Saturday 17 December 2016

If "Change" was an Employee, How Would You Rate Its Performance in 2016?

At this time of year, most employees are completing their annual performance self-assessment. They are highlighting accomplishments against their yearly objectives (the "what" of their performance) and the organizational values, capabilities or behaviours they demonstrated while achieving them (the "how"). They also are explaining shortfalls and identifying development needs to increase their performance in the future. 

Once completed, their manager will do their assessments with input from people who have worked with the employee. They will then assign a performance rating that is calibrated with other people's assessments. Finally, the manager will review their performance assessment with the employee to agree on what is documented and the development plan for 2017 to enable greater performance. Final comments would be shared, setting up the employee for future success.

Although some companies have abandoned standard performance appraisals, most still see the benefits that annual assessments can provide, including increased self-awareness, recognition, greater motivation, capability building and increased contribution.

Few organizations complete an annual assessment of their ability to take on change. Most continue using established practices without conducting an enterprise-wide assessment of them. By not doing so, they fail to realize the benefits that are gained from how they assess their employees. 

What would it be like if an organization took an employee-style approach to assessing its ability to adopt change? It could look something like this: 

The leaders and team members accountable for the change initiatives of the year would assess how well they implemented their changes based on early outcomes gained and other pre-defined measures of success (e.g. timing, costs, etc.). They would also explain shortfalls and identify capability gaps that need to be filled to increase performance in the future.

Business Feedback and Assessment
The leadership team would do the same assessment with input from their teams (especially those who are impacted by the changes). They would then assign an overall performance rating.

The performance rating would be compared to last year's assessment and external benchmarks of companies with similar operating conditions. The rating would be adjusted up or down based on these comparisons.

Review Meeting
The leadership team would review their performance assessment with those who were accountable for the change initiatives to agree on what is documented and the change capability development plan for 2017 to enable greater performance. Final comments would be shared, setting up the organization for future success.

If done well, a performance review process like this could increase organizational awareness of its ability to change, provide recognition for work well done, better skills and increase motivation for taking on change through greater engagement and contribution. It would definitely underscore the importance that change and the capability to adopt it play in driving performance against strategic objectives.

Peter Drucker's adage "what gets measured gets managed" still holds true. If an organization's ability to take on change is an essential enabler of achieving strategic objectives, then assessing and improving it annually is a smart investment. 

If "change" was your employee, how would you rate its performance in 2016?


Monday 14 November 2016

Building Change Capability in 5 Minutes or Less

I have noticed two advances in how change capability is being built in organizations. Both acknowledge and try to address the ever-increasing number, size and speed of changes people are experiencing at work. Both foreshadow how structured learning is adapting to meet the practical needs of today's learner.

The first is the broadening of skills. Investment is shifting from education to help adopt specific organizational changes to those that also assist navigating the dynamic and often unpredictable work environments that impact these changes.

The new skills help people to operate at their best regardless of the type or amount of change they face. Focus is on sharpening abilities to understand, diagnose and direct limited resources in light of both short and long term goals. They include abilities to deal with ambiguity, search for and try new solutions and be resilient after setbacks. 

Developing these new capabilities improves learning by:
  • Providing ways to assess any situation (teaching someone to 'fish' in any pond)
  • Encouraging continual refining and improving approaches to change
  • Creating a culture that enables reinvention and maximum performance regardless of external factors  consumer expectations, competitive threats and regulatory modifications  that arise. 
The second advance is the shortening of learning experiences from full-length courses to bite-sized modules. Similar to on-the-job support that jet mechanics access to guide their diagnosis and solve problems, the learning "objects" help people think through and complete specific tasks or address challenges. 

Learner preferences, shaped by internet use, are influencing formatting and delivery methods. Youtube-style videos are becoming the norm. They use engaging illustrations and narration techniques to communicate information in five minutes or less. Also the learning modules are available in multiple formats so they can be accessed anywhere at any time, using a variety of devices.  As Patty Woolcock of the California Strategic HR Partnership summarizes, "The Future of learning is three 'justs'  just enough, just in time, just for me." 

