How will you deal with each critical stakeholder to ensure support for the change? How can you anticipate what these individuals will think and speak to it during your conversations—perhaps by addressing their concerns from the start? Going to informal power players and getting their take on a change so they are in the know from the beginning might help you to not be steamrolled during a major meeting and have your initiative put on hold or dismissed.

Will you need to modify your proposal to gain enough support by those who could block your plan? Are you willing to modify what you want if someone outside the conversation holds more sway than you, and if so, how? Figure out your negotiables and non-negotiables before the conversation. I watched a block schedule rollout go through many iterations so that it was not opposed or revolted against.

How will you continue to monitor the shifting needs, interests, and political processes as the change unfolds? Remember, these conversations are not one-time talks; they are ongoing processes that will take several discussions and most likely several months or years. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Every hello in the hallway counts. Every exchange is another opportunity to see what the needs are at this time.

How will you work with the covert processes at play during this change? I have seen a dynamic of the good child and the bad child play out between superintendents and principals but no one acknowledged it. I have witnessed “conflict archeology” come to the surface in conversations when the discussion shifted suddenly to someone who worked for the district in the 1990s(!) and took away someone else’s job 30 years ago.

To make systems change, you need to be organizationally savvy; here's how to see if you are

We bring our histories with us to the present. I call this bringing historical and personal baggage with you to the professional present. Make overhead bin space available because no one comes alone. It is key to have enough emotional or psychological intelligence to be able to deal with the unconscious defenses that will come into play.

If you want to make systems change, it’s critical to be organizationally savvy. There are organizational biases and processes at work even if we don’t want to see them. It isn’t all about the kids. All of us need to understand what isn’t being said as much as what is, because it impacts our ability to be influential and make the changes we want to see.

About the Author:

Jennifer Abrams is an international education and communications consultant. She considers herself a voice coach, helping others learn how to best use their voices–be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague, or supervising an employee. Abrams’ books include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community, and Hard Conversations Unpacked: the Whos, the Whens, and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course. Abrams writes a monthly newsletter/blog, Voice Lessons, at www.jenniferabrams.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferabrams.