Friday 26 December 2014

Why It's Important to Take Stock of 2014

Media is filled with best and worst lists of 2014—best business books, worst movies, best "best of " lists, etc. Although they are momentarily appealing, they only share one person's subjective view of what good (or bad) looks like for the year. 

What is more valuable is a comparison of results to goals. This is the only meaningful way to measure success and learn from the process.

Measuring your yearly accomplishments allows you to assess whether you achieve your goals. It also allows you to reflect on what what worked and didn't work and which approaches you should start, stop or continue to achieve next year's goals.

I tried a new goal setting approach this year based on a blog post by Chris Brogan written on January 1st. He recommended choosing three words "that sum up what you want to work on changing/improving in the coming year". It's a simple and effective way to prioritize, make decisions and keep track of your progress.

I chose my three words over two weeks. It was important that each one connected to my purpose of helping people and organizations  be more successful by working in new ways. My three words are: purposeful, groundbreaking and global. I used them as guides as I choose how to invest my time.

Here's my assessment of my ability to achieve each one:


I had a purposeful year. The assignments I took on had meaningful goals, both for the organizations and people working on themthere were no 'change for change's sake' initiatives. Also, I took on many speaking engagements that provided immediate, positive approaches for attendees, including people going through a downsizing initiative, managers trying to motivate not-for-profit volunteers and specialists seeking to have a voice during constant change.


This was not a groundbreaking year. I did do a few new things this year including working in new industries and partnering on a keynote presentation with another author. Both broke new ground and were successful, but didn't reach the 'earth shattering' expectations I had set. I have learned that being groundbreaking in itself is not the goal, although things may be groundbreaking to achieve other goals.


I had a global year, both from business and mindset perspectives. Ninety percent of my assignments were with global organizations working on global projects. They all held fascinating challenges (and rewards) of working across multiple geographies and cultures. I have also developed many new international relationships. It's a global world and I feel good about my presence in it this year.

My analysis has taught me a lot about how choosing three words each year can guide my actions and behaviours. Taking stock at the end of the year is informing my next year's word selection too. More on them later.


Friday 19 December 2014

How to Minimize the "Get it done before the holidays" Syndrome

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I get the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, reflect on the year and plan for the next one. 

That's my plan every December but it never seems to work that way. This is one of the busiest times of the year. Whether it's achieving yearly goals or completing projects before the holiday, schedules are full and people are overloaded.

This year has been no different; projects have been sped up and one was even pressed to start before year's end. Beyond the personal impact of working around the clock, there is a business cost to this rush: people aren't doing their best work. 

Efficiency becomes the goal at the expense of effectiveness. Getting things done is more important than doing things well. The closer you get to the office closing, the more short cuts are taken. At worst, commitments become check box exercises with the intention of reviewing them after the holidays. 

If the pre-holiday season is an environment where people don't do their best work, how do you avoid this "get it done before the holidays syndrome"? Here is a checklist to minimize the effect:

  • Assume that 25 percent of your time in December will be spent on last-minute requests
  • Avoid scheduling important meetings one weeks before the holidays
  • Don't schedule training sessions two weeks before the holidays—attention is low and attendance is a challenge
  • For meetings that you must hold just before the holidays, send action items out within 24 hours along with an invite to review them in early January—people will forget them
  • Ask when people are returning from holiday—it might not be the first day back
  • Be patient with your colleagues and yourself—most are caught up in the holiday rush. 
Following these practices may even give you the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, reflect on the year and plan for the next one. Happy holidays!


Friday 12 December 2014

10 Questions to Ask When Starting a New Change Project

I just started an exciting change management project. The goal is to enable a global roll-out of a new cross-functional process. 

The 'what' and the 'why' of the project are clear but the 'how' needs to be defined after internal capabilities--resourcing, skills and culture--are assessed and understood.

The 'discovery' phase of this assignment includes interviews with key stakeholders and a deep-dive review of documents. In addition to learning about the business strategy and how it is being delivered, we need to understand how people work together.

Triangulation, the technique of comparing different data sources to distinguish between facts and fiction, is helpful to create an accurate picture of the organization. This is needed before determining how to position the change and develop the best transition process.

