When your dream job requires you to bend

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Sep 08

The cool thing about starting your dream job? You are well qualified to do the work and want to make an impact as quickly as possible. The bad thing about starting your dream job? Your coworkers may think the very thing you want to change for the better because of your job skills is working just fine.

One person initiating change can get thrown under the bus by the rest of the team in a cold-blooded minute. So how do you build support for making something better? When you are new to the company and the team, you bend your penchant for action to build support for the change. Here’s how:

Understand how what exists now is working

There are reasons things work the way they work today — sometimes incredibly dumb, of course, but there are reasons. Often the reason something is working the way it is working today is because someone a year ago made a short term decision that ended up making a long term strategy. I once made a suggestion to solve a problem in a software system that was not elegant, but worked. Five years later, my inelegant solution was still there because it was the only thing that worked.

There are hundreds of reasons of how something came into being to the department and knowing those reasons tells you a lot about the corporate culture, politics and egos of the people involved.

Understand how what you want to change is measured

Coming into a new team and spouting off how cool it would be to change something based on your opinion (couched in experience, of course…) doesn’t much cut it when the rest of your team has their opinions. You have to know how what you want to change is measured so that you can recommend a change and see the change in the measurement. If you think doing something will improve cycle time, you need to measure the current cycle time to make your case.

Determined who is impacted by the change

A great way to get on the wrong side of people on your new team is propose a change that impacts three of your colleagues — and they didn’t know it was coming. A great way to get everyone’s defenses up and go against your recommendation — surprise!

Even if you think you have the definitive answer, not evaluating who is impacted from the change will most likely cause your recommendation to get killed from the people impacted by it.

Build support by asking “What if…”

Since no one can walk into a new team and simply make recommendations for change, you will need to build support among the team for the change. One way to do that is to ask people “what if we did this in a different way” and then explain the way.

Using this approach does several good things for your personal brand. First, you are not making a formal proposal, you are asking your team about a possible change in a non-threatening manner.

Second, since you are new to the team, you will hear all of the objections about the change when asked this way. The change could have been tried before, something close was done before, or no one has thought of doing it this way. You want to hear the history and the objections; the objections are what need answering.

Finally, you can work with your team to build on the proposal to make it better. To build the “best practice” for your team instead of the generic “best practice” out there that won’t work in your company.

Make the recommendation

Once you know the history of they way things are done, know how it is measured, who is impacted by the change and have built support by asking “What if…,” you are now in a position where you can make a recommendation for a change. Better still, you and your team can make the recommendation since you have gotten support for the change on your team before making the recommendation. No surprises, solid acceptance, and now the recommendation is the consensus where the objections are known and answered.

But this takes time. It means when you start your dream job and see a needed change, you need to bend.

What is the best way for gaining support for a change you’ve done on a new team?