I’m often told, “Your insight on leading change is great, but my boss is used to doing things the old way. How do I deal with this?” Here are some ways to help them learn a new mindset re leading change, bit by bit.
Ask questions. Let’s say the leaders plan to decide the change and hand it down to everyone. As part of brainstorming we might ask, “So, in any given organization, who’s most likely to know how things actually work? Is it those closest to the action, or those further from it?” It becomes self-evident that the answer is NOT “those further from it,” (a.k.a. those around this table). We can be ready for this realization and help move the conversation to how we might reach those closer to the action and get their help (and buy-in). It’s not about keeping secrets, by the way.
Tell a story. Let’s say the boss says something like, “OK, now that we’ve designed the change, it’s everyone else’s work. I’ll watch from the sidelines.” We might tell a story. “You know, I’m reminded of a company that was trying to add a new core value, ‘Continuous Learning.’ They did all the communications work, they even re-jiggered their annual reviews to include continuous learning. But what got them really over the line was something that the leaders did. Each month at their town hall meetings, a single leader would get up on stage, alone, and they’d share a failure from their past and how excruciating it was. And then they talked about what they learned by failing. By getting their own hands dirty, they made it clear that you don’t make it here if you’re not a continuous learner.” Stories are powerful; my book has three dozen of them, including this one.
Touch Their Senses. A couple of other stories in my book tell how sensory experiences can reach leaders on another level. In one case, a headquarters purchasing manager was trying to convince far-flung leaders to centralize some purchasing work. He studied one common item—gloves—and found that different units were buying 424 types of gloves and paying anywhere from $5 to $17 for the same exact gloves. He didn’t share this in a PowerPoint. Instead he purchased every single glove they bought, put price tags on them, and stacked them on the usually-pristine Board Room table. He invited the division heads to a meeting in the Board Room. When they showed up and saw, smelled, felt the gloves, they were gobsmacked. They agreed to change this. Our senses speak to us.
Know More. We may be in a role where we know our craft but don’t really understand the company, the customer, the market, the history as well as others around the table. This is holding us back, and we deserve it. I once dedicated myself to learn a changing company I was helping to lead. I found a way to pay for some trips and went to several new locations, and I listened. I suddenly knew more about so many aspects of this company (vs. others on the leadership team) that I now had everyone turning to me for my advice on culture change issues. Know more.
Model it Ourselves There’s nothing that gets leaders’ attention more than being outdone, so when we model the change ourselves, those above and beside us take note. They may think at first we’re silly for parking with everyone else (or the modern day equivalent), but pretty soon they realize they’d better model the flat organization themselves (or whatever the change is), or they’ll look bad by comparison. We might not be the most popular person among the leadership team, but we’re respected for our integrity, and our organization is changing!
Let me know what you think. I look forward to being in touch.