Shorter, targeted skill-building experiences improve learning by:
  • Enabling just-in-time support to drive outcomes
  • Focusing on crisply communicating only the most important elements of knowledge, skill and behaviour that produce results
  • Increasing interest and engagement levels to encourage multi-use access

Change capability building is changing for the better. People's skill sets are broadening so they can better manage their dynamic work environment. Also, access to support is expanding so it is available when, where and how people need it. 

Both advances have been developed with the learner and their challenges in mind. My hope is that figuring out how to continuously and quickly improve capability support as people's needs change will be the next welcomed change to come. 


Sunday 16 October 2016

Isn't change really about good conversations?

I recently read an insightful article about Bogaletch Gebre, a scientist and activist who has positively changed millions of lives in Ethiopia. 

For 17 years, she has helped to nearly eliminate harmful traditional practices solely through facilitating community conversations. "When you listen to them, they listen to you...and individual change becomes community change," says Ms. Gebre. Her approach has been so successful that the United Nations has adopted it to control the spread of HIV.

Corporate change is also enabled through conversation. Dialogue is the catalyst of change management, whether people are discussing what a change means to them or leaders are assessing an initiative's progress: change happens through people interacting. Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, describes the outcomes of these exchanges as people changing their states through the influence of others. This is how most people decide to take on new way of doing their work.

Many changes falter when people don't have the right conversations. Siloed thinking, limited information sharing and rework are signs that the right people have not been engaged to gain alignment, support and collaboration. This results in delays, higher costs and frustration.

If change is created through conversation, how do you ensure the right conversations are being held?  Here are some guidelines to help you do so: 

  • Include time for two-way communication at every forum, from the launch to the post assessment
  • Increase the amount of time allotted for dialogue – people learn more through conversation than listening to a presentation – 50/50 is a good target
  • Invite people at all levels to participate in implementing a change – these activities promote interaction, sharing of perspectives and collaboration
  • Mandate that every team discusses what a change means for them and what they need to do to make it successful – these are the most important conversations to prepare people for change
  • Review process changes with cross-functional teams that manage them
  • Share assumptions behind plans and decisions with those who will be implementing them – they may be wrong 
  • Ask leaders to validate that their teams are ready to take on a change by holding conversations with them

There is a lot we can learn about change beyond the corporate world. As Les Robinson observed, "Every great environmental campaign, revolution or social change started with a conversation. Out of that conversation these people decided to work together, with a hopeful attitude, on things they care passionately about." 

The power of good conversation as an enabler of change is clear. Change management is about ensuring the right ones happen with the right people at the right time. Doing so with a hopeful attitude is even better.


Sunday 25 September 2016

6 Change Management Trends to Be Aware of

Being aware of trends across different types of organizations broadens your thinking and deepens context for what you are trying to achieve. This is true of change management. Often, the best strategies, tactics and solutions are found outside the industry in which you participate.

Here are six trends I have observed across industries and public institutions.

Managing multiple changes while delivering short-term results is business as usual for all 
It used to be that change was an event and now it's business as usual. Leaders and their teams are tasked with leading and participating in multiple changes and delivering their annual objectives. Adding to the complexity, change agendas can suddenly be reprioritized due to internal or external circumstances, increasing work and reducing performance.

Leaders need to ask the question, "how do I prepare myself and my team to stay resilient as we continually adapt and deliver results?"

Organizational agility is the 'Holy Grail' of effectiveness
Most organizations want the ability to move quickly and easily, ready to respond to external opportunities or threats. 

Many organizations aren't set up for flexibility, unknowingly encouraging static thinking and rigid behaviour in the interest of consistency and efficiency. Examples of barriers to agility include strategy happening at a point in time and not being revisited; changes to implementation being viewed as addressing mistakes and increasing risk; and rewarding completion of static plans and projects. 

Organizational agility is a mindset enabled by structures, roles, processes, technologies and behaviours. It is only attained through adjustments to how people work.

