Friday 25 March 2016

Change is a Leader-Employee Relationship Business

Last weekend, I facilitated a leadership team as it updated its governance model. When reviewing supplier contacts, the team validated that the executive who oversaw each supplier was the person who had the best relationship with them. "It's a relationship business," said one leader. This is true for all businesses; good relationships drive the best outcomes.

Change management is also highly influenced by relationships. Midway through my career at Cadbury, my responsibilities expanded from the US and Canada to "the Americas." Just before meeting the Mexican Leadership Team, a colleague said, "You won't add any value until after they hug you." He meant that team members needed to get to know and build trust in me before they would openly discuss their business. Before then, I was visiting on a "Royal Tour" with no tangible impact on the leaders or their business. I was hugged on my second visit.

The leader-employee relationship is essential for change to occur. How leaders are perceived by their employees is a predictor of change success. The more they are respected, trusted and liked, the greater the likelihood that people will buy into their vision of the future. If leaders are poorly viewed, their vision will be rejected, planned changes won't be adequately supported and outcomes won't be achieved.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer study states that only 65 percent of employees trust their leaders to do "what is right." This statistic has disastrous implications for change. It implies that negative past experiences with leaders are influencing how employees perceive them and the future visions they will be asked to build.

One of the first questions I ask a leader is, "Could you tell me about past changes you led?". Mention of poor implementation and results suggests that the leader's relationship with employees is tarnished. Repairing the relationship will be a priority. 

Here are ways that leaders can build their relationships with employees through the changes they lead:

  • Speak from the average employee's perspective  address employees from their frame of reference by honestly communicating how they will be affected by change, both positively and negatively
  • Deliver on your commitments  do what you say when you say you will do it. This is a blind spot for many leaders because other priorities overshadow internal commitments. Employees always track leaders' behaviour and not following through on promises compromises credibility
  • Ask for and act on input and feedback – co-creation and ongoing feedback are fundamental change enablers. Relationships are enhanced only when decisions are made based on this information 
  • Share credit with those who did the work – An old management adage is give credit to your team and blame to yourself. Crediting those who achieved the results leads to trust, reciprocation and continued efforts to build the future
  • Take time to socialize with employees – relationships are personal and speaking with employees, including answering their questions, builds familiarity, approachability and loyalty
  • Create a link between past successes and future challenges – just as past failures can tarnish leader relationships, successes can galvanize them; success breeds success

Like all businesses, change is about relationships. The quality of relationships that leaders have with their employees directly impacts the outcomes they achieve. Like all relationships, they are built over time, earned by the actions people do and behaviours they express. Making them a priority will provide leaders with the buy-in and support they need to build a better future.


Thursday 17 March 2016

What I Learned from the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge

Like most endings, day 30 of my MindWell 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge program snuck up on me. On day 28, I realized that my daily learning videos and buddy support messages were about to end.

As mentioned at the beginning and middle of my challenge, I had looked forward to the few minutes I spent each morning learning about mindfulness, renewing my commitment to be more present, and sharing my experiences with my challenge buddy, Matt. They were positive additions to my morning routine.

I had set three goals for this online learning program: 
  • 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

Maximizing Performance 
Learning how to focus on the present exposed the amount of time I had wasted thinking about the past and future. Most of my thoughts weren't positively contributing to my personal or professional life. Being informed by the past to plan the future is still important. Being grounded in the present as I do so keeps me on task and avoids mental distractions.

The first step to staying in the present is to realize when you are not there. The ability to assess where my mind was became a new skill. If I was not in a productive frame of mind, I would trigger the Take 5 breathing exercise to snap back into focus. I was back in productivity mode in less than two minutes. The more I used this tool the faster I refocused on my work. Now, I employ Take 5 before starting a task to avoid slow starts or drifting to other activities  multi-tasking is a time waster.

Documenting Benefits
The research that underpins the program states that mindfulness makes you present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized. I experienced all of these throughout the challenge.

Recording which benefits I perceived after each day was an eye-opener. I experienced greater presence and focus more often than engagement and energy. These traits are usually high for me, which might explain not feeling more so than usual.

Two of the biggest benefits were greater awareness of how I spend my time and an improved ability to redirect my thoughts. I am now mindful of the time traps that reduce my productivity.

Applications for Change
Change management is a structured approach to helping leaders and their teams be their best as they transition to new ways of working. Helping them stay focused through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that comes with change is a key requirement.

In times of change, many people cling to the past (the good old days) or worry about the future (the brave new world). This causes them to freeze or lose focus on what they can do to navigate new requirements for success. Unproductive thinking leads to inaction and greater worry.

The skill of identifying distractions is one that I will use and develop in my clients. 'Calling it' when leaders or teams get waylaid by past practices or future speculation will focus them on the tasks at hand to more quickly deliver outcomes. Improving the team's effectiveness will represent a quick win that may suggest that the change will lead to better results.

