This excellent question is a growing challenge since most organizations face hyper competition and so seem hooked on instant answers and urgent innovation. Change agents, regardless of their formal authority, face enormous pressure to address everything that stands in the way of reaching the company’s goals. Or they often think they do.
I’d advise that we first clarify roles. Consider the tugboat as our agent of change. Tugboats help maneuver the much larger ship in tight quarters. It cannot succeed if it is at cross purposes with the captain and crew of the ship itself. The tugboat must pay close attention to certain fundamentals while the crew ultimately guides the ship.
So it is with organizations. As a CEO myself, I can confidently say that we count on the change agents within our company (RBB) to fight certain battles, while expecting management to run the business. Keep in mind that the unique culture and goals of each firm play a big part in this. Management steers. Change agents watch out for and fight against common problems that arise when the organization gets off track; they tug us to where we belong.
5 Battles Worth Fighting (by Change Agents)
The organization is counting on you to act when you see these things happen. Left unchecked, each of these situations can significantly erode otherwise remarkable progress. By no means is this a comprehensive list; to those in the org chart without formal authority it can, however, give license to speak up and do something. Be constructive and do your part to help “tug” the company back on course.
- When employees are treated like robots. Sometimes organizations can get so caught up in the pursuit of goals that they begin to leave the human side of things out of their thoughts. They may cut corners with communication, skip over HR policies (like posting open positions), or otherwise leave people in the dust. Even the best managers can rationalize by thinking they are too busy to slow down. But robots can’t rally around goals when we need them to… this is a battle worth fighting.
- When there’s a flavor-of-the-month track record. Constantly changing priorities is one of the fastest ways an organization can lose momentum. What often feels like strong leadership to managers and supervisors can be experienced as confusion and inconsistency elsewhere. The big warning sign for this one: people start to believe that there is no way to win. Talk with the key influencers and help the company make some tough but much needed choices. This is very important tugging!
- When resistance to change goes underground. We all know the insipid consequences here. People act overly polite and they avoid discussing the real issue. Camps or cliques develop. New forms of tension start to spread; managers are usually the last to know. As an agent of change you know that resistance is perfectly normal and even healthy – if it is both voiced and handled in a healthy way. Avoid choosing sides. Lead others to the icky place and if possible help work it through.
- When employees don’t know how a given change affects them. Most industries have been impacted by the recent economic challenges. Many people are now caught in a certain amount of “hunkering down” behavior – out of fear for their job. These same employees are often hit with ever-faster changes to their work environment… and yet they may not ask their real questions. When good folks don’t understand changes (whatever the reason), progress can be slow, mistakes high, and people can pull in different directions. This is another great time to climb into the ring.
- When the change is different than the culture. Your company’s culture may be based on the best design concept (like Apple), or perhaps it’s more about cost control (Wal-Mart), or maybe it’s highly team-based (The Ohio State Buckeyes). However your particular organization’s culture works, the changes that come along must fit with that style. For example – Apple embraces the best idea even if it makes a product more expensive, but Wal-Mart doesn’t think that way. The Buckeyes won’t run a new play unless the whole team can execute it as one. So be on the lookout for exciting new tactics and changes that don’t appear to fit with your culture. Then help by modifying the concept to fit better with your underlying culture – or it will face a long, tough battle indeed.
Warrior: When you are constructively facilitating the organization through the challenges I’ve outlined here, do so with confidence. You may be the best if not the only person to see the direct impact of these issues on your company’s performance. If not you, who? If not now, when? When the organization sees you fighting constructively and for all the right reasons, you will become the champion of change after all.
In Part 2 I will highlight 5 more areas where change agents like you need not fear to tread. How do you or your organization pick battles? Is there a situation out there that is deterring progress? Send me your questions and let’s continue this discussion!
Bruce grew up in a middle class family in the Akron, Ohio area that, like many families, was deeply affected by a loved one’s mental illness. Overcoming these daily challenges led to the resiliency and resourcefulness that helped prepare him to lead others as an adult.
Bruce counts himself blessed to share his life with his wife Donna and their three wonderful children: daughters Kelly and Kara, and son Kirk. As time permits Bruce enjoys golf, writing and learning how to live in the country.