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Leading Without Authority: Effective Change Management in Strategy

Imagine yourself in the shoes of an assistant teacher at a daycare. You walk into your room, full of 3 and 4-year-old smiling faces. Then, their smiles all drop and turn to tantrum-level rage — all because their favorite cereal brand is now boasting a new box design. The fun games and jokes that were just on the back of the box yesterday are replaced with boring nutrition facts and pictures of plants and veggies. 

While it isn’t your fault that the cereal company missed its mark, it is now your problem to solve. The kids have to eat breakfast, but their frustration is overwhelming. 

Those emotions and that resistance to change don’t vanish as kids grow older. 5th graders get frustrated when they can’t get a brand new video game as soon as it hits the shelves. 15-year-olds fuss when they get keys to a Honda Civic instead of a Range Rover. And, even adults in a board room meeting can get a little angsty when there are new tweaks to the attendance policy. 

As a strategy leader, it can be a daunting task to get every member of the team on board with a new plan, direction, or initiative. Lindsey Joerger, Senior Director of Strategy Implementation at USP, knows this dilemma — and a few methods that can help to overcome it. 

Starting her career as an editor at the FDA, Lindsey’s extensive background as a master problem solver has played a key role in building growth strategies, communicating strategies, and enabling change. At USP, she helps guide the not-for-profit’s direction in establishing standards and safeguards for medicine quality.

Listen to The Strategy Gap

A podcast about the space between savvy strategy and practical execution, including everything that can go wrong on the way. 

Navigating the imbalance of power and influence

In many organizations, strategy leaders keep their attention on internal processes and goals. Lindsey, like many strategy leaders in not-for-profit organizations, must expand their scope to include external players as well.

In these scenarios, it is common to find people defining work and creating goals at the top of the organization and people performing that work in the lower levels of the organization. Lindsey finds herself in the middle, serving as a translator between the two. 

This puts her in a predicament: she has a lot of power but lacks a matching level of influence. She must pave the way for leading without authority. 

As a newer manager, Lindsey researched and studied this exact topic heavily. The solution seemed to be simple: trust.

Establishing trust while implementing strategy

One of the most frustrating experiences as a member of a team is to put in a huge effort for a meaningful project… just to see the effort (and, in turn, the project as a whole) fizzle out and disappear. 

People need to understand and trust the rationale behind a change or new initiative. They need to know that when a new project lands on their plate, results will be sure to follow.

The value of appreciative inquiry

Most of the workforce has experienced countless failed and forgotten projects. Especially when addressing leaders, they are usually skeptical about taking on new responsibilities and a heavier workload. 

When these leaders are offered a solution without first having their concerns heard, they will likely meet the solution with resistance. This is where the value of appreciative inquiries comes into play. 

Start strategic efforts by asking questions instead of offering baseless solutions. Understand the real problems facing the organization and the people behind the organization. Get a full view from a wide-angle perspective first. 

Then, meet the team with explicit sympathy and empathy for the problems they are facing. Once you develop a strong understanding of what needs to be addressed, then you can offer them a solution that meets their needs without creating new issues. 

“Internally, you have to understand that this is a long-term process that requires continuous effort. Externally, it may be a brief opportunity to establish that connection and create that spark,” Lindsey says. 
This appreciative inquiry will build trust with your teams because they feel as if they’ve been heard and understood. Your solutions are being put into place to help them on an individual level. Once that value and understanding has been established, trust can be easily built.

The forming, storming, and norming stages

Every member of every team will be different and require a specific approach. During the forming, storming, and norming stages, it is crucial to understand the needs, concerns, and values of each member of each team. 

Developing personality profiles for each key player is key. Once you understand the parts of the team, your next objective will be bringing those together to form a cohesive unit.

“Crystallizing that shared goal and vision is at the core,” Lindsey says. 

Once the team is on the same page, the brainstorming and debating can begin. Calling on individual strengths and solidifying the role their individual input plays in developing solutions can create honest, constructive conversations that steer the organization to growth. 

“This gives them the notoriety, the credibility with the organization. It helps them feel proud of the work and brought in on seeing the work through,” Lindsey says.

Even when times are tough and new difficulties and setbacks arise, their experiences will not be diminished. Personal value is now tied to the work in and of itself, not just the end result. 

Navigating the extreme percentiles

In every setting, there will be the early adopters: the 10% of team members who are on board from the beginning, enthusiastic, and ready to embrace a new opportunity. 

On the other hand, there will be resistance: the 10% that meet a proposed change with criticism, reluctance, and frustration. 

The key to navigating these two extreme percentiles may be surprising: meet them both with the same amount of energy and concern. 

Imagine a small change, such as cutting the use of paper products in the office kitchen. One team member may be ecstatic. They have an extensive collection of eclectic coffee mugs at home that they are ready to show off. Another team member may not have a single coffee mug to bring, and this change is going to cause them the inconvenience of going shopping for one. 

The early adopter can help explain the change, influence other team members and networks, and shape the new process to fit the needs of the organization as a whole — all while culling fears. These people are your change champions.

On the other hand, the resistance can help address problems that may have been flying under the radar. When a change may seem like a fantastic idea overall, the resistance can lead the team to solve problems before they arise. 

Together, these two can work together to build a solid strategic plan. The resistance may explain why washing coffee mugs is going to waste a lot of time and water. The change champion will hear their concerns, and they may offer the solution of purchasing an efficient dishwasher. 

Now, apply this logic to a much larger change, such as ending the production of a tried and true product line. Bigger concerns, such as lack of profit and even layoffs, can be addressed before becoming a detriment to the organization and its people. 

Interested in learning more? Listen to our full conversation with Lindsey on the latest episode of The Strategy Gap. We take a deep dive into topics such as applying creativity to strategic changes, maintaining core values through major changes, more methods of trust building amongst diverse teams, and more. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. 


Meet the Author  Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan is the VP of Revenue Operations and Head of Marketing at AchieveIt. Jonathan has spent time in roles across strategy consulting, sales, customer engagement, marketing, and operations, enabling a full picture view of strategy & strategy execution. His generalist background encourages a full picture view of strategic planning & strategy execution. Jonathan graduated from Georgia Tech and received his MBA from the University of Florida.

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