Interviewing is the most effective and interesting part of the discovery process. Asking a set of questions to a diverse group of people will give us the puzzle pieces to assemble the organizational picture. Triangulating the answers will help identify the ones that don't fit.

Here are 10 questions that create a good picture of an organization:
  • What does success look like to you about this change?
  • What are people struggling with (pain points) without the change?
  • How will the organization and operators benefit from the change? 
  • What changes were successful in the past? Why?
  • What changes failed in the past? Why?
  • What should I know about your culture? How so?
  • Why might people resist adopting the process?
  • How would you roll-out the change?
  • How would you get people involved in making the change?
  • What last thoughts do you have about making the change?
Questions are powerful tools to gain understanding of how an organization and its people operate. Doing so in a structured way with the right questions will help you help them to change their picture for the better.


Friday 5 December 2014

When Decision Making is Clear, Change Follows

I have been working with organizations that are changing their operating model. Their new structures, processes and approaches have been designed to make them more focused, faster and efficient.

There are many drivers of this type of change including new mindsets, roles, relationships, skills, behaviours and systems. A focus of change management is to help people understand and commit to new ways of working so they can fulfil their new roles.

The change management plan answers the question, "How will people understand what is changing, why it is good to do so and how will I work differently under the new operation model. Town halls meetings, written and video communication, new team awareness sessions and process and skills training are common activities to achieve this objective.

It became clear this week is that decision making is the most important aspect of the transition that needs to be decided and communicated--who makes them, who is accountable for providing inputs, what process will be followed and how they are communicated. All other aspects of the change are connected to this aspect of organizational governance.

Some organizations have shied away from clarity on decision rights. The momentary harmony of ambiguity is more compelling than executional precision. An initial false sense of alignment is created until opposing positions arise and the organization slows down. Without clear guidance, outcomes are determined as much by personal power than organizational design.

Many organizations are now identifying  the need for clear decision making governance. They are investing time and resources to define and communicate how decisions will be taken on everything from strategic priorities to expense approvals.

For each key process, they define: 

  • What decisions need to be taken?
  • Who owns the decision (who makes the final call)?
  • Who participates in making the decision--who provides input, is consulted and is informed?
  • What forums are they made in?
  • How are the decisions acted upon?
  • How will they be measured?

These details may seem obvious but often they are missed, especially the forums in which decisions are made. When this is unclear, decisions can be made to early, without proper input or participation. 

The most important aspect of new ways of working is decision making. When that is clear, people know how to get things done. When that is clear, the other drivers of change quickly follow.


Friday 28 November 2014

When People Want the Same Thing, Give it to Them

This week, I interviewed people who will be taking on a newly-created role in the new year. I wanted to get their input on how to design a workshop for them to define their ways of working. 

The questions I asked included:

  • What does this role do and not do?
  • How could they collaborate together? 
  • How could they effectively work with internal partners?
  • What behaviours are most important to succeed in this role?
  • What does "good" look like for the first 90 days?
After a few interviews, I realized everyone was in their late 20's. These 'Millennialswere all intelligent, articulate and digitally social. Their feedback was consistent too: direct, candid and optimistic.

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe believe that each generation has a common character derived from common traits. My interviews supported this theory. Feedback was consistent across business areas and geographies. Although the phrasing was different, the themes were the same. 

The last question I asked became my test of commonality among the interviewees: "What would make a successful workshop?" Most comments were consistent too:
  • Social connectivity
  • Variety of ways to interact
  • Clarity on expectations and next steps
  • Definition of what "good" looks like
  • Understanding the level of autonomy
  • Support to move the organization forward

My sense is that Millennials take pride in their input and expect it to be used. It's clear what they want. All I need to do is give it to them.


Friday 21 November 2014

Can you stop the train after it has left the station?

With most change initiatives, there is a desire to quickly get set up and make traction. A new team is formed, a charter is written and a timeline is set.

There is a pervasive feeling that we are behind, though we haven't yet started. Gaining momentum and pooling organizational energy are good things; people notice activity, new news is interesting and new projects can invigorate those involved.

There is a dark side to speedy project beginnings. Often (and more so now than in the past) the desire to show progress is stronger than the desire to set the foundation for success. Evidence of this: plans are created before the change has been fully defined, meetings are scheduled with no agendas,and solutions are declared that are not supported by facts.

