How to Get Your Team Involved

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

 

Ideas from the field on ways to get people engaged in change. Good stuff.

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by Rick Maurer

 

These are comments from men and women who have successfully gotten their teams involved in change. I did minimal editing to what they said. Great content and its free; what else do you want? – Rick

Find Ways to Make the Change Your Own

Here are a few ways to make the change your own.

  • BEFORE tackling any new task or even getting daily work done, managers and supervisors should have a systemic picture of how their work contributes to meeting the organization’s aim, who the customers are, and how the customers benefit. Managers and supervisors should be aware of how success is measured (need not be a quantitative assessment, perhaps just knowledge of desired quality characteristics).
  • Managers and supervisors should have knowledge of the needs and “gets” of their customers – what do they need that they get, what do they need that they don’t get, what they don’t need that they get, and what they don’t need that they don’t get (this can be defined by a matrix diagram – per the work of Peter Scholtes).
  • Managers and supervisors should be aware of what is needed to promote pride and joy to the work of the group. A force field analysis can be used to identify the levels of resistance so steps can be initiated to improve trust and employee satisfaction.
  • Managers and supervisors should ensure that their employees contribute to determining the aforementioned parameters.
  • These steps should be ideally performed before new work initiatives areas signed.

Implementing changes:

  • If the pre-work has been accomplished, a basis has been established to evaluate the effect of the proposed change on internal and external customers.
  • If the change will be harmful to internal or external customers, supervisors and managers have a means of identifying the negative effects (e.g., impact on quality and productivity of goods and services) to upper management.
  • In any case, use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle will be helpful. In the planning stage, the assumptions behind the change, impact on the system of work (especially customers), expected outcomes (good and bad), aim of the change, and measure of success should be clarified. Also, it may be possible to implement the proposed change on a pilot basis to gather more data to assess the worthiness of the change, and to build support for either its full implementation, modification, or rejection. As a variant, it may be possible to run concurrent changes – testing both the imposed change and one perceived – to be more effective by the work unit to gather data as to how to proceed.

The next one is succinct and suggests that we simply need to find a way to make it our own – period.

  1. Find a piece of the plan or initiative that you can live with and support that part. Support can flow from that part toward the rest.
  2. Work to renegotiate the implementation so that it CAN work!

This manager created reasons for himself why the change was sound.

“When faced with a directive I disagreed with, I first had to reduce my cognitive dissonance. How? I had to find reasons why his directive was sound. I committed these to writing. If I couldn’t find sufficient reasons, I found it very difficult to implement the change.”

Give staff specific information about the change and why the change is necessary. Standardize the change: Flowchart the new process to show how it should work. Ask for input from staff, at this point. (Better than nothing.). Revise standards and policies and protocols, because this step has probably been omitted by leadership. Communicate to everyone involved. Provide training and ongoing support, clear channels for reviewing snags. Monitor the change: Establish regular schedule for measuring and process control to maintain the gain and give feedback to the staff along the way. It’s a good way to get staff to buy-in, especially if they see something good is in it for them.

Pick Your Battles

A very successful executive was asked to implement a new program company wide. Unfortunately, she did not agree with the program’s underlying philosophy, choice of vendor, program structure or implementation plan. In short, she disagreed with the whole thing – except that she did feel something like this was needed and would be welcomed by the employees. But, as you mentioned, she was going to be held accountable for it’s success, nonetheless.

She decided to “pick her battles.” The timeline had already been committed to by senior staff and communicated to the employees, so that wouldn’t be prudent to fix. However, she could work within the end dates to adjust what needed more or less time to accomplish and develop a cost-benefit analysis to justify additional internal resources (hidden $, as opposed to cash). The vendor had already been selected and the contract signed, so that wasn’t something she could change. But, she could strongly position herself with the vendor as the new client to be satisfied and use that leverage to negotiate some alterations in how the program was structured. To senior staff, she demonstrated via customer surveys that a slightly different structure would be more satisfactory to the end-user. She subtly altered the philosophy of the program to better match what she felt would result in success.

Rather than just moving ahead and pretending she believed in the program (which people can often see through and which bothered her sense of integrity), she truly made it her own over the course of the project. She made it something that she could genuinely support, even though she might have done it somewhat differently had she been part of it from the start. She identified all the possible items she’d like to change, determined where change was possible and how much change was likely. She decided what approach was most likely to get that change to happen, and was savvy and persistent in pursuing them (i.e., she minimized the magnitude of the change by showing how it still met program objectives, and maximized the benefit via justifications like customer surveys).

