Using Constructive Tension to Create Change

Dear Coach Alan,

 As senior VP of administration, I have been given the responsibility to consolidate the accounting and integrate the IT functions of a recent acquisition.  My staff has been meeting with the accounting and IT staff of the acquired company, but progress has been very slow.  My biggest frustration is that the staffs we are working with report to their president, and he is not supporting our efforts to integrate these functions. He appears to like his own accounting and IT systems, which he helped to implement.  I have approached my CEO about this, and he assured me he would talk with the president of the acquired company.  I know my CEO does not like conflict, and I suspect he has avoided confronting the president. At the very least, I believe he has not been clear in conveying how important it is that the president support these changes. We have a deadline, and I am concerned that we will miss it at the current rate of progress.


Well George, you are in a difficult situation.  The first question I have for you is this:  how clear was your CEO with his new president?  If, as you claim, your ability to influence the accounting and IT departments is being compromised by the lack of support from the president, your CEO needs to step up and provide a very clear goal and firm deadlines. Given your assignment, you need your CEO’s help.

The key to your success rests on the acceptance and collaboration of the president in support of the changes you are attempting to make.   Since you are not in a position organizationally to get his support, this influence needs to come from your CEO.  The challenge for you is getting your CEO to obtain the support of the president.  From a coaching perspective, you will need to challenge your CEO by creating positive tension between the changes that are needed, including specific goals and deadlines, and the current reality of failure to make progress.  This tension needs to be strong enough to motivate your CEO to set very clear objectives with the president.  Failure to do this will lead to failure to reach your goals.  This is unacceptable.

Managing upstairs is never easy.  By helping your CEO to feel the constructive tension, you will have given him a strong reason to influence his president to support your goals and deadlines. You will have also helped him to shift his own tensions from a reluctance to confront the president to the need to bring him on board.  Finally, you have also set the stage for the alignment between you, your CEO, and the president.  This is a necessary step to assure success.


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