How to Win Over Old School Managers

How to Win Over Old School Managers

Date Posted: 17th August 2021

How to Win Over Old School Managers

I today I was on an IOSH webinar about safety culture and how you can improve it. And a really tricky question that got asked right at the end was: “how do you win over old school managers?” And we all knew what that person meant by old school managers. And the view was that you had to get them one to one and then try to educate them, coach them and mentor them and so on.

And I think before we do, there is something really important that we should try to do first and that is to build a relationship with that person.

What I mean by ‘build a relationship’?

Well, I would say it’s very difficult to influence anyone if you don’t have a good relationship with them. And that kind of means that you should like each other, ideally, that you should trust each other, you should know each other. So how do you do that? Well, one thing you could try to do is don’t let your job title define your relationship with this person. So try not to become known as ‘the safety person’.

Every single interaction you have with this person is about health and safety and therefore turns into a debate or an argument about safety versus production or cost. Then your relationship will be defined by your job title. So instead, try to become known as their colleagues, their teammates, maybe even their friend.

You know, it’s a completely different relationship at that point because colleagues and teammates aren’t at each others throats debating safety versus production. You are both on the same side and you’re both working toward the same goal. And so with that in mind, if you’re working with an old school senior person, like a senior production manager or director, find out what their goals, priorities and values are. What is the most important thing to them? I can nearly always say with these old school types, it’s not health and safety.

Health and safety is the most important thing to you, not to them. For them, it will be production, deadlines, cost, profits, and things like that. And it’s not to say safety is important, but it’s definitely not at the top of their list, so accept that view. This is the most important thing when trying to get to know someone.

I don’t listen with a view to criticising and persuading them to a different point of view.

Some of these people are 40, 50, 60 years old, you are not going to win over old school managers and change a lifetime of values that they built in a day or even in a year. No. Sometimes you just have to accept people for the way they are and adapt your values and views to them. So listen to them non judgmentally. As the great psychotherapist Carl Rogers used to say: show unconditional positive regard.

Show a willingness to listen and a willingness to accept them as they are. And you’ll find this really will help with your relationships, because if you get the feeling that someone is judging you, even if they don’t say anything, of if they don’t like what you say, you tend to like that person less, and you can’t trust them, and you listen to them less. But if you show unconditional positive regard and you don’t judge, you just might learn and understand what makes that person tick.

They’ll tend to warm to you and hopefully trust you a little bit more.

And once they’ve expressed their views on health and safety versus production versus cost and all the rest of it, try and adapt your working style to their values. So if they think production and costs are the most important thing, try and do things safely in a way that helps production, helps minimise the costs of things. All you can do is try and take away the bureaucracy wherever you can, try to speed things up to make things easier wherever possible.

And by doing that, you start to become viewed as the colleague, as the teammate. Make it abundantly clear, not just through your words, but also for your actions, that you are focused on the ultimate goal of the organisation, which is to make money or deliver value to its customers. Whatever your mission statement is, that’s what you’re trying to do. That’s your job. And at the same time, you’re trying to do things really safely as well.

So there we are, how to win over old school managers. Those are just some of the things that I would do to try and win them over. Take time and the investment is well worth it.

And if all that fails, you can wait for them to retire.