When you are young change can’t happen fast enough. I know, cause I’ve been there myself. In fact, I am still there, each day I go to work. When we have an idea we want someone else to sign on to it and get it going.. pronto. We have no patience for indecision, politics, and patronage; in fact, just trust me.. the change will work just fine so let’s just skip all the formal research, evaluation, and meetings. Well…… it don’t always work that way.
There are many kinds of changes.. some can be simple requests ranging from, “Can I move the outgoing mail bin to the other side of the room?” to “How about I take my break 15 minutes earlier so I’m available for customers?”. These requests are usually up to your immediate supervisor/manager. Other more complex change requests can involve other departments or even the way a company conducts business. For the sake of my list here let’s presume you want to make a change that goes beyond your own workstation.
So given all my years in business, working for others and myself (the toughest SOB I’ve ever worked for, by the way), here’s my list of ways to affect change in the workplace.
1. Do Your homework. Yes, you may have the greatest idea in the world but you need to realize that any idea is a lot more than just, “I think the company would be better off if we sold widgets with the batteries included.”. You are going to have to…. (remember this from your school math days…) show your work. This is what they call “championing an idea” (an 80’s buzz word that still applies).
2. Understand that affecting change likely requires diplomacy, yes, some politics, and maybe a lot of compromise. Your communication skills will be critical. If you lack these skills.. see point #4, below.
3. Expect the research to present your idea and give it credibility is going to take time. While this concept is like fingernails-on-a-chalkboard to change agent wannabes it is a good thing as it makes people slow down and look at the greater picture. It’s very likely that this time will not necessarily be bestowed by your benevolent supervisor as a portion of your normal workday. Very often this time is extra… above and beyond, or you have to fit it in your normal work routine and not slack on your regular duties.
4. Try to find allies to your idea. Your first ally should be your boss. Include him/her in the process and treat him/her like a partner in the idea. Schmooze your boss with the idea that there’s enough credit to go around, yada yada… whatever it takes to get him/her on your side.. and hopefully to allow you time to do the project. He can open doors on his level if needed and if you can swing it, you can drop his name while interacting with other departments to imply your research might be an offical query from someone higher on the organiztional chart. If the research for your idea carries over into other company “kingdoms” then activate the informal chain of command and spin a few “what ifs” about your idea to the select few you might see in the lunchroom or other informal gatherings. An ally/partner can also lend their skills and abilities in areas where you might be weak… and maybe you can share research time.
5. Don’t make enemies when trying to find allies. Pick your allies with skill. Never assume that your idea is so great that everyone will sign on to it with your same passion. Some people may feel threatened if they know some change might be in the works to upset their own sphere of influence. Keep your overtures to others at your grade level for starters. They will have all the detail information you need anyway given they are doing the detail work.
6. What makes an idea worth its weight is if it ultimately saves the company money or makes the company money. Always talk the language of the CEO… expenses and profits. Any idea, no matter how small, affects a company in one of those two areas and you will need to determine where your idea falls and present the benefits in that way.
7. Determine who will have the final decision on your idea… and understand who that person is; their business nature, preferences, even office scuttlebutt. Anticipate what that person might want in order to approve of your change. Not all decisions are made with the company president. Also, a good strategy is knowing who that person answers too; who is their boss. This can be where politics comes into the picture.. so be wary. If you expect the decision maker to be a road block then you might be able to formulate an end run to their boss… informally of course. Doing this is akin to clicking on that button that says “For Advanced Users Only”.
8. Determine the mechanism for formally presenting your completed research. I have seen some ideas well researched and effectively presented in a one page company memo. Others can take many pages… and still others can be a formal oral presentation with graphics (like PowerPoint)… or a combination of both. My own personal preference is a combination. While writing a report can be great in presenting an idea widely with all the graphics… people will still have questions. And executives are people, too, so you can’t expect a busy manager to fully comprehend a multi-page written report. Plan on having a meeting of all departments involved in the proposed change so that all questions and answers are heard the same, and all feedback debated.
9. Your report and/or presentation should be prepared like you would a thesis for a college class. This means proper layout to include what is currently being done… your stated change… reason for the change… what departments might be affected… statistics supporting your change… anticipated expenses to implement the change… overall reduction in expenses or increased earnings (benefits) as a result of the change and when they might be realized… and how soon the change could be implemented once approved.
10. Don’t get discouraged if your change is rejected. Many times just going through this whole project and interacting with other departments will put you on the map; people will know you exist… and have an idea of your passion (which should always be in the company’s best interests… whether you agree or not) and capabilities.
Ok.. there’s one more element…
11. Don’t sweat if you don’t get all the public credit for your idea even though you did all the work. If you prepared and delivered the report you will be recognized for that. If you have a schmuck boss who told his boss or the CEO that it was all his idea… rest assured his boss knows the abilities, capabilities, and deficiencies of his subordinate to conclude that maybe it wasn’t all his idea… especially if this is his first idea in 2 years. I have found one defense against unscrupulous people taking undue credit is spinning off inter-office memos during the research/ data collection phase, keeping allies informed of the overall progress… cc’ing as needed. It helps to keep your name at the forefront, makes others feel involved in the process, and reduces apprehension that things might be happening behind the scenes to threaten people.
Yeah.. all this is pretty cumbersome when you want change to be implemented right away. But this is the world we live in and it’s not likely to change. My generation tried that.