In this section, you’ll find tools to help you prepare for an influencing exercise and a model of how people tend to respond during change and transition. Importantly, this section also discusses how to overcome challenging or uncomfortable resistance to change.
Learning is fundamental to developing influencing capabilities – if we can recognise areas for improvement and address these, we will develop more flexible approaches and be able to effectively ‘think on our feet’ in different situations.
Here are some questions that human resource practitioners are encouraged to consider before, during and after an influencing exercise:
- Am I authentic?
- Am I resilient?
- Can I show empathy?
- Do I have the courage to see this through?
- How can I best improve my capabilities?
- How do others respond to me?
- What social skills do others demonstrate?
About the situation:
- How is the situation likely to play out?
- What was the outcome?
- How did I/others respond?
- In this situation, how could I have performed better?
- What can I do to improve for next time?
Centuries ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle pondered the nature of influence and concluded that to be influential one had to focus on providing factual information. He noted, however, that fact alone is not necessarily influential. Fact needs to be supported by building an emotional arousal in those that you wish to influence, exciting them to your cause. Again, fact and emotion may not, in themselves, prove to be influential. The third element of the formula is to ensure that you are credible.
This means that you need to be viewed as honest, believable and trustworthy by those you wish to influence. Preparation is the key. A suggested approach to preparing for persuasion is described in Figure 6. You may also like to use the planning template in the Appendix.
Figure 6: A process for putting influence into action.
Case study – Department of Human Services
The portfolio of Human Services has a long standing commitment to support employees with effective workplace modifications, rehabilitation and return-to-work best practice. They are committed to improving workforce participation for people with disability by providing an inclusive workplace, targeted support and effective governance. The following is an account of how staff within Centrelink, and subsequently, the Department of Human Services, used influence to overcome resistance to the establishment of a national Accessibility Support Unit in the newly formed department.
In 2011 the Department of Human Services (DHS) integrated the agencies of Centrelink, Medicare Australia, Child Support Agency, the Family Assistance Office and CRS Australia into their portfolio. Prior to the agency integration, Centrelink had identified that many staff with disability and injury, and their managers, became frustrated with the disparate and ad-hoc processes associated with the provision, allocation, training and support for accessibility-specific adjustments necessary for them to meet job requirements.
It became apparent a new approach was required to overcome this barrier to employing people with disability or injury. Staff working in the human resources (HR) area recognized the need for a national coordinated approach to bring together employees with disability, HR and IT to provide a complete end to end service for the employee and ultimately to achieve results for the agency.
Prior to the newly formed DHS, Centrelink had an Accessibility Steering Committee whose role it was to ensure that staff with disability, particularly those reliant on speech recognition and screen reading assistive technologies, had equal access to internal and external content and applications. Where issues were found, they were addressed efficiently and effectively. This model had been working well within Centrelink’s national office in Canberra.
Based on this model, a proposal was presented to the Centrelink Executive in October 2009 to implement the Accessibility Support Unit nationally across the newly integrated agency. The proposal called for the unit to be responsible for a coordinated approach to supporting staff with accessibility needs. This specifically included the provision of support, training and advice to those staff currently employing workplace assistive technology but also included supporting managers and HR teams to ensure assistive technology was appropriately provisioned. Other functions included the development of business strategy and policy to ensure overall equality of access and finally an evaluation role to ensure that the Department’s applications were accessible, compatible and operable with assistive technology for the Department’s clients.
This proposal encountered a number of major barriers and resistance from decision-makers in the Centrelink Executive. It was perceived that this service was already in existence; that the need for a specific unit was not seen as a priority when considered against other funding priorities; the group of employees it would support were somewhat ‘invisible’, having no coordinated ‘voice’; and the lack of ownership among the agency’s senior executive of the issues employees with accessibility needs were facing. Funding approval for the Unit based on this initial proposal was not granted, therefore the disparate and ad-hoc processes appeared set to continue within the newly formed department.
However, following the integration of the agencies to become the Department of Human Services, the proposal was tabled again with the Executive in May 2010. On this occasion, the proposal was accepted, with costs of establishment shared across all the DHS agencies. The Unit commenced formal operations in August 2010. Those presenting the proposal a second time employed a series of influencing tactics to increase support for implementation of the Unit. Highlights of this strategy were:
- Emphasising the streamlined way the Unit would be able to raise awareness of accessibility issues within the agency, thereby increasing knowledge, addressing incorrect assumptions and making it easier for staff and managers to engage with staff or potential staff requiring accessibility support.
