Thursday, 4 February 2016

How to Be 'on Trend' in Business

My mornings usually begin with a quick scan of news feeds in my inbox. Today, an article caught my eye that was unrelated to business. It was about a desk organizer that was 'on trend'. Are there desk organizer trends, I thought? Apparently, this one is aligned with the current decluttering and metallic accessories trends. Trends are good to cite if you are selling fashionable desk organizers.

Like products, businesses leverage trends for their advantage. They use them to validate their agendas and justify performance levels. Aligning with popular or generally accepted beliefs creates the impression that they are externally focused and on top of things. It also implies that they have taken decisions that most stakeholders would have taken. 

An example of businesses leveraging trends is how they position their annual financial results. Organizations across industries and geographies cite generally accepted (fashionable) factors--consumer buying habits, digital migration, political stability, e-commerce, etc.--to justify decisions made and performance achieved. Analysts and shareholders may question performance, but they rarely question the validity of these 'headwinds' (positive impacts) and 'tailwinds' (positive ones).

Another way businesses use trends is through the language they include in strategic and operating plans. For example, being 'agile' is a popular way to address today's unprecedented pace of change. Also, terms like 'reinvention,' 'transformation,' and 'disruption' are fashionable strategies for remaining relevant to consumers. Trends are good to cite if a business wants to be viewed as progressive and competent. 

Like products and businesses, people also align with trends for their gain. Whether positioning themselves for promotions or securing new consulting clients, aligning with current trends creates the impression of confidence, competence and business acumen. It also differentiates them from those who are holding onto older trends.

To be on trend, try these approaches:
  • Monitor media--networks, blog posts, news agencies, conference speaking topics, etc.--to uncover emerging topic patterns
  • From this list, select the trends you value and become knowledgeable about them
  • Adopt language used to describe these trends
  • Stop using  out-of-date language associated with past trends, e.g. stop being 'synergistic' and get off the 'bleeding edge'
  • Research trends that are quoted by your leaders--common reference points help build strong relationships
  • Given that the life cycle of a trend is shaped like a  bell-curve, move onto a new trend when the existing one is at its height of popularity (the peak of the curve) 

Aligning with current trends is beneficial for products, businesses and people. These concepts lend credibility to viewpoints and signal capabilities needed to manage change. Trends are good to cite if you want to be successful.


Friday, 29 January 2016

6 Questions to Ask Before You Create a Change Plan

This week, I wrote two presentations to give at an association conference in June. The two topics are How to Lead Yourself and Others through Change and Building a Project Plan to Drive Change.

The best part of Building a Project Plan to Drive Change is the list of questions you need to ask before starting to write your plan. Like most journeys, how you prepare is the biggest contributor to success.

Most people jump into planning change without stepping back and assessing the environment in which the change will take place. For example, if your change is launching at the same time as three other changes, the odds are that the people you are changing will not have the capacity (time, skill and resources) to implement it as completely as you would like. 

I fell into this trap when I first led global change initiatives. I planned them as if everyone working in countries valued my project as much as I did. I was shocked when my contact in Eastern Europe told me she was the point person for all global change projects (in addition to her day job). Given the impossibility of her workload, she spent just enough time on each project to give the impression that it was being followed. I started asking questions about capacity to implement before planning.

The purpose of asking the questions is to understand the change from the impacted people's perspective. The answers will give you clues on how best to align their mindsets, actions and behaviours to make the change with the least amount of disruption.

Here are the questions that I will be sharing in June and asking a new client next week:

What is the change (in one sentence)? 
All planning flows from a succinct definition  if you can't clearly and simply describe it then you can't plan it effectively.

Who will play a role in its success?
The three key roles are: the senior leader(s) who is accountable for the change, those who have decision-making power about how the change will be implemented and those who will be changing. 

What are the benefits to the organization?
Will it increase profit, decrease cost, increase customer service, decrease defects, better achieve the mission, quickly accommodate market changes, etc.?

