Getting the Boss to Change
post # 64 — April 30, 2006 — a Careers post
One of the most common types of questions I receive is how one can change one’s boss. The following is a typical example, received recently by email:
I have been at my consulting firm for approximately six years now, but we seem unable to grow as a practice and I am also concerned that I will not be able to grow personally as a trusted advisor. A large part of the explanation is that our firm has a single, traditional authority figure in which all deliverables, on-goings, and business development must pass through. Many of us are ready to begin trying our hand at business development and having our own clients that buy us and our ideas instead of the authority figure. The authority figure may say that he supports this but does not change actions or behaviors when pushed back on to relinquish control. It is frustrating for me as someone who wants to grow, learn, and make my own mistakes, and also see the practice grow. What can I do to help institute change? Could I successfully broach the subject without getting myself into hot water?
Here are some quick and simple rules to apply in situations like these:
a) People help those who are trying to help them. You must earn the trust and confidence that you want other people to place in you. Give to get. What have you done that would make the other person want to give you a chance?
b) People do things to benefit themselves, not to benefit you. You must make the case why the other person would want to give you what you want. Why is it in his / her interest to do so?
c) Present your change idea not as “Here’s what I want” but as “Here’s how I can help you.”
c) You need to understand what the other person’s wants really are. Don’t make lazy, short-hand assumptions, such as economic maximization. You need to find out what their real psychological drivers are (need for glory, need for control, insecurity, vanity) and find a way to give them what they don’t yet have enough of. Don’t be unethical or exploitative, but recognize that you’re dealing with the psychological complexities of a person here, not just a “rational, logical” situation.
d) Try and make it their idea, or at least their refinement of your idea . “Boss, I’ve been thinking about a way for us to get better at certain things. I’ve thought of a few options. What do you think of them? Can you think of ways to make them better?”
e) If you want someone else to give you what you want, ask initially for only a little. Ask for a chance, an experiment. Don’t rush, don’t get impatient -seduce, don’t assault.
f) Use the model described in my coauthored book Trusted Advisor, Engage (make sure the other person is willing to explore the topic); Listen (Explore their true desires and wants); Frame (help them view the issue from a reviswed perspective); Envision (Hep them see what’s attractive about a better future situation) and Commit (explore the actions necessary to get to the goal.) As the book advises, don’t rush to the next stage until you’re sure you’ve completed the prior one.
As everyone will have seen, most of these rules are identical to those you would apply in trying to get a client or a parent to give you what you want. They are all closely related, if not identical.
Is anyone else willing to share their “rules of thumb” for managing the boss?