|Published: January 28, 2011
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
How Can I Get My Peers to Change?
“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”
“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”
“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”
What do these three questions have in common? The leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most challenging persuasion task, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t fully convince them.
Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as the change you want to see. Using the first example, what is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves you with the opinion that decision-making is too slow? Which decisions are too slow? What specific behaviors do you think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? Abstract arguments are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.
Now that you’ve gotten clarity on the issue or opportunity, it’s time to consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.
First, conduct an environmental scan. Is this behavior more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If the behaviors are the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.
More effective alternatives are either to determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or to begin seeding the idea that your organization’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to (in this example) accelerate decision-making and as such, the pace of work.
If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going. Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing a significant change. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.
After conducting an environmental scan, a second factor to consider is that the other team members may also be experiencing low personal trust (“I worry you will stab me in the back.”) or low professional trust (“I worry that you don’t know what you’re doing and that your decisions will sink us.”) or sometimes both. Do you see signs of this? It can be very hard on the ego to see this for what it is, but seeing it and acknowledging it is clearly prerequisite to resolving it.
The third factor to consider is that you may be experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams. These can be efficiently addressed through the use of an appropriate style inventory and debrief, although in the C-suite, it can take some time get everyone in agreement to do an inventory. This may be best integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site at which you can immediately make style shifts in order to move the group forward while working on an immediate business objective.
So, first get down to the level of action verbs to define the challenge or problem. Then conduct an environmental scan, consider if personal or professional trust is inadequate between you and the rest of the team, and consider the possibility of extreme style differences. Adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors, and you will soon become a much more influential person.
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