What are the benefits to the people who are changing?
Will it make people's jobs easier (reduce complexity, increase speed of decision-making, etc.), build skills, avoid a downsizing, provide more career opportunities, etc.? Providing good things or avoiding bad ones will build engagement and ownership.

What and how are other projects affecting people?
Here you are identifying your competitors for mind space and time. They include operational planning tasks (strategic planning, budgeting, performance reviews, etc.) and other change projects (systems upgrades, culture drives, restructure, etc.). 

What do people need to do to take on the change and how much time will it take?
The answers will allow you to assess the level of difficulty of the change. Comparing them with the last question's answer will allow you to assess the capacity people have for taking on the change. 
Once you have answered these questions you are prepared to build a solid change project plan. It will be designed within the context of your organization and the people who will be changing. 

You might decide to change the scope or timing of the change to improve the probability of its success. You could also influence decision makers to change some of the answers to the questions. One thing is for sure, the more realistic the plan the more likely it (and you) will succeed.


Friday, 22 January 2016

How to Facilitate for an Executive Team You Don't Know

This week, I facilitated an executive team that I had not worked with before. I had one business day and a weekend to prepare. 

It was a 2016 kick-off meeting to confirm commitment to the organization's mandate and strategic direction.

After a good briefing and homework, I was ready to go.

The facilitator's role is to ensure outcomes are met. Here are the guidelines I followed to encourage participation, surface issues and test for agreement:

  • Develop a deep understanding of the meeting objectives  from multiple sources to remove personal biases
  • Learn and use the language used by the team  not knowing their terms of reference creates a disconnect in discussions when time is spent having to educating you
  • Ask about group dynamics and the roles (optimist, collaborator, contrarian, etc.) that each participant has played at past meetings  you can draw on these people when a specific role is needed in the conversation
  • Research attendees on LinkedIn and company and industry news to get a sense of their past influences  also, note things you have in common with them to build immediate rapport
  • Identify the participants who will be attending in person and on phone or video conference lines  remote attendees should speak first to ensure they are not forgotten
  • After a brief introduction, ask people a question about their views  it refocuses them away from thoughts about other parts of their lives (the call they just had, an approaching deadline, etc.) and establishes a rhythm that you can maintain throughout the meeting 
  • Take notes on comments and agreements  verbatim comments are essential to the post meeting debrief
  • Ensure everyone is included in the conversation – full participation leads to more balanced outcomes and perceived value of the meeting
  • Provide perspective on comments based on your experience  use examples and metaphors that will resonate with attendees
  • If discussions get heated, thank people for their honesty and candour  opposing views can lead to better decisions and demonstrate engagement of participants
  • Leave enough time for final comments and review  15 minutes is ideal for a two hour meeting
  • Summarize agreements and next steps  include these in your notes, especially deadlines and those accountable for doing the work
  • Clarify when the team will meet next  the date needs to align with timing of next steps
  • Thank people for their participation  their investment of time and focus created the outcomes
  • Follow up with notes using the team's PowerPoint template  it provides immediate team recognition and makes them easy to review at the team's next meeting
  • Lead a 30 minute debrief with the team leader and other member(s) who asked you to facilitate  share overall perceptions including areas of alignment, opposition and overall group dynamics 

You can add a lot of value as a meeting facilitator by focusing discussions, encouraging participation and ensuring outcomes are met. Following a set of guidelines will ensure you can do so at a moment's notice.


Friday, 15 January 2016

How to Bypass the January Productivity Dip

I attended a meeting this week where everyone looked beat. People seemed worn out and I could almost feel the weight of the accountabilities on their shoulders. It was like they were barely holding on until holidays arrived, only seven days back from their vacations.

The first week of the year is usually a good one. People exchange new year wishes, holiday memories and resolutions for the year ahead. Reality sets in during week two: the budgeting process is in full swing, commitments made before the holidays need to be met and new challenges hijack calendars. Sound familiar?

