?

The Attitude Bell Curve

   A useful strategy for managing change is to assume employee attitudes adhere to a standard, or bell curve, distribution. A small group of employees are highly constructive, deeply committed to the organization, and inherently supportive of management's change initiatives. Another small group is highly disruptive, deeply alienated from the organization, and inherently resistant to management's change efforts. Most employees are more or less neutral and remain to be convinced about the merits of any proposed change. A good yardstick is to assume 15% of the population is supportive, 15% resistant and 70% neutral.
   Unfortunately, the resistant minority is often both vocal and aggressive. Most employees know who the whiners and malcontents are, and carefully watch how management deals with them. If, as frequently happens, the resistant minority is able to distract or delay management's efforts to implement change, the neutral majority concludes management wasn't serious about the change, or even worse, that the vocal minority was right. The more management caters to the resisters, the more this group wields a virtual veto on progress. This is true because the resister's objections are usually not about the merits of any change, but a function of their alienation from the organization.

Selective Focus Begins the Change

   The key to change management is to ignore both the supportive 15% (they don't need convincing) and resistant 15% (they can't be convinced) and concentrate on the neutral 70%. If the broad middle of the population moves to the right on the attitude bell curve, change happens. That segment will move to the right if it sees that you are committed to the change and are no longer allowing the resisters to thwart you.
   What happens when the resisters see everyone else moving away from their position? For some, the isolation becomes too uncomfortable and they join the majority of the employees in implementing the changes. For others, the realization that they have lost their power causes them to leave, making both them and the company better off.

Mental Toughness: the Key to Bell Curve Management

   Why isn't this simple strategy used more often? It often comes down to the need for mental toughness from the senior leadership in the organization. Mental toughness is being able to maintain your interior focus, relaxation, determination and confidence in the face of extreme external stressors that should, by all rights, make you fail. It's performing at your peak under pressure.
   These three tenets are at the crux of mental toughness:

  • Exerting your focus where the impact is greatest.
  • Attempting to influence only the things over which you have full or limited control.
  • Letting go of the things you can't control.

   Our advice for the CEO, President, executive or business owner who wants to successfully manage a company-wide change initiative:

  • Be mentally tough. Show determined leadership and persevere under the most stressful resistance. Demonstrate that, in your world, the change initiative is a done deal.
  • Don't create more resistance than is naturally there by attempting to fight or control every aspect of your change initiative.
  • Don't take the resistance personally. Realize that the laws of the corporate jungle are operating and you can't fight human nature.
  • Handle the stress of the change process in admirable fashion, setting the standard for others to emulate.

   Be a savvy business leader who understands how change "really" operates, at organizational-intrapersonal levels, and manage that change by leveraging your mental toughness as a business asset.