Here is the followup email I sent to our city leaders.
First, I realized that I didn’t include Chief Best on my first email and since I wasn’t able to find an address for her, I would request your help in sharing my thoughts with her.
I wanted to follow up on my email yesterday in reference to organizing around a Seattle First Responders concept. I mentioned the importance of involving the folks who are most affected by any proposed change, generally the people executing various jobs today and winning their support. Obviously, we’re talking about the police officers, fire, EMTs, various organization responsible for social work, and all that goes into servicing the population of Seattle. This is a little tutorial, but I think it is important.
I think you win that support in a couple of ways. First, you have to be able to demonstrate that the proposed changes will be value added to the operation of the city and their specific organization. People feel threatened by change but a majority will become part of the team if they truly see that it is value added and not just some knee-jerk reaction to political pressure or the desire to save money.
Second, you need to recognized the contribution people are making under the current system and be able to explain how they will continue to contribute under the new plan. And, keep in mind that some of the people you are asking to make the change may have been the architects of the current system and if they feel that you are saying their past efforts are either not working or are to blame for the current problems, they will be resistant to change.
To understand how they are contributing today, you need to look at the function they are doing and the investment they have personally made to become an integral part of the process as it exists. Let me give you an anecdote from my time at Boeing.
It was probably in the early 1980s and Boeing launched a major initiative to move to office automation -OA (ie, mainly computers). The first phase was to educate the managers as to what we were doing and why. The OA instructor in my class was making the point that we had to respect the years and skills that people had devloped to be proficient under the old system. He used the example of a group of graphic artists. These were the folks that made the posters that went up all over the place, created charts and graphs and graphics for new business proposals, etc. They did all this manually.
The typical grahic artist in those days had a small tool box, rather like a small fishing tackle box that held the tools of their trade. This usually meant somethign called Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph Pen Sets, chart tape, rulers, templates, and letter transfers. They took pride in their tools and no one ever touched their tools without asking first.
In the instructors story, the manager announced to the group they were going to automate the department and that on Monday, there would be new Apple computers on everyone’s table. They would spend the rest of this week in a class on how to use those computers. No other advice or counceling was provided; it was inferred that their old tools were obsolete and change had to happen. Monday came and the boss watched as almost all of the group continued to work with their pens, rulers, and tape and the computers sat there with dark screens.
Our instructor then pointed out that the change had been made by upper management without explaining anything to the workers. Many of those graphic artists had been on the job for 10, 15, and 20 years. In that small tool box was all of their years of experience, knowledge, and acquired skills; those tools represented who they were as skilled craftspeople - it was their self-worth. The automation change was presented as the “new” technology and basically discarded their years of working to become some of the best in their field around. Needless to say, they weren’t going to accept that premise.
The message for change of any kind was simple; understand and respect the years of hard work, training, and investment the people being asked to change have made to get where they are at. Don’t give the impression that all of that effort was wasted and is obsolete; you will not likely get their full support to implement the change you desire from them.
You must have some compassion for the people most affected by the change because without their support, you’re screwed. I used to joke that I would never work in HR or Facilities because any job that screwed with people’s paychecks or their territory (office and desk space et al) is a lose-lose situation. But it can be done when it is done with a focus on the people who feel vulnerable under the change; you truly have to care about their feelings.
Again, I hope this can contribute in some small way to moving forward toward a better Seattle.