It's easy for individuals and teams to become discouraged, pessimistic and exhausted before the year's heavy work begins. Just the thought of being off-balance or overwhelmed is enough to sap energy and melt convictions. If left unmanaged, productivity dips, people fall behind, and a negative pattern takes hold that is difficult to reverse. 

This negative scenario can be avoided by counteracting the conditions that create it. Here are some actions you can take to keep your team productive and charged.
  • Review the organization's purpose or mission  it reminds people of the organization's reason for being and why the struggle is worth it
  • Confirm individual and team priorities  build in time to discuss issues and answer questions so everyone is on the same page
  • Commit to monthly team resources reviews  this will align resources with estimated value gained, ensuring that high priority projects are well supported and low ones are not 
  • Ask people about lessons learned from last year  this will establish a common base of knowledge and expertise that will build confidence
  • Make it easy to demonstrate progress made  use multiple ways to share people's accomplishments  white boards, newsletters, email blasts, meeting agenda topics, etc.  so they feel their efforts matter and are making positive impacts
  • Give people a token acknowledgement  a small gift goes a long way  a manager once said, "Never underestimate the power of chotchkies." and he was right; it's the thought that counts and builds resolve.
  • Ask your team members what you can do to make them successful  personal investment in your team members will be appreciated and engender connection and partnership
Since people are motivated (and demotivated) by different things, employing multiple approaches will increase your odds of bypassing the January productivity dip.

Changing the environment in which your team operates will bypass a natural productivity dip in January. It will do the same for you too.


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Why I Don't Believe in Off-The-Shelf Training

Early in my career, I worked at the Business Development Bank. Its mandate is "to support Canadian entrepreneurship by providing financial and consulting services to small and medium-sized enterprises".

As Training and Development Manager, my role was to sell and deliver public and in-house business management training – strategic planning, marketing, communication skills, etc. – from a menu of twenty courses or so.  

Some people signed up for a series of courses, which gave me opportunities to ask them about how they were applying their new skills at their jobs. Although their intentions were good, most people didn't significantly change how they worked and therefore didn't gain the outcomes they had hoped for. 

I enrolled in a two-year adult education diploma program at St. Francis Xavier University to learn how to design and evaluate training programs. It gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to customize courses according to the needs of the individuals and organizations that purchased them. It also taught me how to build in transition exercises to help people take on new ways of working (change management).

Moving into the corporate world, I continued to design (or purchase) custom training programs. Measurement of outcomes was standard. Also, post-implementation plans were a must to ensure the new mindsets, actions and behaviours took root. 

This week, a client asked if I had something 'off-the-shelf' that I could deliver for them. I said no; all of my development sessions are custom designed because that is the best way to achieve outcomes. After our conversation, I wrote down the following reasons why I don't do off-the-shelf training:
  • People develop within the context of their environments – generic courses often don't address environment. I remember a time management program that recommended shutting your door to be more productive where participants didn't have offices (or doors)
  • 'One and done' training sessions rarely change mindsets, actions and behaviours (drivers of change) – they can build awareness and knowledge, yet rarely change actions or behaviours
  • Since exercises and examples are generic, they rarely are relevant to most participants – vanilla courses discuss vanilla scenarios
  • Off-the-shelf courses are more rigid with little flexibility to reallocate time given the interests and needs of the group
  • When managers don't participate in the design, they are less invested in reinforcing learning back on the job – leaders' commitment to support training outcomes is proportionate to the effort they invest in customizing the training
The next time you assess a training program, compare the design to the outcomes. The design that is customized for you is the one that will deliver the new mindsets, actions and behaviours that will stick.


Thursday, 31 December 2015

3 Words to Ensure 2016 is a Great Year

This is the third time I am using Chris Brogan's "My Three Words" exercise to help achieve my goals for next year.

Here is how it works: in late December, you select three words to direct your actions and behaviours that are aligned with you goals. They are reviewed regularly throughout the year, especially when making decisions that impact how you spend your time.

