Tread lightly when proposing changes

They do it this way because they do it this way, because they've done it this way forever. But you're the one who does the actual work, and you know there's a better way.

"Management sets policy, but they don't handle customers. I do -- and I know we're turning them off with our cumbersome, outdated procedures for distributing information to them and shipping their merchandise," wrote a frustrated victim of the status quo from Easton this week.


"But each time I mention the changes we obviously need to make, I either get a patronizing pat on the back, or stony silence from my bosses.

"How do you overcome the inertia factor when you know it's time to make changes without being labeled a troublemaker?"


If you're about to rock the boat, here are 10 steps that will improve your chances of staying afloat:

* Make sure there really is a reason to change. Keep an open mind until you've collected all available information. The old ways sometimes are best.

* If you still feel a change in protocol or policy is in order, compile accurate, objective data to back up your opinion. How much actual time is wasted each week under the present system? Keep a written tally. Are customers, in fact, complaining? How many per week?

* Decide ahead of time what's in it for you to push for this change. While it's important to be a team player and think in terms of the company as a whole, only fools rock corporate boats without carefully assessing what they have to lose.

* Go through channels! Research your company's procedure for suggesting this sort of change, then follow it faithfully. Never skip a step -- or anyone -- along the way.

* Write a proposal that states simply and succinctly what the problem is, and how (exactly!) you propose to solve it. The difference between a troublemaker and an employee with creative ideas is that one just presents problems, while the other comes up with solutions.

* Protect your idea. Talk only to the appropriate higher-ups about it, not to your peers. Communicate about it in writing, whenever you can, and keep a copy. Use memos to summarize (and record) what's been said in meetings, as well. ("As we discussed, I believe our filing system would be improved by . . .")

* Protect yourself, too, not only with careful preparation and by following standard procedure, but by making it clear at all times that you have the good of the company only -- not your own advancement or an ax to grind -- at heart.


* Be persistent. Successful boat-rockers almost always must explain, then explain again, then plod through channels, then plod again, then write dozens (or even hundreds) of memos and attend interminable meetings before real change occurs.

* Don't let this become a personal issue. If your great idea for change is flatly rejected, remember that it's your idea that's been rejected, not you. It's never a good idea to lose a battle, then turn it into a war.

* Finally, if your idea has been rejected, but you're still convinced it's a good one, consider where else you might be able to sell it -- and yourself.

Business history is full of success stories that start with a company too set in its ways to appreciate an employee's creativity and intelligence.