- The proposal outlined training which would be provided to employees which would enable staff with disability and injury to perform the inherent requirements of the job more efficiently. This essentially linked support for employees with disability with the business benefit of improved productivity.
- By focusing on the centralised management of software allocation further business benefits were possible, by providing software within short timeframes to those who needed it, again improving productivity.
- The proposal linked the need to support departmental staff with disability and their managers with the requirement across all Government agencies to address longer term organisational challenges, including how to make systems more accessible. (This is a key requirement of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 released by the Australian Government in 2010.)
The key breakthrough in having the proposal to establish the national Accessibility Support Unit endorsed was in securing Senior Executive commitment. This was achieved in part by demonstrating the practical and procedural issues faced by people using assistive technologies to members of the Departmental Executive. HR staff engaged a number of Senior Executive disability champions, including as part of a wider move to appoint disability champions across the APS. These champions, who were senior role models in the Department, played a key role in advertising the benefits of an accessible and inclusive workplace for all staff across the department rather than just limiting the benefits to an individual with a disability or focusing only on one particular area of the workplace.
In summary, the establishment of the Unit was a key strategy which demonstrated the Department’s commitment to the employment of people with disability, to promote the Department as a disability friendly workplace and to attract and retain people with disability. It also allowed the Department to demonstrate to the public that it understood the issues that many of its clients who have a disability encounter by having a diverse workforce reflective of the community it serves.
Dealing with resistance
Perhaps the biggest challenge encountered by human resource practitioners in promoting disability employment within the APS involves dealing with resistance from decision makers, managers, team leaders and employees. In most cases this resistance behaviour is a direct response to a need to change rather than a negative view on the employment of people with a disability.
Resistance to new ideas and work procedures is part of the normal process of change. When individuals are asked to change ideas and work practices there are traditionally four stages that they go through. The first is denial, followed by resistance, exploration and, finally, commitment.
The language people use in relation to the change is normally an indicator of the stage they are at. Figure 7 outlines the broad stages people typically go through in dealing with change.
Figure 7: The stages of change
Moving individuals from resistance to exploration is normally the hardest part of the transition process. This is best done through:
- Giving good quality information on the proposed change.
- Presenting information in a manner that resonates with the individual(s) involved.
- Providing options as to how the change can best be achieved.
- Keying into the ‘what’s in this for me?’ factor. Self-interest is a powerful motivator for most of us. If we are to truly embrace something new we have to believe that we are receiving something positive from the change.
- Being tenacious. The stronger the resistance, the more likely that repeated provision of information and options will be needed.
The As One strategy sets out a comprehensive, integrated suite of actions which is aimed at raising awareness about employing people with disability, removing barriers to employment and increasing workforce participation by people with disability. The approach is designed to welcome and engage people with disability more effectively and to ensure that the workplace can be tailored and flexible to the needs of not only those potential staff members with a disability, but also of other staff.
This guide highlights the need to look at changing culture, perspectives and behaviour as an exercise in influence, to support the actions outlined in the As One strategy. Most people will readily accept the logic of increasing the level of employment of people with a disability at a theoretical level. But it is often a lack of knowledge, inaccurate assumptions and prejudices as well as a lack of understanding that prevents action. In this guide, we have set out a series of tools and suggestions to help the human resource practitioner to lead change and effectively influence people in order to address these concerns. In large part it is based on the need to understand the issues and concerns of the target audience, tailor the message accordingly, and prepare for resistance and setbacks.
In the APS there is heavy competition for resources and skills and staff shortages are expected to worsen. Also, the working population is ageing and as such the push to increase employment of people with a disability needs to become a central strategy in assisting organisations to survive and flourish. If it is not linked to the success of the organisation it will be seen as an optional, ‘nice to have’ strategy which no one is prepared to invest in, particularly when faced with sizeable budget constraints. To win hearts and minds, disability employment strategies must be linked to achieving greater organisational success in key areas such as productivity, client service, staff satisfaction and lower turnover. It must be seen as not just human resources’ business, but important to the business of the entire organisation and to the APS as a whole.
One final note: Culture change requires two main ingredients – time and commitment. True change may take time and will be built on small successes as well as inevitably some setbacks. This is where the commitment is critical, particularly from senior staff. In embarking on this strategy it is important to frame it as a long-term commitment (rather than a short project) and integrate it into business and workforce planning.