Do I Really Have a Mandate to Make Changes at My Firm?

Last Updated Sep 18, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

Dear Ron,
I came into the marketing department at my company with what I thought was a mandate to make some major changes. But I've gotten some pretty strong opposition from other departments in my company like the sales and R&D group, and now I'm not so sure I can get these improvements through. What should I do?
Many organizations say they want change, but they can't overcome the habits and existing culture that keeps the status quo in place. So when you as a manager think you've gotten a mandate or approval to make changes, it's very important to analyze the depth of both the support for, and resistance to, change at your company. You need to constantly gauge where and on whom the impact of any changes will fall, and make sure you have good relationships with a wide range of people in your company to navigate potential minefields.

Usually when there's a mandate to make changes, you're dealing with some ingrained, long-term habits. So the key question you'll be asked is by people is what's in it for them to change, and you'll have to have an answer. If there isn't one, you'll either have to make appropriate compromises or make the changes anyway, providing you have the requisite support.

One of my clients was a senior manager at a medical technology company who was asked to do a financial analysis that would build the case for a department turnaround. While his boss supported him, other departments that were also affected resisted. It was only when he was able to re-evaluate the mandate and see how far up it went that he realized he lacked the support of some key players at his company. So he had to work some political connections and make the necessary compromises to get them into the fold (essentially he found a way to make sure they all got credit for making the change happen). My client went on to build a reputation as a person who was able to bring diverse interests together and has excelled at his firm. But in this case, he had to look beyond his immediate marching orders and gauge his true level of support, which is what you'll have to do as well.

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.