Managing Change: The 20/50/30 Rule

In this post, we talked about how to identify if you’re really a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to change, and how to change your Negative Nelly ways. Here, we talk about where to focus your energy during a change, which tools to use, and when to use them.

Who’s on Board?

According to management guru John Maxwell, the “20/50/30 Rule” is in effect when you implement a change. It looks like this:

  • 20% will embrace any initiative you propose.
  • 50% will be ambivalent about the change.
  • 30% will resist any initiative you propose.

DON’T waste your time trying to convert the non-believers! Focus your energy on courting the 50% who’re undecided and encouraging the 20% that’ll help you move the change forward.

How to Court the Fence-sitterschange

If you’re like other managers and practice owners, you probably underestimate the ways you can positively manage and influence change. Here are some tools you can use, along with advice about when to use them:

Connection to Strategy

First—and most important—is to connect the change to your strategic plan. Explain the “why” of the change in terms of your vision for the practice. Also show how the change will positively benefit clients and patients.

Use every single time you implement change.


Initiators (management) and implementers (staff) must have a good relationship to make this tactic work. Hold one-on-one and staff meetings, and educate with memos, presentations, and reports to increase buy-in.

Use when there’s a lack of information about the change, or inaccurate information is being spread.


If you involve the team in some aspect of the change, you can forestall or eliminate resistance. People do not argue with what they help create.

Implement when the initiators don’t have the needed information, or when implementers have considerable power to resist.


Support your employees, especially when fear and anxiety lie at the heart of resistance. If you’re a tough manager who cracks the whip, chances are you’ll overlook this method of courting the fence-sitters. Don’t! Facilitation and support means giving them training. It means giving them time off after a demanding period. It means being prepared to listen and provide emotional support.

Use this method when people resist because of fear of change and how the change will affect them.


A relatively easy way to avoid major resistance is to negotiate and come up with an agreement everyone can live with. It’s risky in terms of relationships, though, if all parties do not honor the agreement.

Use when someone will clearly lose out in the change, or where resistance is considerable and implementers have lots of power.


This method includes conscious structuring of events and handpicking information to covertly influence people. Usually, it involves giving an individual a key role in the design or implementation of the change. You’re essentially looking for an endorsement. Co-optation can lead to future problems if people feel manipulated.

Use when other tactics don’t work or are too expensive.

Explicit/Implicit Coercion

When time is of the essence and the change is unpopular, your only tool may be “forcing” people to accept change by implicitly or explicitly threatening them with loss of job or promotion possibilities. It’s speedy and overcomes the resistance, but it can also backfire.

Use when speed is essential and resistance is likely to be powerful.



This article is adapted from content in Shawn McVey’s presentations titled, “Managing Change and Growth” and “Manager’s Guide to Implementing Change.” To schedule Shawn to give this presentation to your group or team, contact Cindy Oliphant at 888-759-7191 or by email.

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