Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Business Case for Change: Moving from 'What' to 'How'

I have noticed a shift in how the benefits of a change initiative are being discussed. The conversation is moving from 'what' they are to 'how' they will be achieved.

A business case demonstrates how the anticipated benefits of a change justify the investment required to implement it. Benefits can be either gains (increased sales) or the avoidance of losses (retention of talent). These are compared to investment costs include time, money and people resources (capabilities).

Since funding approval is based on the business case, there is a bias to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs. The pressure to do so is highest when multiple projects are competing for limited resources; the better the business case, the more likely a project will get approved. 

I remember supporting a sales function reorganization that was competing for investment. One of the benefits cited was a six percent increase in sales created by transferring regional key account teams to the head office. Looking back, it doesn't make sense that an internally-focused change would realize a large, market-driven benefit. 

It's not surprising that research firms have documented poor benefit realization. The Project Management Institute (PMI) reported that 20 percent of surveyed organizations had a high level of benefit realization maturity. Also, McKinsey noted that 56 percent of large IT projects delivered less value than predicted. 

It is exciting to see change investment discussions focusing more on how benefits will be measured and reported. It extends the project timeline well beyond the change and raises the bar on delivery. It also requires internal and external service providers to demonstrate how benefits will be realized. 

Some progressive external service providers are bundling post-change support into their offer. Capital finance advisory firms are adding post-merger acquisition (PMI) support to their private equity mergers and acquisitions services and technology firms are doing the same with their installations. Delivery support is now a competitive differentiator.

Here are some tips to ensure that your changes deliver on their business cases:

  • Identify all benefits and the metrics that will measure them before the project starts
  • Include all stakeholders in benefit identification and estimation – if someone doesn't support a source or an estimate, they won't support the measurement of them
  • Include external and internal data sources
  • Select metrics that are already being reviewed by the leadership team – they are known and hold validity
  • Assign a senior owner to each benefit
  • Agree on timelines for when benefits will be realized
  • Establish benefit realization governance with the leadership team including reporting and review timing
  • Develop a risk assessment and follow-on contingency plan for each benefit
  • Pressure-test the change management plan to ensure people will have the mindsets, actions and behaviours required to achieve all benefits
  • Gain leadership agreement that the benefits case will be reviewed if the change scope is adjusted
The business case is an important element of change success. Balancing the 'what' and the 'how' increases the role it plays in strategy and implementation; it better defines the path that an organization must take to fully reap the benefits it needs to be successful. It also increases confidence they will be realized.

Phil

Saturday, 23 April 2016

How to Jump-start Performance by Resetting Team Behaviours


Teams, like families, adopt patterns of behaviour based on preference, familiarity and habit. Some are positive and lead to effective and efficient interactions. Others are counterproductive and impede optimal results. In aggregate, they define the ground rules for how a group of people get things done.

Examples of open and closed team ground rules are: only ideas are challenged, not the people who have them; everyone’s opinion must be heard before making a decision; the leader’s view is never to be challenged; and information is shared on a ‘needs to know’ basis.  

Group behaviours are most evident in meetings. It's fascinating to observe a team for the first time. You can identify its unwritten ground rules by what you see, hear and feel. How time is spent, what is said or not said and the emotions telegraphed through body language are all clues that point to established protocols.

Roles that people play are also a form of permissible behaviour. These are accepted character types that people take on. Common roles are the advocate (what do I like?), contrarian (what don’t I like), mediator (where are we aligned?) and navigator (where are we heading?).

The longer a team is together, the more established are its ground rules and the less likely they will change. In addition to not improving over time, they may become less productive if circumstances change; challenged by new situations, issues can intensify and opportunities can be lost.

Resetting team ground rules is a way of jump-starting new mindsets, actions and behaviours to achieve better results. Usually, the refreshed ways of working foster better communication, more effectively use time and yield superior decisions. 

Here are the steps to resetting your team's ground rules:

1.   Get agreement from all members that the resetting exercise is worth investing in
2.   Identify current behaviours that support and hinder the team being effective and efficient
3.   Discuss and agree on new behaviours that will contribute to better results
4.   Review the ‘start, stop and continue’ behaviours on one list to check for alignment and make any final revisions
5.   Agree that everyone has permission to uphold the new ways of working
6.   Read the new ground rules at the beginning of team meetings – it is easier to follow them when they are fresh in people's minds
7.   Measure the team's demonstration of each behaviour at the end of each (or periodic) meetings, from 1 to 5, where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent

There are two easy approaches to selecting new behaviours: develop a list from scratch or review a master list of productive behaviours and ask people to select the ones they value. Agreeing on a few priority new behaviours is more beneficial than a long list of desirable ones.

Here are examples of productive team behaviours: 
  • Agree on objectives or outcomes up front
  • Voice any disagreements or concerns during the meeting
  • Listen to people’s opinions without interrupting them
  • Discuss the pros and cons of every option
  • Provide and accept honest feedback
  • Withhold judgement or comments when 'brainstorming' ideas until all ideas have been heard

A team's ground rules affect the outcomes it achieves. Resetting how people interact will identify what they do well, don't do well and new behaviours to help them do better. The exercise will build people's skills and boost performance. It may even feel like a fresh start.



Phil

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Number 1 Change Success Factor: Expectations

I asked two leaders for their views on past change initiatives  which ones were successful/not successful and why. Both were at the same level, had similar tenures and identical access to change support.  

The first leader declared that most changes were moderate successes. Times had been tough, competition was fierce and people had to work double-time to deliver results and adopt changes to how they operated. The other pronounced them to be mostly failures. The initiatives fell short of the goals regardless of the substantial resources that were dedicated to them. How could two leaders have such opposing views of the same events?

Varying views of change success is common when leaders aren't aligned on the objectives, outcomes and circumstances around an initiative. Without dialogue and guidance, their expectations are based on personal assumptions instead of facts. Past experiences, including those at other companies, frame their expected outcomes. Different knowledge and past experiences lead to different perceptions.

A challenge of differing expectations is that every leader believes their view is right and all other ones are wrong. Although the most accurate view is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of opinions, inconsistency of perceptions tends to round down the overall assessment of outcomes; the more varied they are the lower the overall view of success.

To avoid the fallout of varying perspectives on change success, it is essential to set expectations of leaders and their teams at the beginning and throughout a change initiative. 

Here are some ways to align expectations with reality:

  • Make sure the scope matches the resources available to achieve it  if not, the odds are you will fall below some leaders' expectations regardless of the good work you do
  • Schedule leader reviews of your change plan at key milestone points to ensure the assumptions underlying it are still correct  the plan (and expectations of leaders) must be updated to reflect current realities
  • Meet regularly with each leader to update them on progress made and gain their feedback  they may hold outdated perceptions that might not be caught in leadership team reviews 
  • Ask leaders for help if you fall behind  participation leads to greater understanding and valuation of outcomes
  • Conduct a formal project review before closing the project  it reminds leaders of the agreed-upon outcomes and provides evidence that they were achieved
  • Hold final interviews with each leader to record their views on the level of success achieved  this will solidify them in leaders' minds and record them as reference points for the future 

Managing expectations of a change initiative aligns people on objectives, process and outcomes and minimizes personal biases. The more aligned people are on past successes or failures, the more aligned they will be on what needs to be done to secure a successful future.

Phil

Saturday, 9 April 2016

How to Provide "the Right Amount" of Change Support

One of the challenges of providing change management support is that it requires people's time. Preparation activities  briefings, training, coaching  take people away from their roles and current responsibilities. The more change support they get, the less time they have to complete their tasks and achieve their goals. 

It's a fine balance between too much and too little assistance. If you provide too much then people get stressed and may choose to self-select out of activities; if you provide too little then people won't have the required mindsets, actions and behaviours to successfully adopt new ways of working.

I worked with an organization that was overloaded by its agenda. A long list of priorities spawned a large number of projects, many of which had insufficient resources. People were struggling to keep up with their work. Most went from meeting to meeting, apologizing for being five minutes late because of travel time. It was part of the company's culture.

I learned quickly that change activities needed to be integrated into people's realities. They must be targeted to individual needs and be easy to digest. If not, attendance will be inconsistent and transitions be flawed. The change plan that people will follow is always better than the 'perfect' one that they won't. 

Here are ways to minimize the time you take to prepare people for change:

  • Be clear on leader time commitments, gain agreement on them and schedule the activities in their calendars
  • Up front, be clear what each person needs to do differently for the changes to work
  • Provide only the support each person needs  nice-to-have activities or attendance is a luxury most businesses can't afford
  • Co-create the support plan with a few people who will go through it  their feedback on activities will avoid scope creep and ensure relevance
  • Schedule training as close as possible to when the change will be made  recency of learning affects application of new thinking, actions and behaviours. Also, refresher training requires additional time and money 
  • Incorporate activities in existing meetings  minimize the number of new meetings that people need to attend
  • Consolidate training into as few meetings as possible  An 180-minute session is more effective and efficient than two 90-minute ones held on different days
  • Adjust time requirements based on pilot sessions  shorten sessions if less time is needed; lengthen them only if outcomes can't be achieved

The main goal of change management it to prepare people to successfully take on changes with the least amount of disruption. Minimizing the disruption of people's schedules leads to greater participation, better preparation and less risk to operating results. Providing people with only the change support they need when they need it is a good start.

Phil

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Why Every Leader Needs the Charisma Factor

In the late 90s, I read The Charisma Factor by Robert Richardson and Katherine Thayer. It decoded how famous charismatic leaders motivate people to follow them and devote themselves to achieving their goals.

The authors define charisma as the "ability to touch the hearts and minds of those around you to move them into action." Charismatic leaders "create the enthusiasm, excitement, and motivation others need to jump into the game and begin playing at their best." 

At the time, charismatic leaders dominated business headlines. Jack Welsh was declared "Manager of the Century" by Fortune Magazine and Steve Jobs, after rejoining Apple, passionately described market dominance as "ours to lose." Legions of aspiring leaders consumed self-help books to helped them emulate their heroes. 

Since then, charismatic leadership has been challenged. Daniel Goleman has written about the dark side of charisma where a leader's 'charismatic authority' inspires people to passively do the wrong things. Chris Bones' book, "Cult of a Leader," has drawn parallels to broader cultural themes of celebrity infatuation and consumerism "that imbue leaders with powers over and above those of ordinary mortals." Also, Tracey White's blog about followership has questioned the individual leader's ability to solve many of today's complex challenges. Lone wolf charismatic leaders have lost their shine.

Charisma still plays an important role in leading change. This is especially true for empowering cultures where everyone is viewed as a leader, regardless of rank or role. The charisma factor helps communicate the importance of people's work. It also motivates others to devote themselves to efforts beyond their job responsibilities. These contributions help break down organizational silos and build greater awareness of how business areas are dependent on each other. Also, with greater collaboration comes greater recognition of people's work, creating a virtuous cycle of contribution and reward. 

Here are highlights from Richardson's and Thayer's research on how to be charismatic:

  • As a charismatic leader your primary purpose is to inspire the best in others
  • To have a magnetic leadership presence you must first maintain an optimistic view of yourself, your leadership, and your goal 
  • Logic doesn't work well in getting others to take action because logic isn't universal. Each of us has his or her own personal 'system' of logic.
  • As with all human beings, what they think about affects their attitudes
  • If you can direct the thoughts of others, you can direct their emotional state  guide their emotions and you guide their actions
  • Charismatic leaders infuse strong and productive emotions in others by first displaying them themselves
  • As a charismatic leader, your passion displays the importance of your objectives to others causing them to want to go where you are leading  passion is the catalyst for generating interest or enthusiasm
  • Passion is precious because it is lacking in most people's lives
  • People must be in the appropriate state of mind before they want to do something  feelings always proceed actions
  • A charismatic leader's role is to simply assist others in feeling better, more resourceful, inspired, and motivated so they are able to do their best
  • Once you know the desired outcome, you decide on the state(s) your listeners need to be in so they will want to take that action
  • Begin every interaction with the emotions you want them to instantly feel  create for them a "habitat" of feeling confident, powerful, inspired, or excited

Most organizations are overloaded by the number of changes it must make to stay relevant and successful. A leader's ability to motivate and focus people is an important skill to provide direction and inspire action. Leveraging the power of charisma is one way to incite people to "jump into this game and play at their best."

Phil

Friday, 25 March 2016

Change is a Leader-Employee Relationship Business

Last weekend, I facilitated a leadership team as it updated its governance model. When reviewing supplier contacts, the team validated that the executive who oversaw each supplier was the person who had the best relationship with them. "It's a relationship business," said one leader. This is true for all businesses; good relationships drive the best outcomes.

Change management is also highly influenced by relationships. Midway through my career at Cadbury, my responsibilities expanded from the US and Canada to "the Americas." Just before meeting the Mexican Leadership Team, a colleague said, "You won't add any value until after they hug you." He meant that team members needed to get to know and build trust in me before they would openly discuss their business. Before then, I was visiting on a "Royal Tour" with no tangible impact on the leaders or their business. I was hugged on my second visit.

The leader-employee relationship is essential for change to occur. How leaders are perceived by their employees is a predictor of change success. The more they are respected, trusted and liked, the greater the likelihood that people will buy into their vision of the future. If leaders are poorly viewed, their vision will be rejected, planned changes won't be adequately supported and outcomes won't be achieved.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer study states that only 65 percent of employees trust their leaders to do "what is right." This statistic has disastrous implications for change. It implies that negative past experiences with leaders are influencing how employees perceive them and the future visions they will be asked to build.

One of the first questions I ask a leader is, "Could you tell me about past changes you led?". Mention of poor implementation and results suggests that the leader's relationship with employees is tarnished. Repairing the relationship will be a priority. 

Here are ways that leaders can build their relationships with employees through the changes they lead:

  • Speak from the average employee's perspective  address employees from their frame of reference by honestly communicating how they will be affected by change, both positively and negatively
  • Deliver on your commitments  do what you say when you say you will do it. This is a blind spot for many leaders because other priorities overshadow internal commitments. Employees always track leaders' behaviour and not following through on promises compromises credibility
  • Ask for and act on input and feedback – co-creation and ongoing feedback are fundamental change enablers. Relationships are enhanced only when decisions are made based on this information 
  • Share credit with those who did the work – An old management adage is give credit to your team and blame to yourself. Crediting those who achieved the results leads to trust, reciprocation and continued efforts to build the future
  • Take time to socialize with employees – relationships are personal and speaking with employees, including answering their questions, builds familiarity, approachability and loyalty
  • Create a link between past successes and future challenges – just as past failures can tarnish leader relationships, successes can galvanize them; success breeds success

Like all businesses, change is about relationships. The quality of relationships that leaders have with their employees directly impacts the outcomes they achieve. Like all relationships, they are built over time, earned by the actions people do and behaviours they express. Making them a priority will provide leaders with the buy-in and support they need to build a better future.

Phil

Thursday, 17 March 2016

What I Learned from the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge

Like most endings, day 30 of my MindWell 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge program snuck up on me. On day 28, I realized that my daily learning videos and buddy support messages were about to end.

As mentioned at the beginning and middle of my challenge, I had looked forward to the few minutes I spent each morning learning about mindfulness, renewing my commitment to be more present, and sharing my experiences with my challenge buddy, Matt. They were positive additions to my morning routine.

I had set three goals for this online learning program: 
  • Maximize performance by being more present-focused and "in the zone"
  • Document the benefits I gain when I am more present
  • Identify applications for leaders and their teams when going through change

Maximizing Performance 
Learning how to focus on the present exposed the amount of time I had wasted thinking about the past and future. Most of my thoughts weren't positively contributing to my personal or professional life. Being informed by the past to plan the future is still important. Being grounded in the present as I do so keeps me on task and avoids mental distractions.

The first step to staying in the present is to realize when you are not there. The ability to assess where my mind was became a new skill. If I was not in a productive frame of mind, I would trigger the Take 5 breathing exercise to snap back into focus. I was back in productivity mode in less than two minutes. The more I used this tool the faster I refocused on my work. Now, I employ Take 5 before starting a task to avoid slow starts or drifting to other activities  multi-tasking is a time waster.

Documenting Benefits
The research that underpins the program states that mindfulness makes you present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized. I experienced all of these throughout the challenge.

Recording which benefits I perceived after each day was an eye-opener. I experienced greater presence and focus more often than engagement and energy. These traits are usually high for me, which might explain not feeling more so than usual.

Two of the biggest benefits were greater awareness of how I spend my time and an improved ability to redirect my thoughts. I am now mindful of the time traps that reduce my productivity.

Applications for Change
Change management is a structured approach to helping leaders and their teams be their best as they transition to new ways of working. Helping them stay focused through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that comes with change is a key requirement.