Leaders are expected to play a greater role in change
Leaders have always been expected to lead change. What is changing is how "leadership" is defined. The "tell me what to say" style of management exhibited by some leaders is rapidly declining; all successful leaders must be fully engaged and personally commitment.

Proactively, organizations are being clear about the leader's role in change and investing in capability development to help them excel in it.

Disruption is desired, little understood and feared
Many leaders want to disrupt their industries to gain competitive advantage. The reality is they are more likely to be disrupted by new competitors, especially if they lead large organizations that offer higher-end products driven by innovation.

Most leaders are not aware of the definition of disruption by Clayton M. Christensen and recently expanded upon by Joshua Gans. Acquiring knowledge is the first step to gaining perspective on disruption and how it can support or jeopardize an organization.

Behaviour-led culture is back as a primary enabler of performance
There is a transition from a process-focused approach to change to a behavioural one. The belief that changing behaviours is the way to change people's mindsets is coming back into popularity. Cultural behavioural norms are being assessed and new ones are being considered.

An interesting twist is that organizations are tagging behaviours to specific strategic objectives like growth and effectiveness. 

Consistency through centralization continues to be popular
Organizations are continuing to centralize their strategies, decision making and processes in the interest of alignment, consistency and efficiency. Power is shifting from business units to the central body to align groups and measure and benchmark performance. 

In this environment, influence without formal control is essential to plan and implement cross-area changes.

Identifying trends and considering how they impact your organization can broaden your perspectives and give you ideas on how to achieve your goals. Knowing how change management is evolving is one way to increase your agility as you lead change.


Thursday 1 September 2016

Is 'disruption' getting in the way of being disruptive?

I have been trying to figure out why the word 'disruption' triggers a consistent response from most business professionals I speak with: silence. I have observed this in one-on-one conversations, team meetings and large workshops. Are people pondering how they could disrupt their businesses or are they immobilized by the thought of being disrupted?

'Disruption' continues to be a hot topic in the business media. For years, major sites and publications have profiled industries that are being disrupted by new competitors with innovative products and operating models  entertainment (Netflix), e-commerce (Square), shaving (Dollar Shave Club), etc. 

A term coined by Clayton M. Christensen, 'disruptive innovation,' refers to a new competitor providing simpler, more affordable and accessible products or services to consumers who couldn't afford the more costly and complex existing offers.

His theory explains how established businesses become disrupted because their operating models are built for higher margin and bigger scale markets. New competitors take market share by servicing the more price-constrained consumers.

Some companies (Google, Amazon, Apple) have chosen to disrupt themselves in order to grow their market or defend against new competitors. As Facebook's 'Little Red Book' proclaims, "If we don't create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will."

Many leaders use a broader definition of business disruption: any large change that blows up how we currently do business. Forbes' definition provides clues to why this definition is emotionally charged: "disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day." 

Perhaps the perplexing reaction to the term is caused by a fear of not knowing how to disrupt their industry. Disruption is seen as something that will be done to them versus an opportunity to be seized. Another reason could be that fundamentally changing your business model carries a risk of jeopardizing short-term performance.

I no longer use the word disruption with my clients because it doesn't inspire productive conversations. There are many substitutes – evolution, transformation, reinvention  that stimulate ideas about how to do things (mindsets, actions and behaviours) differently to achieve better results. 

Here are some tips to enable new thinking about your business:
  • Select an executive sponsor who is open to new ideas
  • Create a cross-functional team with a mandate to think differently
  • Hold in-person meetings away from your offices
  • Make it safe to challenge existing strategies and assumptions
  • Provide the team with stimuli from other industries
  • Commit to pilot the best ideas to test and learn from them

Semantics is an important enabler of change. A term that resonates with one culture could fall flat in another. Some words, like disruption, don't spark opportunity, creativity or courage in most. 'Choose your words carefully,' is an adage that applies to change. The best term to motivate 'game-changing' improvement is the one that inspires the best innovative thinking.