The words help you keep your goals top-of-mind and on track, increasing the odds of achieving them. As Chris says, "If you learn to use these words, learn to focus with them, learn to point yourself in the right direction with them, you'll see improvements. You'll see growth. You'll see a lot that makes you feel good."

My 2015 words were Choiceful; New; and Flexible.

Choiceful was about being selective on what I agreed to do. My past behaviour was to say yes to everything, which left me over-committed at the end of 2014. The impact of my decisions (or lack of them) was a 24-7 life just to honour the commitments I had made. Being choiceful helped me assess the pros and cons of opportunities and my available time before responding to requests. Now I have a disciplined decision-making process to help me be more choiceful.

New was intended to expose me to different opportunities and avoid falling into old patterns. In 2015, I took on new types of speaking engagements and consulting assignments, which led to personal growth. I even traveled to a couple of new countries for work, which broadened me further. My biggest new accomplishment was publishing my dad's memoirs on Amazon. Through the process, I developed a new skill set I will use in the future.

Flexible referred to my schedule. I was determined to leave room for unanticipated requirements and opportunities. I maintained a buffer of time over the second half of the year that I allocated depending on my priorities. I was more productive and less stressed by doing so.

My three words for 2016 are: ExciteCreate and Focus.

Excite has two meanings: find excitement in everything I do and excite the people I work with to accomplish new and challenging goals. They are related yet will help me in different ways. Finding excitement in everything I do will keep me motivated and balanced when faced with challenges. Exciting people I work with will help me spot opportunities to motivate or inspire them and ensure I take the time to do so.

Create is about building new mindsets, approaches and tools for managing change. I am keen to break new ground in 2016 and this prompt will keep my goal top-of-mind. It will also help me be creative in other parts of my life, perhaps by revisiting hobbies that fell off of my schedule many years ago. 

Focus will help me minimize distractions, whether they're time wasters or low-value activities. My ability to focus was good in 2015, in part due to following my three words for 2015. In 2016, I want to get better. Keeping my three words in front of me will go a long way to doing so. They will be posted on my monitor and in the front of my notebooks so they remain in view.

The "My Three Words" exercise is a excellent way of helping you achieve your annual goals. I am excited about my 2016 goals and the three words I have chosen to help me conquer them. I am ready to succeed!

What three words would help you achieve your 2016 goals?


Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Best Gifts are the Ones that Are Unexpected

Last summer, I was looking through a box of old family pictures. It was like opening a treasure trunk full of artifacts of my past. 

The mystery was enhanced by many of the pictures being captured on two inch by two inch slides that needed to be converted to digital images to be fully appreciated. As they were being reformatted, moments in time literally appeared before my eyes. 

For the first seven years of my life, we lived in a small bungalow. My parents had bought a plot in a new subdivision called Rexdale, the first 'bedroom community' of Toronto. New home owners were flocking to this converted farm land because the price was affordable and new highways made commuting to city jobs manageable.

My dad had captured every phase of construction in photos and letters to his parents. Looking at these records, I realized that their new house became a symbol of their hopes and dreams of the future. Each brick laid represented one step closer to the next stage in their lives.

Since this house still exists, I thought the current owners might be interested in discovering the origins of their home. They might even be a young couple like my parents. I decided to create a visual narrative of the building of and early years of living in their home. It would be my unexpected holiday gift from a stranger.

On Tuesday, I created my PowerPoint presentation of the first thirteen years of their home. On Wednesday, I rang their doorbell with my gift in hand.

A friendly woman opened the door. She was on a Skype call and motioned that she would be with me in a second. As I was waiting, I peered inside her home, noting the kitchen wall that had been removed and the other renovations that had taken place. Where was the fireplace?

We had a great conversation. My first home had been converted into two apartments. This woman was visiting her son from Bogota, Colombia and had signed a six-month lease. She told me about her family and I took her through my presentation. 

The main theme of our conversation was the importance of family. Family ties throughout our lives are paramount and help define who we are. Also, everyone has their own PowerPoint presentation about their beginnings and how they have shaped their lives. 

My new acquaintance said she would give my gift to the home owners. We exchanged Christmas wishes for our families and shared a warm handshake. 

As I descended the front steps (for the first time in four plus decades), I realized that she had given me the gift of appreciation. Unexpected gifts are the best, whether you give or receive them.

All the best for the holiday season!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Legacies Are Meant to Be Shared by Those Who Have Been Influenced by Them

My dad had often spoken about publishing his memoirs. He had written twenty stories that traced his steps from boyhood to manhood from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. These tales painted a picture of a young dreamer, inventor, poet, optimist, dancer, romantic, friend, pilot, engineer and jokester.

When my dad's health began to fade in the fall of 2014, he gave me his master binder of stories including detailed notes on how he wanted them formatted. In August, I started working in earnest on organizing, editing (very lightly) and formatting his words. I also added photos from his youth to provide visual context for his adventures.

On December 3, My Best 80 Years: The Lifetime Recollections of Donald Charles Buckley was published in soft copy and electronic versions on Amazon using its CreateSpace platform. By year's end, the electronic version will also be available on Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other book retail sites.

I learned a lot from the long, detailed and sentimental process of publishing my dad's memoirs. I have a greater understanding of his essence, including his values, personality, motivations and humour. I also learned a lot about how I have been influenced by my upbringing, especially how my dad, mom and brother have shaped my essence. Finally, I learned a lot about self-publishing, skills I will use as I write my next book. 

This week, I have been sending copies of my dad's memoirs to family members and friendsthose who knew Don as a brother, uncle, wartime sweetheart (can you believe it?) or friend. I have also contacted historical societies that may learn from my dad's reflections. The more people who can benefit from my dad's words the better. 

After fifteen reads, I still find my dad's stories fascinating. They are etched in my memory and are still influencing me. Maybe this is what leaving a legacy is about: to positively influence people who remember you for it. 

I attended a cousins' reunion last month. When I shared the news about my dad's memoirs, one of his nephews said, "Uncle Don," with a smile, "Everyone loved him." That sounds like a legacy to me, one that is important to share to all.


Saturday, 12 December 2015

How to Research an Organization on LinkedIn When You Are Pressed for Time

I have been researching multiple organizations this week with little time to do so. I realized that LinkedIn was my best source of information. Here's how I did it:

Organization Research

1) Go to the Companies section (Interests - Company)

2) Type the organization's name in the search bar at the top of the screen  

3) Select the organization you are looking for from the list of similar organizations (the logo help spot the one you are looking for)

4) Click the blue 'Follow' button. This creates a feed of new information posted by the organization

5) Skim the posted articles and read as many as you have time for including linked information 

6) Note names of leaders who you want to research

7) Note the people listed in the 'How You Are Connected' section who are in your network. They are people you can ask clarifying questions to or request an introduction from

8) For the people who are in your network, place your cursor on their names and click the 'Send a Message' button to ask any questions you have; for second or third level contacts, place your cursor on the name and click the 'connect' connect button to invite them into your network. You can also click on the 'View Profile' button to see if you know some in their network who can introduce you

People Research

1) Search for the people you have noted on the organization page: 

- Who do you know that is also in this person's LinkedIn network? These people can introduce you. Also, you can ask them questions about this person by clicking on your contact's name on the left-hand side of the page

- What do you have in common with this person: employers, schools, associations, charities, interests? These commonalities are potential sources of information and relationship builders if you connect with him or her

- What skill endorsements have he or she received? These are the skills that people in his or her network have recognized (that may be different from the ones listed in the profile)

- Who has endorsed themare they mainly colleagues, industry peers, suppliers, etc.?

2) Note the people listed in the 'How You Are Connected' section who are in your network. They are people you can ask clarifying questions to or request an introduction from

3) Place your cursor on someone's name and a link will appear below it that will send a message to them with your questions about the person

4) Follow step 8 above

It's fascinating what you can learn about an organization and the people who work for it through LinkedIn. When you are pressed for time, this is the fastest and most detailed approach to finding the information you need. Making more time for research is a good idea too. 