In times of change, many people cling to the past (the good old days) or worry about the future (the brave new world). This causes them to freeze or lose focus on what they can do to navigate new requirements for success. Unproductive thinking leads to inaction and greater worry.

The skill of identifying distractions is one that I will use and develop in my clients. 'Calling it' when leaders or teams get waylaid by past practices or future speculation will focus them on the tasks at hand to more quickly deliver outcomes. Improving the team's effectiveness will represent a quick win that may suggest that the change will lead to better results.

As the final program video states, the mindfulness challenge is never done. We must continue to be mindful about where we are at the moment  past, present or future  and get back into the present when we are distracted. Like most capabilities, the ability to be mindful will decrease without practice.

I completed a survey to end my 30th day module. One of the questions was, "Would you recommend the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge to a friend? After replying "yes," I thought a slightly different questions would better measure the personal benefits gained from the program: "Would you give the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge as a gift to a friend? Who wouldn't want our friends to be more present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized? My answer would be "yes."

Phil

Saturday, 12 March 2016

How to Coach Leaders to Ace Their Change Roles

An organization's culture can be defined as the leadership behaviour that determines how things get done. People emulate their leaders' behaviours regardless of how the organization chooses to describe its culture on its website or its walls; what leaders do defines culture. 


The leader's role is to set a destination, marshal resources to get there and lead the way, confident that it will achieve greater performance. Any new destination requires making changes in how work gets done. By modeling new behaviours, a leader demonstrates that others can do the same; if he or she can do it, so can everyone. 

One of the biggest challenges of change is when leaders don't demonstrate the new behaviours that are required to make a change successful. Either they keep doing old behaviours or do not take on the new ones.

An IBM study reported that 92 percent of survey participants cited top management sponsorship as the most important factor in successful change programs. Another study by Oxford University recorded that 33 percent of change programs fail because management behaviour does not support the change. 

I remember one leader who said at a town hall meeting that cost cutting was essential for the organization's future. After he got off the stage, someone overheard him crowing about the new furniture he had ordered for his newly-expanded office. Expense reduction was slow and painful. Another leader shared a video that caught him not demonstrating new behaviours. He asked everyone for their help in building his skills. After he got off the stage, he was embraced by many people who eagerly offered their support. His country ranked number two in the world for success with that change.

Often, leaders are unclear of the sponsorship roles they are required to play. Also, they don't realize that what they do and say is being scrutinized by those around them. Coaching leaders on how to demonstrate new ways of working and providing candid feedback on their ability to do so is essential for changes to be supported and stick.

Here are some tips on how to coach leaders on their change roles.
  • Help leaders understand that everything they do and say related to the change impacts people's perceptions of it
  • Review leadership roles in person, either one on one or with the full leadership team
  • Create a one-page leader role summary. It can be reviewed in coaching sessions to acknowledge aligned behaviours and pinpoint gaps
  • Discuss how the new behaviours manifest themselves in real-life situations
  • Book weekly meetings with each leader for the duration of the change 
  • Track his or her behaviours and point out when they are and are not appropriate
  • Provide feedback immediately after a leader has presented at an employee meeting
Preparing leaders before a change will help them demonstrate what they need from their employees. Awareness, skill building, feedback and coaching throughout the change will build them into the role-models needed for change and greater performance.

Phil 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

How to Move from Mindless to Mindful: Day 19

I am on day 19 of a 30-day 'mindfulness challenge' training program. Mindfulness is the ability to remain focused on the present instead of thinking about the past or dreaming about the future. The benefits of greater presence are improved concentration, reduced stress and increased productivity.

Every day, my learning partner, Matt, and I view a new online learning video and practice a breathing technique, called 'Take 5,' to sharpen our focus.

I noticed benefits on the third day of the program. I began catching myself when my mind drifted from the task at hand. Like children falling asleep at their desks, my productivity stopped when I was lulled by the past or the future. Once aware of my dream state, I used the breathing exercise to reenter the present and get back to work.

The benefits of mindfulness grew tenfold this week. I was working day and night, writing multiple proposals, holding client meetings and preparing presentations. The more I had to accomplish, the more my mind was distracted by thoughts about the past and future. Luckily, I had developed a trigger response as soon as I lost focus. After a few breaths, I snapped back into my productivity zone.