I don’t know if I’ve successfully captured the essence of what she accomplished, but I respect her for not being a “yes man” and yet still meeting the business goals she was assigned. What a balancing act, but I believe the end result was much better for her concern and effort!

Support What You Can and Build From There

I was struck by the detailed sequential response this internal consultant in a healthcare institution took.

Neither the staff nor I had any input into the decision to change the mechanism of obtaining patient feedback. The staff was “maxed” carrying patient loads that were compromising morale. One more thing to do I felt would push them to the edge. While it would only take about 10 minutes to explain the process, get the machine, and, of course, thank the patient, it was, nonetheless, 10 minutes in a very hectic schedule multiplied by the number of patients for which the nurse was responsible. Theoretically, the process could add an hour to the workload. How do I communicate this change with respect to the incredible work my staff was doing? The following recounts the sequence of how the situation was handled:

  1. Shared with staff that a change in the process was going to occur, and shared as much as I knew about process at that point. Also shared that I did not participate in the decision to change the process.
  2. Listened to staff complaints about increasing their workload.
  3. Acknowledged that indeed something was being added to potentially increase workload.
  4. Volunteered to be a member of the process design for the new mechanism and pilot the process on my unit. Rationale was that everyone likes to be “first” and viewed as a team player by participating in the change process as opposed to complaining about it.
  5. Communicated with staff that I had volunteered our unit for the pilot to model supporting a decision that had been made by the communication expert group in the best interest of achieving accurate and more significant data. (Best interest of patients.)
  6. Incorporated discussion of the process in all staff meetings. Met “off-line” with official and “unofficial” staff leaders to explain the process and delineate the positive aspects of the change. Additional support was obtained in this manner so that staff meetings would have some positive input. This strategy did work. Being a little political, I guess.
  7. Invited owner of the equipment to demonstrate the process at all staff meetings (even at night). Engaged staff in suggesting ways to make the process easier. Staff had opportunity to actually use the equipment to practice. Slowly “buy-in” was being accomplished.
  8. First month of data indicated the unit had the highest response rate in the system which called for celebration (pizza)!
  9. Secretary “leaders” accepted challenge to devise system to make sure every patient had the opportunity to respond to the patient satisfaction survey. Response rate went even higher. Became a competitive thing with other units. However, the unit has continued having the highest response rate in the system – hands down.
  10. Recommendation arose from staff that someone other than nursing staff could explain the process to the patient and deliver the Point of View survey. Therefore, clinical assistants assumed responsibility with the RN accountable for all his/her patients doing the POV.
  11. Response rates posted each month and discussed at staff meetings.
  12. Staff commended for making the process their own and leading the system in the success of the new process.

Trust is a huge issue in managing a situation such as this. Managers have to be unequivocally honest with those we want to bring along the decisions, both those with the opportunity for input and those decisions made by someone else. Otherwise, the effort will be sabotaged and failure ensues.


Our faculty, like many around the USA and beyond, are finding themselves in need of developing online courses and degrees. In many cases this has been a “top down” decision, and many faculty do not see themselves as technologically savvy, let alone theoretically and pedagogically convinced that online courses are valuable. Still, economics and technology are compelling reasons for developing online education. Online education will not go away. So – what to do? For several years, the university, the college, and departments have offered many demonstrations, lectures, testimonials, student assistants, groovy tech labs, and computer brown-bag lunches ad-nauseum. These have helped but we may still have more resistant faculty than converts. In short, this situation is akin to writers (professional as well as student writers!) who receive a writing assignment that they are not the least bit interested in – but they HAVE to do it for a grade or paycheck. (This has to sound familiar!) So – what do THEY do? Much research (and experience) tells me that to succeed, these writers have to do two things: 1) they have to “get right” with the information, and 2) they have to “get right” with themselves. They must find a “cognitive way in” to the work, and they must find an “emotional way in” to the work. The first one is easiest, beginning with the mounds of research (quantitative and qualitative) on online teaching and learning. The emotional investment is harder, and to me, it mainly comes once the faculty member has taken a leap of faith and agreed to develop and/or teach an online course – and this course topic should be one that she or he feels passionately about. It’s also good for the faculty member to view this as an experiment – even as a potential research project. Most disciplines are interested in how their field intersects with technology. During and after their teaching of the course, they should have a new research project re: a new course. One way to help motivate faculty is for them to realize that, at least at our university, teaching an online course “counts” the same as teaching an on-campus course. Faculty can do it as part of their normal load.


