Deal with Detractors

Dealing with detractors does not require firing them. In fact, the exercise of power should be the last tool in the toolbox. Instead, anticipate resistance and account for it in your execution strategy. An intractable department might not be moved by a city manager’s motivational speech. However, if a competing department gets more money in the budgeting process or more positive attention in the media because they practiced one of the model behaviors, then the stubborn department might pay closer attention in the long run.

Embrace ever-changing leadership. Many managers frame changes as “coming from leadership,” but civil servants know leadership will always change. Embrace that change, and reframe the reason for initiatives as empowering the employee instead of the leader. Cite examples of how other jurisdictions used data and analysis to redesign programs to make them easier to implement (and defend) to any future leader. Examples from police and public health departments are easy to find.

Make sure the employees see changes as something they are helping drive, not something they are subjected to. Don’t start by parachuting in a whole new team or reorganizing everything. Leverage the existing pockets of excellence who share your vision and bring in fresh eyes in strategic parts of the organization where progress is lacking. Remember, people react better to positive reinforcement than criticism, so aim for inspiration over intimidation. Along the way, don’t confuse team-building exercises with sustainable change and growth; and if you conclude someone is intractable after many attempts to shape his or her thinking, then move him or her along.

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