As a change agent, your role can be seen as meddling in another person’s area. Sometimes, the change takes place in another department and you’re influencing from the outside. In other cases, someone else is already working on a similar project, and you’ve been tasked with absorbing it into your initiative. Either way, your involvement is likely to incite the other person or group to protect their turf. As a result, you can be locked out of the very change you’re supposed to implement.
When your change encroaches on someone else’s authority, there are a few things you can do to avoid starting a turf war:
Recognize the threat
First, recognize how your involvement in their area will be perceived as a threat. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, describes the situations at work that trigger our brain’s automatic threat response, otherwise known as “fight, flight or freeze.” Among them are a loss of status and reduced autonomy. When the change you’re implementing takes responsibility away, or implies that a manager is doing something wrong, they may perceive it as a threat to their status. If they feel you are imposing change on them, it may be interpreted as a threat to their autonomy. Put yourself in their shoes to understand how your change will likely be perceived, and then work to reduce the threat you represent.
Provide support, not solutions
If you try to take over the change completely, making decisions and prescribing what the individual or department should do, you risk them digging in their heels. Instead, act as a partner, arriving at solutions together. Allow others to implement change in their own area, while you help eliminate obstacles and fill in the gaps in their abilities. Define collectively how you and others will work together, including how decisions will be made and how you will communicate. Reframe your participation as extra support for them, not additional bureaucracy for them to deal with. Then reinforce that point of view with your actions.
Avoid making a power play
If you have an executive sponsor, you can ask them to lay the groundwork by making an introduction, demonstrating support, and setting the expectation of cooperation. But imposing your delegated authority as your main means of influence by trying to strong-arm someone into submission will not win anyone over. Use your own and others’ authority as a last resort.
Change agents are often perceived as meddling in other people’s business. Regardless of the change, your involvement can create resistance. Mitigate turf protection by anticipating reactions, reducing the perceived threat, and by working with people in a way that they maintain some control in their own area. Then you’ll be seen as a helpful partner, not an interfering menace.
Looking for other ways to reduce resistance to change? Check out the Influence Change at Work™ Toolkit.