Building Support for Change: Eight Strategies to Achieve ConsensusMaureen MacDonald | Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto
A former colleague used to say, “Get the inside on side before you go outside.” This is not always as easy as it sounds. When you are dealing with diverse stakeholders and differing perspectives, achieving consensus around a significant change can be challenging. There are, however, a few strategies that can be utilised to increase the likelihood of implementing a successful change.
Variation will exist—depending on the organizational culture, the nature of the decision, and the significance of the decision or change to the organization—but the following strategies are useful guidelines to consider when embarking on a new change or decision:
- Agree on your end goal or at the very least agree on the problem you are trying to solve
In introducing any change, you need to be clear at the outset about what you are hoping to achieve. If there are differences of opinion at this stage, there will undoubtedly be problems down the road. Even if there isn’t complete agreement about the ideal future state, at least agree on the problem you are trying to solve or what you are trying to improve.
- Define success
It is helpful to get some agreement at the beginning of a change about what success might look like—will a service be improved, will quality be enhanced, will your staff be more fulfilled, will your learners be served better, cheaper, faster? These are important factors to discuss early in the process.
- Identify who needs to be involved in making the decision
Not everyone can have a say in every decision or every change. However, key constituencies need to have the opportunity for input. It is also important to be clear about what you expect from those that participate in the process. Do participants have a vote in the final decision or are they there for input? Does everyone involved in the process have an equal voice or are some “more equal than others”? Manage the expectations!
- A clear communication strategy needs to be established
This is particularly important for those that will not be closely involved in the decision. A clear roadmap should be established for who will provide input, who will provide updates and when. The more complex the organization or the decision, the greater the need for clear articulation of what you are doing or proposing to do, who will be involved, what your timeframes are going to be and when you will report back.
- Identify the criteria upon which you are making your decision
As you consider options before you, it will make the final decision easier if you have established the factors you will use to select a final option. Are there factors that are deal breakers? Others that are nice to have but not critical? Will time, cost, quality or other elements factor in to the criteria to make a final decision? Moreover, in the group of decision-makers, how will you make your collective determination? Do you wish to achieve consensus? Does this mean unanimity? Will a vote decide it or will “the boss” have the last word? There can be a place for each depending on your organizational culture and the decision or change you are trying to implement.
- Launch a trial balloon
Every decision or change will have to be implemented, often by people who were not part of the decision. Where it is feasible, support for a decision can be achieved by “testing” a proposed approach. “If we were to do this… what would work, what might not, what would we have to do to ensure success?” This step can gather commitment from those not directly involved in the process and can raise potential red flags before implementation.
- Implementation is a whole new game
Even when you think the decision is made, be prepared to revisit it. Those who were involved in the decision but who don’t like where you finally landed can make implementation difficult. Those who were not part of the decision may dig in their heels as implementation occurs – sometimes because they don’t agree with you but sometimes because they don’t understand where you are going. Once again communication becomes a critical component and just because you communicated once (or twice or three times) doesn’t mean you won’t have to explain further.
- What have you learned?
When significant change is introduced there will be lessons learned. Take a moment after the dust has settled to revisit what worked, what didn’t and what you should do differently next time around. A post-mortem on any change or decision provides the basis for improvement going forward. After all, none of us wants to repeat our shortcomings.
Lead—Don’t Be Led By—The Change
We work in busy organizations. They are continuously evolving and changing and we are called upon to introduce change, respond to change or make decisions to effectively function in this environment. The success of any change implementation will depend on your ability to harness the support of others within the organization.
By considering some of the foregoing factors, you better position your organization to successfully lead the change rather than have the change dictate the outcome.
Author Perspective: Administrator