The emails that Matt and I have exchanged document our progression. Here's a few of mine:
"As I progress, I want to focus on recognizing stress responses." (Day 12)
" I don't feel that my health and well-being have substantially changed but my ability to focus (and stop being unfocused) has improved greatly!" (Day 15)
"Noticing what state we are in is the first step to evaluating if it is where we want to be." (Day 16)
"I am now shifting from becoming less stressed to becoming more insightful, curious about my habits." (Day 17)
"I have gained an awareness of my pattern of tension when I don't have all the facts. (Focusing on) 'where I am now' and 'what is the next step I need to take' helps me start doing something productive." (Day 17)

I am making progress on all of my goals: My performance is improving by being more focused; I am documenting my learnings and noting applications for leaders and their teams as they go through change. 

Yesterday, I noticed someone in a meeting drifting off into space. I wondered whether he was thinking about the past or the future. I was thinking about the present.

Phil




Friday, 26 February 2016

What Your Favourite Teacher Knew About Change

Mr. Green
My favourite teacher is Mr. Green. He was my grade 10 home room and geography teacher. After all these years, I still think about him and the positive influence he had on me.

Mr. Green was the first non-family member who said he believed in me. He praised my strengths and coached me on my weaknesses. He also listened to my views and discussed them with me as an equal. At the end of the year, he said "Phil, you are going to do great things in your life. I know it." I beamed and strove to prove him right.

Most people have a favourite teacher. That is why "Who is your favourite teacher?" is often an online security question; it's a name you don't forget. 

My Grade 10 Self
The reasons why you chose that teacher are also easy to recall. When I interviewed candidates for leadership roles, I would ask them about their favourite teacher and what they taught them about managing people. My hypothesis was that people aspire to be like their heroes, which I tested with my next question: "Give me an example of how you have demonstrated that behaviour with someone you managed?"

Most people would physically alter when they talked about their favourite teacher. Their faces would flush, eyes would glisten, or posture would lean forward. It was personal. 

Excellent teachers have a lot in common with excellent change leaders. They both help their charges be the best they can be by creating environments where they can flourish. Here are some common attributes of favourite teachers that can help your team members navigate change:

Be personally invested: Commit to making people the best they can be by observing their behaviour, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, providing immediate feedback and encouraging further development.

Be clear on expectations: Set the bar for performance that is a stretch yet achievable, given a person's capabilities.

Build confidence: Heighten self-belief by encouraging positive mindsets (openness, solution-focus, abundance) and discouraging negative ones ('not invented here,' crisis-focus, scarcity).

Show empathy: Acknowledge where people are before helping them to move forward; validating where people are opens a window to where they could be.

Lead by example: Demonstrate new skills and tasks before asking people to perform them. 

Test people's thinking: Inquire about reasons for beliefs and justifications behind recommendations, and test them with facts.

Lighten stressful situations: Help people focus on their performance by putting things in perspective and managing distractions like rumours or speculation. Humour often helps.

Treat people like adults: Listen, reflect, discuss and debate ideas and viewpoints as an equal (rather than as a 'superior').

Encourage participation: Ask people to join working teams, committees and review panels. Building the future also builds ownership, capabilities and pride.

Hold people accountable: Performing poorly isn't okay. Acknowledge the miss, provide feedback and ask the person to create a plan to improve results.

Reward progress: Recognize and acknowledge progress made and encourage continued wins.

Help people feel important: Communicate how a person's contributions are important and meaningful to you and your organization.

Excellent teachers and change leaders have a lot in common. They create an environment in which people feel energized, valuable and successful, especially in challenging times. Remembering what we valued about our favourite teacher can help us become more valuable change leaders. In times of change, people are in greatest need of a manager's support. Giving it like your favourite teacher would have might even get you praise when your team members are asked "Who was your favourite boss?"

Phil

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Why Would You Take a Mindfulness Challenge?

A friend of mine won a 30-day, two-person mindfulness program from his company. I am honoured to be his partner for the experience. 

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days. It involves mental techniques (some call it meditation) to help you focus on the present versus fretting about the past or worrying about the future. There is a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness improves concentration, reduces stress, and increases performance

I didn't have to be sold on the benefits of being present. I have observed many leaders over the past 25 years who have lost focus due to the pressures of change. Many would panic when faced with situations new to them. I could feel their desperation. They would either make a quick decision based on their gut or the first seemingly credible data point. Both approaches were disastrous, laying landmines that would explode months later. 

