A little story to illustrate the power of a 4-word sentence that should be in the toolbox of every change leader…
I – need – your – help.
In the early years of my change leadership career, I had a hard time pronouncing these simple words. My ego was a big part of the problem: I was supposed to know; I was the change leader; I was the expert; I had been hired or promoted as such. Hence it didn’t feel right to ask for help on change management matters.
Yet, like everyone else, I was struggling with hard nuts to crack in my change campaigns. Since you are reading this blog post, you are most likely familiar with the kind of questions that kept me awake at night:
- Why is this senior executive not doing more to support the initiative?
- How do the people impacted by the change really feel about it?
- What are the true reasons for the resistance?
- Who are the top influencers in the groups impacted?
- To which extent are the frontline leaders really buying into the change?
- How can I bring this person on-board?
- Is this the best rollout plan for this group of stakeholders?
- Are we providing them with enough training to absorb the change?
My “It-all-started-with-Jean-Pierre” story
One day, I finally managed to say the words: “I – need – your – help”. What I got in exchange blew me away and made me regret I didn’t start using the sentence before.
I was sitting in my office pondering a challenge that had already robbed me of two hours of sleep the night before: “Why isn’t Hubert putting his weight behind the change?” Hubert was a powerful executive in that organization, which I had joined three months earlier to lead a large change initiative. I didn’t have enough insights into Hubert’s heart and mind. As a result, I couldn’t figure out how to deal with the roadblock that his lack of support constituted. I was virtually banging my head against my office wall.
In a state of despair, I lighted a cigarette (I was still smoking back then; it was in France and at that time we could smoke in the workplace!). To clear some of the fog from my mind I needed to get out of my office. So I walked down the hallway, cigarette in hand. I eventually reached the area where Jean-Pierre, a peer of mine, had his office.
We already had a good rapport. Shortly after I joined the organization, Jean-Pierre had taken me along with him to the field and had answered all my questions about the business. He was a long-timer who knew the organization inside out. He also knew its people, including Hubert the senior executive.
Jean-Pierre said hello to me, grabbed his pack of cigarettes and pointed to his guest chair. Without thinking, I came in and sat down. Jean-Pierre pushed his ashtray towards the center of the desk and asked:
– Alors, quoi de neuf ? [So, what’s up?]
– J’ai besoin de ton aide… [I need your help]
The sounds of my own words took me by surprise! Thanks to my half-conscious state, I had managed to pronounce the awkward sentence. Nothing I could do now but wait for Jean-Pierre’s reaction… He didn’t say anything. He simply opened his hands, palms facing up, and widened his eyes in an expression of interest. I had no choice but to say more:
– Hubert me parait hésitant par rapport au projet et je n’arrive pas à comprendre ce qui le bloque ??! [Hubert seems lukewarm about the project and I can’t figure out why??!]
Jean-Pierre remained silent for what felt like an eternity to me. He was probably thinking whether to give me the gift of his insights, and to which extent he could do so. I had only been in the organization for a few weeks; as I said above we had good rapport already, but it takes time to develop full trust; and we were talking about Hubert the powerful executive.
Finally, Jean-Pierre decided to go ahead and started sharing some of his views with me. He also asked very good questions. We had a solid back-and-forth about Hubert, the organization, its culture and the change initiative.
When I left Jean-Pierre’s office 15 minutes later, I was walking with a spring in my step:
- I had gained critical insights into Hubert’s thinking and into the culture of the organization;
- I had benefited greatly from speaking out loud and from hearing Jean-Pierre’s own perspective;
- I was feeling less isolated and I believed I could have in Jean-Pierre a valuable partner for the change campaign.
- Last but not least, I had a good working hypothesis for Hubert’s lack of support – something on which I could act.
As I walked back towards my office, I was already devising a plan of action.
It turned out that Jean-Pierre was right about the reasons behind Hubert’s resistance. Armed with this new understanding, we were able to create the necessary conditions for Hubert to buy into the project. In the end, we succeeded with the change execution.
Most importantly, the discussion with Jean-Pierre that morning helped me realize the huge power of “I need your help”. From that day on I used these four words with increasing frequency. Guess what? The more I did, the easier it became to say the sentence; the more help I got from others on all sorts of change management issues; and the easier my change campaigns became.
Unleash the power of this little sentence
Give it a try! Start saying “I need your help” or, if you are already doing it, then say it more often. You will be amazed by the power of this 4-word sentence.
If you like what you get, then make sure to keep this little tool in your change leadership toolbox.
Share your best change-management-help story
Use the comment section below to share your best change-management-help story – i.e. a time when asking for help was critical in overcoming a change management challenge. To protect the innocent, use different names when telling the story :-).
Check this follow-on blog post: Complex problems require new insights…
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