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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

In workplace, approach institutional change with care

Q: I just landed a new job as a database developer, for which I'm grateful. I'm finding, though, that security policies here verge on being pathologically paranoid. I'm not a cowboy, and I do believe in Internet and software security; however, some policies are so restrictive that it will be hard to do my job efficiently. Any thoughts on challenging the more ridiculous ones?

A: No matter how good your points are, if you go in with words like "ridiculous," you'll ensure a reputation as a cowboy. Instead, tread lightly at first, understand the background on existing policies, create your case for change and look for allies.

The inner game

Starting a new job requires a lot of tolerance. As a new employee, you need to manage change in general, along with any insecurity you may feel about your competence. Let's face it, when you walk in new, there's a lot you can't possibly know. Taking time before forming judgments is essential to successful integration. Likewise, your new team needs to show tolerance of your learning curve, and needs to be open to ideas from outside.

To help everyone, try to be in observer mode at first. You'll end up with more influence later, and will be able to make a difference more quickly because you won't be doing damage control after a rough start.

How do you do this? It's simple. Approach each new aspect with the question, "What's good about this way of doing things?" You'll have plenty of time to explore the followup question of "how could we do things better?"

The outer game

As a new person, you have the opportunity to ask obvious questions. Take advantage of this to get to know people and learn about the past experiences that have led to current security policies. Some type of crisis may have occurred, or there may have been a pattern of malfeasance. By understanding this, you can pose solutions that give others confidence that the same problems won't recur.

Talking to others will also help you understand if a policy really is a problem or if it's just a different way of doing business. If your peers who have been around awhile don't see a problem, you might reconsider your resistance. However, if there is general agreement that there's an issue, even if people are resigned to it, it becomes a better candidate for action.

Don't try to take on everything at once. Take an honest look at the impact of these policies, and select one place to focus. Choose one that might be less scary to modify (from a management perspective), and that will have a good effect for you.

Develop a case for the realistic risks and costs of the current restrictive policies. Document the effect on your productivity, along with the impact of less stringent standards. Do research on standards in similar companies to help build confidence. Determine who may be willing to be a champion for changes, and lay out your point of view.

The last word

As you advocate for changes, help your cause by remaining positive and focused on solutions.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

In workplace, approach institutional change with care 02/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 3:30am]
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