It is common knowledge that in order for your change initiative to grow beyond your own span of influence you need leadership buy-in. The truth is you need much more than approval; as a change agent you need leaders in your organization to take action that supports your initiative.
The trouble is, leaders often don’t do what is needed to implement change, even if they agree it should happen. You may think, If only they would (fill in the blank), you would be able to make some real progress.
This lack of proper leadership support is the top challenge for most change agents. It frequently stays that way because change agents get stuck by the following traps.
1. “It’s not my place.”
Allison was a supervisor who had been given a special assignment to implement the recommendations that resulted from an employee survey. The biggest roadblock to improvement, she decided, was her boss’s boss, the very person who had commissioned the survey. Allison’s boss agreed but would not do anything about it. “What can I do?” Allison asked, “It’s not my place to address the issues with my boss’s boss.”
The organizational hierarchy can seem like an insurmountable hurdle over which to affect change. When the person whose support you need is outside of one degree of authority, it can seem like political suicide to attempt to do something about it. From this position of helplessness, it is easy to get stuck hoping he will figure it out on his own.
2. “That’s just the way they are.”
Dan was a senior manager who worked directly for the CEO. Dan’s key initiative to improve the company was to develop and solidify accountability to procedures. The CEO, while supporting the initiative verbally, did not want to abide by procedures himself. It was the CEO who had embodied the previously lackadaisical culture. “I can’t do anything about it. That’s just the way he is,” Dan lamented.
We often assume that the behaviors of others reflect an inner character trait. This assumption is so common that psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error. When you consider that someone will not support you because it is part of his DNA, of course you would automatically chalk it up as a lost cause. You get trapped knowing it is impossible to change someone else.
3. “He just doesn’t like me.”
John was a project manager who needed key data from the manager of another department. However, John’s phone calls and e-mails requesting the information were repeatedly ignored. John asked his boss to request the same information, and it was immediately handed over. “Maybe she just doesn’t like me,” was John’s reasoning.
This trap is the mirror image of the fundamental attribution error. Instead of thinking the lack of support is caused by her character, you think the lack of support is your own fault. Whenever you interpret her behavior as a personal slight – she doesn’t respect you, she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t trust you – it traps you with self-doubt. Insecurity is a lousy place from which to exert influence as a change agent.
Allison, Dan and John are composites of real change agents who were stuck. But none of their traps were inherently real. The traps were assumptions they made about the leaders and the organization.
The first step in getting out of a trap is to recognize that you may be in one. Separate the facts from your assumptions about them. From there, you can select a new point of view and step out of the trap, so you can find new ways to get the support you need to implement change.
You can get the support you need for change!
Start with the Influence Change at Work™ Toolkit, which has an entire section devoted to gaining leadership support.
Or, for more hands-on help, please contact me to see how we might work together.