Three ways to influence change listed: through the owner, through mid-level leaders and today’s deeper dig into silent influence.
I am a restless external consultant who sees possibilities, goals and end states right on the horizon- if only people would focus on getting there. So sped up change, reduction of gates, quick decision making and the energy that comes with taking a journey together is my first choice for approach. Owner influence works the best for this. Implementary leader is a second option. I must admit though, silent influence can be effective (and yes enjoyable when I summon up my reserve of patience).
Effective? How so you ask?
All change must, in some way, be sustained.
Just past the end state are a series of smaller end states that are the change becoming status quo. (I know sounds horrible to have that great change eventually become the thing that needs to change). How well those small end states are reached and held and integrated into the organization is sustainability.
Silent influence can be powerful for sustainability- especially for external consultants. We see through the status quo. We see the new possibilities. And we see what will get in the way of that happening. So silently we can do the things that will reinforce the change later.
- Can we encourage a tweak to the performance management system?
- Can we get a senior leader to approach their decision making process and their communication of those decisions differently (in a way that will make this change last through iterations)?
- Can we help to egg on the design of metrics that everyone can use and tie to the change?
- Can we continuously emphasize each small step as a positive forward moving process (rather than fixes of all those countless mistakes we made in the present and the past)?
Sometimes our silent influence is simply to teach acceptance of new, newness and change in general.
Sustainability is made up of our next three categories.
Operationalization is a big fat word that officially means to quantify a “fuzzy concept” (Wikipedia) or define a concept so it can be measured (Dictionary.com). In our case we will put those two definitions together to mean, “turning change into something you do every day”. The best version of that is process change. Process usually creates some good measurements. A big part of operations is finding ways to see if you are doing all those regular day to day things better as the days go by. In the case of change you hope you create a scenario where you are REALLY doing things better.
Silent influence can be used to remind those integrating the change into operations how important certain things are. Silent influence might be catching people doing things the old way and in a positive, light hearted way calling that out. Or, even better, and really silent, is to teach those who will be there long after you leave how to do this.
Silent influence can come with helping to create metrics that turn change into something that is done all the time, and provide numbers to reward that transition.
Operationalization comes when the change is part of the way you do things. It is both a part of sustainability and the environment after the change has sustained for a while.
This is probably the first silent step.
None of our other categories will happen without some sort of behavior change. I kept these “out of order” on purpose though. Behavior change should be happening all the time. Not so crazy that nothing good lasts, just incremental to make things better. (If something is genuinely working it does not need to be changed, but checking once in a while is a good thing).
Silent influence here works. It works if you are tied to the owner, it works if you are connected to the implementary leader, it works if you must be “silent” continuously. Sometimes behavior change happens by setting up things that make the “new” patterns easier.
Maybe it is a technology change that must work as well as possible before the stakeholders are asked to learn it.
Maybe it is new patterns from leadership that model a certain interactive behavior (on one engagement I had to silently teach leaders to counsel their reports in an interactive loop- they insisted out loud they new how to do this).
Maybe it is building awareness of certain things. My favorite is teaching an end state approach by calling out each time something is the opposite. (It is easy to do- an end state focus is a learned behavior).
There are many, many times when we as externals can silently lay things out knowing the direction forward if those things are accepted and turned into behaviors. I have to admit I am beginning to appreciate these transitions in “client time” (client time being much longer and drawn out than I would choose- or would have chosen, now I am beginning to see the two time frames).
This might be the category where we are a little less silent. Calling out all the good behavior changes, all the things that are beginning to become how you do things, change that seems to be sticking helps to culturize the new. But, again, doing that through others can be more powerful and more effective (and more sustaining).
Silent influence here might be encouraging certain new customs, traditions or patterns that reinforce the change. Culture is about the things we do together over time. It is about repetition, pattern and history. Change can be about moving away from history. So silent influence here can be helping to integrate something good about the past (or the current present) into the process of change. You should always take something with you into end states.