Empty parking space

Don't underestimate the small stuff

How to avoid small changes sending shockwaves through your team

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
3 minute read
Empty parking space

What you consider to be small stuff may not be small stuff in the eyes of the individuals in your team.

Not realising this can cause leaders considerable angst.

For example, try telling someone you want them to move to a different desk, a different parking spot or a different finishing time without giving them space and time to consider the change and you risk a major argument.

At first glance by you (and possibly by the individual after the passage of time) these requests deserve nothing more than a polite request to implement.

Not everyone embraces change with the same level of enthusiasm.

They travel to work the same way every day. Their evenings and weekends follow a surprisingly consistent routine. Then, seemingly on a whim, their manager wants to change this well entrenched pattern.

Their first reaction is negative, defensive and resistant to the change in the hope of a quick backflip and then everything will go back to the way it has always been.

If defensiveness is their first reaction, suspicion is the second. “why is my boss moving me to another desk? Is it closer to the door or so they can keep an eye on me? Are they hiring someone else and that’s why they want me to give up my parking space?”

Three approaches that may help minimise the negative impact

1. Explain the reasons for the decision, regardless of how trivial. That is not to say you need to dramatise every action you take, but at least test the mood of your colleagues by telling them a little of the rationale for your request. If it is a non-issue, move on quickly. If they appear concerned or interested, elaborate more on the thinking process that led to your request.

2. If the issue is genuinely small, then it is not likely to be mission critical for you to ensure it is implemented, so allow a trial of the change if possible. You will be seen as more reasonable and the team member may well realise it is not a big deal and allow it to proceed. If it does prove to be a bigger issue than first thought, then both you and the team member have an escape clause with the trial period and you can revert to the original position.

3. The last suggestion is not specific to any individual change and is more of an overall approach to build a pattern of change. If staff experience regular changes or initiatives to improve the way they operate, they are more likely to be comfortable with other changes. It is about creating a team that is very agile, light on their feet and able to change direction quickly. This type of team is not fazed by small issues and can adapt quickly. The more you change, the more adept they will become at changing.

If none of these three approaches has any impact, and the team member has not been able to convince you the idea you’re a proposing is wrong, then you have every right to implement the idea anyway.

You have been appointed to a leadership position for a reason, so you should have the support of your boss to implement your ideas after careful consideration of the needs of your staff.

One small step in the next 24 hours

Take a moment to reflect on your decision to introduce a change, regardless of how small it seems to you, and consider the likely impact and reaction from those affected.

What could you do to reduce the real or perceived impact of the change? Have you clearly articulated reasons to explain your decision? Is it possible for the person to trial the idea before it is fully implemented?

When you speak to the staff member, be genuinely open to the possibility that they will see the issue as significant.

Having genuine regard to this possibility will help you choose the best words and phrases to present your idea.