Friday, 4 December 2015

Images are better communicators than words. Take PowerPoint presentations, for example

PowerPoint has been the go-to business communication software program since its launch in 1987. Almost anyone can easily create a presentation to inform, educate or sell others. 

There is a lot of advice on how to effectively use PowerPoint – focus on one thought per slide, limit the number of bullet points to 3 or 6 ('power of three'), use the least amount of slides as possible, etc..

There are also many tips on how to avoid misusing this tool  don't use a small font size, don't include complex, hard to read information like spreadsheets, don't use full sentences, etc.

The latest brain-related research has triggered a step-change in how PowerPoint presentations can convey meaning and gain influence:
  • The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than the time it takes for the brain to decode text (SAGE Handbook of Political Communication)
  • People retain almost 65% of visual information compared to 10-20% of written or spoken information (Dr. Lynell Burmark)
  • 40% of people respond better to visual information than plain text (Zabisco)
  • Using bullet-pointed text requires people to switch between reading and listening, exhausting their cognitive capabilities and decreases the likelihood of retaining the information (Dr. Chris Atherton)
  • 90% of information entering the brain is non-verbal (Psychologist Albert Mehrabian)
  • Presenters that use visuals are 43% more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action (3M)
So if the case for visuals over words is so conclusive, why do we create presentations that focus on words instead of visuals? One reason may be habit  I have always done it this way. Another may be limited access to compelling visuals or skills to use them. The biggest reason may be the lack of confidence in the ability of image-based presentations to support us. After all, a picture of a tiger may not remind us of the six bullet points we could use to convey agility. 

A colleague and I are presenting a change management overview to a potential client next week. We decided to substitute most of our text with compelling visuals. We included just enough words to support a take-away deck. 

I don't think we have gone far enough. For future briefing and learning session, we will use more visual metaphors and short phrases to help our audiences navigate the content and inspire conversations about it.

PowerPoint was a tool created to help convey information leading to a desired outcome. Doing so with only words is like trying to to write a story with 35 percent of the available letters. Greater use of visuals will give you the benefit of the whole alphabet. 


Friday, 27 November 2015

Your Customers Need You to Upgrade Even if Some Don't Know it Yet

I upgraded my smartphone this week. I didn't need a new phone for my current uses, but I upgraded because the nature of business communication is changing.

I primarily use my smartphone for calls, emails and texts, and as an alarm clock. More and more, smartphone use is eclipsing my basic needs. People are using them as their preferred business and education tool.

This trend was spotted two years ago by Soundview when they launched their on-line course division. I remember speaking with the CEO who predicted that most leadership development would soon be delivered via smartphone. To enable mobile use, my course, Building Your Change Capability, was filmed in bite-sized fifteen-minute segments that could be accessed anywhere at any time. Education is now mobile.

Statistics tell a compelling story of the expanded role they play in people's personal and professional lives:
  • Over 6.0 billion people use mobile phones  that's 87% of the world's population (Source: Global Web Index)
  • In 2015, the penetration rate of smartphones in Canada grew to 68%, representing a year-over-year growth of 24% (Source: Catalyst)
  • U.S. adults spend an average of 2 hours and 51 minutes a day using mobile devices (Source: eMarketer)
  • About 65% of information searches start on a smartphone (Source: Michaels & Associates)
  • 99% of mobile learners believe this format enhanced their learning, and 100% say they would complete more training in a mobile format. (Source: eLearning Industry)
  • By 2018, at least 70% of mobile professionals will conduct work on personal smart devices (Source: SailPoint)
This communication shift is important to my business and its customers. Part of what makes my change and capability solutions relevant is that they are delivered in formats that my clients use. They now must become more mobile friendly because this is where people's needs are going. To do this well, I must become more mobile savvy.