Speed becomes the currency of change: process equals motion. The cost of this approach is that it results in delays, rework and additional costs in the future. A quick step forward is followed by two slow steps back.

The biggest risk the mechanisms of speed cause the strategic aspects of the change to be passed over for the warm comfort of project planning. Benefits are not substantiated, measures are not validated and the drivers of change--mindsets, skills, processes, relationships and systems-- are set with little rigour or interrogation. 

If you witness this phenomenon, it might make sense to return the train back to the station to complete the strategic work that was missed. Technically, it is the best solution but practically it isn't feasible. Momentum is a greater force than logic. 

What you can do is slow the train down so that the strategic work gets done in parallel to the planning and execution of set up activities.

You do so by asking questions that expose gap in thinking and areas of risk. Here are some questions that have worked for me:
  • Can you explain the change to me?
  • What must we change in order to realize the benefits? Does everyone agree? How do you know?
  • Have we reviewed our assumptions with leaders?
  • What are our metrics? How will they be measured?
  • Have you considered other options? What were they? What about this one?
  • Have we tested our approach with what worked well (and not so well) during past change projects?
  • What are the risks of moving this quickly? What can we do to minimize them?
  • Are you confident that we have done our due diligence before setting our plans?
Speed is important as long as you know where you are headed and have adequately prepared for the journey. A slower train can lead to a better ride and faster arrival.  


Friday 14 November 2014

10 Ways You Can Benefit from Speaking at a Conference

This week, Jocelyn BĂ©rard and I presented a keynote address at the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) Conference entitled Future-Proofing Your Organization Through Change Agility.

We knew that a keynote is a different game to leading a workshop. The audience is bigger (700+), people are physically distanced from you, scripting is required for pace and flow and engagement is more difficult (especially at the end of a day at a conference).

Another challenge is that we had never worked together. Learning about our styles and choreographing our movements was a must. It would take continual revision and rigorous practice to get it right.

As with most important events in life, this one flew by. I will always remember exchanging confident nods with Jocelyn as we launched into our presentation. Delivering our work was as exciting as I hoped it would be.

The best part of the day was when people approached us afterwards to say they appreciated what we had to say. What a feeling!

There are so many benefits to speaking at a conference and only a minority of people choose to do so. Here are the ones that have meaning for me:

  • Crystallizes your thoughts on a topic
  • Establishes your reputation as an authority in your field 
  • Builds capability (public speaking, communication, etc.) 
  • Broadens experience base
  • Helps people become better 
  • Meet new people (Jocelyn and I met at a conference)
  • Promotes what you have to offer
  • Scares you and makes you overcome the fear
  • Ups your game
  • Provides a sense of accomplishment

  • All of these benefits have one thing in common: growth. The best part of my CSTD keynote was working with Jocelyn. I learned so much from him and our partnering. We combined our knowledge, experience and styles to create something better than what we could have created on our own.

    Immediately after our session, we shook hands and both said, "Let's do another". That's what most people say after leading their first conference session. You might too.


    Friday 7 November 2014

    How to Get Change Buy-in with an 80 Percent Solution

    For many years, I believed creating the best plan would lead to successful adoption of change--the better the plan the better the outcomes. 

    What I now know is that the goal isn't to create the best plan; the goal is to create a good plan that people will own and implement. The problem with the 100 percent "perfect plan" is that there is no room for people to contribute. Without providing inputs, people often feel that change is being done to them. This can lead to resistance, or worse, indifference.

    I remember defending one of my perfect plans to the detriment of its execution. Being technically right increased my ownership and decreased it in those who were being tasked with implementation. My inflexibility contributed to lukewarm execution. I had sabotaged the plan without knowing it.

    It is essential that people are given opportunities to provide input into change programs and implementation. People must see their fingerprints on the change before they devote themselves to following it. The 80 percent plan creates room for participation and co-creation, which leads to a pride, confidence, capability and ownership.

