Thursday, January 19, 2012

How should we use power to effect change (if at all)?

Yesterday I worked with an intact workgroup on understanding and using conflict styles and strategies. One strategy, power-dominance, was at first confusing and later the subject of concern.

The group responsible for reporting when to use and when not to use power in a conflict stated that a leader should use his power when he wants to get a team to change; then they stated that a leader should not use power if he wants to effect change. Hmmm. These ideas were far enough apart in their discussion that they didn't notice the contradiction. When they reported back to the full group, the inconsistency was obvious.

After much discussion, the group realized that many of us tend toward using our power (when we can get it!) when we feel we must push a team toward some change because that team is dragging its feet. "If they'll just make the change," we figure, "they'll see it was worth it."

Intellectually, the group knows that when we use our power to make a team effect a change, we'll get short term compliance but long term resentment. Even if the team later agrees the change was worth it, they may feel a lingering lack of trust in us for pushing them to that change.

Rick Brenner writes in his Chaco Canyon blog, "Using fear as a tool of debate begets compliance, not heartfelt support." So what do we do when we know the change is the right thing to do but our team is dragging its feet?

This group agreed the optimum choice is to pull out all the influence strategies the leader can get his hands on: demonstrate (rather than tell) how the change will benefit the team; get outside voices whom the team trusts to talk up the change; put the change in visual form and get it in front of the team at every chance; ask team members one on one to help you understand their resistance -- find those whose resistance is lowest and once they're persuaded ask them to persuade others; garner incentives that have meaning to team members that will accrue to those who implement the change; find out if there's anything painful about the change and do everything in your power to eliminate or at least reduce the pain; search for the pain in the current way of doing things and bring it up frequently; ensure the team has the ability to make the desired change and train them or otherwise enable them; etc.

These ideas take more time -- and are a use of power, albeit a less resentment-causing use -- but I'm betting less than you'd guess -- particularly if we use all of them rather than one or two. What do you think? When was the last time you had to persuade your team (or teen) to make a change? What was your response when they dragged their feet?

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