Give critics a chance to be heard

August 6, 2012

Q My team implemented a company-wide technology change and a small but vocal group of detractors is publicly criticizing the move which is thwarting uptake. How do I get their buy in?

A dissension is normal and creative conflict can lead to valuable improvements when harnessed. Invite the core group to meet with you and other key leaders to voice their alternate viewpoints. Have a few former resisters attend to explain how they overcame their doubts and the ensuing benefits they discovered by opting in.

Set the meeting tone by appreciating their willingness to attend and share. Explain the intended purpose and out-come of the platform change and reiterate that it is here to stay. At the same time, state your commitment to hear their feedback and ease their challenges during the transition phase.

During the meeting, keep the dialogue focused on issues, not on people.

Strive to hear the value, insight and good in their viewpoints.

Remain calm, neutral and objective. Resist judging their opinions or defending yours.

Let disagreements emerge, remain curious and open. Recognize that the emotional stress of any adjustment period can result in a need to vent. Most often people want their views to be heard, accepted and validated, they are not expecting your agreement.

While you may not convert all of the naysayers, your goal is to create enough safety and comfort for them to bring issues directly to you rather than the public.

Schedule regular followup meetings to ensure you remain on common ground going forward.

If handled appropriately, the staunchest opponents can become your greatest advocates.

Originally published in The Province, August 5, 2012

Try handling with care

May 9, 2011

Q: Due to economics, I am forced to revoke some employee benefits. My HR director says I should inform staff first. To me that’s pointless since they have no say in the matter and that would lead them to think they did. I believe it is better to play it low key and let them discover it for themselves. Who’s right?

A: Employees understand leaders are charged with making decisions they won’t necessarily agree with or support. Anger and resistance are natural responses to change. The only hope of getting staff on board is to communicate with them early and often.

Begin your message with empathy. Imagine a perk being taken away from you without being informed. Wouldn’t you feel disrespected and cheated? What would you want to hear?

What if you were told up front of the company’s challenging situation and how circumstances are forcing a difficult decision? You still wouldn’t like it, but you would be more likely to accept it.

Expose your thought process, the tough questions you asked yourself and how you wrestled with hard choices. This demonstrates that you didn’t take this lightly. Articulate three sound and compelling business reasons for making the change. Your explanations should address their likely questions so it reduces their fear, insecurity and objections. Hard news takes time absorb.

Staff want to hear the implications for them. Give them clear and specific information about what will be the same or different. Providing a forum to ask questions, express their concerns, opinions and feelings will clear the way to move forward faster, easier and with less resistance. Finally, offer them roles in the change because people support what they create.

Originally published in The Province, May 8, 2011.

Make change easier on staff

April 6, 2011

Q: My executive team spent six months working on some key changes for our business. The staff agrees it makes complete economic sense for our company and their jobs. But when we rolled it out they balked. How can I gain their support?

A: Humans are creatures of habit. Even when change is for the better, people often cling to the familiar because it’s safer than the uncertainty of the unknown. People typically move through stages of shock, denial, anger, bargaining then depression before reaching acceptance.

After planning for months, you will be at a different stage of the change process than staff hearing about it for the first time. Don’t expect them to jump on the bandwagon right away. They need time to absorb the impact.

Communicate your vision and its benefits so everyone has a clear understanding of where they are heading. Give them a forum to air their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly.

Staff need knowledge. How is this going to shake out? How will it impact me and my role? Address their concerns and expect resistance from about 30 per cent of your people. Recognize their counterproductive, negative or sabotaging behaviours. Minimize its influence on the 50 per cent undecided.

Approximately 20 per cent of your employees will be excited to embrace the change. Reward these supporters for their contributions towards the initiative. They have the ability to sway those who are taking a “wait and see” attitude. Encourage employees to get involved in the implementation. This creates ownership and increases commitment.

No matter how well you manage the process, some individuals will opt out. Let them go. Stay focused on your change leaders who will create the critical mass for organizational success.

Originally published in The Province, April 3, 2011.

Put the spark back into staff

July 19, 2009

Q: With sagging sales, our company is re-evaluating our five-year plan. My managers are concerned their jobs may be at risk, yet their motivation is waning. How do I reassure and re-engage them?

A: Even with job security down, disengagement is up. People are torn between knowing they must perform to keep their jobs, and the emotional drain of economic uncertainty. It takes fortitude to remain optimistic. You can re-spark your staff with a few simple steps:

1. Reinforce their value and worth. Recognize more than just accomplishments. Make every effort to point out how their actions positively impact the organization. Acknowledge their innate strengths and characteristics liberally.

2. Set up your staff to be successful. Be clear and specific about the expected outcomes, then give latitude and flexibility to complete the job their way. When feeling lack of control in one area, people need to feel in charge elsewhere. The freedom to be innovative and creative will empower and inspire them.

3. Invite input and collaboration. Under pressure it’s easy to revert to a directive style of managing, but it comes at a high cost. Take the time to include staff in decision-making, giving them choices wherever possible. When included, people become invested.

4. Build trust. Open, honest and frank communication is paramount. In uncertainty, silence sends people to imagining the worst. You can avert reactive behaviour with regular updates — and it is just as important to say there’s nothing new.

5. Support their development. Find out where they want to grow and make it happen. Web-based or tele-training, coaching, internal mentoring, mastermind groups or even a new project are cost-effective ways to build new skills.

It’s important in any economy to show your most valuable resources matter as much as the bottom line.

Originally printed in The Province July 19, 2009.