How do you accomplish a major change initiative when you have authority over few, if any, of the stakeholders involved? Whether you’re in material handling, supply chain, IT consulting, product management or other roles that have more responsibility than authority, this is a real issue for you, and this three-article series addresses three aspects of the challenge.
The first two articles (May 2007 and August 2007) dealt with overcoming resistance to change and making the shift from managing to leading. This third and final article will address getting various stakeholders aligned with the mission. I will use an example to illustrate the approach.
A Management Edict
An inventory control group within a large computer company was challenged by upper management to reduce inventory as a cost-saving measure. Some members of the team did not perceive the objective was realistic or needed, thus did not have “buy-in” or alignment with the mission of reducing inventory and costs. Furthermore, a manufacturing group that had to support any solution also did not think there was a problem. The new goal came down from an executive office, which was looking for improvement, and there was little or no alignment with it by the people who would have to implement the changes.
Fortunately, the inventory control manager, Phyllis, had recently been through an Enlightened Leadership multiday workshop and immediately knew the approach she would take to gain alignment for the mission from the key stakeholders. The approach she would take needed to deal with resistance to change. It was a soft, or people, issue, so it also needed to be influenced, rather than managed. She turned to our Framework for Leadership, which is effective in aligning disparate groups toward a common mission.
What is Already Working?
Pulling the key people involved into a meeting, she started the discussion as she told them she would in the meeting announcement. She set the context for the meeting; i.e., we’re doing a really good job in our group, and we need to address the “management edict.” She then asked them, “What is working well? What successes are we having in our inventory control efforts?” Notice that these are questions, not statements, that they are Forward Focused, the importance of which we discussed in the earlier two articles.
Because the people were told of the initial question in advance, it didn’t take long to start creating a substantial list of successes. The more successes they shared, the more energized the people became. You could sense that people were feeling good about their many inventory control accomplishments. They spent nearly 20 minutes answering that question and filling nearly four easel charts with the responses. The room was buzzing.
What Caused Those Successes?
Phyllis’ next question, the second step of the Framework, was designed to drill down deeper into each of the successes— a root-cause analysis of the successes, if you will.
“Wait a minute! We do root-cause analysis on problems, not successes,” you might be thinking. While I agree that is typically true, I would suggest we look at the value of also doing root-cause analysis on successes. If we track our successes, and analyze them for their causes, then share that information with all who might use it, we would have a substantial “learning organization” from that action alone. Imagine the leverage we would get if we were able to put someone else’s learnings to work and not have to reinvent the wheel.
As the group members analyzed the causes of their successes, the answers often involved acknowledging individuals and groups who had done a good job. Some of those people getting acknowledged were in the meeting. Imagine how they felt as their peers gave them credit for causing a success.
Can you imagine the resistance dissolving in the room as people were feeling good about successes and their contributions to them? “Don’t ask someone to do something different until you first acknowledge them for what they are already doing,” I hear myself saying often. The corollary is, “By acknowledging and honoring people for what they are already doing, you earn the right to invite them to do more, better or differently.”
What Are We Trying to Accomplish?
This third question of the Framework process is where the alignment really happened as Phyllis facilitated a discussion. Because their barriers were lowered or dropped during the first two questions, the members of the group were open to discussing their objectives—indeed, the possibility of changing their objectives.
In this case, just asking the question actually brought out the fact that a real and stated objective for the group was “to continually optimize inventory levels.” They admitted their frustration with having been handed a specific new numeric objective, but their attitudes were now shifted for the most part, and they were ready to move forward with solutions. Actually, ever since the second question, “What caused those successes?” group members had already been bringing up ideas for inventory improvements. To honor and optimize the Framework for Leadership that Phyllis was using, notes about the improvement ideas had been captured on a “parking lot” easel chart while the group stayed on track. The group was eager to get into those ideas/solutions.
Before moving into the action planning, though, Phyllis wanted to spend a bit of time with a
question to make sure the buy-in was solid.
What are the benefits of accomplishing our objective for all the stakeholders?
In this case, the group did not need to spend a lot of time on this question, the fourth Framework step, since buy-in, the primary purpose of this step, was already high. Phyllis did, however, have them spend a few minutes looking at the benefits to shareholders, the company, the department, the team–and then each individual. Each person in the room expressed what it would do for him or her personally to be part of accomplishing the stated objectives. Some of the comments were minimal, but some were substantial. It really didn’t matter what they said in the room– just that they honestly thought about it, and answered it for themselves.
What can we do more, better or differently to improve our inventory situation?
The group was eager to jump into this action planning step, the fifth and final step of Enlightened Leadership Solutions’ Framework for Leadership. The “parking lot” chart already had a number of ideas on it, and the members added more. A lively discussion ensued, and they took a lot of notes. Then, they backed up and prioritized the ideas by their best estimate of the “return on time invested.”They were looking for the 80/20s. Once they had clarity and agreement on some of the actions that would have the greatest effect on inventory reduction, they decided who would do what by when – the accountability piece of the action planning step.
They realized that they couldn’t create the entire plan to accomplish the new objectives in a single meeting, so they focused on the most important next steps. They also committed to come back to review their progress in two weeks.
Transferring the Knowledge
Phyllis did one more thing that had real value in the process over the next several months. She invited them to look at the value of the process they had used in the meeting and why it was effective. Notice that this is using the first two questions of the Framework to look at the value of the Framework itself. As a result of that discussion, they were excited to have experienced the power of a new tool and began discussing other places they could use it. They also agreed to use the essence of the process in subsequent inventory meetings.
The Bottom Line
Six months later, the group reported inventory savings of $9 million, which was nearly twice the objective passed down by upper management. That could not have happened without solid alignment of the group with the mission to reduce inventory costs. The Framework for Leadership was the key to removing resistance to change and gaining alignment for the mission. And, the way it was facilitated was a great example of leadership, not management.