Friday 12 August 2016

Company Purpose and Values Should Be 'Built to Last'

A friend gave me a 1996 Harvard Business Review article Building Your Company's Vision by James C. Collins and Jerry l. Porras, authors of Built to Last, the classic business book. It identified the elements of an organization's identity that should change over time (vision, goals, strategies and practices) and those that should stay the same (core purpose and values) based on their research on long-term successful companies. My friend said, "Phil, you write a lot about change, why not write about what shouldn't change?" Profiling the findings from this article seemed like a good way to honour his request.

The article is an interesting read twenty years after it was published. The authors' main insight is that successful companies don't alter their core ideologies  core purpose and values  regardless of what happens in the dynamic environments in which they operate. 

An organization's purpose should be fixed. This is its reason for being. It defines the company's intent and why it exists. An unwavering purpose guides goal setting and strategies to achieve them. It also is a source of motivation for leaders and their teams to help them through tough times and difficult transitions. A common purpose to create value for its stakeholders  consumers, customers, community, etc.  can make challenges and discomforts justifiable and endurable.

Google has remained true to its purpose or mission since it was formed in the late 1990s. "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has guided Google's vision and strategies, driving innovation and continuous improvement in everything they do. A Google executive shared that they take their mission very seriously and continually strive to anticipate future needs to be true to it.

Core values also should remain materially the same over time. They are commonly held beliefs that act as principles to guide decision making and behaviour. They are also foundations of a company's culture; as Hubspot believes, " Our Culture Code is the operating system that drives Hubspot." 

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, created its 10 core values to formalize the company's culture and make sure "everyone was on the same page." They are woven into all management practices including the hiring and firing of employees, regardless of job performance. They define what the company is about and how its employees think, act and behave.

Values can be reworded or modernized, but in essence remain constant standards of conduct. At key inflection points, like a merger, companies can assess if adjustments are needed to reflect the behavioural norms required to achieve the company's purpose, vision and goals.  

IBM revisited its values through a company-wide online input process. Tens of thousands of employees shared their views on values and behaviour. Common themes were identified from the feedback that were used to update IBM's original values. "Customer service," "excellence" and "respect for the individual" became "dedication to every client's success," "innovation that matters for the company and the world," and "trust and personal responsibility in all relationships." The modernized versions translated the core values into relevant and relatable behavioural norms.

Given that most elements of business are constantly changing, it's refreshing to affirm that consistent purpose and values can be a source of strength and advantage. They provide common understanding of why the organization exists and how people operate within it. What shouldn't change is definitely worth writing about.


Friday 29 July 2016

Which is the best driver of change, new thinking or new behaviour?

I visited Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario last week. At the local museum, I read about Francis Clergue, the entrepreneur who founded the area's steel, paper, and railway industries in the early 1900s. His motto was "To think is to act." His business philosophy recalled an age-old change management debate: What is the best driver of change  new thinking or new behaviour?

There is a school of thought aligned with Mr. Clergue's modus operandi: Changing how people think changes how they act and behave. If an organization's new purpose or strategy makes sense, people will adjust their actions and behaviour to support it. 

Communicating why a change is necessary and how it will benefit the business and its employees is an essential starting point of a large transition. Most employees have an opinion on how an organization should be run and sharing facts about the need for change makes room for consideration and agreement. People are more likely to support a change if it makes sense and the consequences of not doing it are known.

An example of this approach is a leader communicating the benefits of a new technology for the business (consolidation of databases; better analytics; greater efficiency; etc.) and employees (user-friendly navigation; prepopulation of data fields; mobile access; etc.) to get their buy-in and support. People are more likely to attend training and learn new processes because they know the system will be good for the business and its employees.

The "thinking to acting" approach is insufficient for successful change. There is no guarantee people will be motivated to change their behaviour just because they think they should. Also, people may not know how to align how they act with the change and therefore either do nothing differently or act in new ways that unknowingly hinder it.

