Getting them to Agree

Make the changes that many will buy into.

Times are changing at Yamuka Corporation. Once the beacon of internet search engines, recent start-ups have eaten deep into its sources of revenue. As income has dried up, deep cuts are desperately needed.

One bright Monday morning, Erika arrived at work to find an email from the company’s CFO in her inbox. Extra hands are needed on deck, so 12-hour work days are now mandatory for everyone, including weekends. To ensure that people are available when needed, every employee will now be required to carry a pager. Once paged, they need to be in the office or log onto the company network within a half hour.

Erika was mad. She fumed as she silently contemplated the situation.

This isn’t what I signed up for! I have a life. I have a husband and two little children who need me. How can they just increase my workload by 50% overnight? And a pager? Why don’t they just put a leash around my neck? I’ll have to look for another job.

During the few minutes that followed, she thought about her strategy for job-hunting. She would spend some time to search for opening while at work, and apply to the ones that fit once she gets home.

Let’s face it. It’s a fact that most organizations go through cycles of good and bad fortunes. But only the ones that are nimble and able to respond fast to changing economic environments are able to weather the storm.

Many organizations lose valuable employees because of the way much needed changes are implemented. Here’s a few tips on what works.

Wisdom in Numbers

When changes are necessary in most organizations, the top executives would usually put together a team of top leaders to figure out what needs to be done. Typically, this team spans the functions on the organization for a balanced representation. Despite this approach, the ideas gathered by the team may not be representative of the entire organization. This is because not many of these leaders reach deep within their functional areas to poll for ideas. As a result, many good ideas are left uncovered.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki told the story of a country fair in which those in attendance were asked to guess the weight of a slaughtered ox. After the roughly 800 responses were averaged, it came to 1,197 lbs. When the ox was actually weighed, it came in at 1,198 lbs. This is just one of the many case studies and anecdotes that the author used to show that the aggregation of information in groups frequently results in decisions that are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

When organizations poll many, instead of a privileged (or top) few to effect changes, there’s the likelihood that a much better decision will result.

Change is Coming

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating requesting inputs from everyone ad infinitum in order to please everybody. That doesn’t add value and it may end up paralyzing the decision-making process. You simply cannot please everyone.

However, when inputs are requested from the entire organization, it serves as an informal notice to people that changes are on the way. It helps to prepare them for the final decision so it doesn’t come as a shock.

With today’s technology, this is very easy to do. Many organizations now use workplace social networking platforms such as Yammer. With such tools, it’s easy to poll for ideas from the entire organization by asking a simple question. Employees can use such a platform to present ideas while others would see them and post questions and/or add inputs to further refine those ideas.

Choice is Key

Another benefit of asking for ideas is that you’re telling everyone that several choices are being considered. It tells them that they potentially have a say in the final decision. Having the choice to decide something that affects us means a lot.

Think about it. How do you typically respond when people try to compel you to do something? Your natural reaction is to resist. As humans, we have this deep desire to retain our will. In fact, the history of civilization shows that we’d rather lose our lives than surrender our freedom. We’ve been known to go to war over even a small infringement on our freedom. The story of the American Revolution drives that point home for us.

Peter Block said, “Your ‘yes’ means nothing if you can’t say ‘no’. There can be no commitment if there’s no choice.”

When you ask people for their inputs into a decision-making process, you’re giving them the chance to say “no” to other ideas. But when you legislate what must be done, you may end up the way of Yamuka Corporation and lose your most valuable people.