Be the change – part 4: It’s all in the how

Effect change

In my last post, I told you the story of how I contacted a municipality about a frustrating intersection and how taking action resulted in a left-turn advance signal being installed to make the intersection function better.

I firmly believe that it was how I raised the issue in the email I sent to the municipality that led to the signal being installed. I say that, because I’ve achieved similar results by using the same approach when raising other issues. Here’s the secret:

It’s all about “What’s in it for me?”

When I decided to email the municipality, there was a part of me that just wanted to vent. But what would venting have achieved? In this case, the person reading the email would probably say, “Hah! This person is just upset, because she missed her train. Next!”

Instead, when I sat down to write the email, I didn’t mention the fact that I missed the train that morning. I focused on the issue from the perspective of the municipality:

  • Knowing that the municipality would care about traffic flow, I highlighted the traffic backup that was occurring on a daily basis.
  • Knowing the municipality would care about people’s safety, I talked about the risks I had seen people take just to turn into the train station with haste to park and catch the train.
  • Knowing the municipality had to make careful, thought-out decisions in cash-strapped times, I requested a study of the intersection be done instead of demanding a signal be installed.

After this experience, I have developed a bit of a reputation for being a “chronic letter writer”. And I’m OK with that. Some might even call it “chronic complaining”, but I’d argue with that (In a letter! Kidding! :)). The way I look at it is this – if something is bothering me, I have two choices:

  1. I can do something about it, or
  2. I stop complaining and live with it, because I’ve chosen to forgo 1.

It’s impossible for organizations (public sector and private sector) to know all about everything, and if saying something can make a process/product/service better, why not? What is there to lose? What instead can be gained?

If there’s something in your community, an organization or a product or service you use that’s been causing you some grief and you’re not quite sure how to raise it or you did, but didn’t quite get the results you wanted, here’s an approach you might want to consider:

1. First decide if this is a rant or an actual attempt to bring about a change. Be honest with yourself. If it’s the former, talk to your spouse, call a friend or go for a run. If it’s the latter, start thinking about “What’s in it for me?” from the perspective of who you’re raising the issue with. Organizations get tons of rants; you want your attempt to bring about change to get careful thought and not just a simple “thank you for your feedback” response.

2. Get to know the organization you’re raising the issue with. Do some research and understand the organization’s business, goals and mission. Your feedback to the organization should tie back to those pieces. By speaking the organization’s language, you increase the chances of receiving a response and action being taken. Also, find out what department or person you should be contacting, so that your feedback ends up in the right hands, right away.

3, Lay out the feedback in parallel with what the organization would gain from implementing it. This is about creating a win-win situation. Each request you make should have a resulting benefit for the organization. Use the information you gathered from your research in 1. The bulleted list above is an example.

4. Be clear about the action or outcome you want. “I’m not happy with your service” does not tell the organization what you want. Be specific about what you want to see changed and what you want the organization to do. If you want a process to be reviewed, say you want a process to be reviewed. Clearly stating the outcome you want, increases the chances that you’ll get it.

5. Be patient. Responses take time, especially if your feedback entails, for example, a traffic study like in my left-turn advance signal story. You may also not get a response in the timeframe an email auto-response says you will – I don’t agree with that and don’t think it’s good business, but it’s reality.

6. Accept that sometimes the organization won’t take action. It sucks, but it happens. Don’t let it discourage you from raising another issue with the same organization or another organization at some other point.

7. Celebrate when you make things happen. Cause get what? That’s how change happens. Small steps, over time, lead to big shifts!

Now go forth and effect change!

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10 thoughts on “Be the change – part 4: It’s all in the how

  1. I’ve always been meaning to contact my municipality about requesting a crosswalk in my neighbuorhood. You’re right. I can sit back and keep thinking about it, or I can put one foot forward and send them a letter. I’ve got nothing to lose

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are right. If you want something it is important to know what to ask for. If you ask for the wrong thing, or something unrealistic, it won’t happen. Thanks for outlining a good approach to for making a request.

    Like

  3. I’ve definitely sent letters to companies and organizations I’ve been unhappy with and never seen any changes or had responses. I realize now I was approaching the situation all wrong! I truly appreciate this post and in the future I do plan on putting a lot of thought into the areas you’ve mentioned. Thanks Fhaniff!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your post fhaniff. I do agree that in order to deal with not only a giant corporation, but also with your friends, family, or love ones, you have to adopt the principle of seeing things from their point of view. Despite what they done to you, you shouldn’t respond back with the type of force. Two negative emotions during an impact isn’t what brings a resolution. Or at least one that ends in a peaceful way. If a person wishes to see changes, they have to look at the picture as a whole. Like you mentioned in points 1, you have to determine what kind of argument you’re going to bring up with someone. If it’s a rant, it’s human nature to turn away from it because they don’t want to face a path of negativity. Instead, it’s best to start off with what they’re doing that’s great and give them positive feedback. From there, we go on with given suggestions and recommendations on what might best interest them. What I also enjoyed about your post was that you mentioned the fact that even if you send off a letter to a corporation, they might not change. There’s a highly good chance that will happen. But what you would have done is cause a spark that could eventually turn into a fire at a given time. That’s how domino effects happen. Maybe the first attempt doesn’t work, or the second, or the third. But eventually, as time passes, something does happen to bring them to a realization that a change has to take in effect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment, Michael. I agree that the domino effect is powerful. It gathers momentum, and at some point, changes happen. Even if they’re relatively small in nature, it’s still change and leads to bigger changes over time. Thank you again for reading!

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