I had a fun and an interesting morning. I was giving a talk on Change Management to a group of project leads, trainers, and managers in the Utility Industry, when I got a great question from one of the participants.
We were talking about the idea of giving people time to cope with change, and the example was about a new dress code. I suggested that rather than "dropping" the new dress code on staff and telling them it is effective immediately, a better strategy would be to give it out in advance, ask people to think it over, and then come back to talk about it in a few days.
The question I got was this: "If we ask people to think it over, isn't that the same as saying it's negotiable? What if it's not negotiable?"
It's a great question because it sheds light on our assumption that people are not supposed to "think" when a mandate comes down. The idea seems to be "Some things are up for discussion, and some things are not." While it is true that we may have mandates from time to time, why wouldn't we want our teams to think about them?
Let's follow the example. You've handed out a new dress code. You've asked them to think about it. What are the possible outcomes?
1. They think it over and agree with it.
2. They think it over and don't agree with it.
3. They think it over and have questions.
4. They don't bother thinking it over.
All of these are constructive. Even if someone doesn't agree, it opens up an opportunity to talk about it. And it's appropriate to talk about the things we don't agree with, even if they are not likely to change. In such a case, the manager could:
1) Listen and empathize, but confirm that the rule is a firm one.
2) Try to address the concern by sharing an alternative view of the situation. "It may seem unfair, but look at it this way...."
3) If the concern is valid, share it up the management chain.
In any case, I am a big fan of thinking. We should always ask our teams to think about what they are being asked to do, even when they are non-negotiable. Otherwise, we end up treating our people like a "pair of hands" instead of a fully functioning human with an attached brain.
Managers should try and set an environment where is OK to express disagreement with the rules. Talk about those disagreements. Learn from them. Even when a rule is a rule, the conversation itself demonstrates your respect for each other.
Other thoughts on this?