I have done a lot of adapting and changing throughout my career, and in my life as well. Its not always easy to manage or adapt to but it’s a very necessary part of growing and learning. In my career, I have had the opportunity twice to start a function/department from scratch and lead people through the change that would ensue. In some ways I was successful and and in others I wasn’t able to break through, especially with some individuals. I was met with resistance and hostility in a major way. I remember thinking that “Why wouldn’t people want to see things improve and evolve?” I mean, I was trying to do things that would have made their lives easier. I remember being in one of my first 1:1s as I was onboarding and someone actually said to me. “I don’t know why you are here or how your role will add any value.” It’s definitely not the way you want to start a new job and I am not going to lie – it put me on the defensive for most of my time there. While at the time I didn’t want to see their side, I now understand that change is scary and the response that I was encountering was rooted in fear. In fact, in using Brene Brown’s work to understand this, change at work often leads to the question of relevance. When big changes or new ideas are being presented, people often ask themselves “Am I still going to be relevant?” or “Will be skillset still matter.” These thoughts lead to change and then those in turn lead to overall disengagement.
I learned a lot from the experience and definitely made adjustments to my approach. The first time it happened, I too was suffering from a fear of irrelevance since I was new to the organization and thought I had to prove my very existence. This was likely a knee jerk reaction to the not so warm welcome I received. I am definitely one of those people that learns from my mistakes, so when I had the chance to do it again and this time I made some tweaks to my approach. I outlined what some of my initial missteps could have been and how I corrected it.
- You can still be the expert without everyone knowing it: Even though I was hired to facilitate change and WAS the expert in what I was doing, I wasn’t an expert in the organizational dynamics. Take the time to understand how the organization works, where your role fits in and what the knowledge gaps are in others seeing your value. I knew there was a reason I was there and the organization needed my skillset but rushing the chance is sure to result in resistance.
- Stop apologizing: You can be sensitive to other’s as noted above, however you don’t have to apologize for being there, taking space and doing the job that you are being paid for. Instead communicate what it’s going to look like, benefits to the change and how it will add value overall. You don’t have to go in look like a bull dozer, but you certainly don’t have to apologize for being there. I found that over-sympathizing and apologizing for make changes opened up the door for people thinking that I had a reason to.
- Relationships and champions: In order to push through change, you will need people from within championing the change. Take opportunities to utilize your time with them as mini case studies to be used with the rest of the organization. Take a path of least resistance, work on a specific project or task and get these champions to give you rave reviews.
All that being said, I was a change agent but employees alone cant’ lead the charge, especially if that change has been identified from the top. Leadership plays a role and needs to stand behind what they have committed to, even if it means some uncomfortable conversations surrounding change.