You are a new manager for a department. You get everybody together and tell them what your key plans are. What you get back is “We have done that in the past and is doesn’t work”. What do you do?

On the one hand, the people working at the company have seen a few “new brooms” come in, with all these “fancy” ideas that turn out to be nothing and end up making the manager look, at best, out of touch and feeling that he should have got to know company before he opened his mouth.

On the other hand, the idea may not have worked in the past, not because it is a bad idea, but because the timing and attitude was wrong. For years, washing powder companies tried to market the washing tablet with little inertest from the consumer. Now, it’s a major success.

There is probably no right answer to this, but it would be nice to know when to push an idea through against adversity and when to shut up!

MsSunshine's picture

Your comment

"he manager look, at best, out of touch and feeling that he should have got to know company before he opened his mouth"

made me think you may already know the answer. Do you feel you should have gotten to know them better first? How new is new? The fact is that every group is different. I followed the advice on your first 100 days that say not to make any major changes, interview everyone about what is important to them, etc.

You won't get anything done if you don't have their buy in! If you think you have listened first, then I'd say you need to talk to the key thought leaders in the group. Find out if it's just some vocal people or everyone. If you can get the thought leaders, go ahead. [/quote]

HMac's picture


Years ago, I heard a really great leader say to a new team as part of his introduction:

"and by all means, if you have some ideas about how to improve the business and you think they deserve a hearing - no matter how big or small, or how old they are - get them out of that filing cabinet, dust them off, and let's talk about them. The same is true if you've seen things that you know WON'T work. Let's not waste our time as a team going down rabbit holes."

What a great way to get buy-in. And, implicit in that approach was that the discussions about what would and would not work were going to be in individual conversations - not in group meetings with all the attendant politics and posturing.


jhack's picture

There is a really good podcast on "how to prewire a meeting" (members cast, Nov 2007) that provides techniques you can use to ensure that the meeting goes well.


Chris.Lodge's picture

I agree with all that you put above and I think that it is a good idea not the do anything drastic for the first few months.

But what if you have listened to people, it has been a couple of months and you are still convinced that the project that you want to put into action will work this time?

I suppose the obvious answer is that you need to see what has changed to make you think this. But it might be the attitude of the people working in the team that will be the problem. Especially if they have been there for a number of years and are stuck in the their ways.

HMac's picture

Chris - great question. I think the key is to be really, really sure that you understand WHY the initiative failed before.

I'm in the marketing business, and I've led account teams with much more tenure on a particular client than my own. There were any number of times that my ideas were met with "Oh, we tried that" or "Oh, we suggested that a few years ago."

I developed a set of questions to uncover the reasons why something might have failed..along these lines:

Was the idea sufficiently researched and spelled out?
Was the presentation of the idea effective?
Are the people who rejected it still in place, or have they moved on?
Have circumstances changed since it was presented?

You get the idea - it's about trying to reason through why it didn't work last time. And I suggest you do this reasoning OUT LOUD, with your team - because in the end, you're still gonna need some buy-in. Especially if their support makes all the difference to success.

Good luck!


jhack's picture

A key tenet of prewiring meetings is that there should be no surprises. You should have floated the ideas with (at a minimum) key influencers and thought leaders, incorporated their ideas, and neutralized their objections. Their support in the formal meeting is not the only benefit: you get to include their good ideas in the formulation of the plan.

There may in fact be very good reasons why a similar plan did not work in past. You need to understand exactly why, and your plan needs to address it explicitly.


CalKen's picture

My five cents worth;

I agree with everyone here, especially the fact that your first hundred days is not to "make impact" but to learn. There is a common danger is thinking that what worked in another program or job will work here and as such I find it useful to look at what I am trying to apply something to to see what differences there are and whether or not I need to do some things a little differently. When I hear "we tried that in the past and it doesn't work" I like to ask a lot of "why" questions:

1) why do you think it didn't work?

2) how was it done in the past?

3) what could have been done better?


As I ask all of the stakeholders I find that a pattern or theme appears which reveals a root cause. Once you address the root cause by understanding everyone's negative replies you show that you care about their input and that you are being judicious before applying fixes. I use this any time I start up new initiatives and so far it was worked most if not all of the time.

Chris.Lodge's picture

Thank you for all the feedback.

I am thinking ahead here, as I am about to start in a new company and I think this is going to happen.

The reason I think this is that it is an old utility company that will have people that have worked there “Man and Boy” and are resistant to change.

I had the same when I worked for Yellow Pages here. At the time, if you asked the same question to 3 different analysts, you got 3 different answers. This was due to them pulling raw data from the system with their own definitions.

So I tried to introduce a data mart. This would keep the data consistent and make the department credible.

The opposition I got from this was phenomenal. It was so bad in fact, that I eventually gave up and moved on.

And the reason? “That’s not the way we do things round here” or “We tried that, but we didn’t have enough disk space”. Basically, anything, however trivial, to stop this from happening.

I could never understand this

US41's picture


The resistance to your ideas is based on several factors:

* You don't fit in yet
* You have no credibility as a manager
* You did not prewire your discussions
* You are trying to be the idea man

That pretty much guarantees certain failure as a new manager trying to bring in a new idea.

Instead, try these approaches:

* Do not introduce any change for 90 days after joining the company
* Assume you have little credibility as a manager and let the team solve their own problems instead of you just walking in with a solution to their problems immediately.
* Prewire your effort after you have been there some time, and after everyone acknowledges there is a problem and starts thinking about solutions, then call a meeting to discuss the problem
* Hold a meeting to solve the problem without putting forth an idea of your own. Instead, just use some poster paper and a sharpie to capture ideas from a brainstorming session. Add your own idea up there after everyone else has had a turn. End the meeting after the brainstorming is over and let everyone have a day to reflect and think about it.
* Hold another meeting to analyze the options and determine which one makes sense from a business and human perspective.
* Let everyone vote on which solution to try. They might pick yours if you spin it gently toward your idea. You may find that the when you do pros and cons of each idea, yours actually sucks really bad.
* Ask each person one at a time in the meeting if they are willing to commit to the solution even if it was not their preferred one. If they are not, tell them this will not work without them. Everyone is needed to succeed.

Then you will have something closer to buy-in to the solution.

In every M&A situation, every new hire situation, every re-organization, there is a dominant social group, and regardless of your role, you have to fit into that group or you risk lighting a fire under a revolt. Always join a new team that pre-existed or which had many members who are very familiar with each other using extreme caution and sensitivity that you are not one of them... yet.

Chris.Lodge's picture

The thing was, my team and everybody else in my area, didn’t think they had a problem. So you asked 3 people and got 3 different answers? What’s the problem? It had always been that way.

On average, the people I work with and managed had all been there between 10-20 years. They had stagnated and become extremely set in their ways. Nobody had rocked their boat in many a year.

As you suggested, I did not change anything for the first couple of months and then tried to get people thinking about the “problem” and what could be done. I probably gave up too quickly, but the resistance was too much for me.

I agree that there was a definite dominate social group. But short of falling in line with everybody and doing things the “right” way (i.e. old way), I was never going to make this work.

But I still maintain this was not to say it was wrong thing to do and would not have helped the company greatly. What do I base this on? Feedback from external customers who’s number one complaint was inconsistent data.

jhack's picture

You can't manage what you can't measure.

Establish metrics. Set goals. If they hit the goals, then the process isn't all that bad. Up the goals.

If they can't hit the goals, then you have a reason to begin the change discussion.