By Guy Harris

Have you ever had to sell a change to your team that “came from above” and that you did not like? If you have not yet, that day is coming. It happens for everyone in a front-line leader role.

Here is how the process often looks from the front-line leader position:

  1. Someone in the organization, a customer, or a vendor has a problem or frustration.
  2. They propose a change that gets accepted by a senior level leader.
  3. The senior level leader communicates information about the change.
  4. The change trickles down to the front-line leader to make it happen with little or no conversation about the front-line costs or implications of the change.

When you find yourself in this situation, there is a strong temptation to slip into negative interpretations of your senior leaders (assumptions like: they do not care about us, they do not know how this affects us, they made a stupid decision, etc.). Tempting, yes. Helpful, no.

If you allow yourself to drift into and dwell on these negative assumptions, you will struggle to get your team to implement the change. To sell the change to someone else, you first have to figure out a way you can buy it for yourself.

Here are four things you can do to sell a change you do not like to your team:

1. Assume Benign Intent

While it is easy to fill gaps in your knowledge about the reasons for the change with negative assumptions, beware of that temptation and actively work to avoid it. I hope that you can find a way to see the change in a way that is positive, and I realize that might be too much of a stretch. If you cannot view the reasons for the change positively, at lease see them as benign. Here is what I mean by benign: while the change might be difficult or uncomfortable for you and your team, assume that the person proposing the change does not intend for the change to be difficult or uncomfortable. Assume they either know something you do not know or that you know something they do not know and that you need to have a conversation to better understand each other.

2. Get Your Questions Answered

Engage in a conversation with your leader(s) to fully understand the reasons for the change. Approach them with a “help me understand” perspective rather than a “let me tell you why this is a bad idea” perspective.

3. Look for reasons that you can support the change

As you engage with your leader(s) to better understand the change, actively seek reasons to accept and support the change. It is often easier (and more natural) to see what is wrong with the change than it is to see what is okay with it. You do not necessarily have to like the change. You can look for reasons that you can support it, though.

4. Be honest about your reservations AND express hope that you can work it out

At the end of this process, you need to sell it to your team. You might still have reservations about it, and that is okay. Your team will notice your reservations and ask you about them, though. When asked, be honest about your reservations, and express optimism that you and your team can overcome the challenges you will face with the implementation. 

  • Bonus tip – Focus on HOW to implement the change more than on WHAT you are implementing

While you and your team might not get to decide WHAT is changing, you can probably make important decisions about HOW to implement it. If you focus on HOW you and your team will implement the change, you improve the odds of getting positive momentum towards the change and to creating a sense of ownership of the process for you and your team.

I cannot promise your team will magically, miraculously, and enthusiastically get on board with every change even if you do everything I suggest. I can promise these steps will improve the odds that you get positive movement towards the changed future with minimum (not zero) pushback on changes you do not like and have to implement anyway.

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