Consider a situation where a major change for an organization is being debated amongst a leadership team. The group discusses the pros and cons, evaluating whether it should be implemented and if it will produce the outcomes they’re trying to achieve. They debate whether it’s the right direction or if other alternatives are better approaches. After a lengthy back-and-forth, they choose to proceed. The decision is communicated to the front line, and then monthly monitoring ensues.
However, the results fall short of expectations. The team is frustrated. They push harder about the importance of making the change a reality, and how it will positively impact the company. They extend deadlines and lower success thresholds. Over the coming weeks, the organization cobbles together enough deliverables to meet expectations, and the change is presented in a good enough light to satisfy the executives but is far from stellar.
Does this sound familiar? Why does this occur? Often we blame the plan itself – maybe there was an inherent flaw in its focus. Or it was just a bad idea in the first place. Alternatively, we blame execution – that the team couldn’t effectively implement the plan or didn’t have the skills to do so. I’d argue that blame can’t be solely placed on either camp – but I’d guarantee that a lack of dialogue between the front line and the leadership team help facilitate the failure.
Most plans, strategies, or organizational changes take into consideration a wide variety of factors including the competitive landscape, organizational capabilities, and resources to name a few. Yet when these plans are derived, a dialogue between the front-line employees rarely occurs, which leaves it vulnerable to failure.
Note that I said dialogue. Dialogue is not about bringing the proverbial tablets down from the mountain, but truly litmus testing your concept in collaboration with those who will have to implement it – before it is set in stone. Why is this important? Because most leaders are not immersed in the day-to-day operations. They don’t know the limitations, pressures, existing workloads, or mindsets of those who will be tasked with rolling out the change. They don’t know the true reality on the ground.
This is why an early dialogue is essential. Once your change is outlined, bring to the table a handful of selected front-line employees – those who are candid enough to share their perspectives on potential pitfalls, and broad-minded enough to see the potential of the change. Accept their slings and arrows. That feedback is constructive criticism, which can make or break the success of a change. Enable their contributions to be folded in, making any necessary modifications to the plan which will clearly eliminate roadblocks and open up opportunities for easier adoption.
Don’t take a negative view of their feedback. Have a back and forth. Ask why and propose other solutions to their concerns. Debate. Discuss. It’s not simply about fulfilling front-line requests, but rather understanding the landscape and constraints in which they are living and identifying ways to smooth the path that’s efficient, effective, and beneficial for everyone involved.
By having a dialogue with those who will have to make your plan a reality, you’ll ensure any change has a much stronger chance of real success.
About the Author:
Andrea Belk Olson is a keynote speaker, author, differentiation strategist, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers, No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing, and her upcoming book, What To Ask, coming in June 2022.
She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Financial Brand, SMPS Marketer, Rotman Magazine, and more. Andrea is a sought-after speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and startup coach at the University of Iowa, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also an instructor at the University of Iowa Venture School.