As the final program video states, the mindfulness challenge is never done. We must continue to be mindful about where we are at the moment  past, present or future  and get back into the present when we are distracted. Like most capabilities, the ability to be mindful will decrease without practice.

I completed a survey to end my 30th day module. One of the questions was, "Would you recommend the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge to a friend? After replying "yes," I thought a slightly different questions would better measure the personal benefits gained from the program: "Would you give the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge as a gift to a friend? Who wouldn't want our friends to be more present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized? My answer would be "yes."


Saturday 12 March 2016

How to Coach Leaders to Ace Their Change Roles

An organization's culture can be defined as the leadership behaviour that determines how things get done. People emulate their leaders' behaviours regardless of how the organization chooses to describe its culture on its website or its walls; what leaders do defines culture. 

The leader's role is to set a destination, marshal resources to get there and lead the way, confident that it will achieve greater performance. Any new destination requires making changes in how work gets done. By modeling new behaviours, a leader demonstrates that others can do the same; if he or she can do it, so can everyone. 

One of the biggest challenges of change is when leaders don't demonstrate the new behaviours that are required to make a change successful. Either they keep doing old behaviours or do not take on the new ones.

An IBM study reported that 92 percent of survey participants cited top management sponsorship as the most important factor in successful change programs. Another study by Oxford University recorded that 33 percent of change programs fail because management behaviour does not support the change. 

I remember one leader who said at a town hall meeting that cost cutting was essential for the organization's future. After he got off the stage, someone overheard him crowing about the new furniture he had ordered for his newly-expanded office. Expense reduction was slow and painful. Another leader shared a video that caught him not demonstrating new behaviours. He asked everyone for their help in building his skills. After he got off the stage, he was embraced by many people who eagerly offered their support. His country ranked number two in the world for success with that change.

Often, leaders are unclear of the sponsorship roles they are required to play. Also, they don't realize that what they do and say is being scrutinized by those around them. Coaching leaders on how to demonstrate new ways of working and providing candid feedback on their ability to do so is essential for changes to be supported and stick.

Here are some tips on how to coach leaders on their change roles.
  • Help leaders understand that everything they do and say related to the change impacts people's perceptions of it
  • Review leadership roles in person, either one on one or with the full leadership team
  • Create a one-page leader role summary. It can be reviewed in coaching sessions to acknowledge aligned behaviours and pinpoint gaps
  • Discuss how the new behaviours manifest themselves in real-life situations
  • Book weekly meetings with each leader for the duration of the change 
  • Track his or her behaviours and point out when they are and are not appropriate
  • Provide feedback immediately after a leader has presented at an employee meeting
Preparing leaders before a change will help them demonstrate what they need from their employees. Awareness, skill building, feedback and coaching throughout the change will build them into the role-models needed for change and greater performance.


Saturday 5 March 2016

How to Move from Mindless to Mindful: Day 19

I am on day 19 of a 30-day 'mindfulness challenge' training program. Mindfulness is the ability to remain focused on the present instead of thinking about the past or dreaming about the future. The benefits of greater presence are improved concentration, reduced stress and increased productivity.

Every day, my learning partner, Matt, and I view a new online learning video and practice a breathing technique, called 'Take 5,' to sharpen our focus.

I noticed benefits on the third day of the program. I began catching myself when my mind drifted from the task at hand. Like children falling asleep at their desks, my productivity stopped when I was lulled by the past or the future. Once aware of my dream state, I used the breathing exercise to reenter the present and get back to work.

The benefits of mindfulness grew tenfold this week. I was working day and night, writing multiple proposals, holding client meetings and preparing presentations. The more I had to accomplish, the more my mind was distracted by thoughts about the past and future. Luckily, I had developed a trigger response as soon as I lost focus. After a few breaths, I snapped back into my productivity zone.

The emails that Matt and I have exchanged document our progression. Here's a few of mine:
"As I progress, I want to focus on recognizing stress responses." (Day 12)
" I don't feel that my health and well-being have substantially changed but my ability to focus (and stop being unfocused) has improved greatly!" (Day 15)
"Noticing what state we are in is the first step to evaluating if it is where we want to be." (Day 16)
"I am now shifting from becoming less stressed to becoming more insightful, curious about my habits." (Day 17)
"I have gained an awareness of my pattern of tension when I don't have all the facts. (Focusing on) 'where I am now' and 'what is the next step I need to take' helps me start doing something productive." (Day 17)

I am making progress on all of my goals: My performance is improving by being more focused; I am documenting my learnings and noting applications for leaders and their teams as they go through change. 

Yesterday, I noticed someone in a meeting drifting off into space. I wondered whether he was thinking about the past or the future. I was thinking about the present.