Dear Crucial Skills,
The department that I work in has recently hired a new manager. He sent out his first big change this week. He has decided that everyone in my position should now work 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. as our standard working hours. For the last fifteen years people in the department have been able to choose their standard working hours between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. We are salaried employees and have not been expected to follow a clock, but rather to get results. If an issue arises that requires us to stay late we do.
The manager feels that we should be able to be reached between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. if needed. We already have some people in the department at that time—but he wants us all on this schedule.
Many in my department have children, so this is a major change to them. Some will have to find new day care, some can’t keep their current position due to the change, and everyone feels a benefit was taken away. In addition, some of our customers come in at 7:00 a.m., and this new change would make us less likely to be here for them.
The bottom line is that this has caused a huge morale issue in the group. We now feel that the manager cannot be trusted and that our opinions do not count.
I want to be able to do my job and not alienate my new manager; however, most of my department is completely against him now.
Any advice for me and my coworkers?
Dear Time Change,
If you want influence with your new boss, the best way to get it is with your ears.
The first thing a new boss worries about is establishing respect with his or her people. If right out of the chute your boss gets signals that the group disagrees with his first big decision, he will feel unsafe and unsupported, and will likely get entrenched in his position.
Dean Rusk once said, “The best way to influence others is with your ears, by listening.”
Here’s what I suggest you do.
1. Explore the purposes behind the policy. Make an appointment with your new boss at a time that is relaxed and convenient for him. Let him know that the new decision is creating some discomfort for you and others, but that you realize you’re probably just thinking about your own interests and that you want to be sure you understand all that’s behind this decision. Then listen! Ask lots of questions. Explore all the reasons this plan makes perfect sense. If you do this well, you’ll come to appreciate how a reasonable, rational, and decent person could advocate such a policy—even if you disagree with it.
One of the signs that you and your colleagues need to go on a listening campaign is the story you’re telling yourselves about your manager. You commented that “We now feel that he cannot be trusted and that our opinions do not count.” This is not your manager’s problem, this is yours. A boss making a decision to improve customer service does not automatically mean he is untrustworthy. The fact that he makes a decision you don’t like does not mean your opinions don’t count. I suspect that if you listen deeply to your manager, you’ll find he’s got legitimate reasons for what he’s done. You may also find that his failure to involve you more in the decision has legitimate reasons. Have you ever avoided involving someone whom you were confident would be hostile and judgmental?
2. Commit to seek Mutual Purpose. Next, ask your boss if he is open to other approaches that fully satisfy his and your customers’ needs but still preserve the flexibility you and your team have come to value and need. Don’t propose a new solution before getting his commitment to some dialogue. This is an important step. If you launch into solutions without letting him “Commit to Seek Mutual Purpose,” you may be talking to a closed door. Simply ask, “May I have your support in taking this list of objectives back to our team and seeing if we can accomplish all of them while maintaining some schedule flexibility?”
Here’s a warning. When you ask this question, your boss is likely to begin adding things to the list. Let him. When he knows that he is making a commitment, he will begin to think of interests or needs that he might not have been conscious of before. For example, he may say, “You know, now that we’re talking about this I realize that this is also about me having access to the people I need when I need them. I’m here 8:00-5:00 and don’t want to have a bigger hassle in connecting with people.” Let him do this. If this is what is motivating the policy he announced, then you’d better deal with it.
3. Make it motivating. If he seems reluctant to allow for other policy solutions, you’ll need to drop back a few steps and make it motivating. This is a tricky part of a Crucial Conversation. You must help him see the natural consequences of proceeding with the plan you disagree with—but do so in a way that is not threatening.
You might say, for example, “Having worked here a while I have some thoughts about likely downsides to moving ahead as planned. I’d be willing to share those with you if you would like to hear them. If not, then I’ll do my best to help make the current plans work.” This kind of a statement helps him see your opposition not as disloyalty, but as a deeper kind of loyalty. If he gives you permission to continue, you can then talk about why this will affect morale, turnover, customer service, etc. Be sure not to stack the deck in favor of your position. Where there are “upsides” to the policy, acknowledge them. Where there are downsides to your preferred approach, point those out, too. Honest dialogue is much more persuasive than manipulative monologue.
4. Involve others. If your boss agrees to look at other options, ask for some time to involve others. This is a great opportunity to build safety for your boss as well as to help others see the positive and legitimate intentions behind the current policy change. Engage them in developing solutions that satisfy all interests and consider including some of them in presenting your best thinking to the boss.
If you handle this right, this crucial conversation can actually increase your influence with your boss. Not only will you contribute to solving the immediate problem, you’ll be off to a great start in creating a healthy working relationship.
Best of luck,