    Here are some tips on how to gain buy-in for change through contribution:
    • Refer to your plan as a "draft"
    • Set up a team to review the plan
    • Include a member of each group that is adopting the change
    • Demonstrate you are actively listening to feedback by asking open-ended, clarifying questions
    • Explain why some points of feedback will not improve the plan—don't make a change that will not improve the outcome
    • Acknowledge when an approach is better than yours—it's a win for the person who came up with it
    • Identify contributors by name: "Alka suggested that teams that work together should attend training together."
    • Attribute success to the team—this encourages future contributions and successful changes
    Buy-in and ownership are essential for successful change. Providing room for reflection, creation and contribution build a sense of purpose, commitment and resolve to do things differently. People must want to change themselves.


    Friday 31 October 2014

    Using 5W Questions to Navigate Any Situation

    Last night, my brother, Steve, and I took my dad to the hospital emergency ward. At 91 years old he had fallen. 

    Our dad seemed okay after the fall although his left eye and the top of his head were red and swollen. Nurses at his seniors' residence were monitoring him throughout the week and noticed his abrasions were getting worse. An appointment with the doctor prompted the precautionary visit to the hospital.

    It took a couple of hours for my dad to be admitted and we spent the next six hours watching as he progressed through a series of tests. 

    The '5W questions'—Who, What, When, Why, Whereare primary tools of journalists, researches and problem solvers. They are the first to be asked and create an overall picture of a topic or situation.

    The 5W's are excellent change management questions too. Each question requires factual answers and cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no". They help to gain perspective, develop hypotheses and support decision making on how to move forward.

    Here are the questions we asked (and ones we wished we had):

    The tests are ongoing, far longer than we thought. More questions are required. This time, I will write them down in advance so there are none in the 'should have asked' column.


    Friday 24 October 2014

    What triggers your performance mindset?

    Last week, I ran a half marathon. I wasn't in the best shape given I was battling a cold and had missed a couple of training runs. As I approached the starting line, I didn't feel like this was my day to break any records. 

    A fun part of runs is reading the humorous posters that people display along the course. Even the most popular phrases―"Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon", "Worst Parade Ever"--continue to inspire smiles. 

    There is one sign that I look out for at every race: "Touch Here for Power". I always take the opportunity to veer off the path to hit the star-burst on the poster to receive my motivational power charge. 

    I used to do it because it was fun. Now I do it because it has become a trigger for my performance mindset. Immediately after I hit the target my mind focuses, I take stalk of my physical condition and what I need to do to maximize my speed. 

    Within seconds I have formed a game plan. I may decide to rehydrate at the next water station, eat a snack, change my stride, run faster or slower. I am confident that I am improving my performance regardless of the action. 

    I also have tricked my mind into believing that I am getting energy from the sign. It gives me a psychological edge when battling pain, exhaustion and ever-depleting resources. Performance is a mental and physical pursuit.

    The same phenomenon holds true in business. Before I give a presentation, I call on my triggers to focus my mind, survey my environment and maximize my performance.

    Here are the triggers I have developed:
    • Introduce myself to everyone in the room―for large groups, meet everyone sitting at the front three tables
    • Angle my body so that it is squarely facing my audience
    • Control my breathing―breathe in, hold my breath and exhale for three seconds 
    • Smile
    • Begin with an open-palmed welcoming gesture
    • Share a story that either relates to the audience or my topic

    Two kilometres before the finish line I saw another "Touch here for power" sign. Again, I veered over and hit the star-burst, triggering my performance mindset. 

    Although my legs were starting to cramp, I sped up at the end to pass a few runners. 

    It felt like a good race but nothing spectacular. When I got home I was surprised to learn that I had achieved a personal best time, 1:13 faster than my fastest half marathon.

    I will continue hitting power signs and activating my business-related triggers. Having a performance mindset helps me to be my best.


    Friday 17 October 2014

    8 Tips on How to Roll Out a New Process

    Lately, I have been helping organizations roll out new global processes. They require people in different geographies and functions to work differently than they do now so that they can work similarly in the future.

    This requires people to take on new ways of thinking, tasks, skills, behaviours, relationships, and sometimes systems.

    Many years ago when I led my first global process project, I assumed that people would be as excited to operate consistently across the globe. After all, they would speak the same business language, do the same things, easily share best practices and become more efficient. What's not to like?