My first steps were to upgrade my hardware and change my behaviour. As I compared my new and old devices, it was clear that all specifications had been improved  power, connectivity, storage, image quality, screen size, camera features  to enhance the communication experience. Why did I wait this long to upgrade?

It was fascinating to hear the sales representative, Jerry, explain how he uses his smartphone; it enables all parts of his personal and professional life. I am next, I thought.

My learning curve has been amusing. My bigger, heavier phone felt like a brick the first time I made a call. Also, it peaked out of my front pocket as I left the store. Jerry said, reassuringly with a smile, "Don't worry, you'll get used to it."

Yesterday was day one of behaviour change. I started an on-line course on my smartphone. I also read the news and downloaded a F. Scott Fitzgerald book to read on my Kindle app. My new phone is becoming my preferred business and education tool.

The biggest takeaway from my upgrade experience is that we need to evolve with our customers, and ideally faster than they do. This is as true for the advertising agencies promoting customers' products in an increasingly digital world as it is for universities educating students located remotely around the world; relevance is defined by the people we serve. We must upgrade our mindsets, skills and behaviours, even if some of our customers don't know it yet.


Friday, 20 November 2015

Successful Change Requires Shared Ownership. Just Ask Gary Numan

Gary Numan is best known for his 1983 hit song, Cars. In the late 1970s, he pioneered an electronic 'New Wave' sound that dominated the airwaves a few years later. 

Since then he has released 18 new albums and continues to play concerts around the world.

This week a friend sent me a link to a crowdfunding site for Gary's new album. I was intrigued about why he chose this route since his last one, Splinter, had been critically and financially successful.

Gary explained that "with my new album I want you to be a witness to the entire process, from the very first note played, through every up and down as the days unfold...some days will be good, ideas will flow easily and I will be happy and excited. Other days will be awful, and I will be miserable...but this is the process."

I immediately signed up for the all-access package including a signed extended CD at the end of the experience. Supporting an artist I like and respect and getting an insider's view of how he creates music is an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

As I started receiving daily updates, I realized that this opportunity was much more than watching an artist create; it was an interactive endeavour where I was participating in the process. Today's post asked 'pledgers' to submit questions about the new album. I leapt into action hoping Gary would select my question to answer as part of a future Q&A post. I felt like I could be an input to his creative process. I thought hard about my question as if it mattered. 

So what does this have to do with change management? Let's say that Gary is a business leader who is responsible for a change. He says to the people who must implement the change that he wants them to be a witness to the entire process. From the very first step, through to the successful completion they will see all of it. Some days will be good where we make progress and some will will not where we will get stuck, but this is the process. 

Next, Gary provides daily updates on progress, sharing all the good and bad details. Then he asks them for their questions along with their names and where they are from. People do so eagerly, wanting to move their change forward. 

Gary, the business leader, has shared ownership of the change with his team and has engaged them in the process of changing, which has greatly increased the probability of its successful.

Sharing ownership of change is an essential success factor. To do so well you need to be:
  • Personally committed to the project  you still must be the most committed to the change of all contributors
  • Humble  you don't know all of the answers and you are keen to learn
  • Open to input  the best way forward is chosen regardless of who suggests it
  • Transparent about progress  especially when things aren't going well
  • Highly communicative  provide many updates and opportunities to share feedback
  • Generous with recognition  you couldn't have done it without people's excellent contributions
Close to 100 people had posted questions to Gary's pledge site within a few hours. I think the lesson for us all is how to create a following for the changes we are responsible for making in our personal and professional lives.

Perhaps it's a blend of our visible passion, commitment and ability to create something new with the opportunity to be an active contributor who is also responsible for the successful outcome. 

One thing is for sure: I believe I am a part of Gary's album experience. And as a part owner, I am all in.  


Friday, 13 November 2015

What You Read Shapes How You Lead

Years ago I remember a peer saying, "If you want to lead, read". I think this is true; reading builds people's knowledge, hones their communication skills and helps them create a compelling story of a better future, all important traits of good leaders.

