Friday 26 February 2016

What Your Favourite Teacher Knew About Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday 18 February 2016

Why Would You Take a Mindfulness Challenge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday 12 February 2016

How to Engage the Whole Person in Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday 4 February 2016

How to Be 'on Trend' in Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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