    What I quickly realized is that there are many reasons why a business area would not want to adopt a global process. The more common ones are:

    • Not customized to the needs of the business area
    • Unproven locally
    • Unknown
    • Confusing
    • Being forced upon them
    • More costly
    • Longer to execute
    • Someone else's success
    • Created by unknowns
    • A disruptor of the current success formula
    • Hard and looks like work 
    • Similar to something that was mandated in the past that failed 

    I realized that rolling out global processes happens incrementally over time. People must understand how it can help them before they become interested in learning what it is and how to do it well. 

    Teams also need to discuss how it can work for them and be able to make modifications that make it more effective without compromising important areas of commonality. This is when they fully support the new approach and call it their own.

    Not providing time and space to reflect on the process and how it can fit with other practices leads to avoidance, bare minimum adoption, outright abandonment and, at worse, sabotage. 

    Here are some tips to enable people to take on new processes:

    • Explain the 'why' before speaking about the 'how'
    • Back up the benefits with hard facts. If you don't have any then realize that the process will be viewed as an untested hypothesis
    • Define the principles and components that need to be the same across the business; everything else is negotiable
    • Realize that people are emotionally attached to the current ways they do things, which can be sources of pride, expertise and accomplishment 
    • Invite teams to make the change better. Assuming that you have a perfect solution is naive, creates a source of resistance and negates opportunities for co-creation
    • Focus your efforts on making a pilot business area successful. Peer testimonials hold the most credibility and value
    • Build in time for absorption of new ways of operating—thinking, actions and behaviours 
    • Recognize and reward the business areas that adopt the process first. This is the best way to create demand for new things and replicate successful transition paths
    Rolling out new processes takes awareness building, interest, knowledge, skill and practice. Most of all, it takes people who take on new ways of working that they have co-created, ones who say, "We did this."


    Friday 10 October 2014

    10 Tips for Forming New Teams During Change

    When riding on the subway this week, I noticed that the guy beside me had placed his bag on the seat between us. How rude to take an extra seat.

    I scanned the subway car and saw other people doing the same thing. There were also people who held their bags on their laps not imposing on prime sitting real estate. 

    Why were some people taking extra space and others not? Were some rude and others considerate, or were some just unaware of the impact of their actions? 

    It is easy to judge people you don't know. This is what happens when new teams form during change. New relationships are formed between people who have different expectations and do things differently. Some team members attribute these differences as premeditated disparities while others see them as natural diversity.

    The first approach assumes negative intent while the second assumes neutrality. One interpretation leads to division and entrenchment while the other leads to discussion and inquiry. 

    Here are some tips to avoid misunderstandings and negative perceptions:
    • Immediately schedule a meeting for people to connect
    • Ask people to share their backgrounds including roles, accomplishments and aspirations—people forget
    • Acknowledge that it is normal for people to do things differently given their different leaders and experiences
    • Align people around a common purpose or goal
    • Do something social. New and fun experiences leads to shared memories and fresh bonds
    • Ask team members to create rules of engagement based on their values and definitions of high performing teams
    • Insist on team members who are located in the same city to sit together
    • Use video conference technology to engage remote team members—conference calls are not good enough
    • Celebrate early successes as team accomplishments
    • Hold frequent team meetings to align on goals, share information and manage any challenges
    Change management is about helping people move from where they are to where they need to be with minimal disruption. Managing early team dynamics is essential for minimizing misunderstandings and tensions that get in the way of this transition and better performance.

    The guy beside me on the subway stood up to give his seat to a senior citizen who got on our car. Maybe he wasn't so rude after all.


    Friday 3 October 2014

    7 Ways to Manage Expectations During Change

    Last Friday night, my back seat passenger window refused to go up. When I investigated, I could hear the motor mechanism clicking, but the window didn't move. It was probably jammed, I thought.

    The next day, I went to my car dealership and was able to get a technician to take a look without an appointmentthings were looking up. He said it was probably a faulty cable. It would cost $500 to repair and take about two hours install the new part.

    "$500!" I exclaimed, with a look of horror on my face. "Couldn't it be something else?" I pleaded. 

    "I hope it's not the motor" he said. Motors must be more expensive than cables, I thought.

    My car repair experience is similar to most activities in life: we evaluate how well things are going based on our expectations. Often these predictions are not based on fact but rather wishful thinking.

