Some of the best advice I got from a senior leader during a Leadership Challenge 360 feedback process was, “You’re always three meetings ahead of everybody. Where you want to go is right for the organization, but you need to bring everybody along.”
I struggled with that feedback, until I actually tried “bringing others along” and saw how much more effective the change was, and dare I say, how much happier I was not being the pushy change agent, again. An even further slice of humble pie: the solution was way better than what I could have come up with.
You know the story. Large organization struggling with you-name-it issues: declining or stagnated revenues, new competitive entrants, customer service issues, etc. The usual first thing to do is either hire a consultant, or put together a small team of senior leaders, or both. Next, go through a strategic planning process to solve this problem. Next, unveil the exciting future to your organization with a “this-is-where-we’re going-and-you’ll-like-it” change management plan and in 12 months, problem solved.
Except that you and this small team are eons ahead on the change curve — you aren’t just on board, you are invested and passionate.
The other 99% of the organization that has to execute this change is at the bottom of the change curve, needing at least a year to grasp what it means for their jobs and their lives, if they think they’ll even have jobs. They didn’t even know there was a problem to solve. They cautiously wonder, “Aren’t we still going through the last change?”
Back to bringing others along. I understand why it’s not done more often, because I thought this myself: it takes too long to bring others along.
But, guess what? It actually doesn’t. It takes MORE time to go through a robust, strategic planning process yielding the best plan in the world, and then “change management” people into compliance over a period lasting anywhere from (from personal experience) a year, to five to seven years, or longer.
Bringing people along may or may not take as long, but you can guarantee the change goes more smoothly because it’s more engaging for employees. It’s the greatest demonstration of respect for their role in the organization. Essentially, it IS the change management plan — you don’t even need nearly as many change management resources the bring others along approach.
Either way, you still need to talk to people, right?
Let’s go back to that original scenario. Same problem, but instead of forming a small team of experts to solve the problem and “tell” the world what they need to do, spend six months getting the perspectives of every single employee and customer. Relay these findings to back to your organization. Next, ask for volunteers, nominations or have your leadership team nominate people throughout your organization to take part in a process that comes up with potential solutions, in the context of the current culture. You have to discuss culture strengths and roadblocks from the employees’ perspective or you’ll miss vital information.
You can find other ways that will work in your particular organization to bring others along. The real point is, the next time you need a strategy refresh or want to solve a problem, find a way to bring all employees and customers along on the journey.
To recap, the following are benefits of bringing others along:
- People feel respected when included in forming the future vs. seeing a team of purported experts solve the problems.
- Businesses gain better outcomes by including input from all employees (customers, too) — leaders really don’t have all the answers.
- It takes less time to change than with traditional methods. Even if it doesn’t, you’ve engaged people along the way through valuing what they have to give and practically eliminated the need for involved, expensive change management efforts.
- It’s a lot easier on you, personally, to depend on solutions and ideas from others vs. have all the answers yourself and exhaust yourself convincing others.
- As a by-product, you begin to create a positive culture of innovation and idea sharing, and ultimately trust.
“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” — John Buchan