Continuing in a series of posts that touch on 10 challenges for you to consider as you embrace a 2012 that is more productive for yourself, as well as for those around you. As I do so, I am borrowing from a book I read last year, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Stories for New Leaders by Michael Watkins.

Read previous challenge articles:
First Challenge – Promote yourself

Second Challenge – Accelerate Your Learning

Third Challenge – Match Strategy to Situation

Fourth Challenge – Secure Early Wins

Fifth Challenge – Negotiate Success

Sixth Challenge – Achieve Alignment

Seventh Challenge - Build Your Team

Eighth Challenge – Create Coalitions

If your success depends on the support of people outside your direct line of command (and it almost always does), it is critical for you to create coalitions in order to get the necessary things done. Building your influence among your colleagues is important to get backing for new ideas and goals. While it is natural to focus on those individuals in your silo (above and below you in the reporting chain), remember that your silo is a part of a larger organization and building those horizontal connections is important.

I especially see this ignored in our industry, which is ripe with silos. There are silos separating P&C from benefits, silos separating one production team from another, and silos separating sales from service.

If you are going to be a change agent within your agency, it is critical to force yourself out of your natural silo and work to build support and conversations around new ideas and initiatives throughout the whole agency. Your coworkers will always appreciate having the opportunity to be a part of a new solution. Not provided that opportunity, don't be surprised when they fight against a new directive for which they had no input, even if they will directly benefit. Besides, good ideas become great ideas when enhanced with the benefit of multiple perspectives.

Even as you work to include others in the conversation, be prepared for pushback. It will happen for any of the following reasons:

  • Comfort with the status quo – Some people like things just the way they are.
  • Fear of looking incompetent – They may fear that the change will create an environment in which they may not perform. Or perhaps they recognize they should have initiated the conversation.
  • Threat to values – They may truly disagree with your direction.
  • Threat to power – They may see you and your ideas as threatening the current power structure, either their power or the power of others in their respective silo.

Whatever the reason for pushback, it has to be expected. The important thing to remember is the earlier you get it on the table, allow people to voice their concerns, and address those concerns, the faster you can get on with effective implementation.

Remember, you will rarely, if ever, get full consensus, and full consensus should never be your expectation. Fortunately, most people are reasonable and, as long as they believe their opinions and ideas have been taken into consideration, will eventually give you their support (or at least stop fighting you).

Acceleration Checklist as suggested in The First 90 Days (paraphrased in places)

  1. Whose support do you most need to succeed? What existing coalitions seem most powerful?
  2. What influence networks are most important to you? Who defers to whom on key issues?
  3. Who are your potential supporters? Potential opponents? Who is most likely to change their opinion in your favor?
  4. How will you shape your message to ensure it takes the various interests into consideration?

Never underestimate the conviction of an existing culture to maintain status quo and to fight against new ideas, so be careful about the way you approach this change. I often see individuals who are so convinced they are right that they try to bully their ideas into place, but nobody likes a bully. Effective change is most often brought about as an evolutionrather than a revolution.


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