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.