Picture this: You have a job you love in a company known for its creativity, cutting-edge products, and contribution to improving lives. The leaders are famous for their forward-thinking and robust commitments to improve the world. And yet, you notice cracks in the culture.
You believe the problems threaten the company’s stellar reputation and goodwill. Even the financial standing is at stake.
Your dilemma is that the top-level leaders, including your immediate boss, are not only blind to the issues, but by not acting, they contribute to the mess.
What do you do about this quandary? You want to meet with your boss, unload your frustration, and demand immediate action. Yet your more rational self knows this approach is unlikely to work.
Instead of storming, develop a careful strategy for influencing them.
Keep in mind lasting personal change starts inside the heads and hearts of the leaders. While your end goal is to prompt them to act, your first critical step is to raise their awareness and consideration of the problems without triggering their defenses and possible resistance.
Pull vs. Push Influence Strategies
Chances are, your boss and other leaders in your organization have little or no knowledge of the problems you see in the culture. And even if they have a clue, most likely, they are entirely unaware of their role in creating or perpetuating the situation.
Why? Because no one likes to give the boss bad news. Have you ever heard of shooting the messenger? Your goal is to influence them without getting shot.
And you are more likely to succeed if you use a pull versus a push approach.
Ideally, you want to engage them with the issues so that they will convince themselves of what to do. Here are some ways to pull rather than push.
Do Not Pressure Them to Change
Years ago, psychologists Prochaska and DiClemente developed a process for influencing personal change that involved offering their clients problems to solve or challenges to consider rather than pressing them to change their behavior.
They wisely recognized that most people are ambivalent at best when faced with a dilemma that might require them to change. And if you pile pressure onto their natural doubts, you are almost guaranteeing resistance.
Enflaming strong opposition will not help your cause.
Present Information That Will Raise Doubts
Start by describing to your bosses some concrete examples of the situations you are observing. Include specifics such as behaviors you noticed. As much as possible, stick to the facts. Do not label or blame.
While you can certainly express some concern, do not state strong opinions nor offer advice at this point. And watch your body language; nonverbals speak louder than words.
Avoid conveying the impression that you have all the answers. Remember that your goal is for your bosses to solve the problems themselves.
Follow-up With Thought-Provoking Questions
Allow the bosses to determine the pace of the discussion. If they seem interested and willing to explore, forge ahead with some open-ended questions.
Invite their opinions as they consider the information you are offering. Ask them how they view possible consequences of the scenarios you describe. Solicit their thoughts on what might happen if the behaviors continue unchecked.
Your role in the discussion is to ask questions and to listen reflectively. By doing so, you can prompt them to say more as they think through the implications, and you can gauge their reactions to the issues at hand.
Consider Your Audience
As you prepare the specifics of your pull strategy, keep your audience in mind.
What Are Their Values?
What do they stand for, and how do they show it? Since you are working for a company committed to improving lives, chances are the leaders will communicate their values. Nevertheless, they are likely to vary in how strongly they hold them. Moreover, some may be more inclined than others to base their actions and decisions on principles they claim.
The bosses’ values should guide your choice of incidents to illustrate the problem.
For example, if you know the boss values respectful behavior, you might describe a standard of conduct interpreted as bullying. On the other hand, if the boss values collaboration, you could relay incidences of people holding on to information rather than sharing with others who need to know.
Of course, only use actual incidents to illustrate your concerns. And no calling out names.
How do They Like to Interact?
Even though your goal is to remain neutral during this first step of the influence process, some leaders may ask for your opinion. If you know your audience well, you will be able to predict which, if any, of the leaders are likely to want your input.
While you should refrain from offering your thoughts unsolicited, be prepared to provide input if they ask for it. However, refrain from suggesting that you have all the answers no matter what the circumstances. You want them to have some skin in the game.
What Is In It For Them?
Yes, the reference is to the famous WIIFM – What is in it for me. Think through ahead of time what might be in it for them to take this situation seriously.
What do they have to gain or lose because of this issue you plan to describe and illustrate? If they have more to gain than to lose by exploring and addressing the problem, you are more likely to succeed in your influence.
Try integrating some of the WIIFM information into your discussion. But don’t hit them over the head with it.
For example, suppose you think the cultural issues are likely to impact your bosses’ ability to meet the business goals. In that case, you might introduce the conversation by framing it in these terms. However, refrain from implying catastrophic consequences if the leaders don’t address this situation.
The ability to trigger a change in others always requires finesse. And especially tricky are those times you wish to influence your bosses. Nevertheless, if you convey your respect for their personal choices through how you approach them, you are more likely to succeed in sparking change.
Remember, change is a process that occurs over time. Your bosses will need space to deal with the thoughts and feelings your information provokes.
Of course raising awareness of the issues is merely the first step in a change process.
When they are ready to move beyond merely contemplating the situation, they bosses may ask for your help in taking the steps necessary to solve the problem. Be prepared.