    Organizational change operates in the same way; exceptional performance can be perceived as sub-standard results when compared to unrealistic expectations. "I was expecting X," is a common comment from leaders whose perceptions are higher than reality.

    Here are six ways to manage this bias when managing a change project:
    • Build awareness up front that the project plan (or outcomes) will need to be adjusted if conditions change or the agreed level of support is not provided—not doing so leads to impressions of mismanagement or failure
    • Brief leaders and their teams on changes (and how they will impact them) as they occur—delaying communication only make gaps appear worse
    • Compare progress with similar change projects—either internal or external—facts and data are the best defense against guesses
    • Build in room for variances in your plan—provide timing ranges when specific dates are unknown (e.g., week of September 29)
    • Identify contingencies you can activate quickly if your original plan is no longer possible—minimize the gap
    • Stay connected with stakeholders, especially those managing the business, to proactively test and adjust assumptions
    • Remind people that it is normal for a change plan to be updating—people often forget
    Setting realistic expectations is critical to the success of any change project. Without them, some people are going to be disappointed regardless of the benefits of the outcome.

    My window repair cost $479.25 and took one and a half hours to complete—slightly better than my informed expectations. The dealership washed my car too, which was a bonus. As I opened and closed my now working car window, I felt lucky.


    Friday 26 September 2014

    How to Energize People in a Round Table Discussion

    I have been preparing to facilitate some round table discussions at a Leadership forum next Tuesday. 

    Participants rotate through twenty-minute discussions with three different knowledge specialists. It's like speed dating for executive learning.

    I have facilitated similar sessions and they are fun, loud and shorter than you would like. Staying focused in a carnival environment is a key success factor.

    The forum is branded "Recharge" and this session is guaranteed to deliver. My topic is Leading Through Ambiguity and Change. I want to over-deliver on the experience. What can I do to super-charge the Recharge?

    As a facilitator, you have many ways to set the mood. Your tone, body language and energy level directly effect people's thinking, feelings and behaviour.

    Here are the approaches I will be taking to ignite my groups:

    • Set energized expectations with my welcome
    • Demonstrate open body language—hands open, good eye contact, facing people directly, smiling a lot
    • Ask everyone to stand in a circle—it's easier to be energized when more mobile
    • Start with a quick energizer activity: "Shake hands with the person beside you and say, "'I feel great' like you mean it!"—there is neuroscience behind this one, really 
    • Add humour through stories
    • Ensure everyone participates
    • End with a crescendo!
    We have a lot of influence on the environments in which we work. One way to recharge is to work with like-minded people who are energized by what they do. Just thinking about these energized discussions is already recharging me.


    Friday 19 September 2014

    Does saving old work files lead to opportunity or threat?

    Last week, I was in a meeting when someone said, "I have something I did in the past that will be perfect here." It didn’t sound right although I have had similar thoughts. 

    I am an archivist by nature and have always backed up all of my files on discs, and more recently, external hard drives. You never know when it will come in handy, has been my motto.

    Although I have amassed a large collection of files, I have opened only a few of them since they were saved. Why not more often, I thought? After all, doing so has benefits:
    • Provides a draft plan
    • Saves time
    • Leverages good practice
    On the other hand, there are drawbacks:
    • Created with dated thinking 
    • Not aligned with current circumstances
    • Skipped thinking process 
    For me, the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits. Other than using tested processes and lessons learned, using old material produces inferior results. 

    When I did review old files there was nothing I could use. I went through the Powerpoint presentations and found a few things of interest but not of use. I felt like I was looking through a photo album: revisiting memories, but not reliving them.

    This week, I reviewed my archive and found files from the early 2000's. Why was I keeping them when they weren't being used? Perhaps there is a sense of security from having access to past work. The experiences are less likely to be forgotten by keeping proof that they existed. Also, they may inspire confidence to tackle new challenges; we have succeeded before and therefore we can succeed again.

    I am adopting a new approach to archiving. After each project, I will focus on capturing new approaches and lessons learned. They lead to opportunities; the other stuff leads to a threat of not being your best.


    Friday 12 September 2014

    Can you change people with a free t-shirt?

    Years ago, I facilitated a workshop on a new approach to creating commercial strategy. It had just been launched globally and the North America leadership team was reviewing it for the first time.

