Making The Boss Budge

succession planningA director of a state-owned enterprise (BUMN) was appointed as a director of another BUMN and he told me how difficult it was to convince his superior, the president director, to make changes in the organization. He showed me all the data that he discussed and presented to the boss.

The data clearly showed that the company was performing poorly. Why did the president director not do anything about it? Ironically, other members of the board of directors also loudly voiced the need for major changes to save the company. How should one view this situation from the angle of management change?

Based on my observation of such cases, including interviews with a number of top executives in various organizations in the country some lessons have emerged.

Most executives use a rational and objective approach in convincing their superiors of the need for change. The approach usually is supported by relevant data concerning the dire condition of the company, especially its finances. Sometimes an approach like this succeeds in moving the boss to make some changes. However, many do not react at all.

In a no reaction situation there are three groups of executives. The first group gets really disappointed and decides to leave the company. The second group consists of vocal protesters and complainers. What they need to understand is that the company is striving to maintain an equilibrium, while changes may create imbalance. The easiest way to create a balanced atmosphere is to eradicate the vocal protesters, who are the source of imbalance.

If you are in group two and succeed in your suggestion for changes you must be cautious of the next steps. Actually, in some ways the vocal protesters use the same strategy, however with a lot of protests and perhaps demonstrations. Ultimately, the boss and other colleagues only remember the negative impact of such actions rather than the positive benefits that could be achieved through revamping.

Then there is the third group comprising of executives and subordinates or employees who decide to stay on and try to find out what can actually move the boss to adopt immediate changes. Although it needs much patience, I think this is the right approach.

After all, a change is a process in itself. For the executive it is a long and tiring journey to arrive at the proposal for changes. The journey taken by the director is probably quite different. That is why differences of opinion occur. Often the executives seem selfish in their presentation of the proposal, appearing more concerned about their own interests and benefits. They assume that the boss should understand their viewpoint.

I find that when executives cooperate and help the director understand the background behind the need for changes they stand a better chance of winning the heart of the boss. In this case there is a kind of a compromise in the sense that they also try to understand the director’s way of thinking. Patience will bear more fruit in this situation than anything else.

What if, at the end of the day, the boss does not agree to any of the recommendations? Well, lodge a complaint with the angels, said some frustrated executives, laughing bitterly. However, some executives I interviewed said “there is a sky above the sky”, to quote a local saying. This means they should take another look at the hierarchy of the company to see who can influence the director.

Approaching the commissioners or major shareholders is one option. Another is garnering the support of other executives and employees right from the bottom up. In the case of one large private company the executives went to the media for support.

Back to the BUMN director mentioned earlier. All his efforts to convince his president director to implement changes ended in failure. Next he cooled down and kept working to bring a number of changes within his department. The other directors and executives copied his strategy in limiting changes to each department. Two years later the president director retired and he replaced him. Such changes within a company can be likened to war. The outgoing president director said to himself this is not my war.

It is not surprising therefore that he did not move even an inch in embracing the process of change.

To close I would like to underline the similarities among executives who struggle for change and succeed. They are all good, professional workers. Credibility is another plus point. So, in order to be able to sell your ideas for change in a company, especially significant changes, you have to be an irreplaceable professional employee. Essentially, someone who is trustworthy.

Let’s look at the picture once again. You are a dedicated, objective, professional executive and have patiently approached your boss, the commissioners, have presented all the necessary data. The director is still unimpressed and his retirement is still a long way off. In the meantime the organization of the company is deteriorating further. What should you do then? Realize that the time has come for you to walk away! This means leaving a boss that impedes progress, both yours and the company’s. It seems the time is ripe for a career in another company.

*This article published in The Jakarta Post, July 9th, 2008.

Ningky Risfan Munir blogDr. Ningky Sasanti Munir, Senior Core Faculty Member at PPM Manajemen, Jakarta.
NKY@ppm-manajemen.ac.id

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