5 Tips for Rejecting Change

Organisations are often striving to be the ‘best place to work’ or have the ‘best customer’ experience and being the best really requires us to be in tune with our employees or customers.  In doing so, we may receive many suggestions for improvements or feedback which may not be actionable or aligned to the direction we are heading.

We may have some really valid reasons for not making those requested changes; such as the flow on impact the change has on other positive aspects of the business (‘that will slow our production run by half’), it may undermine the brand we are trying to create (‘we aren’t a ‘fries on the side’ sort of establishment’) or it may just be too large of investment for us to do something about that now (‘we know it would be great but it isn’t in the budget’).

So how do we deal with having to say ‘no’, but not disenfranchise the people that we were trying to get on side in the first place?  Following is an example from my daughters experience,  Esther (8 years old), whom completed a research project with her class about being more environmentally aware and using less paper. Having learnt the good message of ‘Wipe for Wildlife’ on one of our visits to the Healesville Sanctuary (nothing like an impressive bird show to drive home a good message), her follow up action was to write to the School Principal and find out if the school used recycled toilet paper (Exhibit A) and received a reply from the Principal (Exhibit B).

Which leads me to the 5 tips for rejecting your people’s change request

1. Provide timely feedback to the request

Unfortunately Esther waited 2 months for a letter that was written 3 weeks after the initial request made.  Timely feedback helps to manage expectations and reduce the potential for pent up emotional energy being channelled into a cause.  If it is not going to happen, nip it in the bud quickly with a respectful reason as to why not.

2. Be respectful of the original suggestion

“People think that recycled paper is always better.. But”. Reply’s that are condescending, or dare I say ‘poo poo’, the original request only serve to alienate the audience you are trying to keep onside. Try and walk in the requestors shoes and look to acknowledge the merits of the original request no matter how strange it may seem to you.

3. Know your audience

I’m not sure how many 8 year olds really care about “steam being used instead of water” in the paper making process (that is supplied from a geothermal source no less), but it sounds like a little too much vapour to me!  Pitching a high brow response for an audience that requires the straight up facts, only serves to disconnect you from your people or customers. Showing you are in tune with your audience may actually win you respect even though you are saying no to their request.

4. Keep your message simple

So we know you may be really into the brand of toilet paper you are trying to defend, but pitching to me the company is ‘committed to purchasing virgin fibre only from certified sources’ and I am 8 years old? Simple is always good. Making things simple is not always easy, but it’s definitely possible and it can prevent you from appearing to be hiding the truth.

5. Tell the truth

Regardless of this toilet roll supplier being ‘internationally recognised  standards for responsible forest management’, I suspect there is too much information here covering up what could be the real truth. If you have a locked in supply contract with another non recycled provider, well let them know the truth.  Sometimes the truth is not the easiest story to tell, but when you try and bend it, chances are your stakeholders BS meter are going to go off really quickly!

Key message

Change that has been initiated on the basis of your customers or people’s feedback can be very successful change, as the people we want to impact are bought into the idea from the very beginning. So it is really important that when we are not going to act on feedback provided we let people know why, so those people are still willing to still provide feedback in the future, which may just lead to that really powerful change we are hoping to achieve.


3 Tips to Improve Employee Engagement

If you work in a large corporate, you may be familiar with the following pattern. The annual employee engagement survey is announced, which you are encouraged to complete and sometime later you are debriefed about the results. You hear about areas that your business unit is doing well on and some areas leaders want to focus on. Plans are made to address area’s of concern for employee engagement, which are often in addition to what everyone is doing in their day job and then some of those changes are implemented. Leaders at some point in the future will remind everyone what was done since the last survey, a new survey comes along and typically there is still a to do list to work on, which may look pretty similar to the last employee engagement to do list.

So why didn’t things change? Chances are as an employee you may not of been part of the workgroup designated to work on the employee engagement issue, so not much personally changed for you. You may of been on the working group, but too busy doing your day job to do much, so you effectively said ‘*insert other department* is doing that, we will just let them do it’. Or you just may have had too many other things to worry about other than all that employee engagement stuff.  Sound at all familiar?

So how do we improve employee engagement? The key is a mindset shift when thinking about employee engagement. To increase employee engagement the following mantra’s are a good starting point:

  • Employee engagement is a part of everything we do – not an additional ‘to do’ list.
  • Employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility – not just leaders, senior leaders or the working group ‘fixing the issues’.

Following are some tips to improve employee engagement that embrace these mantras:

1. Regular conversations about what people are working on, discussing inputs and lessons learnt.

In an era of quarterly reporting, half yearly financials and metrics to measure anything that supports better financials, it is really easy for people in a large corporate to get fixated on the outputs.  But when you are constantly focussed on the output measures, you often neglect the most important thing -the inputs required to get the outcomes you are chasing.  Inputs, consist of the activities and the behaviours required of the people in order to achieve the results.

Leaders often ask ‘how do I motivate my people’, or ‘how do I get the best out of them?’. A good place to start is by listening to how people are going about their job, understanding what gets them excited and reinforcing efforts that are directed in the right place.  If people leader conversations are focussed on what’s working and exploring where things haven’t worked (& options to improve this),  then the dialogue will become more much more about personal learning. Allowing people to experiment, try, fail and then try something else, will ultimately provide a more powerful and engaging experience, instead of applying pressure to team members whose outcome measures are not stacking up.

2. Provide constant feedback to others reinforcing what has been done well. Be specific and targeted on areas of improvement.

I once had a team leader who constantly focussed on what was wrong with my work and rarely mentioned anything that was right. It was de-motivating and depressing. I managed to shift this around with a simple conversation that went something like this.

‘If you want to get the best out of me, tell me what I am doing right and I will keep doing that.’

Things improved a lot after that.

Whether you are a people leader or a team member, an environment when feedback is freely given and embraced, will be an environment that is far more engaging to work in. The key to fostering such an environment is to give a disproportionate amount of positive feedback. As a leader, you should be aiming for at least three positive points of reinforcement, for every developmental area you identify. The development area identified should also be unrelated to what is going well. The effect of a more constant and positive feedback environment is that it encourages people to behave in the way that is most supportive of achieving the groups goals. Positive reinforcement promotes positive energy, which leads to more positive engagement.

3. Shared problem solving, rather than relying on leaders to solve everyone’s problems.

An easy trap for leaders to fall into is the one that finds them the chief problem solver for the team. Everyone who has a question, issue or crisis comes to the team leader to have it fixed. The issue with this approach, is that it reinforces to the leader that they are the centre of their employee’s universe and thus employee’s can not act with out the guidance of the leader. For employee’s they may think that the leaders role is to set the direction and ‘solve any problems I have’ in order to achieve the goals set out by the leader. But here’s the rub. As a team member I begin to lose any sense of empowerment, enablement and eventually engagement, if I just believe I’m there to do ‘what the boss tells me’. As a leader, I find I end up blaming and resenting my employees for their lack of ability to successfully execute what I need them to do.

A better approach is for leaders to facilitate mutual problem solving. This could be on an individual basis, for example encouraging employees to solve their own problems through carefully selected coaching questions. Or it could be on a team level, through conducting meetings where barriers to progress are identified and actions are put in place to address the issues that will promote improved team performance. In the later exercise, the key is obviously to focus on the issues the team has control over and can be empowered to do something about. Anything that requires the team to modify their own behaviours is usually a good place to start.

Please respond to this post with any suggestions or approaches you have found valuable in increasing employee engagement.

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