How to maintain crucial support for your project
Keep the doubters onside
When colleagues nod in agreement, it doesn’t mean they will continue their support no matter what is happening outside the conference room
Even years later, I still consider it my biggest professional failure: a company-wide employee training programme that I’d developed and put through several rounds of vetting was shot down at the last minute.
It was a painful surprise, and it changed the way I’ve sought support for new initiatives ever since.
As hospitals increasingly migrate their medical records from paper files to digital media, their employees face the challenge of making the information readily accessible to providers while adequately protecting patients’ privacy.
At my hospital, I was a senior vice-president and had oversight responsibility for my hospital’s IT and health information departments.
To make sure our 23,000 employees were up to date on the industry rules, policies and procedures they were legally required to be familiar with, my department heads and I created a robust training programme.
From the outset, I understood the training programme would require the support of the entire senior management team, as they would have to direct their departments to complete the training and document that they had done so.
Regular updates As our multidisciplinary team developed the curriculum, I provided regular updates to my colleagues and asked for their input throughout the process. With each vetting, they indicated their support of the initiative. So when the pushback finally happened, I never saw it coming.
Timing is everything. When the final vote on the training programme arrived, another vice-president, who had been supportive of the programme, had just come from a meeting where his pet project was shot down. He was livid about his defeat and was not in the mood to approve my programme. In fact, he made such an angry speech that a few others in the room weren’t up to arguing with him. My initiative was tabled.
In hindsight, I had made two mistakes. In the highly regulated world of healthcare, training programmes are introduced continuously with little fanfare. I gave my programme a catchy name to make what was, frankly, a tedious chore a little more inviting to the many people who would have to complete it.
Raising its profile
Giving mine a catchy name made it sound like a full-blown programme that would consume significant resources, raising its profile more than was warranted.
The second mistake was assuming that when my colleagues smiled and nodded every time I presented the details, that meant they would continue their support no matter what was happening outside the conference room.
Of course, angry outburst aside, the work still needed to be done. So, I waited a few weeks and went to visit my disappointed colleague once he’d had a chance to cool off. I reminded him that it was important for this programme to go forward, and I asked him what it would take to get him behind the effort. We negotiated a few points and came up with a plan we could both support. I then asked him to present our changes at the next senior management meeting so it would be clear to everyone in the room that he was back on board. That time, the vote carried.
Nearly a decade later, I’m actually grateful to him for teaching me a valuable lesson. I had been so sure of the strength of my professional relationships that I’d just assumed everyone would remain consistent and true to their word, regardless of what it would cost them in an unforeseeable situation such as the one we found ourselves in that day. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015 Allison Rimm is a management consultant, educator and executive coach. She is the author of ‘The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life.’
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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