Did you ever have that experience where a friend comes up with a great new idea (which you’ve been talking to them about for 6 months already)?
Sometimes you need to hear about things from someone a bit less familiar before they really sink in. And sometimes, people on the outside can see a bit more clearly than those inside.
I remember working with a business that had this exact problem. The staff all knew exactly what the problems were, but the management team just couldn’t quite work out how to understand what they were hearing. They made a few attempts at change, but nothing really stuck. They should probably be encouraged for making an effort, but it just felt rather futile in the end.
I can’t say that things turned around and suddenly started working better – it’s just not what happened. But I can say that I learnt a few things there that I promised I’d never let happen in my own business.
- You’ve got to pay attention to your staff
- You need to understand why things aren’t working
- Change takes time and commitment
- Sometimes you need an outside voice
I’ve put together some notes on these lessons – hopefully it helps someone out there.
1. Pay Attention to Your Staff!
I’ve heard it said “Why hire Da Vinci and have him paint by numbers?”, but even if you don’t have a Da Vinci available to you, you’ve got to remember that the staff you have are the ones with the best insight into the problems in your business. If you’re lucky enough to have that kind of genius on your team, you need to give them enough respect to listen and understand their feedback. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll understand there’s a balance needed between direction and freedom. But sometimes direction gets a bit twisted around, and managers use that dreaded phrase “because that’s how we’ve always done it!”. Don’t be that guy – ask real questions about what’s not working. You may be surprised at the insight you can get from some of your staff if you just give them a real chance to be heard.
2. Understand WHY things aren’t working!
Even the very best staff are often only able to point out where it’s hurting. There’s a real expertise in finding out WHY a problem exists. But it’s not hard to develop – you’ve just got to practice the basic “5 whys” technique. In essence, you need to push past the initial problem (i.e. symptom) by asking “why is that happening?”. Often you’ll get a response that gets closer to the cause, but you’ll need to keep pushing and asking “but why?” like any good four year old knows how to do. You’ll know when you’ve hit paydirt, and the perceived humiliation of asking basic questions is easily outweighed in that moment when people stop talking and take that collective breath. Don’t let up before you get there, or you’ll be facing similar problems in the future!
3. Change takes time and commitment
It seems bleedingly obvious, but frankly it’s something that too many business owners and managers underestimate too often. There are so many factors that drive this inertia, and meaningful change means pushing through until things have truly shifted into a new direction. Larger organizations with more people will have a harder time of it, and cultures that have had time to become ingrained can be rather difficult to shift even in smaller businesses and departments. Just talking about it isn’t enough – you need your team to buy in to the fact that change is actually needed, and you need some influential individuals to champion the new way of doing things. And you need to be persistent – it’s not just a matter of waiting for the desired / planned changes to come into effect. You’ve got to lead the change from the top, and encourage your team to reward the desired behavior continually.
4. Sometimes you need an outside voice
No, I’m not talking about yelling. Inside voices are appropriate for work situations as well. But sometimes you need someone else to highlight the value of the change you’re trying to implement. It helps if you have a well known representative who can immediately connect your staff to your vision for a better future, but it can be as simple as you providing that platform to your guest in the way you introduce them. This is one reason many businesses will employ change managers on contract to lead a department through necessary change and to ensure the momentum is maintained until the job is really complete.
If you’re finding that change is hard to bring about in your organization, why don’t you get in touch with us and we’ll see if there’s some specific advice or assistance we can provide to get you and your team across the line.