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Anyone who has worked in an office has had the experience of walking into a meeting to discover that management is launching yet another initiative, program, or system to address a need or problem in the organization. Many of us have become accustomed to watching these programs come and go without ever getting immersed in them. We may dip our toes, but generally that river flows along by us without us getting too wet. We sit on the banks and watch — and wait for the next one to come along.

But then again, many of us have had the experience of it being our initiative being introduced. This is the one that will really change things! This one is different!

… And yet we watch from the water as no one else joins us from the banks.

Clearly this whole process is ineffective, not to mention inefficient. Time, effort, and money go into programs that never achieve their intended outcomes. Instead of solving a problem, all that has happened is to add fuel for all the skeptics out there who believe these things just “never work.”

Although I am an optimist by nature, I will admit that the skeptics have a point. It just doesn’t work to walk into a room and announce to the crowd that, henceforth, Everything Will Be Different.

So how do you affect change in your organization?

Here are five steps I have seen effectively put into action:

#1 – Take a page out of the Grassroots Organizer’s playbook. There is nothing quite as impactful as knocking on doors and talking to people. Find out if they agree with how you view the problem. Discover if, in fact, they feel there is a problem. Are they as eager for a solution as you are? Do they seem interested in your solution? Share with them how this idea came to be and make them a part of it.  Listen and see if they might have something to add that will expand the interest in your initiative.

#2 – Don’t name it. Strategic marketing and branding can be really effective – but those words can also turn people off. If your team is weary from too many initiatives, they will be wary of anything that sounds like one. Starting small by having water cooler conversation about what you are trying to achieve and focusing on the small specific steps that you want to take to get there feels a lot less daunting.

#3 – Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Before you approach anyone, consider the ramifications your idea will have on their day-to-day life. Step back and take the time to consider the unintended consequences that are too often the outcome of many great initiatives. If you’re not sure, go back to Step 1 or Step 2 and ask questions. You more likely to expand interest in your initiative and it will be more inclusive of the needs and concerns of other members of your team. Once you identify possible concerns or roadblocks, try to anticipate and account for them in the planning stages before you talk to the group at large.

#4 – Include the right people. Taking point 3 even further, once you have looked at the impact of your initiative on other members of your team, identify representatives from those stakeholder groups who should be a part of the strategy and planning process. It is important to do number 3 first, though, because it makes for a much more empathetic conversation. Consider these two options:

Conversation A:

You: “Hi Laura, I am trying to achieve X, would you be interested in joining the committee working on this?”

Laura: “Oh wow, that’s going to be a challenge, for reasons A, B, and C.”

You: “You see, this is why we need you!”

Conversation B:

You: “Hi Laura, I am trying to achieve X, and I was thinking about how it might impact your team for reasons A, B, and C. I want to make sure we find a way that will work best for all involved. Would you be interested in participating in the committee to represent your team?”

Laura: “X would be great – but yes, thanks for thinking about A, B, and C. I am sure we can come up with a solution. When are we meeting?”

It’s subtle, but there is a big difference between conversations A and B – at least for how it feels for Laura. In option A, she is responsible for finding a solution to a problem you created. In option B, you are proactively asking for help to avoid creating a problem altogether. In option A, you are on opposite sides. In option B, you are aligned.

#5 – Figure out how to create (and communicate) a “win” for everybody. This is possibly the most important one. Even if you get your team to dip their toe and actively participate in your initiative, no initiative lasts if it doesn’t benefit the people participating in it. If you’ve completed steps 1 – 4, you understand the roadblocks, you’ve involved other stakeholders, and you’ve identified how this initiative will be a win-win for the team. Now, before going any further, be sure you can clearly articulate why what you envision will be a win for the people you are asking to get on board.

The underlying theme in all 5 steps is to treat the entire process with empathy. Talk to people individually. Walk them through it one step at a time. Learn about what in their lives will be affected, and how. Invite them into the process. Give them an incentive. Do that, and you will all ride the current of success together to a positive solution.

Interested in learning more about using empathy to create buy-in on your team. Download Getting Started with Empathy Mapping and get started using his engaging tool to understand your clients and your team for better outcomes.