The opposite approach is the reverse of Mr. Clergue's motto: "To act is to think." Getting people to act in new ways that support the change will, over time, change how they think about it. When people experience the benefits of doing things differently that are in line with the change, they will change how they think about it. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, authored this approach: "Put in place small behavioural changes that lead (people) bit by bit to think about things differently." 

Specifying the actions and behaviours that people must follow for a change to be successful is an important part of transition. It defines what they must do to take on the change. It also enables measurement of how they are progressing and identifies who needs extra support or is resisting the change. 

An example of this approach is a leader who wants to increase collaboration among functional teams by asking people to do three things: offer help to solve problems owned by other functions; on every project, include a representative of each function that is impacted by it; and participate in a rewards program where people nominate peers in other functions who have helped them. People start to value collaboration when they see the benefits of it firsthand.

The "acting to thinking" approach is also insufficient. People often are resistant to change when they don't know why it is needed. If a change doesn't make sense, taking on activities or behaviours to support it can seem like a waste of time, or worse, a way to fail. People may choose to not change their behaviour because they think they know best or don't want to risk doing something new just because they have been asked to do it.

So, new thinking or new behaviour, which is the best driver of change? If I had to pick one I would choose behaviour. Since both are insufficient enablers, a better question is, "How can you best enable change?" Changing both how people think and behave provides the rationale and guidance needed to successfully adopt a change. As another historic figure, Abraham Lincoln, wisely said, "As our case is new, we must think and act anew."


Wednesday 13 July 2016

3 Things Change Leaders Must Communicate Really Well

Leadership is about setting a destination and marshalling resources to get there. As organizations implement change, leaders must ensure employees have everything they need (mindset, knowledge, skills, processes, roles and confidence) to progress along the path to get there

Active and visible executive sponsorship is the number one contributor to the success of change initiatives. Leader communication is the best vehicle to demonstrate their commitment to changes necessary for short and longer-term performance.

When helping leaders understand and master their communication roles, I focus on three things: develop and communicate a post-change vision; align words, actions and behaviours with the vision; and acknowledge and reward progress. Doing these things really well covers more than 80 percent of what is required to enable people to fulfill their roles in evolving an organization.

Develop and communicate a post-change vision
Painting a clear and compelling picture of where the organization is going and why this destination is important provides a common goal for people to identify with and work towards. It builds understanding, interest and commitment to an aspirational future and what it will take to create it. 

There are three things people need to know:
  • How will the change make the organization better (and why)?
  • How will it make their lives better?
  • What is needed of them to make the change?

Presenting the business rationale is important because the change needs to make sense before people can fully commit to it. They also need to know how it will personally affect them. This removes fear of worst-case scenarios and avoids future surprises  it is better to know the truth even if all aspects aren't positive. People also need to know their role in the change  attending training, following new processes, taking on new roles, etc. Being clear on what they need to do for the change to be successful gives people a sense of purpose and reminds them that their contributions are important. Not doing so leads to confusion, frustration, and paralysis.

When strategies are linked to the well-communicated vision, priorities are known and it is easier to spot when things go off track. Also, reminding people of the vision throughout the change reinforces the reasons why they must endure discomfort and hardships.

Align words, actions and behaviours with the vision
A truism of change is that people will do things differently only after their leaders do. This is why it is critical that leaders align what they say with what they do and how they behave. Some leaders don't realize they are being scrutinized for proof of commitment to what they say is important. Passing the alignment test leads to belief and consistent adoption; failure leads to lost trust and little effort. 

Identifying the essential few behaviours required for a change to be successful with leaders is the best way to build commitment to them. Once defined, walking leaders through scenarios where these new approaches will most likely be expressed creates context for them. Providing feedback immediately after they demonstrate them (or don't) builds self-awareness, knowledge, and eventually capability.

Acknowledge and reward progress
People need proof that their efforts are contributing to goals. This is especially true in the middle of a change when the discomfort of learning new ways is greatest. Well-communicated progress leads to fulfillment, momentum and renewed energy to change, whereas not doing so leads to frustration and longing for past routines.

