On Tuesday, I published a blog called Developing Accountability for Strategies Leaders May Not Agree With. The focus was developing the skills of people who work for you who may not understand, buy-in, or be accountable for the change. As a follow-up to that blog, I continue with the same theme, but from the perspective of a leader who is stuck in a situation of trying to communicate the change when you don’t agree with it. The blogs are slightly in contrast, but they are both extremely realistic and focus on the skills and tools needed to be successful in the long run.
During a workshop I led earlier this week, a participant raised one of her most significant challenges she faces as a front-line leader and I will admit that in 25 years of facilitating leadership development workshops I’ve never heard it before. Which means it’s either something new or it’s something not a lot of people like to talk about.
Here’s what she said; “My most significant leadership challenge is trying to communicate a strategy that I don’t agree with. Our business has moved from an innovation strategy to a cost cutting, low price strategy and I don’t think it’s the right strategy and I don’t think it will be successful. However, as long as I’m a leader here I have to do whatever it takes to communicate to my people the strategy and what they are supposed to do on the job.”
An interesting and difficult situation for sure and one that I was proud to hear her raise in front of her peers as several of them chimed in that they also had similar concerns and challenges.
Here are a few tips for dealing with this difficult challenge:
Make Sure You Understand the Strategy (and the Reasons for Change)
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The entire framework – and most change processes – must start with a deep understanding of the strategy. What is the value proposition to customers? Who are the customers? What is the message we are delivering?
The first step is to spend time with the strategy to make sure you fully understand it. Read the fine-print and challenge your own assumptions and biases. I have found that many times leaders haven’t invested the full amount of time to understand the strategy and as a result think they don’t agree with it. Strategy and change can be difficult and others will consciously or unconsciously create perceptions that may not be true to block it or discredit it.
Determine What and Why You Disagree with the Strategy
If you fully understand the strategy and still disagree with it, you need to take the time to determine what exactly it is you disagree with. It is the entire strategy? The approach? The way it was presented? Is it difficult to measure? Do you morally disagree with it? Does it go against the core values? Clarity and recognition of what it is that you disagree with is the first step in finding a solution.
Determine if There Are Any Elements of the Strategy You Do Agree with and Focus on Those
After carefully examining the strategy and understanding the details, try to see if there is any part of it that you do agree with and can support. If you do, then the easiest answer in the world to this challenge is to focus on the parts of the strategy that are comfortable with you and to the best of your ability focus, concentrate, and communicate to others about the positives.
If You Don’t Agree with any of it, You Have a Hard Choice to Make
If you’ve determined that there is nothing about the strategy you can support, then you should think long and hard about your fit with the organization. People leave organizations every day because they have lost faith in the strategy and that’s okay. You will be doing both yourself and the company a service by seeking a new and next opportunity.
If you Stay, Explain it in a Way that Others will Embrace it
Even if you don’t support the strategy and decide not to exit the company, then the only thing you should professionally do is explain it and communicate it in a professional way so others will embrace it. If we are being honest with ourselves, that is an extremely hard thing to do and takes a lot of discipline to remain positive and focused on execution. You may not love the strategy, but you must do everything possible to explain it in a way that is unbiased and lets others decide for themselves.
Walk the Talk Wherever You Feel Comfortable
The final point is to walk the talk in support of the strategy wherever you are comfortable. As a business professional, you have to lead by example so try to find areas of comfort and demonstrate to your team how to do it.