Sep 18 2018
How many times has a new initiative born in the executive office fizzled once it hit the ground because employees couldn’t get behind it? Sadly, this is pretty darn common. Each person is motivated by different concerns and values, and if a company doesn’t take the time to build consensus within its ranks, new initiatives can be doomed to fail. The key is recognizing that employees make decisions based on self-interest. This doesn’t make them selfish jerks; it makes them human. Think about it: how often have you made decisions intended to harm you or your family? Not too often, I’m guessing.
Create a Culture Where Employees Can Politely Say, “WTF?”
Before we dig into how to help people accept a new paradigm, let’s back up. Long before any new initiatives are introduced, companies first need to establish their core values and create a culture of trust. You may have heard the axiom, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s true. Creating a culture where change can take root is important. One way to do so is to foster transparency and innovation–allowing rank-and-file employees to share ideas and/or provide respectful, constructive criticism without putting their jobs at risk. Companies who invest in teaching employees how to effectively communicate differences of opinion create a culture where healthy discourse can happen. Change is often perceived as a threat, so if people know they can share their concerns openly, they are more likely to get questions answered and fears allayed.
Ask for Feedback–Then Use It
Let’s say you, as the CEO, have created an emotionally safe working environment where employees can say what’s on their mind. This does not guarantee they’ll like your new idea. Now you must figure out how to get buy-in, but how? Well, let’s look at why you like this new initiative. Have you had any part in creating it? Do you feel some ownership? Most likely so. People typically feel more vested when they’ve had a role in creating an initiative. Is it easy to create an initiative with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of employees? No. But is it worth the effort? Absolutely.
Before you craft every element of the new initiative, consider asking for input. Be clear about the problem you’re solving so people can share creative solutions rather than simply polishing those already offered. If critiques hit the mark, acknowledge them, even if you don’t have a way to address the newly identified problems yet. If feedback improves the initiative, share that information. It’s not enough to ask for feedback and incorporate it. You must let people know you’ve done so.
Pay Attention to Haters
If you have intransigent opposition, it may be worth seeing whether it is the initiative itself or something else that’s bothering people. Are they afraid of the change? Are they actually upset about something else and using this as a surrogate? Or, is the business case for this initiative simply not as strong as you first thought?
Having consistent internal and external messaging (i.e., telling employees the same thing you tell the public) reinforces trust. If your internal audience (employees) can’t get on board, it’s probably worth slowing down the new initiative’s implementation and public roll out. When executives get excited about something, they sometimes forget to make time for the process of creating buy-in, assuming employees will agree on the obvious merits of the new direction instantly. This is a dangerous mistake, one that can cause the initiative to fail.
What Next? A Few Resources
Depending on where you are in the process, here are a couple books for teaching employees how to have difficult conversations:
If you want a facilitator to help build consensus, Heather Paulsen Consulting can help.
If you’d like to create a culture of transparency and trust within your organization, call me. I’d love to help. It’s easier than you think.