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Working with Stakeholders and Powerbrokers

I read your article in STN and am very intrigued by it. A lot of what I read I have been attempting to do or have already done. One issue I have is the lag time from application to hire due to some of our HR processes. How were you able to get HR on-board with expediting the hiring process and eliminating the dilly dallying around?

Thank you in advance,

Andrew G.

This is a great question!

Working with HR is probably the hardest and the most important facet of recruiting. I think many of our HR folks, like transportation professionals, see themselves as gatekeepers and not as recruiters. In addition, they are so anxious about making mistakes and liability that this slows and even gridlocks the process of bringing on new drivers. Finally, most employees are more about comfort than change. They take the path of least resistance. You and your proposal may represent more work to them so keep that in mind.

Here are some suggestions when promoting institutional change.

  • Great quality service begins with identifying your customers. Likewise, being an agent of change, ethically or institutional, means you know your stakeholders and powerbrokers. Write a list.
  • Start with building relationships with stakeholders and powerbrokers. This should be an ongoing goal. Attend events, like kickoffs, ground breakings, school sporting events in which you can connect with key individuals in your organization.
  • Get a sit-down, face-to-face, meeting with the HR powerbrokers—You want to meet with the individuals who will support you and are in a position to make decisions and delegate change. Be determined and don’t give up until you get your meeting (think bulldog).
  • Come up with a proposal, present as a problem. “Recently I’ve lost three candidates to other districts because ….”
  • Win-win plans are the best. Especially if you can convince them that you are going to make their lives easier (think less work). Part of what you need to do at your first meeting is help your stakeholders see the big picture and help them understand how you proposal is better for the entire district.
  • Work out your talking points ahead of time and try to anticipate their questions and reluctances.
  • Be empathetic: “Jane I hear you are concerned about . . . that is my concern as well.”
  • Be short, direct, and charming.
  • Be calm and reassuring—remember you are trying to earn their trust and win them over.
  • This is not about rational arguments but many times about territory and emotions (think salesperson). Using creative positive language reassure them they will not be losing anything but rather gaining.
  • Have a plan “B” to offer as a concession if they don’t like your first proposal—for instance, “How about if we try this for the remainder of the year and re-evaluate in June?”
  • Give them time to process. Big changes can take years. You must be tenacious and patient.
  • Don’t let go of what you want (a life lesson here). Believe in yourself and what you think is best for your organization. Be cunning and crafty, if necessary, to keep surfacing the issue until you can win over your stakeholders.
  • Optional—if you don’t get what you want, go over their heads to the next level of powerbrokers—only as a last resort because if it backfires you’ve lost all bargaining chips for a very long time!

A few more tips. Never be emotional, upset, angry, sarcastic, or pushy. Do not engage in a tug-of-war. Never threaten anyone by saying, “Well, if a student gets hurt it will be your fault.” This just raises anxiety and fosters defensiveness and even stonewalling.

This is no easy task and most folks don’t have the stomach for managing change. However, this is what separates a great leader from a mediocre manager.

Robert Leach

Robert Leach is a Transportation Supervisor at Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, CO. He is responsible for recruiting, training, and relief/substitute drivers. In 2017, he was named “Colorado’s Best Trainer” by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. Robert writes and teaches frequently on organization development, strategic planning and business ethics. He can be reached at robert.leach@asd20.org.

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