The Rule of 72

Heed the Rule of 72 when proposing big changes

I hate it when I don’t follow my advice. My own really, really good advice.

I was about to make a big announcement, an announcement that would change everyone’s life, and I ignored that advice.

In my consulting practice, I recommend the Rule of 72. As a leader, when a big change is being proposed, as much as you can, give people time to think about it.

I was selling my company and introducing my admin and marketing team to the new owners. They were being informed a day ahead of the sales team.

To say they were blind-sided was an understatement. They knew me. Understood me. I was their rock. And in a breath, they learned all that was going to change.

Selling a business is a tricky business. It’s complicated. If word of the sale hits the street too early, there is the risk of losing employees and clients. And if the sale does not complete, then the cat is out of the bag, creating unnecessary uncertainty for everyone.

The Rule of 72, the recommendation to give people time to change, is particularly relevant to the Green behavioural style people who like to start and finish a task without interruption. People who don’t like conflict and are resistant to change.

It is not unusual for these people to fill support roles. These were the people sitting in the room about to meet their new bosses, right after I tell them I have sold the business, their home-away-from-home.

In hindsight, I could not think of another way to let them know. We were tucked away in a comfortable restaurant dining lounge, everyone enjoying time away from the busy office.

Without notice, two strangers were in the room and I was tinkling my knife against my water glass, like a groomsman ready to toast the bride. My message was not up-lifting.

I felt the surprise, the feeling of betrayal ripple through the room, touching every one of my treasured employees — people who were my friends, like my sons and daughters.

Intellectually, they knew it was good for me. They could see the company had grown, was growing beyond what I could handle on my own. They knew my first right-hand man was getting ready to retire. My other right-hand had other aspirations within the company and they did not help my management responsibilities.

Emotionally, it was another story.

As I suppose is expected, over the next year, these valued talented people gradually found other opportunities. The company experienced the bumpy road of recruiting and training. And the unsettled nature of a business without its foundational people.

I later talked with one of the people affected and she quietly offered an oh-so-subtle change to my way of doing things.

“When you made the announcement, the new owners were in the room and had to hold themselves in check. If you would have announced to just our intimate group, they would have been able to express their shock, their grief, ask questions about how this applies to me?”

There may never be a next time, but there will be similar situations, I will remember to have more empathy — to pause and put myself in the position of the people whose lives are impacted by my decisions.

I will heed the Rule of 72.



Lifelong entrepreneur sharing tips on — and insights into — leadership development.

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Myrna L Selzler

Lifelong entrepreneur sharing tips on — and insights into — leadership development.