I work in a research organization. My colleagues are very well educated, as is most of the executive leadership team.
I’m not a scientist, a PhD, or a doctor. I’m a middle manager who knows how things get done and what needs to be fixed in order to improve a process. I have over thirty years of work experience and have received praise from research groups that appreciate what my team and I do to help them achieve success. However, all of this means very little when it comes to being taken seriously when I provide input on organizational changes that impact every group.
Since I don’t work in a research department or have a higher position title, my group’s voices are rarely heard or included in strategic planning. As a result, plans are often created that don’t benefit the entire organization or that create significant resource strain (staffing and budgetary) on support groups. My team’s inability to influence means the organization never achieves its full potential, and that’s what frustrates me the most.
I’ve tried managing up, mentoring with leadership to influence change, and empowering others to take credit for our suggestions. I’ve been told repeatedly that the process works just fine. It doesn’t. Now I’m wondering whether it’s time for me to move on, or perhaps there’s another path I can try that will allow my team to excel and keep in step with the growth of the other departments.
I’ve put a great deal of effort into developing and improving my team. I know what these people are capable of and I know something has to change if I am to sustain this amazingly talented staff. The bottom line is that I really care about my team members and about providing them what they need to be successful and to thrive.
This sounds awfully frustrating. You are seriously considering leaving an organization after a long and successful run, though, which makes my mind go in one direction.
You can choose to move on—but based on my experience, I think almost every problem you have right now will follow you to your next gig. I’m not saying you don’t have a real predicament here, and that it was partially created by others. However, you’ve also played a part in creating the predicament, even if it doesn’t feel that way. And the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs that drive your behavior aren’t going anywhere until you can figure out what they are and how they affect your behavior. I suggest you start there and make some changes in your MO. If you still can’t make headway, you can leave, secure in the knowledge that you truly did everything you could have done.
The first thing I would challenge you on is the bit of chip on your shoulder. You blame your lack of influence power on not being at the same level as the folks you serve—but it’s possible that this is a story you’ve bought into. After all this time, you now feel like a second-class citizen. You will want to address that for yourself before you can shift the perception of others.
You have been told repeatedly that the process works fine, but you know it doesn’t. When you are dealing with a bunch of smart, analytical people, you have to speak to them in their own language and use their tools. If you need them to see exactly how the process doesn’t work, use their methods and language. If the current process wastes money, get the CFO and COO on your side by creating a spreadsheet that demonstrates the high cost of the current way of doing things.
You could also use the scientific method to show how the current process is a poor use of resources that’s leaving out big parts of the organization. The method would be:
- Ask a question. For example: Does our current way of making decisions about organizational change achieve the best possible outcome for all stakeholders?
- Perform research. If this sounds daunting, you might consider hiring an intern to do it. I know when I was working on my master’s degree, the biggest obstacle for most folks in my cohort was finding a compelling real-world project. This would be an ideal project for an IO Psych or Organizational Development grad student. I guarantee this is someone’s idea of a good time!
- Establish a hypothesis.
- Test the hypothesis by conducting an experiment.
- Make observations.
- Analyze the results and draw and conclusion.
- Present the findings.
Because you work in a research organization, it stands to reason that you could use the company’s methodologies to make a case for your point of view. You know—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Another thought is to leverage the team you have invested so much in and have such high regard for. You could lock yourselves in a room and work through a Design Thinking process, which goes roughly through the following steps:
- Empathize: Understand the impact of the current problem and the realities that created it.
- Define potential outcomes.
- Ideate: Brainstorm and hunt down ideas.
- Prototype: Create an action plan to execute on the best idea.
- Test: Share the story and gain buy-in to try new things.
I think if enough high-level, smarty-pants types see your commitment to solving the problem as you see it, you could gain some support.
You have tried a lot of different tacks. If you really want to shift things, you will have to go way outside your comfort zone and try some things that feel risky. Go big and go bold. What do you think? What do you have to lose, really? Who wants to start all over somewhere new if you can get super creative and prove you are just as smart as anyone else at your company?
I’ve probably made you uncomfortable. If I have, that certainly wasn’t my intention. But I believe the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So, blow it up and do something truly different. Then write a big article about it that gets published by HBR.
Can’t wait to read it.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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