Acknowledging the project team and those undergoing the change at key milestones recognizes the efforts they have made and reinforces the importance of the initiative. Sharing success stories of people benefiting from doing things differently gives people praise and "bragging rights" to feel proud off. When leaders communicate these accomplishments well, people feel appreciated for their efforts and strive to continue achieving what is being asked of them.

Leader communication can make or break a change initiative. Focusing efforts on three priority activities will ensure people have the knowledge, role models, and rewards necessary to take on new ways of working, endure difficult transitions, and create a future they are proud of.


Friday 1 July 2016

Leading Yourself through Change: Managing the Unknown

Leaders struggle the most when they are faced with the unknown. In today's volatile business environment, this happens regularly. Most industries are being disrupted by new operating models, innovations and technologies, competitors and regulations. Large change agendas coupled with uncertain markets require leaders to address situations they have never experienced before. How they react to them influences their levels of success in leading change.

Managing the unknown is challenging because leaders can't rely on their experience to make decisions. They lack a tested map to guide them through new and complex situations.

Some leaders default to quick responses, ignoring the measured decision-making process they would use in more familiar situations. I remember one leader agreeing to expand the scope of a change initiative by 20 percent when someone asked him to do so on a global conference call – timelines and resourcing remained the same. In these cases, speed of action trumps pragmatic assessment. When this happens, most leaders either instinctively select a course of action that "feels" right or base their decision on the first data source that appears credible. Both approaches are highly risky and can lead to complications later in the change process.

Leaders who make the best decisions create a framework within which to evaluate the unknown situation. They take the time to examine the circumstances they are confronted with before identifying options and selecting the best course of action. I have observed leaders use four practical approaches to manage the unknown: 

Assess the level of importance
This action provides context to the situation by determining its relevance to organizational goals and the strategies to achieve them. How does this situation impact our ability to achieve our goals? Without answering this question, everything urgent appears to be important.

Define what information is required
Specifying what data is needed to make a decision helps frame the situation. Determining what information exists and what needs to be sourced is the first step to building a fact base upon which to create and test options. It also demonstrates that concrete actions are being taken.

Identify sources of expertise (internal and external) 
Locating people who have insights and knowledge on similar situations is the next best thing to having it yourself. Identifying these resources and speaking with them builds knowledge, identifies options and pros and cons for each. Often, the best information may be held by people outside the industry.

Consider organizational implications of different courses of action
Capabilities and culture are important considerations when assessing options. What will work well in one organization may not work well in another. Considering options through these lenses can predict how successful they will be if implemented. 

Combining these approaches creates a simple framework for assessing unknown situations. It allows leaders to quickly determine the importance of the decision; the information required for making it; sources of experience to tap into; and internal considerations that will impact each option's effectiveness. 

Managing the unknown has become 'business as usual' for most leaders. Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do has become an essential leadership capability and enabler of change. Knowing how to build a framework around a new situation is the best preparation to address it.


Friday 17 June 2016

Leading Yourself through Change: Building Your Confidence

Years ago, I remember walking with a leader to a steering committee meeting for a major technology change. He said, "Tell me what questions I should ask so I look like I know what I am doing." He said it jokingly but he wasn't joking. This was his first big change and he lacked the confidence to lead in his role.

Leaders aren't at their best when they lack confidence. Their fight or flight response overrules their skills and experience, making survival the number one goal. Unproductive behaviours  anger, poor listening, silence, reactive or avoidance of decision-making  emerge, which negatively affect those around them and the progress they are able to make.

Confidence is the most important trait leaders can draw upon when managing new realities. Confident they are positively moving forward by speaking to the right people, making the right decisions, and giving their teams the right support to change how they work.

Here are three ways to build your confidence to help you lead change:

Understand the change (better than most)
Knowledge directly increases your confidence level. If you have done something well in the past, you tend to be confident about doing it again; if it's your first time your confidence tends to be low. As Dan Rockwell says, confident people "know what to do next."