I have been in the position of implementing several new initiatives from “on high” that I felt were either based on faulty assumptions or created bigger problems than they were intended to solve. I think the first step in this situation is to get a handle on the rationale of the change – what problem is it intended to solve? And, is there a likelihood that it will, indeed, address that problem (apart from the fact that it may create other problems in its wake)? If the answer is yes, and you are clear as to at least the rationale for the change, then you need to convey that to those having to change. You need to also be clear, and able to articulate, what you see to be the positive and negative aspects of the change. Having this sort of open-communication sets up a credibility in you, as the leader/supervisor in conveying that you understand the cons, but that you also see the pros (assuming there are some). Having said that, hope that there is a formal evaluation of the change, which many change-periods have. If there is no formal mechanism, create an informal one – especially a direct and honest communication up the line as to the negative consequences of the change as you either anticipate them or as they occur (a CYA , if you will). And, ask those most directly impacted by the change to participate in that formal and/or informal evaluation. It may not change the “new order,” but it will, at least, allow people to feel heard and perhaps “vent.” Communication is important when implementing change. Just as the provost has regularly scheduled meetings with the deans, deans should have regularly scheduled meetings with their department chairs. The provost may discuss suggested mandates with the deans who would in turn discuss these plans with their chairs. Chair responses could then be funneled to the dean and finally to the provost. Communication is important, but the upper management must be willing to seriously consider chairs’ and deans’ feedback.


Managers and supervisors should have knowledge of the needs and “gets” of their customers – what do they need that they get, what do they need that they don’t get, what they don’t need that they get, and what they don’t need that they don’t get (this can be defined by a matrix diagram – per the work of Peter Scholtes). Managers and supervisors should be aware of what is needed to promote pride and joy to the work of the group. A force field analysis can be used to identify the levels of resistance so steps can be initiated to improve trust and employee satisfaction.

Managers and supervisors should ensure that their employees contribute to determining the aforementioned parameters.

These steps should be ideally performed before new work initiatives are assigned.

Implementing changes:

  • If the pre-work has been accomplished, a basis has been established to evaluate the effect of the proposed change on internal and external customers.
  • If the change will be harmful to internal or external customers, supervisors and managers have a means of identifying the negative effects (e.g., impact on quality and productivity of goods and services) to upper management.
  • In any case, use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle will be helpful. In the planning stage, the assumptions behind the change, impact on the system of work (especially customers), expected outcomes (good and bad), aim of the change, and measure of success should be clarified. Also, it may be possible to implement the proposed change on a pilot basis to gather more data to assess the worthiness of the change, and to build support for either its full implementation, modification, or rejection. As a variant, it maybe possible to run concurrent changes – testing both the imposed change and one perceived to be more effective by the work unit to gather data as to how to proceed.

Please let me know if you would like me to elaborate or clarify on these suggestions.


Here’s what one manager inside a healthcare facility had to say.

  1. Speak with one voice – you ARE management even when you didn’t get input and/or disagree. So in presenting information and implementing changes/procedures, speak as if you made the decision. I and we are the pronouns of choice – no theys allowed. Meanwhile, voice your concerns and ask your questions up the line behind closed doors. Allow questions and concerns from subordinates as a ventilating/data input method while making clear that the implementation will continue until such time as it is changed. This is all part of the “one voice” code!
  2. Do involve your teams in determining how best to implement – not whether to implement, but how. There is some control – even if very little – in all situations. Successful middle managers find that and share it with their team.
  3. Effective middle managers stay clear on the boundaries between initial ventilation about the change, soliciting input, and whining/griping. They are consistent in allowing the first two, and discouraging the latter. There are consequences for whining and griping and complaining that interfere with the morale of the team and the team’s ability to move forward. This is fuzzy stuff; but good middle managers can walk that line (even if it is zigzag). A corollary is that they stay solution-focused; it is okay to gripe if that griping is followed by a suggestion or idea and ACTION on how to solve that gripe. Griping by itself is not okay.
  4. Middle managers take the approach of let’s try it. We will gather data on how it works, and then use that data as part of quality improvement and change or make it better. They build that culture of “nothing is ever 100% right,” but let’s build it and improve it as we go along. That emphasis on data is important; it helps move the focus from how we feel about it to how it works. It is also a powerful tool to present upward (when the time comes) to improve/change as possible. Find ways to make the process your own.

