One of the most difficult jobs you might face as a performance
consultant is getting employees and management on board with a
project. You rely on employees and managers to provide you with
accurate and complete information so you can conduct a thorough
analysis. You also rely on them to move willingly through the
So what do you when you hit a brick wall and people try to block a
project from moving forward? For management, you must appeal to
their personality and direct the conversation based on their drives
and motives. For employees, you must focus on your own actions and
how you present yourself to change their perceptions of you.
Management plays a big part in the performance-improvement process.
Managers are the ones who initiate the process, give you access to
employees and information, approve your solutions, and sign your
checks. You may think that, because of this role, management is
automatically on board with a project. Well, think again.
Management often has its own agenda and specific ideas about what
your solution should be. Now don't get me wrong - not all managers
have an ulterior agenda. But you need to be prepared to handle the
ones that do.
If you encounter a manager who is trying to force you into a
predetermined solution without any analysis, you need to change
your tactics. First, you need to become a pseudo-psychologist.
Assess the manager and determine what drives him. For instance, is
he logical, money-driven, or self-absorbed? You can determine this
through your conversations. Once you have figured out what drives
the manager, you need to respond appropriately and direct the
conversation. If a manager responds to logic, then reason with her.
If she responds to the bottom line, talk about money. If she
responds to her own ego, make her think the idea was hers. All of
these techniques take practice, but they can help you get through
to a manager who was previously not truly on board with a project.
Encouraging employees to share
Whereas the management brick wall is often made of stubbornness,
the employee brick wall is one of silence. I'm sure many
consultants have encountered employees who would not share
information necessary to a project. There are several reasons for
this silence. First, the employees may be afraid for their jobs.
Workers often think a consultant is there to tell management who
should be fired. They may hold onto information because they feel
it affords them job security - if no one else knows how to do their
job, then they can't be fired. Similarly, employees don't want to
be told they're doing their jobs wrong. In addition, people often
just don't want to change. There are many other reasons why
employees choose to withhold information, and it's your job to
figure out how to get through to them and convince them to share.
You can't always take the time to figure out what drives each
employee, however. Even if you could figure out the true reason
behind the silence, you may not have the tools to properly address
those issues. Instead of focusing on changing employee behavior
directly, you must take a broader approach and focus on actions you
can take to change the climate so workers will communicate more
To begin, you must gain their trust. If you ever want to break a
wall of silence, this step is essential. There are several ways you
can gain trust, but here are two methods that have worked well for
me. First, I am upfront and honest about why I am there (with
management's approval, of course, since some projects must remain
confidential). I address the elephant in the room by letting them
know my job is not to recommend who should be fired but rather to
make recommendations on how to improve the work process, whether
that's through training, reassignment, tools, or resources. Next, I
work to make employees comfortable with my presence. To achieve
this, I do a lot of observing where I am seen but not heard. At
first, it might make people nervous, but they soon warm up to my
being there and become more comfortable and open around me.
Another way to break down the wall is to involve employees in the
process. Once you have gained their trust, start interviewing
employees and ask them for their opinions. Ask them what's going
well and what's not. Ask what they would change about the work
process and what they would keep. Frontline employees often have
the best vantage point, so it's important to consider their
opinions. The simple fact that you want their opinions often makes
employees feel valued and committed to a project.
You can also encourage willing participation by giving employees
what they want. Once you know what they think needs to be changed,
determine the low-hanging fruit - those ideas that would not be
costly or difficult to implement but that would make a large
impact. Talk to management about changing one thing immediately.
Explain that giving workers something they want will help you gain
their continued cooperation and commitment.
The last important idea for breaking the wall of silence is simple
yet crucial: Don't make promises you can't keep, and follow through
with what you say you're going to do. The fastest way to destroy
trust is to promise to change something you have no control over.
For instance, don't say you will obtain new resources because
ultimately, that's management's decision. Instead, you could
promise employees that you will take all of their suggestions and
complaints into consideration and act as their liaison or advocate
to management. Getting employees something they want goes a long
way in fulfilling this promise.