Are you struggling to be heard? Do you know what needs to be done, but nobody is doing it? Maybe you need to change your approach.
Since learning some valuable lessons, through running large teams and my own business, I’ve noticed some common traits between employees who really make a difference in their roles and impact change in an organisation and those that don’t.
Some employees think that their manager doesn’t understand what they have to offer. They say things are slow and that they can change them. They assume that their manager has more power over their career than they do. They want to challenge the norm, stand-out, be recognised.
Being ambitious and wanting to change things for the better is wonderful, but there are other ways to position your desire to help a company find a better way to success.
Successful change agents and employees who are constantly promoted and rewarded are often more helpful in their approach, language and style. Some could be called ‘yes’ people, but that may not be the case at all. It may just be that they are able to say yes and still make the change they wanted.
So how can you be more helpful and not feel like you’re a ‘yes’ person?
1. You don’t have the whole picture.
Despite what you think you know, there is always something you don’t. It could be an issue with a team member being at high risk of personal harm who is being helped through a difficult situation, hence they can’t easily be held fully accountable. It could be a cash flow issue as invoices are not being paid on time and so you can’t just fly to Sydney. There could be a merger plan or an IPO, restructure or change in direction which is affecting the company’s ability to adopt a new product plan. There are thousands of reasons why things may not go the way you think they should. If you want to find out about them, you’ll need to earn some trust and be the person to help and not the person to stand in the way.
2. Senior leaders are human too
They have insecurities, they worry that they might not know what they’re doing and they’re trying to navigate their own career too. Having somebody challenging their every move could be threatening and force them into a defensive position. Here comes Johnny telling me what is wrong with everything I'm doing again.
Try asking how you can help that person with ‘their’ problem, rather than challenging them, especially in front of others.
3. The sky may not really be falling
I’ve done this before and I know what’s going to happen, why won’t anybody listen?
Sound familiar? It’s a very difficult situation, where you can see what is coming, but nobody else can. How do you get yourself heard?
The trouble with seeing the sky falling is that people stop listening because it doesn’t actually fall. Because usually, things aren’t that catastrophic and go on as they always did. Added to this, somebody is usually at fault and may well know the sky is falling and they’re already onto it, the last thing they need is you going around and telling everyone they’re not doing enough.
Why not ask if you can help?
Start by figuring out if your vision of failure is all that important. Sometimes it is more important for people to actually make mistakes so that they can learn from them. If you really think it needs to be avoided, try asking if the outcome looks likely. And if you can help them find a way to mitigate the risk. Let them share their ideas for a change, you don't always have to impress them. Sometimes they want to impress you.
4. Stop saying BUT
Use language like ‘Yes and’ and add to their idea with your own.
You’ll be seen as helping to find a solution, rather than pointing at a fire and screaming that there is a fire.
5. Stop taking on more responsibility than you’re given
Imagine you were a babysitter.
When you arrive at the home of the child, you meet the parents, you discuss the care of the child. You try your best to reassure them that you’ll do everything they asked, their way. You’ll call if there is a problem and you’ll not change their rules.
If you didn’t like the rules and thought there was another way, you wouldn’t just change them.
You’d prove yourself over time, a happy child, well cared for, rules followed, lots of reassurance given and proof points (photos, calls) provided. Now you have trust with the parents and understand their values and how they want their child raised, you’ll know if you can tweak a few things or if you need to talk to them about how it may help them.
So why is it that when we work for a company, we think we can just waltz in and start complaining about everything and how it should be done differently?
Make sure you know who your stakeholders are, try to understand their position, their values and mission. Deliver what they ask you to. Prove how fantastic and reliable you are. Then, with trust and credibility, you can start to influence change in a positive and helpful way.
6. You can only be judged on what you do today
Your history can only help set the tone for your success, you still need to earn trust and credibility with your new employer. And remember, they didn’t memorise your employment history and they can’t read your mind. So if you do have more to offer, why not offer it?
A subtle change in mindset and approach can make a big difference to the way you are perceived. What do you want to be a challenger who raises the defences or helper who actually gets things changed for the better?