An extension to this adage is that since readers are leaders, what they read shapes how they lead. Reading different resources broadens their critical thinking and leadership capabilities. Knowledge, perspectives and decision-making approaches are broadened through the understanding of multiple, and often contradictory, viewpoints. Conversely, reading from one resource narrows exposure to different ideas and limits their leadership capabilities. If they only read material from hammer manufacturers, then every opportunity and challenge looks like a nail.

The Change with Confidence Newsletter has been running for almost 2 1/2 years. Each month, MelTim and I each select two current articles or videos we find intriguing. Our goal is to expand thinking about change and how it impacts our lives. We provide brief descriptions and links so that people can view the ones that interest them. 

The November issue will be our 28th. I thought it would be interesting to map the sources of our selections to see if any patterns emerged. I wanted to test if our breadth of sources was aligned with our goal to expand our thinking.

It was encouraging to learn that we drew upon 101 sources for our 162 selections. The sites ran a broad spectrum from traditional to esoteric, from Business Insider India to the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog

Our top 10 repeat sources were: Forbes (12), Harvard Business review (7), The Globe and Mail (7), C3Conversations (5), Fast Company (4), Huffington Post (4), The Atlantic (4), Big Think (4), BBC News (3) and The Washington Post (3).

It's good to know we are tapping into diverse sources of knowledge to expand our (and our readers') thinking on personal and business change. The assessment has reminded me that we need to push ourselves toward new knowledge sources to expand our leadership abilities. I will be sure to review where we have gone in the past so I forge new ground in the future.


p.s. Click here if you would like to receive our newsletter. The November issue will be out in a few days.

Friday, 6 November 2015

How to Gain Honest and Useful Feedback When Interviewing People About a Change

I am starting a type of  assignment that I really enjoy: interviewing people to uncover what is working and not working after a change has been launched.

The process required to uncover the 'truth' is both systematic and flexible: data gathering through conversation, pattern identification, hypothesis development and testing, and recommendation making. It's like building a puzzle where you need to create the pieces.

Conversations last between 30 and 60 minutes. In this time you need to stimulate interest in providing feedback, build rapport, ask questions, probe answers and take coherent notes. Time flies.

The best interviews are the ones that feel like conversations versus question and answer exchanges. They progress based on the interviewee's interests yet end with all questions being asked. 

As I was writing my interview guide, I wrote down these tips for gaining great observations, insights and actions that will make the change you are assessing more effective, embedded and valuable.

  • Create an interview guide including an opening welcome and closing thank you -- it ensures that you ask the same questions and don't forget to build rapport and show appreciation
  • Commit to anonymity of comments  opening the call by stating this pledge can increase the honesty and specificity of comments. Besides, sharing who said what is not relevant to your mandate and can be a distraction to stakeholders
  • Phrase each question in two ways, e.g. "What challenges are you facing/what can you no longer do that you could do before?"  one will better mirror the language patterns of the person you are interviewing
  • Ask interviewees if they have any questions -- it sets people at ease and builds rapport through the two-way exchange of information
  • The best final question is "What last thoughts do you have/what is one last piece of advice you have?"  often, the best information and insights are gained from this answer
  • Capture verbatim comments  they add credibility and reveal any emotions behind comments
  • Identify insights supported by verbatim comments  including the data behind your insights sets up a dialogue with the stakeholders about the validity of your conclusions 
  • Review questions with all stakeholders before the first interview  it ensures that you and all stakeholders are aligned
  • Invest 15 minutes after each call to organize your notes  this allows you to decipher your notes, compare the feedback with others and identify any emerging patterns
  • Make the interview enjoyable  they last longer and people will share with others that it was a good experience

Gaining feedback from people about a new way of working is an important element of the 'Making it Stick' phase of change. Discovering what is working, not working and how to make it better leads to improved implementation and outcomes. Effectively doing so can also build employee engagement and learning for future changes. Even better, it can become part of your culture of 'how we do things around here'.