How To Sell The Change Story To Your Boss
by Greg Zabikow, Former Assistant Treasurer, EVRAZ North America
The only things that are guaranteed in life are death, taxes, and change. Given this reality you will drive the change, partner with the change, follow the change, or get run over by the change. Since being involved with the change process is beneficial to one’s success, leading the change can have a dramatic impact on your career results. So how does one go about leading the change process?
There are different approaches to change management. You can walk into your boss’s office and say, “I have the best idea to solve problem X” or “I have a new way for the company to save $X.” This can have mixed results.
You might get one of the following responses from your boss:
1. “Go do it and I would like it implemented by quarter end.” The pressure is on and you need to be able to deliver. Your boss expects you to have what you need, but more importantly expects you to execute.
2. “We tried something like this before and it did not work.” The door may be shut on talking about any new ideas related to this problem. You are done before you even started.
3. “Don’t you think we have thought about that before?” This puts your boss on the defensive. You need support from your boss to succeed with the change idea, so he may be turned off from the start.
4. “No, we have other things to do, and we do not have the resources for this newfangled idea.” Here your boss wants you to focus on what the team needs to deliver now and not allocate any time to things that are not already on the planned agenda for the year. Again this puts you behind in gaining the support needed for your project.
5. “What makes you think you can solve this issue?” There is doubt you are the person who can make the necessary difference with the project. This highlights the limitations your boss sees in you. Can you prove your boss wrong, or is your career path limited where you are now?
6. “Prove it to me.” The door is opened, but it could close quickly if you are not prepared.
It is the “prove it to me” response I find interesting. This shows you your management knows they need to do something regarding issue X, but are not sure how or if you can deliver the result. This can put you in a positive but challenging place. You have to show the change is good for the organisation, you know what is needed to make the change, and more importantly that you are the person who can lead the change to reality. I love this challenge.
However, to avoid getting the “prove it to me” response, which I believe puts you behind in leading your change objective because of all the proving you need to do, I have found a different approach to be more effective. It starts before your ‘change the world’ idea is shared with your boss. It is to build a reputation for being a person who can deliver on the change management process. The pre-work here is important if you want to be taken seriously as someone who can deliver on making change.
Create a consistent track record of doing what you say you are going to do. This is key since it establishes your credibility and demonstrates the value of your word. Your word and reputation are all you have. When you say you are going to provide a report tomorrow at noon, then you need to provide the report tomorrow at noon. If you are going to a meeting, be on time. If you do not want to do something, say no rather than yes and then try to get out of it later. Doing or not doing these little things impacts your creditability. The analogy I always share with my team is that your interactions are like a trust account. Every interaction is a positive deposit or negative withdrawal on the trust account balance. Over time you have a surplus of trust or a damaged relationship. Positive relationships are needed to accomplish changes.
Start with small changes for which you can fully control the implementation and approval for putting in place. By starting small you become familiar with the process of change management. It allows you to start with changes that if they go wrong will not damage the team or company. You learn a great deal about the change process. The change idea is only the first step. It is the implementation where the rubber meets the road. If you can work on something where you have the control and autonomy to operate, you can test the change, learn the process, and prevent a lot of attention on what you are doing. You want to fly under the radar with your change. The biggest barrier to change is that people dislike the process of change and conducting activities in new ways. We are creatures of habit. This is where the conflict starts in the change process. When I first share the change idea with others I expect them to hate it, say it won’t work, or question whether I can execute the change. Therefore, if you learn how to implement a change and manage the people side of the change, you will have a battle on two fronts that you will need to manage. Without the necessary experience to manage the project and people, your chance of success becomes lower or drawn out. You do not want your project to fail because it takes too long to execute or get going.