Javier, head of engineering for a Fortune 500 company, stared at his computer screen, not seeing it. Instead, he saw most of his engineering staff lynching him in response to the process changes he was about to make.
“These changes are the right thing to do,” he muttered to himself. “A few months down the road, everyone will recognize that and be happy we made them. However, I’m pretty sure many of my staff will not be so open to the idea right now.”
When shaking his head like a wet dog trying to dry off, banging his head onto his desk several times, and whacking himself with his hands all failed to dispel the vision of emotional engineers, he gave up trying.
“Time for a visit to the Oracle.”
The aspect you are avoiding may be the most helpful
“The Oracle” was the name everyone lovingly gave Jim, the director of sales. While sales was his official bailiwick, everyone called him “The Oracle” because he had a knack for helping people know what to do. “Just like the Oracle in the Matrix movies, he asks cryptic questions that magically clear up your confusion,” he’d heard more than one person say.
Jim leaned into the nickname. It had a touch of flair, he felt. And, while he was a wiz at sales, what he really loved was helping people find their way.
“Do you have a minute?” Javier asked, knocking on Jim’s doorjamb.
Jim looked up and waved Javier in. “Sure thing, come on in.”
Javier went in, closed the door behind himself, and plopped down in one of the comfy visitor chairs.
“What’s up?” Jim asked.
“You know the process changes I’m about to announce?”
“I’m confident they’re the right thing to do. My immediate staff all agree. I’m pretty sure, however, that many of the people below them, especially the frontline engineers, will not be so up with the plan. I keep having visions of them storming my office door and carrying me off to sacrifice to the compiler gods.”
“So, not your normal minor problem, then?”
Javier snorted. “Not even close. I know everyone will recognize the value once we get experience with the changes. I’d like to speed up that acceptance. I know you’re going to ask, so I’ve already gone through the Chain of Importance for this. Minimizing the disruption my teams feel from this change is my ultimate goal. I want to skip all the resistance and chaos and get right to the goodness these changes will bring.”
“Have you considered all that resistance and chaos might be what will most help your team integrate the changes?
Asking for feedback almost always brings improvements
“Cryptic question coming right on cue,” Javier said. “Still waiting for it to magically clear up my confusion.”
Jim laughed. “That magic always comes from you, not me. I’m just the catalyst. Let me add a few reagents. What will happen if you don’t make these process changes?”
Javier blew out an explosive breath. “We’re headed for disaster. Our struggles in meeting commitments and shipping product will only worsen. They’ll be unmanageable by the end of the year.”
“Does your team recognize this?”
“Definitely. They’re the ones who brought this to my attention.”
“So, they’re already primed for a change?”
“They are. But, not the changes I’m bringing.”
“How do you know?”
“When I asked them for suggestions for handling our predicament, they flooded me with responses. None of which were anything like my plan.”
“So, just because no one came up with the ideas you have, you’re assuming they’ll hate your ideas?”
“I guess?” Javier pondered this for a moment. “So, you’re suggesting I ask them what they think about the changes?”
Jim shook his head. “You’re suggesting, not me. I agree that sounds like a wonderful plan.”
“I wouldn’t even need to change my speech much. Just a slight tweak, from ‘Here’s what we will do’ to ‘Here’s what I’m thinking, what do you think?’ That’ll help them feel more involved in the process, and that will help them feel more invested. They may even have some improvements to propose.”
Time and experience often smooth your way
“Feedback often makes our ideas better,” Jim agreed. “How confident are you that you’ve covered every last edge case these new processes might encounter?”
“One hundred percent.” A pause. “Ninety-eight percent.” Another pause. “Seventy-two point three five eight percent.”
“So, just above passing?”
“Not even that, maybe,” Javier sighed. “I’m confident in the broad strokes, and also in many of the details. And, experience tells me that some of my plan will be way off base. Asking for feedback will help uncover those.”
“I’m sure it will. How dramatically will the changes affect how your people do their jobs?”
“Big changes that almost certainly have big problems lurking. No wonder you’re worried about getting lynched.”
“Tough love, that’s one thing I always appreciate about you,” Javier half-jested. “When you put it like that, yes, no wonder I’m having nightmares.”
“I remember you once mentioning how much preparation you and your wife put into preparing for your child’s birth. That change seems similar to this one. You had all your plans in place, were confident in your approach, and felt completely ready. And yet, how long did you say it took you to adjust fully?”
“We’re still adjusting, twenty years later,” Javier replied with a laugh. Then, “Oh. This is what you meant earlier, when you asked whether my team needs the resistance and chaos to embrace my changes. Reflecting back, I would never skip those parts of raising my son. They were instrumental in finding my way to being the father I wanted to be.”
Leaning into the experience helps it help you
Javier drifted off into thought. Jim let him drift. Some integration time often seemed to help. And, sure enough, Javier came back to the conversation after a few minutes.
“Thank you, Jim, for your oracley goodness. I started out kind of literally fearing for my life, or at least for my career. Asking my team their thoughts about my plan, and enlisting their help to improve it, can only help everything go more smoothly. Giving them the gift of experiencing the full course of experiences and emotions as we implement these new processes will help them adjust to the resulting changes. And, it will give us all time to notice nascent issues and make adjustments.”
“You’re welcome, Javier. I’m only sorry I don’t have a cookie to offer you. Facilities nixed even a toaster oven, I’m afraid.”
“No worries, Simon always has a fresh batch in his office. I’ll stop by there and pretend it’s from you.”