Stepping back to take stock of a situation leads to better decision making. Openness and reflection replace immediacy and reflex that are associated with the 'fight or flight' response. Taking time to gain a balanced perspective enables leaders to employ their skills and experience to make the best decision. 


The mindfulness program is designed by MindWell, a company with a tagline of "less stress, more joy, peak performance". The data from our session will be part of a University of British Columbia research study assessing the program's effectiveness on skills and behaviours in the workplace.

My first task was to complete a 10-minute questionnaire. Whenever I complete a survey I try to analyze the intent behind the questions asked  what do they want to know; what are they measuring? I noticed that many of my answers were either strongly agree or strongly disagree. I wonder what my 'before' profile suggests about my level of mindfulness? 

The first daily lesson taught me a technique called 'Take 5'. It is a 5-step process where you focus on your surroundings and how you breathe. By doing so you refocus on the present. My assignment (and commitment) is to Take 5 five times a day.

Any development program needs goals to define learning and measure progress. Mine are:
  • Maximize performance by being more present-focused and "in the zone"
  • Document the benefits I gain when I am more present
  • Identify applications for leaders and their teams when going through change

People can feel panicked, fearful, overwhelmed or 'freak outed' when confronted with change. Mindfulness may be an effective approach to staying present and focused on adopting new ways of working. Anything that helps them to be at their best is worth investing in.

Phil




Friday, 12 February 2016

How to Engage the Whole Person in Change

How many people do you know who are completely focused on their work and never get distracted by things going on in the rest of their life? Not many? Me either.

People bring their whole selves to work as they do to other parts of their life. They are a collection of their many roles (partner, friend, coach, volunteer, etc.) and accountabilities that go with them. 

Evidence of people juggling their lives at work is easy to see  shopping online at their desk; leaving a meeting when their phone rings, saying, "I have to get this," not answering a question that is asked of them, lost in thought, etc. It's normal.

A leader's role is to create an environment in which people will be successful. In times of change, they must give their teams the mindsets, clarity on changing roles, knowledge, skills, behaviours and confidence to take on new ways of working. 

The best environment accommodates the needs of the whole person. I realized this many years ago when I was managing a business transformation. It was critical that the project sponsor meet with representatives from each function before an announcement at the end of the week. The only time available on her calendar was 7:00 am on Thursday morning. This was before widespread conference calling so everyone had to be in the office for the meeting. 
The meeting was a disaster. People were so absorbed in the inconveniences caused by the meeting time (with some commuting for over an hour) that they couldn't focus on the objectives. I could see it on their faces: How could you do this to me?

It didn't matter that people understood there were no options or that our apologies were sincere or that a breakfast was served; a part of their whole life was screwed up by me. After the project, we reviewed lessons learned.  Most recommendations were high-level changes to project scope and governance. One was "Never schedule a 7:00 am in-person meeting again". People bring their whole selves to work.

Here are ways I have learned to engage the whole person when managing change:
  • Acknowledge that people have lives outside of work – if not, people get distracted by making the point: "Don't they realize that we have lives outside of work?" 
  • Ask people to set their own team guidelines for managing the change  people realize that work needs to get done and that trade-offs need to be made. One person said, "I have no problem working after my kids go to bed, but I need to pick them up from school." 
  • Encourage people to share their personal needs by sharing your own  a leader sets the tone of a team and his or her behaviour creates permission for similar actions. Leaving work at 5:00 pm every Wednesday for an appointment is fair when your boss does the same on Thursdays.
  • Avoid holiday "blackout" times  This is a planning decision made at the beginning of a change project. People will be distracted by talking about the vacation they didn't have when they wanted to take it.
  • Develop a "one team" culture where people cover for each other  the unexpected happens and building a team that is willing and capable of filling in for others will smooth out these interruptions.
  • Regularly check in on people to see how they are doing  other things are changing in people's lives and knowing about them will help you quickly make accommodations and minimize surprises.
  • When someone is going through a challenging time, ask them to define the accommodations they need to manage their accountabilities  people know best what they need, just like a team that creates its own guidelines for working together.

People's lives are as multifaceted as the organizations they work for. Building flexibility into how change is managed makes room for people to accommodate their whole lives as they take on new ways or working. This leads to less distraction and better implementation, which is best for the business and the people who have roles in it.

Phil