How to Get Your Family to Clean the Attic: A Leadership Lesson

Meet Jeanine.

Jeanine has a really challenging change initiative in the works. Here she is in her own words:

“This may not sound like a big deal but I need to rally my family to clean out the attic before winter comes. We’ve got 25 years of stuff stored: Christmas decorations, luggage, the kids’ old sports equipment, and who knows what else. We haven’t been able to move around up there for years. Plus it’s really dusty and we’ve got mice and birds that moved in.

I’ve tackled organizational change efforts with fewer moving parts than this one! But I’m really committed to success and I know we’ll make it work. The thing I’m most concerned about are people problems. My partner isn’t that motivated to take this on. And I have no idea how to get the kids to want to help out.”

Great starting point for a successful change effort. The change leader is enthusiastic, fully committed and willing to do what it takes. For any kind of change effort to succeed—whether it’s organizing the attic or tackling a big project at work—the change initiator needs to demonstrate full commitment. Other people will look to her for direction and also as a source of motivation. Commitment is contagious.

But that’s only the first step. As Jeanine recognized, the success of change efforts has at least as much to do with addressing people issues as it does with the actual work itself.

The people responsible for implementing the change are the ones who will make or break it. They are the people working “on the ground” to sustain momentum all the way to success. They can also just as easily derail the whole endeavor by dragging their feet, acting out or having a bad attitude. 

Back to the attic project: What could happen if the partner doesn’t get fully on board?  Probably a whole lot, ranging from halfhearted support that rubs off on the kids to a sudden deadline at work on the day Jeanine planned to start. What if the kids are reluctant change implementers? One likely reaction is to cut corners when no one is supervising.  “Hey, let’s just shove these boxes in the corner. No one will notice them.”

While no strategy for dealing with people issues is foolproof, one thing that can help is to identify champions­—people who are really committed— from the ranks of those implementing the change.

How do you figure out the people to tap as champions?

Here are some clues:

  • Understands the purpose of the change effort and is able to articulate it to others in a compelling way.
  • Appreciates that managing the people part of the change is as important as task completion if you want to avoid getting derailed.
  • Accepts consultation from others about how to deal with challenges that arise.
  • Acknowledges how important their own attitude is, and recognizes that they are setting the tone by what they say and do.

Turns out that Jeanine’s 17 year old fit the bill perfectly!

Whatever area of your life is calling for a change, identify champions who will lend their full commitment to the effort. It’s a lot easier to get others on board from there.