Knowledge builds a framework from which to figure out and manage through a change. Without this foundation, there is little to guide your thinking and actions, and therefore, little validation that the best decisions are being made. 

Leaders who have the best knowledge look beyond their industry. They seek out people and resources from other businesses that have managed similar situations. They also are not afraid to apply innovative approaches and lessons learned from diverse sources. To broaden your knowledge and increase your confidence, look beyond your own environment.

Know the questions to ask
Change leaders often don't know the questions to ask to ensure the organization is going in the right direction and has capacity to make significant changes. Knowing the key questions common to big change projects will keep you well informed and aware of emerging risks.

Here are examples of important questions in the Managing Change phase:

The Plan:                When is the organization ready to make the change?
Resources:             How do I get more resources if I need them?
Communications:  How do I know communications are working?
Getting Results:     How do I keep momentum given other projects in play?

Don't take it personally
After a tense and explosive meeting, I asked a leader how she was feeling. She said, "Fine, it's not personal." This was a consistent behaviour: she separated content from emotions. By doing so, she didn't respond emotionally to the power-up of other leaders and remained focused on the facts and decisions around them.

Putting yourself in other people's shoes can help objectify a tense moment or perceived affront. What pressures are they under, is this a common behaviour expressed to others, what has neutralized situations with them in the past? Emotions reveal characteristics of those who express them. Remembering this in the heat of the moment is a sign of confidence.

Confident leaders believe that their skills and experience will support them through change. Understanding the change, knowing the questions to ask and not taking things personally will help you build your confidence to be your best as you lead change.


Sunday 5 June 2016

Leading Yourself through Change: Assessing Your Strengths

I gave a keynote presentation to a group of leaders who are experiencing disruptive change. Their industry is facing new operating models, multiple technology advances, government regulation changes and new competitors. Nothing appears to be constant. My talk was on how to manage yourself and your team through constant change.

Many years ago, I realized that everyone goes through a personal transition when their company does  it's normal. Leaders must manage their own personal changes before they can effectively help their team members to manage theirs. If they fail to do so, leaders get lost in details around their personal transitions and forget to help their team members get through theirs. They fail to create an environment where people can take on new ways of working, and instead, create uncertainty and confusion that leads to poor performance. 

There are three main practices that leaders employ to manager their own change and prepare themselves to lead others: they assess their strengths; build their confidence and know how to manage the unknown. 

Knowing your strengths is a good starting point. Taking stock of what you do well enables you to lean on demonstrated abilities when things are uncertain. It enables you to focus on how best to contribute to a situation instead of randomly reacting to it.

Being clear on your strengths also helps you identify areas where you need support from others. Identifying these resources in advance allows you to make more fact-based decisions that consider broader perspectives on the business. 

Here are three ways to assess your strengths:

Identify roles you played in past changes
Past changes provide examples of how you support your organization and people as they transitioned to new ways of working. Did you lead a committee, break down silos between teams, recommend an approach or execute a plan flawlessly. These activities moved your organization closer to adopting the change and realizing its benefits.

Identifying a list of these abilities improves the likelihood you will repeat them during new changes. Capabilities that underlie these activities include priority setting, action orientation, focus, influence without power, communication, empathy and personal learning.

Read past performance reviews
Most people file performance reviews after they have been presented. They are a gold mine of data on what you do well and how you have lead change.

In aggregate, they reveal patterns of action and behaviour where you excelled in times of transition. Your Managers' comments provide multiple perspectives and examples of how you drove value.

Ask your network for feedback 
People you work or associate with see you in varied situations over time. They are unconscious cataloguers of how you operate. Ask people for two inputs: what you do well and what are your "watch-out" areas. Most people will give you balanced views. Ask for examples so you have context for their observations.

A leader I worked for asked her team for feedback after every major meeting and presentation. She listened intently, asked a couple of clarifying questions and adjusted her approach. She continually improved her excellent skills. 

These practices may look easy yet most leaders don't do them. When I am coaching leaders, I ask them about their strengths when leading change  most don't know. If they do reply with some capabilities, I ask them how they know  many don't. 

