Not Everyone Loves You

A Lesson from Politics

Politicians can’t overlook what the rest of us try our best to ignore; not everyone loves you. There are a variety of interests and opinions out there. A common mistake when managing others is assuming everyone wants to hear what you have to say and eager to support your vision. In any given group, some will love you, some will hate you, and the majority will feel indifferent. Leadership, like life, is full of diversity. We must recognize that all groups will include people with assorted attitudes towards the subject or conditions that brought the group together. Fortunately, we can learn to connect to this diverse audience if we identify and successfully relate to its three smaller subgroups: the love-group, hate-group, and swing-group.

When we address a group with the assumption that everyone loves us and forget about the fact that most do not, we should expect that only the people who love us before we say something will still love us after we are done. We must take extra time to think carefully about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how others perceive our actions, or we won’t see any positive, much less dramatic change, in attitudes. Taking on the hate-group is even riskier than assuming everyone loves us. It is a natural tendency to get defensive and react to the hate-group. We want to show them we are in control and that they can’t hurt us. Sadly, the more defensive we get, the more the hate-group will hate us and many of the swing-group will jump on the hate-bandwagon. By aiming our wrath at the most negative and vocal group, the undecided swing-group may decide not to like us and the unshakeable love-group may start losing confidence in us. The more defensive we become, the more likely we are to push change in the wrong direction.

When we act as if everyone loves us or conversely when we directly attack the hate-group, we fail to address the group with which we have the greatest chance of making a positive change. The largest group, the swing-group, is also the most persuadable. The swing-group, however, has its own special issues. They are fence-sitters. They are cautious before throwing their support behind any one or any idea. Suppose you are a manager who wants to persuade a business team to get on board with your pet project. Before you even stand up to address the team, you should mentally divide it into love-group, hate-group, and swing-group. Ask yourself questions like; “what will the love-group love about this project,” “how will the hate-group push back,” “what will be the common ground between the love-group and swing-group?” You’ll need to plan and appropriate set of messages and tactics for each group. Unless you do, there will be many people who won’t hear what you want them to hear. Incredibly, unless you are very careful in the way you reach out to each group, you will find that individual team members will translate whatever you say into what they want to hear and/or already believe. The messages people walk away with depend on their attitudes coming into the meeting. Psychologists call the phenomenon selective attention, selective perception, and selective distortion.

A Lesson from Advertising

Advertisers have been aware of this communications problem for many years. For example, in an advertising study in which loyal Coca-Cola drinkers watched a Pepsi television commercial and then loyal Pepsi drinkers watched a Coca-Cola television commercial each group recalled negative messages that were not in the advertisements. Many of the Coca-Cola drinkers said the Pepsi commercial communicated that Pepsi is just for kids. On the other hand, many of the Pepsi drinkers said the Coca-Cola commercial communicated that you can’t escape Coca-Cola; it’s everywhere and it’s always being pushed on us. Of course, neither of theses messages were written into the ads or intended by the copywriters. Neither group of drinkers said they particularly liked the ads for the competing soft drink. Each group came into the advertising test with a particular bias against they soft drink they didn’t like. In the same advertising study, researchers also switched the exercise around and asked loyal Coca-Cola drinkers to comment on the Coca-Cola ad and loyal Pepsi drinkers to comment on the Pepsi ad. This time each group, now talking about their favorite soda, had great things to say about the ads and product benefits they saw. But as one might expect, many of the positive product characteristics the survey respondents described were not shown or even implied in either commercial. As leaders, we need to remember that the love-group and hate-group see things through very different lenses. The challenge facing every leader is build on the positive beliefs of the love-group while at the same time finding ways to get the swing-group and hate-group to view policies, projects, and change with an unbiased set of lenses.

Focus on Love and Swing

To improve employee engagement and the performance of a business, make the love-group and swing-group your focus and do not directly address the concerns of the hate-group. We agree that the approach seems out-of-step with HR’s ubiquitous stop-start-continue activity. We are not fans of getting everyone in the organization together, including the vocal hate-group, allowing each employee to face down their manager, and stating what needs to stop in the organization, what needs to start in the organization, and what needs to continue in the organization. We feel there are better, more civilized, ways to create forward momentum in an organization.

Consider the following example. Several years ago, psychologist Tom Reynolds published an article describing a process that was used to motivate the sales force at Mary Kay Cosmetics. At the time, the company was suffering through a twenty percent decline in sales over the previous two-year period. Company records revealed that the drop in the number of sales consultants of the same period was the key driver in the sharp sales decline. The number of sales consultants went from a high of 250,000 to only about 100,000 just four years later. Company managers launched a research project to understand why so many women were leaving Mary Kay Cosmetics and why so few new people wanted to join up. In his research, Reynolds discovered that Mary Kay sales consultants had five distinct personal goals: (1) financial gain, (2) being one’s own boss, (3) having more time to spend with family, (4) achieving greater self-confidence and independence, and (5) attaining greater self-esteem by broadening personal horizons. Reynolds also discovered that most of the sales consultants leaving Mary Kay focused on the first two goals, financial gain and being one’s own boss. On the other hand, the sales consultants most likely to stay with Mary Kay emphasized the fourth goal, achieving greater self-confidence and independence. Considering the findings, company managers began emphasizing the ability of Mary Kay training and career growth to lift sales consultants to greater levels of self-confidence and independence. Earnings potential and ability to be one’s own boss were likewise deemphasized in the recruiting materials. A field test of the new recruiting and retention approach was conducted with several hundred women. In the test, managers saw recruitment success increase by over forty percent and consequently the program was rolled out companywide. During the next six years, the number of sales consultants increased by threefold and annual sales revenue increased from under $300 million to over $400 million. Focusing on the personally-relevant reason the love-group loved being a Mary Kay sales consultant and sharing that vision with the swing-group was an effective strategy for the company.

Compare the Mary Kay approach to what often happens; addressing the discontent of the vocal hate-group, in this case sales consultants wanting greater financial gain and a bigger, self-sustaining business. Mary Kay had tried to address the negatives, but continued to lose sales consultants. They could only go so far given the constraints of their business model. Putting all the focus on the negatives, i.e., the stop-start-continue process, gives power to the hate-group, robs energy from the love-group, and motivates everyone else in the organization to swing-over to the dark side. We have found that it takes a meaningful vision drawn from the love-group to engage employees and give them the energy to work hard at all those mundane things that must be done to keep a business healthy and growing, but which no one really wants to do.