When you have a major company initiative that will transform your processes and deliver a huge step-change in your business results, it is critical to get alignment within your entire management team. During the early days of a major transformation effort, you may find that influential leaders in key positions may not yet be fully onboard. While this is not uncommon, it is important to resolve any lack of alignment quickly.
Don’t put your head in the sand. You will have some leaders who simply don’t agree with your direction. Some will explicitly block any efforts, while others will unconsciously (and nearly invisibly) obstruct progress by delaying decisions or stalling decisions, by opposing other leaders, or by impeding progress in other ways – even if it’s by not realigning their team members who may not yet be committed themselves.
Figure out who your blockers are and be deliberate about how you will handle their lack of support. It’s important to make progress and build momentum whether they are on board with you or not. Here are four approaches for keeping progress moving forward and preventing these leaders from preventing you from achieving the results that are possible.
Approach 1: Go Under Them
The idea of going under them is to work from the ground up by stressing employee engagement. Create a surge of excitement and momentum by involving more employees in the various improvement initiatives you are launching. Each major project can have a well-detailed charter that includes a clear initiative leader. The charter should define goals, sub projects, and team members who will drive progress forward.
When you look for ways to create small teams to make decisions and implement the details of your projects, you create more buy-in and ownership of the process changes and ultimately for the results.
Ideally, you will have team members who are part of those blocking leaders’ teams. As long as you are getting commitment from a leader for their team member to participate, you should be effective with this strategy. (If not, see approach #2.)
Also, invite the project team make public presentations to review their progress and communicate decisions they have made. When the leadership team is in attendance, it makes it difficult for the obstructive managers to continue blocking any progress because the implicit support given by the leadership team in attendance.
Lastly, emphasize the theme of continuous improvement and the concept that any process can be changed and made better with additional ideas. If your senior leaders are expressing satisfaction with the results and encouraging the team to continue building upon their ideas then there is less concern about having all processes perfect the first time out. This usually disarms one of the primary arguments from an unsupportive leader – that they don’t support it because it isn’t flawless.
Approach 2: Go Over Them
This is the concept of getting top-down support. Naturally, major initiatives that will create huge results and a company-wide transformation would be led by senior leadership. Even so, it’s important to call attention to this approach so that you can leverage it to neutralize any unsupportive leaders.
Help your senior leaders with the communication strategy to make it clear for all employees what the major change initiatives are meant to accomplish. Public declarations about purpose, vision, and mission will define the context for the myriad of projects that your Company will be launching.
Communication is not a one-dimensional exercise. Have ongoing discussions about what is happening with the various project teams in various communication modes such as newsletters, video updates, presentations, and any other of your existing communication methods.
Part of these communications can define expectations for people who are not directly involved on the project teams. One simple and obvious expectation is that these projects take precedent across the company and require support. If a team makes a request of you then this is a priority for you to provide the help they need.
This top down communication creates a context where everyone is expected to play an encouragement and assistance role. While that is usually enough to convince a blocking manager to get on board, there are times when more direct intervention is required. When that happens, a short conversation with the blocker’s boss will usually do the trick.
Approach 3: Go Around Them
The concept of going around the uncooperative managers is to find the areas where are you have the most support, and start there first. In the early days of a big transformation effort, you will have low hanging fruit all over the place. Go ahead and start in areas that are not impacted by the blocker.
Clearly, this is about the path of least resistance. This approach works well when there are changes that can be made across multiple areas of your company and you are not relying on that one area to see meaningful results.
Help the areas that want to make positive change to achieve great results. Then, publicly recognize these leaders and their teams for the progress they are making. Public recognition and seeing your peers receive accolades is a driving motivator for many people and could relax an obstructive manager’s position.
Approach 4: Go Through Them
Ultimately, if none of these approaches are working for you, then you will need to address the blocker head on. The first thing to do is to directly ask them their thoughts about the major initiatives. Sometimes, just being giving the opportunity to share their point of view is enough to gain their support. Plus, you might learn something important with the insights they provide from their experience and perspectives.
An advanced leadership skill is to probe deeper and notice what else may be going on inside your obstructive leader’s head. Be curious about what is below surface that leads to their blocking. If you can identify any fears or insecurities, then you can directly address what could be the root cause of that leader’s disruptive actions. When we work with business leaders in our Executive Mentoring program, we often help a leader uncover issues they didn’t’ realize they had. While you may not be comfortable with your skill in exposing these inner problems yourself, it is still important to consider that they may be solvable and will make a leader more effective.
Ultimately, if you have exhausted your efforts to make the leader effective and not block your progress and, nonetheless, they are still preventing you from achieving your potential results as quickly as you want, then that leader may not be a fit for you. You might have to get rid of them.
Of course, this is never your first action. Do your best to make progress and get them to join you in supportively moving your agenda forward. If your efforts are not successful, then trust your instincts and know that you will be better off without that leader on your team any longer.
In reality, the way you apply these four approaches is more of a collective application in parallel versus executing these in series. Top down support and employee engagement are always principles to have in place for major change initiatives, and asking someone who isn’t yet on board, “what’s up?” is a responsible question to ask. As long as your implementation strategy doesn’t require you to go to the unsupportive leader’s area first, you have lots of options for making quick progress and winning your leader over to support you.
About the Author: Pete Winiarski
Peter D. Winiarski is the founder and CEO of Win Enterprises, LLC. He is a speaker and the author or contributing author of seven Amazon best-selling books on business transformation, consulting, leadership, and goal achievement.
His company, Win Enterprises, LLC, helps business leaders transform their results for themselves and their companies. The Win team of resources are experts in business transformation, organizational culture, leadership, and goal achievement, and are highly skilled consultants and executive mentors.
Win’s clients experience fast results, lasting change, and huge ROI working with Pete’s team.