5 easy steps to politely suggest improvements when leading change
I remember when I started a new Change job, at a new organisation, in an existing team... on a project already in flight. I was hired for my Change expertise and I could see instantly that certain things weren't going to work or flow properly, but I couldn't just barge in and ram my suggestions for improvement down everyone's throat. I hadn't built that trust or earned that right yet, and seriously... it's never a great way to get buy in (even when you've been in a team a long time!).
I needed to figure out how to gently and subtly slide my suggestions over the table, and not seem like the new intruder poo-pooing "the way we've always done things", stepping on people's toes, or bringing too much change too quickly to the team. It needed to be delicate, and considerate... and effective.
When leading change, this is a situation we face a lot. Especially if we're moving around onto different projects. And we've got a good eye for continuous improvement! It can be frustrating to see something and not always feel we can say something.
So here's my 5 easy steps to get your improvement suggestions not only heard, but also followed through. And it works not even just for new teams, but existing teams too!
Step 1. Start by complimenting how things are being done and congratulating the people who set them up.
You might have been hired for your expertise and your fresh ideas, but there's probably many people wedded to the current way or "how we've always done it". Respect that. Identify and highlight the good parts of how things are currently working, and acknowledge that it was probably set up that way for a reason at a point in time.
Step 2. Ask if there's anything that's not working with the current process. Let them answer.
Ask the team what's not working, what they don't like, what issues they are experiencing or what it's currently costing them. Rather than you being the one to highlight the problems or issues, get them to identify what could be going wrong. This - more than anything, will create buy in. If they think there's nothing wrong, prompt them by playing back what you've heard them say or where you've seen them frustrated or tripped up, or find some 3rd party data like customer feedback or lagging performance records.
Step 3. Ask for permission to provide feedback / an idea.
Advice, unrequested, is usually not welcome and often unheeded. Hell, even advice requested is often unheeded (people be crazy). But this coaching tip to ask permission before providing feedback, a suggestion or an idea, unconsciously starts to remove the barriers to understanding, engagement and buy in. It can be as simple as: "Permission to offer some feedback?" or "Would you like me to share my thoughts on where we could take this?" People usually don't want to be seen as close-minded, so they'll often say "Yes" - and this word in and of itself can soften their resistance at a unconscious level.
Step 4. Provide the suggestion / improvement / idea.
You've got the green light to share - so share away. Most importantly here - have an energy of wanting to help, not wanting to win. If you have just joined the company, you can say "at my last workplace we...", but just be sure you don't overuse this else some people will feel you're just lifting / copying and ignoring the uniqueness of your new workplace.
Step 5. Ask them for their thoughts.
Rather than assume everyone's in agreement, ask whether it's something they'd like to try it and if so, how they'd like to make it happen and when. Let them know you're willing to help. And don't be downhearted if it's not picked up straight away. Just having the opportunity to air the improvement idea can seed the change in the team.
I'm much more adept now at influencing new teams to gentle improvements. I often think of it as "Softly, softly"... gentle nudges in the right direction. It's about building trust and adding value delicately, to be seen as a collaborator not a competitor. You might still ruffle a few feathers, but at least you've been polite about it, shown what you're capable of, and built trust to boot!
Lata Hamilton is the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, an Executive Coach and Change Leadership Trainer. Do you want your training to stick? Learn how to easily create a video learning bite series with tools you probably already have with my Crafting Microlearning Guide: Request your free Crafting Microlearning Guide here