Q: I work on a team that is responsible for helping identify and implement process changes in our company's operations group. There are some people who are very resistant to our role, even, sometimes, sabotaging our efforts. What can we do to overcome this?
A: Leading change takes a lot of effort and may require multiple strategies.
THE INNER GAME
Start with the big picture. What is your company's vision? Why are the changes needed? It's easy to get stuck on the day-to-day details, so refresh your point of view by remembering the real reasons for the work your team does.
Now look at the company's dynamics to determine whether there are organizational politics at play. If you don't understand this, your work will be much more difficult. Take the time to map out the teams that are involved, noting what they will need to feel successful.
Move on to the individuals. Who are your allies and opponents? As with the teams, understand what each person has at stake. Process changes can be perceived as taking away opportunities to influence or control outcomes, and can raise fears that existing knowledge will become irrelevant. And you should never underestimate the power of fear to drive behavior.
Do some self-reflection as well. Overall, how skillful would you say your team is in creating a collaborative environment for change? Be sure you have the tools you need to encourage adoption of change, as well as the authority to require it, if appropriate.
THE OUTER GAME
Start by making sure your team is on the same page with your approach to process improvement. Take some time as a group to consider your process. To be successful, it needs to be inclusive (as opposed to just top down), predictable, and goal-focused, avoiding change for the sake of change. If it's falling short in any way, get that cleaned up before you go any further.
You also need to be in alignment with leadership. Once you're sure about the goals of the change, clarify the level of priority it has and the amount of authority you have to drive change. Have your executive sponsors lined up. Not only can they hold people accountable, even more importantly, they can inspire based on their vision for change.
As you move forward with your next project, emphasize communication. If it could be a contentious project, plan to invest time in meeting with people one-on-one to hear their points of view and understand both their hopes and their concerns. If you can do this before the kickoff meeting, you'll avoid unwanted surprises and help get the project off to a good start.
Be willing to not have the answers. It can be uncomfortable to let people struggle to find the right approach. But if you know that the desired goal is a more streamlined claims payment process, for example, guide the people with most investment and knowledge in finding the right steps. You can serve them better by challenging assumptions and asking provocative questions.
THE LAST WORD
Communication, planning and respect can help turn change resisters into advocates.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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