It wasn’t the first time I found myself sitting in a room full of frowning petrotechnical leaders. And these weren’t just stakeholders; they were also the engineers and technical experts in leadership roles out in the business that wielded enough influence to kill (or at least ignore) my team’s project. My team in this case was a group of engineers and earth scientists on assignment to a central support organization which was undertaking an effort to develop and implement a technical framework. The intent of the framework was to establish, publish, and train Reservoir Engineers and Earth Scientists on a consistent set of baseline expectations for how the technical work to mature reserves would be done in business units across the global enterprise. These frowning business leaders, petrotechnical experts in their own right, were not completely receptive to moving to a more standardized global approach. Because my team was mostly comprised of technical practitioners who had themselves been on previous assignment to business units, they were surprised at the resistance they encountered from the business-based leaders. Because I’ve been a change implementation consultant for nearly 20 years, I wasn’t.

Over the following weeks, our team conducted a series of engagement sessions and surfaced the reasons for the leaders’ resistance: (1) they were concerned that the guidance would be too prescriptive, and they felt they needed autonomy to respond to their local needs, (2) they were concerned that “the people in headquarters” were too remote to provide adequate technical guidance on their work, and (3) they were concerned that the work required would put too much load on their already thinly stretched technical workforce.

Besides giving these leaders an opportunity to vent their concerns, we also used these engagement sessions to beef up our engagement and communications plans to make sure we visibly addressed those concerns. We made the decision to add the necessary time to allow a few of the leaders’ business-based technical designees to review and sanction the framework expectations. And throughout, we kept the leaders in the loop for how we were adjusting the framework to respond to their feedback. Even though we couldn’t always make them happy or incorporate all of their requests, they understood our reasons for our team’s decisions; that understanding made all the difference. Over time, the resistance subsided, and the same group of leaders supported us in planning and executing the framework rollout within their respective business units.