I find the two most helpful things I can do are: 1) help the manager plan the change initiative, meaning its implementation (even if s/he hasn’t been consulted before) and 2) help the manager deal with the unexpected consequences of planned organizational change (those pesky differences between plan and actual).

Establish Common Ground

As an environment of change and continuous improvement is encouraged as a result of moving deeper and deeper into lean manufacturing, the situation you describe happens time and time again. Resolution over these issues is usually achieved by reframing the problem around common ground so all the parties, at least, have a starting place of agreement. Once the common ground is established, progress can be made toward resolution. This establishment of common ground also ensures that all parties become a part of the problem. I have found that until everyone involved in a situation become a part of the problem, they will never work to become a part of the solution.

The situation you describe enters directly into a victim mentality, which I believe has achieved epidemic proportions nationally. Need to move out of being victims to a healthy “what do I have to do to get it done” mentality. Notice I didn’t say what does someone else have to do.

Also to minimize the situation you describe, I find that an environment of trust and cooperation must be present. By trust, I mean that all of the parties involved in a situation believe that all of the others have everyone’s best interest in mind. A complex problem with human, people-focused responses.

Apply a Problem Solving Tool

Get people on the team involved by using a tool that allows everyone to assess where you are today and use that information to develop a plan. Here’s what one consultant suggests.

If a manager feels the need for a participatory conversation (as well they should), then they need to read up on and use a lesser-known tool, the force field analysis. Then you can explore the forces for and against success (we all want success, don’t we?), and focus on building the forces to help eliminate the barriers encountered during change. This conversation/session should be started and peppered liberally with the following delivered with a positive tone of voice, “As we all know a decision was made by <insert people involved> and we have been charged with implementation. We’re starting today by rolling up our sleeves and working to discover those things that will help ensure our success as well as any barriers we may need to overcome. We’re not revisiting the decision; we’re focusing on success!”

Develop a Strategy That Attends to Both People and the Project

The Dean’s office (I am Associate Dean) has a full-time staff person who works with faculty to develop grant proposals. I obtained information on how many grant proposals are submitted by faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. I estimated that, on average, it would take this staff person only 2-3 hours per week to do the data entry on the People Soft Grant forms for the faculty in the college. I presented this information to the Dean and we met with the staff person. She had already had the training and was willing to work with faculty to either help them to enter the information or to do it for them. Because she does it frequently now, she is quite efficient, so it has not been a major burden for her. Faculty are happy to know that there is someone to help or even to do the work for them.


First, do your best to embrace the change internally (even if you don’t agree with it). Then think about constructive and positive ways to communicate your concerns to the people that can help (to bosses, peers and subordinates).

Bosses – voice your concerns in a positive way and look for the  “why’s” behind the initiative. The benefit will be that you understand more about why the change is coming and why it is important to the organization, which will help your success in implementing it. And your boss(es) will understand concerns and barriers to making the change successful from the lower levels of the organization, which will help them raise concerns at higher levels of the organization to be addressed. Chances are that your bosses will agree with you and share your concerns.
Peers – look for additional ideas, support for your ideas and partnerships to make the change more successful, or for information to share with bosses, peers and subordinates that can be helpful. Be honest with subordinates about the change being as positive as possible. But don’t pretend you agree with all of the change if you really don’t; your directs will see through this and you will lose their trust.

Think about how to do the impossible. Things will actually start appearing more doable than they seemed initially. Break the change into smaller pieces; separate the parts of the change that you think can work and make these pieces as successful as possible. Focus on the components of the change that you can influence vs. those that you do not have control over. Make as much of a difference as you can. Your contribution and support of the change won’t go unnoticed!

Successful??? Depends… Here’s the context. Global One had been merged into Equant for about six months when the word was passed that all former Global One employees would have to migrate their e-mail usage from standard POP applications (Netscape, Eudora) to the Equant standard of Lotus Notes. The transition was handled via on-line applications that nagged the employee about not changing e-mail client, through the process of upgrading to a very simplistic introduction of how to interface with the new application. As resistance grew over this change (among other changes), the subject was brought up to the corporate president during an all-hands meeting, at which point everyone was told pretty much “learn to love it,  ’cause it’s our standard and that now makes it your standard.” Figuring gasoline had just been thrown on the fire, I posted an e-mail to the president suggesting a few simple things like having different levels of Lotus Notes training be made available with “humans” presenting and available to answer questions. The different levels would address the needs of the different types of users.

© 2003-2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations. www.beyondresistance.com

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