Get Your Team To Embrace Change
I will never forget my first few months as a new manager, I had lots of changes to make but was not clear as to how to go about implementing it. I kept going to my manager to check if I could do literately anything (as if they knew what was right for my team)! At the same time, I was reading up on everything I could find on the subject, trying to get tips, strategies, toolkits, anything, to support me. Thank god Medium wasn’t available at the time! In retrospect, I never really found what I was looking for because what I was really seeking was the permission or the blueprint to get my team to come with me.
I see this pattern creep into many of the new managers I work with. Even when they have had experience leading teams, when you throw them into a new experience or environment, it is like they are back to square one. If you can relate to that well I am here to tell you that books are not going to give you the answer. A well written Medium article may provide you with inspiration but should not become your blueprint (think ‘Don’t Copy The Spotify Model), and when listening to talks at conferences or on youtube, be mindful of how much is usually filtered out in order to tell a good narrative. The bottom line is if you’re looking for inspiration, read on, but if you’re actually looking for a ‘yes you can’ moment, you will not get the permission you are looking for in other people’s work.
As a manager, you must find the confidence within in order to move forward with new initiatives that work for you and your team. You know what works for you and you are the only one that knows what will connect with your team best. What I came to realize in my early days of managing others was that the only way to learn and find a solution was to try something with them. Not read about it, talk about it, think about it, just do it! Leading the change would allow me to see how they would react and in exchange, I had to be comfortable adapting to them where I could. In order to have that level of comfort I not only had to be assured in myself but be clear on the outcome.
Instead of coming with a formulated plan of action I approached it with an MVC(minimum viable change). This was an inclusive process and brought the problem/needed change to the table and get their input on how we get it rolling. In my previous experience, new initiatives or changes would come top down and often what looked lovely as a high-level idea would be completely detached from day to day management and fail in practice. This not only puts a lot of added pressure on the managers delivering the plans they had no say on but also created a huge amount of frustration within the team. Thus reinforcing that notion that ‘upstairs doesn’t get us’ and expanding the gap between ‘management’ and ‘everyone else’.
Here’s are my principles of using an MVC to launch a new initiative:
- Be clear on ‘Why’: Share with the team the context to change, even if it doesn’t apply to everyone directly if you have a team that is close bring them all in the room. The ‘Why’ should always come from the person leading the initiative. The ‘Why’ gives the team a sense of purpose and clarity as to where the idea is coming from. Practical example: The Finance Team can no longer function in the way we are processing purchases. Too much time is being wasted chasing receipts and credit card orders. They are introducing a new payment processing system that will affect your workflow’.
- Be open to ‘How’: After introducing the ‘Why’ I then collate ideas from the team on how this change will likely affect them directly, both in a positive and negative way. After identifying the ‘cons’ to the new initiative we work one-on-one to work out ‘How’ they will overcome these perceived barriers, my role as their manager is identified where my support is needed and to facilitate the conversation between other departments. Practical Example: The Office Manager highlights that the new system will add more admin as the steps to purchasing have increased. We brainstorm how we can make purchasing more efficient by reducing a number of payments made. We quickly identify ways to reduce payments by setting up accounts with regular suppliers and bulk buying known items, as his manager I communicate this with Finance to get the ‘okay’.
- Be firm on ‘When’: Although you are finding solutions together it’s important that you have a clear ‘by when’ date in mind that you can communicate with stakeholders. The more traditional approach to a new initiative is in summary; ‘We are changing how we do ‘x’, get with it, kthxbye’. For those of you that have been on the other end of this approach knows how disengaging and frustrating it can be as it often does not take into account the day to day details. Allowing your team to feed into the process will take more time but make sure you can set them accountable to a realistic deadline. Practical Example: Finance will be rolling this out at the start of next month which gives us 3 weeks to plan and prepare. Can we have all identified barriers and proposed solutions outlined by end of next week so I can move them forward?’
- Align on ‘What’: Not everything your team would like to change will be possible and at times you will have to find a compromise. As their manager, you should be clear on what is a real problem with their workload and what is a ‘would rather not have to do this because I like things the way they are’. At the end of the process, you should all be aligned with the key changes, who is responsible and set yourself a date as to when you will check in on how it’s going. if you continue to get resistance agree to try the best possible outcomes (even if it’s not the most favorable) and agree to try it for 30 days, urging them to capture real-time issues that you can collate and review at the end of the trial. Practical Example: Unfortunately we are not able to make credit notes but we can increase the spending budget to $1,500 which will reduce your need to ask budget permission smaller items. Let’s try it for 30 days and see how it goes.’
You can apply this approach to almost every change initiative, especially ones that are likely going to be emotional like an office move or a change in workflow. Start playing around with it by practicing on a low impact initiative (it can be as simple as where will the team go for lunch.) As we all know, we are for the most part, resistant to change, especially when we feel we are not being heard. Take the necessary time to listen to your team's fears and concerns and get them to build into the process. You may not be able to adapt or make everyone’s workflow perfect but you will, for the most part, get respect for taking the time to listen, learn, adapt and most importantly, support them.