    The leader, who had just joined the company, sarcastically said, "Ya, I have already got that t-shirt." Unsurprisingly, he didn't support the initiative and it wasn't fully adopted.

    The leader's point was that he had seen similar initiatives in his career and had reservations about the implications of the new rules around strategy. It didn't make sense for his region.The free t-shirt comment referred to a typical promotional item given out during project launches. The posters and mugs didn't sway his views.

    I wondered if other people felt that way. Did people value the promotional material that accompanies big change initiatives? Did the free stuff make them more open to new concepts and ways of working?

    I thought of these questions last Sunday when I ran the Bang & Olfsen 5K Yorkville run. It is common for charity races to offer a race t-shirt and free samples as a perk for signing up and paying the admission fee. 

    This year, The B&O 5K team offered the best kit I have ever seen including a pair of B&O PLAY Form 2 headphones, sport-fuelling starter kit from Vega, premium tea package from David's Tea, voucher to download free professional race photos and a New Balance technical t-shirt. Incredible!

    I wondered whether the t-shirt +++ kit encouraged interest in the race, perhaps over other races. Did the kit make a difference? 

    I think the kit piqued interest about the race, however, it wasn't the deciding factor to sign up. People signed up for what the race offered: a chance to see the fastest 5K runners in the country as part of the Canadian 5K Road Race championship, a course that is flat and fast, a very professionally organized race for five years running, fun after-race festivities and the ability to fund raise $200,000 for local charities. This is an excellent race.

    The same holds true for promotional materials associated with organizational changes: they can create excitement and interest in the change, but won't sway people's views if it doesn't make sense for the business or its employees. 

    So, should you offer promotional items to support change initiatives? Yes, it helps the initial engagement process. Is it more important to effectively communicate the change so people understand how it will benefit the organization and its employees? Absolutely. If not, then people will already have that t-shirt.


    Friday 5 September 2014

    What to do When Leaders Don't Lead Change Well

    There are many studies that cite change leadership as the most important factor contributing to successful transitions. Over the the last three years in consulting, I have had the opportunity to test this assertion by observing how different organizations view the roles of change leaders.

    Progressive organizations define the change leader's role and ensure that all leaders are aware of the activities they must perform. The best ones define specific roles for senior leaders and managers that match their levels of seniority and spans of influence. Change capability is valued, invested in and rewarded.

    Other organizations have a laissez faire approach to change leadership. The change leader's role is defined by individual leaders based on their mindset and abilities. There is an unspoken organizational belief that leaders will know how to manage change challenges because of their senior roles and assumed skill set. Change capability is assumed, not an area of focus and not rewarded.

    Unsurprisingly, the "they will know what to do" approach doesn't work. Leaders act and behave based on their personal styles and skill sets, and therefore act inconsistently to challenges with varying levels of success. Mixed messages are communicated and confusion ensues, which leads to distraction, loss of focus and lower performance.

    So, what do you do when leaders don't lead change well? There are three options:

    • Build your leader's desire and ability to take on the change role
    • Get another leader to take on the change role
    • Take on the change role yourself

    Build your leader's desire and ability to take on the change role
    The upside of this approach is that leaders perform the leadership change role themselves. As long as they buy into the rationale for the roles and  perform the activities, their abilities will improve and benefits will be gained.

    The downside of this approach is that mindsets are difficult to change and the leader my not value your rationale enough to change their behaviour. If so, there still is value in negotiating with them to perform some activities such as communication and removal of obstacles.

    Get another leader to take on the change role
    The upside of this approach is that another, well-skilled and motivated leader will effectively perform the leadership activities and produce immediate results. Natural change leaders understand the importance of change leadership and take pride in taking on the leader activities.

    The downside of this approach is that you need to position the request in a way that avoids personal politics among leaders. Also, it can be difficult to convince a leader to take on a significant commitment that maybe outside their mandate.

    Take on the change role yourself
    The upside of this approach is that you have the most control of how the role will be fulfilled; you will guide how communications are made, obstacles are escalated and active and visible support is provided.

    The downside of this approach is that you are not the best person to take on the change role and its support activities. Benefits will be realized but you may not have sufficient influence to manage issues and get problems resolved. You will also need to position your activities in a way that avoids personal politics.

