By Guy Harris
If it has not happened already, the day is coming when you will need to implement a change that was not your idea and that you either do not like or at least have reservations about. As a new, front-line leader, that situation is incredibly difficult. You might feel stuck between your team and “management.” You might struggle to satisfy both your desire to do an excellent job as a supervisor and to be loyal to the concerns of your team. Frankly, it is a tough line to walk.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make the situation easier to manage. I cannot promise that the ideas below will remove all stress from the situation, and I do believe they will help.
Here are four ideas to help you more successfully implement the changes you do not like:
1) Assume Benign Intent – Beware of Negative Assumptions
When you have reservations about a change you have been told to implement, a perfectly normal response is to fill in any gaps in your knowledge with negative assumptions like:
- They do not care about the problems this change will cause for us. (“They” is the generic “they” who makes all decisions we do not like)
- They only care about making more money.
- They are dumb.
- They do not care about us.
I will not pretend that these assumptions might be true in some situations. The more likely case is that “They”:
- Do not have all the information you have.
- Have information that you do not have.
- Have limitations or constraints that you do not understand.
- Do not realize the level of difficulty it creates for your team.
When confronted with a change driven by someone else that is frustrating, irritating, or confusing to you, a better way to proceed so that you can more smoothly implement the change is to assume a version of the more positive assumptions during your effort to gain better understanding.
2) Get Your Questions Answered – In Private
Starting with positive or at least benign, assumptions, have a conversation with your supervisor to get a better understanding of the reasons behind the change and the desired outcomes. Ask questions, push for answers (respectfully, of course), and dig for deeper understanding. Express your concerns and frustrations. I suggest that you do this in a way that is focused on understanding the change rather than on objecting to it.
The “in private” part of this suggestion is a reminder to have this conversation in a setting that does not put your supervisor in an awkward position in front of your team. You want to have this conversation in an environment where they can be completely open and honest about any reservations or frustrations they have. Some teams have a high trust, and this is a minor point. Other teams have history that makes this conversation more difficult if several people are in the room. Remember to consider this dynamic before you start questioning your supervisor.
The more you understand, the better you can communicate the change to others and answer their questions.
3) Look for the Reason to Support the Change – For Yourself AND for Your Team
As a person who frequently notices what can go wrong before seeing what can go right with a change, I offer this next thought knowing that it is not easy for everyone. Here it is: focus on how the change benefits you and your team more than you focus on what it will cost you. (I know – easier said than done.)
Change acceptance is always affected by a cost-benefit analysis, and every change has both costs and benefits. If it costs more than it benefits you, you will reject it. If it benefits more than it costs you, you will probably accept it. Unfortunately, many of us tend to notice and focus on the costs more than on the benefits. By consciously choosing to look for the benefits, you might find excellent reasons for acceptance that you can highlight for your team.
4) Be Honest about Your Reservations AND Be Hopeful for the Future
Since change always has both costs and benefits, it is perfectly natural that you might have reservations about a change even after you have done everything above. When you go to speak with your team about the change, they just might ask you – directly – if you are 100% onboard with the change. I encourage you to be honest about any reservations you have while maintaining hope that everything will be okay. You might say something like this: “Well, I do have concerns about some of the details, and I believe we can work thorough those challenges to get a good outcome.”
As I said at the start, I do not pretend that these suggestions will miraculously fix strained relationships and make every change implementation go perfectly. I do think they are great starting points for improving your ability to implement changes even when you do not like them.