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Enter the Change Agent, Part II: Infiltration

July 1, 2014
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You are working for the greater good. In leadership, it’s not only what you think of people. It’s also what they think of you.

I have been an attack dog for companies and no longer recommend it. Instant radical change is extremely stressful for everyone, very personality dependent, and yields only short term gains. Once I left, the culture reverted. I now prefer finesse: true transformative conditioning.

A workforce is a malleable social environment. It can be shaped, massaged. How do you form disparate groups into cohesive units? In a word, understand. You need to integrate and gain adherents to your cause before bringing about change. You need to connect and unite.

Know thyself and be a student of personality types. The proper understanding of mindset is critical in workforce transformation. Your own formative experiences translate directly to how you deal with people. Recognize this and the differences between the cognitive and social development of others. For example, in dealing with people my own age, it is easy to connect, as we process similarly. Motivations and stimuli among other generations and sub groups are different. One useful area of study is Organizational Development. This can be used to categorize generational behavioral qualities. Learn and strategize.

Baby boomers are the parents, aunts or uncles of my generation. I understand their values. I know how they raised their children and extrapolate. I put them at ease by using small talk to effect. When appropriate, I discuss cars they had in high school, music they listened to, concerts they attended, etc. They begin to associate me with pleasant reminiscences; summers gone by. They are more likely to accept me because I can relate to the world through their eyes, and more open to suggestion.

Consider veterans. In gratitude for their sacrifice, it is our responsibility to ease their transition. If they are willing, discuss experiences with them. I often discuss tactics, weaponry and organization. They respect authority and can be valuable allies when they realize that you are honest and have a cogent plan.

Also, consider diversity. Where are your people from? Know a bit about foreign geography and cultures. Triangulate; details matter. For example, did you know that Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates the overthrow of an Austrian Archduke? Learn a few key phrases in another language and influence. Also, be aware of class distinctions and complexes.

Research. Most employees are within an hour drive-time. Study the region. Understand some local history and demographics. Sample the culture. Stop by a pub and have a beer. Familiarize yourself with high schools and churches. Absorb information.

To use a phrase from the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. On the floor, thoughtful observation reveals much. It’s all on display: gestures, pack orders and herd instinct. Evaluate and categorize.

Establish your presence. Be subtle. People are territorial and have spatial boundaries. Soften this up; probe. Walk the floor and change your patterns. Show up unexpectedly but not obtrusively. Pick up signals. Notice confusion and observe how each person deals with it.

Subtly interact. Remember that many look to trust and yearn to be lead. Usually, it is easy to get people to talk about themselves. Listen to their stories. Let people enjoy teaching you their trade, and use this to gauge their proficiency and communicative abilities. Pay attention to those who resist or resent. Filter legitimate complaints versus belly-aching. Find conduits to disseminate information. Be empathetic, a man of the people, a healer. Above all, be positive! Don’t feed into group think or schadenfreude.

Water seeks its own level. Navigate with the skill of a diplomat. Employ an authoritative bearing. Know when to interject but especially when not to. Speak to people in a language and tone that they understand. Assimilate, be smooth. Glide among them and adopt their lingo. Use shop-talk to your advantage.

Recognizethat you are always speaking in public. Monitor your inflection, projection and tone. Knowing how to speak is just as important as what you are saying. This is one of the few things you can completely control, and your delivery is critical. Refine it. There are numerous studies on human enunciation in learning. You can project a siren song, or you can project nails on a chalkboard.

Tend to peripherals. Prepare the environment. Paint is cheap; go for calm soothing colors. Change visuals and clear clutter; you can relieve tension and make time seem to pass quicker.

Offer music. Provide small accommodations, such as good lighting, timely snow removal, well-stocked vending machines, and so on.

Buy your employees a meal. This is symbolic and lends comfort.

Most damaged cultures result from the efforts of a handful of individuals above and below you in rank; identify them. Management and informal leaders can inflame situations, creating an “us vs. them” mentality. Listen to their grievances; this is useful intelligence. They may be bitter for a number of reasons. Find the source of their contempt. Calculate.

Let them know you represent a new effort, and they will not be judged based on past missteps. Decide if it is possible to turn them to your side and include them in your effort. If not, size them up and formulate a plan. Maneuver around them for now. You are slowly culling them from the herd.

With time and patience, you will gain the leverage necessary to truly transform the workforce. You have identified the sources of discontent and are ready for the challenges ahead. Prepare to enact lasting change.
 

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