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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Convince Your Company to Make a Change Without Freaking Anyone Out

What is it about humans and change? We don’t just avoid it, we downright fear it. Especially when it involves the office, a place that thrives on routine, schedules, and managers saying, “That’s just the way we do things around here.”

As anyone who’s ever tried to enact changes in the workplace knows, it’s incredibly difficult to convince the people around you it’s a good idea. But, what if you see a way that things can be done differently, more effectively, or more profitably?

Well, one option is to write it off and just complain to your co-workers: “Nothing here is ever going to change.”

Or, you can go make it happen. Professionally, of course. So, the question becomes, how can you become a change agent at work, responsibly and respectfully?

Here’s a four-point plan for staging your revolution in a way that will get you the results you want. So now you can go beyond just talking about what would make your company better—and actually get it done.

Step 1: Get Feedback on Your Idea

Our ideas sound really great, especially when they’re bouncing around in our own heads. That’s why you need to reality-test your idea before letting it see the light of day and figure out if it’s actually a good one.

Embrace the naysayers. If your idea isn’t an immediate winner among your colleagues, don’t just write them off as dream-stompers who fear change. Listen to their perspectives, and use their objections to strengthen your idea. Their reservations may point to holes in your plan. Shore up the foundation, and then give them credit for contributing to the idea. (That’s called a win-win: You get support for your ideas and you make your co-workers feel appreciated.)

Even if you got a lot more negative feedback than you anticipated, trust your gut. Entrepreneur Seth Adam Cohen says he always asks himself, “Do I believe in this? Is there passion there?” If you can answer yes, then keep moving forward. Just remember that you have to be able to stand firmly behind your idea if you’re going to communicate its value and drive its implementation.

Step 2: Get Your Co-workers on Your Side

For a long time, people believed that leadership needed to spearhead and guide the implementation of change in the workplace. However, a bottom-up approach is often more effective when innovation is truly the goal.

When you build a bottom-up consensus, you are enlisting ideas from everyone the change involves, specifically the people who are actually doing the work in question. As you test your idea, these are the folks who can offer experience-based feedback. They’ll also be the people to support your idea when you bring it to the higher-ups.

To employ a bottom-up strategy, think in terms of collaborations. Invite your colleagues to join you in your revolution. Give them individual tasks and let them participate in the discussion about how you will define the change’s success. This strategy demands that the process be completely transparent, from budgets to schedules to results.

Step 3: Appeal to Loss Aversion to Convince Your Superiors It’s the Right Move

Loss aversion is a common psychological bias that speaks to our innate desire to avert loss by being willing to take a risky action. (Think about the person who continues to gamble in an effort to make up for the loss incurred from the first bet placed—even though the odds are stacked against him.) This phenomenon has even been seen in nations’ foreign policies. The United States was found to invest more effort in disputes that were framed as potential losses.

What does this mean for you?

Your idea could win over your superiors if you appeal to their willingness to accept the risk of trying something new because it could avert further losses.

To do this, provide evidence of the existing problem and the current loss in time, money, productivity, or morale that’s happening as a consequence. Then, outline how your solution is worth the investment in time and resources. Since this is a serious conversation, you want to treat it as such—meaning, don’t make your pitch as you walk to lunch with your manager. Instead set up a meeting and make sure your conversation hits three points: the current problem, your solution, and your plan.

For example:

“As you know, the team’s recently struggled to complete their quarterly sales goal. I think this is due to the database system we’re currently using—it’s slow and it’s hard to track individual progress. I’ve done some research and found a few other options that look much more user-friendly. While they all cost a little bit more money than what we’re spending now, they’re so much faster that my projections show us actually increasing sales by 20%. I’d like to set up a trial period for my team this month, track our results, and see if it does make us more efficient.”

Step 4: Be Prepared for People to Freak Out

We all fear change, right? We may say we embrace it, but in the back of our minds, there’s the scary unknown lingering like a monster under the bed, waiting to grab our ankles. Daniel Lock, an expert on change management, suggests that we don’t exactly fear change itself. We fear and dislike ambiguity.

When you come up against resistance, look at it not as a rejection of your idea, but rather a reaction to the ambiguity in the process and the unknowns that exist.

To address these, present a clear plan that outlines how you see your idea rolling out sustainably, beyond the testing period. Add easy-to-understand visuals, relevant projections, and statistics wherever possible. Bonus: If you can show that the current workflow will not be disrupted, it will give your manager peace of mind as you get your plan moving.

To go make change at work, you must be strategically brave. You also must be smart. You know your management. If they like to be kept in the loop, make sure you stay in close contact and report on results as you implement your idea. Otherwise, take a cue from Grace Hopper, the woman who coined the phrase, “It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”

Let me know if this inspired you to go rogue at work. Tweet me @AmandaBerlin.

Photo of plant growing courtesy of Shutterstock.