One of the most common mistakes I see as people strive to make change and find support for new ideas is that they get too hung up on what others “should” do and not on what they “will” do. This is particularly true with my colleagues in human resources. I frequently hear statements like these:
“As a leader, they should appreciate the imporance of spending time with their people.”
“Bob should be in support of this, considering all of the problems he’s had in his area.”
“If our executives are thinking big picture, this investment should be a no-brainer for them.”
The problem with “should” statements is that it is rooted in hope and assumption. What other people should do is rarely what they actually do. Managers should care about the development of their teams, but many only care about covering their owns butt or looking good to their manager. Executives should invest money in the long term strategy for the business, but they often focus solely on maximizing short term margins. When we get wrapped up in what others should do, we lose our ability to make things happen.
I’d like you to repeat after me: “What people should do is irrelevant.”
If you are serious about ideas and making real change happen, what matters most is what people will do. Ask yourself this question. If I can get an executive to do what I need them to do to make my change initiative succeed, but they do it for a reason other than the one I think should haven’t guided their decision, does that diminish the impact of the change? It doesn’t for me. Long ago, I came to realize that people do things for their own reasons. So, if I wanted to be a powerful influencer, the way to make that happen was to study the people I needed to influence to understand what they cared about. Then, I could position the things I needed them to support in terms of what mattered to them. This is a much easier way to get support than taking the moral high ground and preaching to them about what they should do. In the end, what matters is the change, not the reasons others chose to support it.
Here are a couple of examples from my experience. There are a lot of corporate leaders out there who aren’t going to support corporate wellness initiatives on the grounds that healthy people are happier and more productive. This argument is far to abstract for most of them. So, if you want to sell a wellness initiative to this group, it’s probably more effective to sell it in terms of the large potential health insurance costs savings that it could have on the organization (assuming you have financially savvy leaders as most organizations do). In the end, as long as you get the green light, you end up with a wellness initiative, regardless of why they supported it.
A lot of managers resist anything that looks like either touchy feely or mandated HR process (one on one’s, performance appraisals, training programs, etc.). Should they invest of their time and energy in these processess simply by nature of being a manager? Yes. It’s part of the job. Do they care about that? Not really. What most of them do care about is time. So, if you can make these processes more efficient and easy for them to complete and you sell that to them, then you might pick up more voluntary compliance in the process. The other things most managers care about is what their peers and upper management think of them. So, by building into your process a step that produces a report to upper management of individual manager’s completion of the process compared to their peers, the peer pressure might compel even more compliance. In the end, the goal is to get managers to do what you need them to do, not to convince them to do it for the right reason (although that would certainly be ideal).
Once you let go of why people should do things and instead invest in why they will do things, your success at creating change will increase dramatically. Work with the momentum of how people behave rather than trying to change their course and you will find that you can make a lot more happen.