It's worth the effort to know your strengths. They will be your best support through constant change.


Friday 20 May 2016

Less is More Even if More Looks Better

I once worked with someone who had joined the corporate world in mid-career. His early years were spent opening and managing a chain of pizza stores in Vancouver. As we traveled together, he shared stories from his retail years and what he learned about people in his restaurants. One insight taught me a lesson about how people add complexity to their lives.

Each employee was entitled to two free pizza slices per shift. They could have as many toppings as they wanted  they were the chefs of their dinners. New employees went wild: they would pile on everything available and double up on their favourites. It took two hands and many napkins to lift and eat their creations. 

After a month, the number of toppings and portions would decrease. A few months later, the pizza slices looked like the ones customers ordered. After a year, most employees chose no toppings except for tomato sauce and cheese. The combination of these two ingredients tasted the best.

I have observed a similar dynamic in the corporate world. People begin by adding as much content as is available. If they have access to five tools, they use all five; if a thirty-page PowerPoint presentation is acceptable, they create one, regardless of the objective. Quantity is a sign of quality.

This practice also applies to project lists, strategies, tactics, objectives, product varieties, leadership behaviours, personal development goals and metrics – piling them on in the belief that they will create the best results.

With experience, people focus on the practices that deliver the greatest value. Selective tools or targeted presentations guide dialogues, decisions and actions. They have learned less is more. 

In two weeks, I am leading a workshop on change planning for a group that is new to this discipline. I won't be touting a project methodology or an enabling software program. Neither will I be creating Gantt charts nor a percentage completion tracker; I will be demonstrating how to use a simple, one-page chart including:

  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Outcomes
  • Owners
  • Support required
  • Completion date

The team will develop a "less is more" plan for a longstanding industry issue. It won't look as good as a long plan but experience has taught me that it will deliver the results they need. 


Saturday 14 May 2016

People Know What is Best. Don't Forget to Ask Them.

Early in my career, I sold, designed and led business training programs at the Business Development Bank. Leadership development programs were in demand and every training and consulting firm offered a list of courses.

With only a small marketing budget, our team needed a compelling offer to differentiate ourselves from competitors. We decided to be the best designers of customized training in the market. To do so, the facilitator of each program would visit the client's business for two days to work on the job with the learners before designing the course. If it was a group of high school textbook salespeople, they went on sales calls and would pitch books to experience the challenges; if it was a group of gas station owners, they worked in a gas station to witness the manager's daily issues.

Our approach worked. Learner immersion created customized programs that addressed real challenges within the context of their working environment. An added benefit was increased facilitator credibility earned through hands-on experience.  

Often, change planning fails to incorporate deep understanding of the people who are changing. Interviews are held to identify the gaps between current and future requirements without experiencing the environments in which people work. Also, interviewers rarely ask about the types of support that those making the change would value and use. 

The cost of limited understanding is high. Assumptions fill in for knowledge and generic solutions substitute for tailored ones. The change plan is informed more by past practices than current circumstances. Also, without the deeper relationship built through on the job experience, people are less likely to share honest feedback throughout the change.  

Here are ways to gain deeper understanding of the people who are taking on change: 

  • Explain why the change is important to the business and to them before asking questions about how they work  you will get more considered responses if the change matters to them
  • Ask people what types of support they have benefited from in the past  they most likely will use and benefit from similar tools during a new change
  • Meet people where they work  you will learn a lot about how they spend their time
  • Request time to shadow people on the job  I observed somone who only had access to her computer at the beginning and end of the day  online resources would not meet her needs
  • Test your plan with the people you interviewed  they are the best people to assess if it addresses their needs
  • Acknowledge people for taking the time to share how they work  their input is essential to successful change planning and recognizing their contributions will encourage them and others to do so in the future

Understanding the environment in which people work and the support preferences they have are important inputs into effective change management planning. They are the ones who have the knowledge about how they work and what they will need to do things in new ways. Providing them with the help they need when they need it are hallmarks of an effective change plan.