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Weert, the Netherlands

Could you pick your senior management team out of a police lineup if you had to? No, this is not some #MeToo question… When I had my first job in a global company right out of college, I could not tell you the names of our senior management – even if you offered me a million dollars. I was so busy being a small cog in a wheel of a giant worldwide organization that I barely knew who was in my department, and only vaguely knew what some guys across the hall did. My awareness was 99.9% local – not global. I did what my boss said and the rest of the operation was a fuzzy mystery. So what?

In working with organizations around the world, I have found that this phenomenon still exists to varying degrees in many large firms. Maybe the percentages vary – 80% local awareness and 20% awareness of the whole larger operation, but you get the point. Overburdened people are trying their best to do their jobs and remain focused to a great extent on their part of the whole. Therein lies the foundational basis of a problem I call ‘Taking a hit for the team’.

If you have been in the process improvement arena for any amount of time, you’ll recognize this. We often cannot optimize the whole by optimizing each individual part. We have to think cross-functionally. This means that in some cases, when we go to improve a large, complex, cross-functional process that touches multiple departments, not everybody wins. Sometimes for the greater good of the overall organization, things are intentionally made harder/worse for some departments. These are hard talks to have. ‘We had a good thing going here. Now you’re coming in here and moving us backward? And for the sake of optimizing something we aren’t even aware of/focused on?’ ‘Why yes we are – please suck it up and have a nice day. Next!’ Well, hopefully you didn’t handle it that way. If you find you may have to have this talk – here are a couple tips to make life better for all involved…

Is it Legitimate?

First, make sure this is a legitimate optimization dilemma– not some lazy, collateral damage being caused by one department making a so-called “improvement” by really just moving part of their work to another department. Or Department XYZ foisting more work onto others simply to make the lives of Department XYZ employees easier. There must be sound logic and legitimate optimization reasons before you ask someone to take a hit for the team.

Care for the People

Anyone impacted like this wants to feel respected, listened to, and valued. Find ways to do that versus bulldozing over them with this change.

Start Early

There’s a world of difference between having a change done “with” you versus “to” you. Get people potentially impacted involved in the decision process early. They will absorb this better if they are part of the decision-making process.

Paint the Big Picture

Create an awareness of the big picture – show how the decision was derived and that there was no other good option. Avoid phrases like “The company wants to…” or “corporate says…” What were the real decisions made by real people?


If there is any bright side to this picture, share that with a WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) set of messaging. Also use the Burning Platform (the bad things that would happen to us if we didn’t act on this right now) frame of reference – just be sure to do it in an honest and sincere way.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wife wants to see me in the kitchen where I think I’m about to take one for my team. Happy change!

Post Author: Albert

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