On the Clock

When to Push, When to Stand Down

With workers being asked to do more with less, prioritizing what’s worth fighting for has become increasingly difficult.

The task was clear and yet quite complicated: your boss tasked you with spearheading the company website redesign. But to execute, you needed not only the vision, but also the cooperation of what felt like the masses: images from one team, copy from another, technical support from the IT team. On top of that, each team had other work requests, making yours just one of many.

As companies push people to do more with less, professionals are finding it more difficult to figure out what projects and viewpoints are worth fighting for. Indeed, a 2018 review of one Fortune 500 retail company found that the firm had started more than 90 initiatives in a six-month time period. The result: figuring out when to push for things, and from whom, became a tangled web, particularly for people who were reporting to multiple bosses with different agendas.

Like most relationships, work dynamics are reciprocal: you have to give something to get something.

If you want to get things done, you can’t simply issue instructions and wait for the results to roll in, says Dave Popple, president of the management consulting firm Psynet Group. You have to learn how to push for things effectively—while also deciphering when to stand down.

Be the partner you wish to see in the workplace.

To paraphrase Gandhi, when you have to depend on others to get things done, forming relationships is key. And like most relationships, work dynamics are reciprocal: you have to give something to get something. Doing so in a nice and respectful manner can get you further—especially when you’re requesting things from people who have a lot of demands to juggle. “If people like you as a person and find working with you to be a pleasant experience, they’ll likely work as quickly as they can to assist you,” says Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, a manager for Korn Ferry’s Search Assessment practice. “If you’re demanding and pushy, they’ll likely push your request to the bottom of their workload.”

Reframe your push as a rally.

When you feel lit up by a goal or prospect of a project, it can be frustrating that other people don’t feel your same urgency. While pushing people can show your enthusiasm, it often can have the opposite effect, too.

Instead, tap into your inner salesperson and show people how your idea is also in their best interest. If you’ve created a compelling vision and rallied the team around it, pushing harder to achieve better results can be a motivator rather than a deterrent. “Ideas make an important contribution to the bigger picture of the organization. Those that are championed by people with good interpersonal and negotiating skills are likely to move forward quickly,” Vilhauer says.

Focus on the long game.

While your desire to push through a project can be ambitious—maybe you see it as a way to get a promotion, or as a stellar portfolio item to highlight when you look for your next job—burning bridges to get to that end goal often isn’t worth it, says Shawna Clark Fronk, a certified executive coach and founder of Clark Executive Coaching. “Step back and think about the good of the company rather than your own success,” she says. “Balancing ambition and achievement with emotional intelligence will give you much greater success in the long run.”

Know when to lay your arms down.

When you know what you want from a project and you’ve devoted hours to strategizing and planning, it makes sense that you want to try to control every step. But it’s your job to get work done through others, Popple says. And no matter how good a manager or team player you are, others aren’t inside your head and aren’t going to execute things exactly the way you would.

If certain details get dropped, ask yourself how important they are to the success of the project. “Push for the important things rather than wearing people out with unrealistic expectations for perfection on the little things,” Clark says.

take our career resiliency quiz
take our career resiliency quiz