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Leaders: What Is the Most Powerful Technique to Build Commitment For Your Strategy?
By Gail Severini

A question. Actually a conversation of questions and lots of listening. Why? Because it’s not what you know that will engage your people – it’s what they know.

So, what do they “know”? What do they believe about this strategy / change initiative / project? If they trust you enough to be candid, you are likely to be surprised – perhaps shocked – and even enlightened.

To be clear, I am not advocating that the end goal is consensus or even agreement. Many strategies that simply must go forward are unpopular. However, it is never a prudent option to ignore or disregard dissent.

Many times listening to dissent, acknowledging it, can be enough to defuse it so as to open minds enough to begin real conversations about ‘why we must do this’ and ‘what happens if we don’t’.

Years ago, I was leading a team of Business Managers and Analysts in support of several multi-million dollar initiatives for a major national bank. Each week as our relationships grew, I learned more about how my directs, and their directs, were thinking about our approach. This feedback was instrumental in many course corrections. I was often shocked, even blindsided, despite my efforts to ‘stay close to the ground’. Their willingness to be honest, often to tell me what I did not want to hear, was crucial and I respect them to this day for that. However, I now realize I could have asked even better questions.

In “Fierce Conversations” author Susan Scott shines a light on how to have more meaningful, powerful conversations, on questions that engage and move people – move us together – towards better futures. Advice like:

  • “Who owns the truth? Each of owns a piece of it, and nobody owns all of it” – and by the way no one understand this better than your people.
  • “The conversation is the relationship” – our relationships with others (well certainly colleagues and business partners) are made up only of conversations and, with that in mind, each conversation is a manifestation of that relationship, i.e. what we say matters, it moves (or doesn’t move) people.

  • “The more emotionally loaded the subject, the more silence is required” – many times people need time to process information and to filter first reactions.

I ask you to reflect on the first time someone told you to change or told you something was great you should try it, and you did. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t – no matter how great that thing is. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you cannot tell someone into change. You can make them aware, you might even be able to help them understand, but the choice is theirs to move forward or not. That choice comes from within them – not in anything you say.

We all benefit from time to process information against our own experiences, beliefs, values and experiences. Asking questions is a way to facilitate this process, to nudge it along. Asking fosters, and perhaps expedites, the deciphering process. A conscientious facilitator does this with integrity, does not misrepresent or misappropriate feedback, rather eases the analysis, fills in gaps of information and encourages into the new territory towards what can become a shared vision.

This process is an investment. Naturally one leader cannot hold 10,000 conversations but this process can be cascaded as necessary to unearth the resistance (acknowledge it and resolve it where possible), that builds the commitment.

It is not easy but it is worthwhile.

Gail Severini is a professional management consultant specializing in leading and managing change and strategic marketing. She draws on 20+ years with premier Canadian and off-shore financial services companies such as Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC (bank and insurance), HSBC and Butterfield Bank as well as for health care providers, post secondary education and manufacturing organizations. She is a graduate of Queen’s University, earned the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation in 1993, became Certified in Prosci Research’s Change Management Methodology in 2009 and has continued to invest in professional development through the Strategic Leadership Forum and Project Management Institute.

As founder of the Symphini Change Management Inc (www.symphini.com) vision, she is a relentless advocate for managed progress, both strategic and tactical, and for mastery of change management. Symphini is a management consulting firm specializing in transforming businesses by leveraging people, process and technology through change.

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