In our last installment, we discussed how to build relationships with managers and an agreed upon organizational role. In this installation, we will explore ideas of how to work with the organization’s senior management when the opportunity arises.
Working with the Higher Ups
It had been a stellar year. Even though the firm’s biggest customer had placed a rush order that demanded an entire years’ worth of work be compressed into just seven months. Revenues and profits soared as the company pulled together to do the impossible. But there was a problem because everyone had worked so efficiently to chop five months off the usual production cycle, the higher-ups wanted to restructure the company to make it more responsive all the time; not just during emergencies. Mary was asked to be a member of the team to identify how to restructure the organization to “improve operations.” She was nowhere near the senior most member of the team. But Mary stepped up and brought together a diverse cross-functional team. This team developed three cohesive restructuring proposals, one of which was accepted and implemented with only a few changes by upper management. Her ability to bring together diverse ideas and coalesce them into three cohesive proposals was significant, because they took into account both operational and the staff’s individual personal concerns. How did Mary do that?
Mary spent a good amount of time every day engaging with her coworkers. Learning about their work processes, and also their personalities, expectations about their work, and homes lives. She also worked with various senior members of the organization to define and solidify her role within the company. While Mary was working to build her role she simultaneously worked to develop trust with senior leadership and build a common understanding about the leaders’ priorities and preferences.
Mary had a good network of people whose work and personal motivations she understood among her peers and within the organization’s management structure. Knowing what was important to her peers AND why, was a key to success for Mary. Equally important to her success in this situation was trust. Mary had always gone out of her way to share information with her peers and had never curried favor with senior leaders nor lead them astray with unverifiable opinions.
Mary also remembered three important factors about interacting with senior managers:
- They are human too.
- Don’t be overawed or blinded by their position.
- Their roles are lonely with lots of pressure.
How did Mary successfully use all the pieces of the task at hand to significantly impact the restructuring team? By asking the restructuring team “what if” questions. She was then able to use the feedback from those questions to form the foundation for an iteration of “what if” questions to senior leadership. In doing this, Mary used the skills of finding common ground (this time between the visions of her peers and senior management) to form a foundation and to provide options that appealed to both groups.
Mary stuck to her principles while engaging in the two-way communications, demonstrating complete commitment to the organization, her coworkers and the process. It firmly established her right to be present and heard by both parties but also exhibit a willingness to admit ignorance and seek others’ thoughts. Through the course of the team’s existence Mary became more attuned to the working style of her colleagues, and mirrored these styles to build coalitions.
In the end, Mary’s ability to generate three good restructuring options for senior management to choose from was easy. All Mary had to do was listen to what the senior managers said they wanted, what the other members of the restructuring team wanted and write down the points that overlap.
Even though labor statistics tell us we are changing jobs more and more and at an accelerating rate, job change can be scary. While deciding to change jobs, or shortly after pulling the trigger on a job change we all too often entertain self-defeating fearful thoughts which include nightmares of our careers being over, loss of autonomy, loss of authority, and abandonment by our friends and family.
These fears, while mostly (we hope!) irrational are real. But the fear can be relieved by knowing the four activities necessary for getting established in a new organization or role. These are:
- Finding out how the organization works.
- Building relationships.
- Agreeing upon what those relationships are and then building the role.
- Working with senior management.
Getting established won’t always come easy, but sometimes these changes are needed to continue on enjoying what we do.