How to work with busy managers so that they want you to help them, and where you can create sustained change.
Real change in both the public sector is so difficult... Leaders just won't listen or do as they are told!! How many of us when we started, felt this way?
There is an observation I have made over time that helps me to understand this frustration; when managers are operating in a crisis mindset, what chance have they of standing back and assessing their system to fix it? I have found that those managers just cannot cope or want real change; they want to put in immediate actions to 'fix' a problem. I know that does not fix the problem; they just want the pain to go away. They resist rational conversation and revert to immediate responses to problems as a crisis.
If, however, we start with where they are, and what matters to them, the first step can be to engage and devlop a relationship where we can work together to make effective change happen.
So the things that have worked for me are:
1. Ask them how you can help them. This puts you in a position that you are truly there to help them - rather than you are there to give them more problems, or to impose change on them.
2. Do something to rapidly ease their burden. It does not need to be big, but something to show that you recognise the fires that are burning for them.
3. Crisis means that people feel out of control of the circumstances they have to deal with. Fear takes over. Do something that helps them regain control of something, even if it is simply some visibility and overview of what is going on in their operations. Just by working with them and helping them see the whole picture of their operations is a great help.
The outcome should be, in a few weeks, that you will be in a new place of engagement and trust with them. They see you as helping their pain and ease their burden, you care about them. Even if you dont make a huge differene, it is the trying that counts. Now you will be in a position where you can explore deeper systemic change.
A Real Example I am working with a public sector department and managers whose staff are so stressed, that they periodically cry, and they feel they have to take work with them home in the evening. Their work is supporting Disabled Children and their Families. The reason the staff have to work this way is because it is their job is to help people in deep trouble with their lives; it is very important work. These staff resist any change, even changes that they know will make their life easier because they just feel that the change itself will be a burden. They recognise they are not working well, and they should be focused on causes and not fighting fires. The manager knows she is fighting fires - and that is wrong. I see that being in crisis mode prevents them from thinking logically or rationally.
Their manager really has no time for us as internal consultants, she has had enough of change in her long working life. And she was cynical that we knew nothing about their specialist disability work. However, we worked with this manager intermittently for a few weeks, and helped them to see how her system is operating, and we acknowledge that some of their partners are very uncooperative, creating huge problems for her team.
We mapped out her operations on a wall so she could see how all the parts fitted together.
We showed her points in her workflow that were causing other problems down the line.
We found out that a lack of and late Transport choices were causing her staff huge problems.
We got to know what mattered to her. Just these simple steps has allowed us to move far closer to that manager.
Where we are now We suggested that we could work with her staff to make choosing the right disabled Transport (a significant problem) much easier for her staff.
What we have done now is to pull in two people from Transport who are going in to study her Disability workflow and whole system, and also to make simple fixes to make their lives easier, by making Transport decisions at the right time. This iteration #2 of the change will take six weeks. With solutions that will bring the staff from each area closer together in theor working practice. Forms will be redesigned, and the options offered simplified so that their ataff can understand them! To structural change, or role change, or procedure change required.
The outcomes will a much quicker access to Transport choices for her staff, that will allow them to make adjustments to their service much earlier on. It is about the right knowledge at the right time. This will help Transport and reduce their problems.
The idea is that once those simple changes can be made, then they will be able to trust us more, we will know them better and we can work with them on deeper systemic changes.
Yesterday the manager came in, gave our internal consultant a hug, and says that she is so looking forward to working with us
The Theory behind this What Grint has written about complexity and crisis is that people operate very differently, and they think differently dependent on whether they feel in control of their work or not. When they are not in control, they are in crisis mode. This helps to understand some of the reaons why many managers and leaders are seemingly un-interested in improving their situation.