    Gaps in change leadership are common and contribute to many change failures. You have options to address when leaders don't lead change well so that transitions are successful. The upside of all of them is they give you the opportunity to demonstrate your change leadership skills.


    Friday 29 August 2014

    How to Help People Manage Their Emotions Just Before a Change

    Most people behave differently just before they experience a significant change. Supporting people when they must bridge their current and future circumstances can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful transition. 

    During this time, most people express emotions associated with anticipationexcitement, fear, anxiety, blind optimism, sadness, etc. The spontaneous nature of these emotions leads to their amplification. Not managing them leads to distraction and poses a risk to taking on new ways of thinking and acting.

    Since people express different emotions at different times with different intensitiesminimizing the likelihood of experiencing them is a more productive approach than just addressing them after they are expressed.

    So how do you help people through this short, but intense, phase of transition? Here are some actions you can take:

    Encourage people to appreciate what they are leaving behind
    Every individual aor group has traditions and practices that define them. Reliving these practices either through doing them or storytelling can provide closure to the way things were.

    Remind people of the benefits of what they are taking on
    Although this is something that is important through all stages of change, it is essential just before people take on new and often uncomfortable ways of behaving. Remembering the ‘why’ behind the change can help justify the anticipated pain of experiencing it.

    Offer multiple types of support as people take on the change
    Demonstrating how people will be supported through their transition can reassure them that they are not alone. Easily accessible assistance can help minimize the anxiety caused by thinking about the unknown. Offering multiple types of support demonstrates commitment and builds confidence that things will be okay.

    This week, my family has been anticipating a significant change. Our eldest son, Sam, is going to university in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1,800 kilometres away from our home.

    My emotions have been varied and intense--everything from pride and excitement, to sadness and nostalgic longing. It has been distracting, but I have been determined not to let it be a risk to our transition. Here are some actions we have taken:

    Encourage people to appreciate what they are leaving behind
    Sam has had many get-togethers and a party this week. Making them fun and festive was our family's priority. We have also spent a lot of time doing and reminiscing about our traditions.

    Remind people of the benefits of what they are taking on
    This is an easy one. Sam is entering an exciting time in his life where he will gain new experiences and meet new friends. Living in a new city will be an adventure too. He is going to grow in many ways and everyone is talking about his journey.

    Offer multiple types of support as people take on the change
    We have turned Sam's move into a family vacation. Barb and Sam are en route to Halifax, and Charlie and I will be flying today to join them. We will be with Sam for three days followed by numerous video and phone calls, correspondence. He may not have time to study. 

    Helping people manage their emotions and behaviours before they experience a significant change directly impacts their ability to successfully make their transition. This is true of business and personal changes. A few actions can help ease transitions, as we are finding out now.


    Friday 22 August 2014

    Twelve Traits of a Change Agile Organization

    Change agility is rapidly becoming a key skill of successful organizations. It is the ability to quickly respond to new developments—consumer choices, competitive threats, economic conditions, government regulations, etc.—so that opportunities are realized and challenges are managed.

    Many common practices slow down an organization's response rate. Annual strategic planning, siloed resource management and static personal objectives (and incentives) encourage leaders and their teams to complete their commitments as originally agreed, regardless of its current importance. 

    Agile organizations align three drivers of speed: leadership, resourcing and culture. Here are traits of a nimble organization: 


    • View change initiatives as a portfolio of opportunities versus a list of projects managed separately
    • Know their roles in change including acting as an unbiased assessor of value delivery
    • Are prepared to alter assumptions about an initiative even if it means changing direction and abandoning unproductive work 
    • Own the success of the change after it is launched


    • Are assigned to the highest priority changes according to need versus negotiated minimum requirements
    • Have right people selected for key change roles including experience, capability and motivation
    • Are easily transferable across initiatives and roles
    • Are dedicated to measurement of benefits and continuous improvement

    • See change as an enabler of ongoing success versus something to get through now
    • Understand the organization's vision and how the change initiatives will help achieve it
    • Give honest feedback that is listened to and rewarded
    • Discuss, share and follow lessons learned

    An organization's ability to quickly change how it operates to achieve its goals is a key ability to ongoing success. As the speed of change continues to increase, it may not be an option. Adopting these traits could be a good start.