Are perceptions reality? The ways in which our customers, end-users, and co-workers perceive us is certainly their reality. Since our relationships with each of those groups of people can affect our career success, our personal and professional reality is affected by their perceptions.
I recently received an email from a client asking for some ways to quickly change perceptions of the IT department in his organization. Here are my thoughts:
- There isn’t a quick solution. Changing perceptions occurs over time.
- Understand where the perceptions are coming from. It may be necessary to work on changing behaviors before you can change perceptions.
- Start by listening to the users. Of course, surveys can be helpful, but nothing beats actually meeting with users and hearing their concerns and perceptions firsthand. When we do that, we must remember that we’re just there to listen. Of course, we can answer questions, but our agenda is to hear what’s on their minds. A focus group is one way to do this. You can also meet with key stakeholders one-on-one to hear their thoughts. Be careful about placing too much weight on a single person’s feedback. Instead, look for trends.
- Practice MBWA or Management by Wandering Around. We learned about MBWA in a previous blog post and podcast. The idea is to get out from behind your desk and walk around among your end-users. Of course, for someone in a call center, that’s not an option, but for anyone who works directly with end-users, go pay them a visit. Ask how things are going. Don’t talk a lot, just listen and take notes.
- Remember, also, that user perceptions are their reality, whether we agree with them or not. Just the fact of taking the time to listen can alter perceptions, especially as users talk among themselves when we’re not there.
- Consider putting out a very simple monthly email report showing two or three key metrics related to service performance. It’s extremely important that it be very short, since most users may only read the subject line and, if we’re lucky, the first paragraph. At the bottom of the report, include a sentence stating how important it is for the IT department to fully support the users’ work and invite personal feedback. Include your contact info. Be consistent with the newsletter. If you start off doing it monthly, keep doing it monthly.
- In most organizations, there are people who are influential with others. Find those people and either ask for their help directly, or make a point of letting them know how things have changed for the better. Solicit their input and feedback.
- Remember that perceptions are based on how things appear. Make sure you and your staff are dressing, acting, and speaking appropriately for the organization. In other words, notice how others in your organization dress, act, and speak and tailor your behaviors similarly. Does this mean it’s necessary to give up individuality? Frankly, that depends on the organization. Some organizations are very tolerant, or even encouraging of individualism. Others have no tolerance for it whatsoever. Look around the organization, talk with your supervisors and colleagues to get a sense of what works within your particular organization. It’s important to know whether an individual and the organization are a good fit.
Changing perceptions starts with a close examination of where those perceptions originated. It may be necessary to change behaviors before perceptions will change. And, give it time.
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