The Office Debate: What to Do When People Aren’t Serious About Change

A while back I wrote a post about the Debate Phase vs. the Go Phase (The Office Debate: When Is It Time to Talk, and When Is It Time to Go?).

These labels help timid people raise issues when it’s helpful (Debate Phase) and then keep everyone focused on execution vs. talking more, when it is time to go. (Go Phase).

I got some questions about what to do when people undermine the Go Phase with passive aggressive behaviors, and when they continue to debate behind the scenes, expecting or trying to get the Debate Phase to re-open.

Let people know you are serious

The basic remedy here is that you need to let people know you are serious about the new work in the Go phase.

The natural habit of an organization is not to change. People will always go back to what they were doing before if you are not explicit about making the change stick.

Behaviors don’t change for 2 key reasons

  1. Dissenters — Passive aggressive people really don’t agree, and they are trying to do something different on purpose.
  2. Reality strikes back — People with the right intentions cave when the reactive pressures of the day re-assert themselves, and then they get nervous about doing something different or strategic.

As soon as the first person jumps ship and goes back to the old way of doing things, then others will think, “oh I guess we are not doing this new thing any more and I better get back to reacting to the emergencies like before, because that is what is valued. I believe this to be true because I can see people acting the old way, and I haven’t heard about the new thing in a while.”

I recommend these strategies to my clients to avoid three (3) common failures to predictable, on-time execution, and to make change stick.

1. Track progress better

Have someone help you track progress: Do you find yourself communicating strategy, assigning work and owners, and then absolutely hating doing the follow-up to keep checking in with everyone to see if things are on track? Or just being too busy with customers and other things to do a good job at this. When I was a CEO and GM, I know I struggled.

I was lucky early in my career to have someone on my team who was great at this.

I assigned the work. He wrote it all down, and he made sure I didn’t fail to assign specific owners or dates. Then he relentlessly followed up with everyone involved, and created tracking reports for how we were doing on finishing the things we committed to.

If you are not doing a good job tracking progress, you will fail to execute.

If you are not good at this yourself, get someone on your staff to do this for you or you will never get the important things done. I had a person on my staff to do this for me for the next 15 years of my career once I learned this lesson. I would have failed without it.

2. Communicate more

Have someone help you communicate: Once you make your decisions and you are in the Go phase, communicate a lot. Communicate more than you ever thought you could. Get bored to death with your message.

Talk about key initiatives in every communication, in every meeting, in every one-on-one discussion. Make sure that when people see you coming, they know you are going to want to hear about the key initiatives that are in the Go phase.

If you are not communicating regularly, you will fail to execute.

Article Continues Below

If you are not in the habit of communicating regularly, or other things keep you too busy to focus on it, get someone to help you do this.

Have them put you on a schedule for e-mail and group meetings. Have them write up a straw-man of the communication. Have it include milestones and great examples of how people supported the new strategy, and questions for you to answer about what people are confused or concerned about.

Don’t ever go more than one (1) month without revisiting and communicating your progress on key initiatives with everyone involved.

3. Set a good example

Don’t let sloppy behaviors get in the way: I have seen leaders who say they are serious about execution, that it’s the most important thing to them, but then they are late to their own staff meetings. Or they let missed deadlines come and go, and never mention it or deal with it.

If you want your organization to be good at executing, you to set a good example for the quality of execution you expect with your own behavior. And you need to hold people accountable when things don’t get done.

If you have people helping you track and communicate, it’s just a matter of you following through (but you still have to be on time for meetings!).

What do you think?

What has delayed execution in your organization and what have you done about it?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment! If you want more ideas on leading better execution download my free report on leading change called “Too Busy to Scale,” or learn about the Strategy into Action work I do with executive leadership teams.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her new book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

Topics