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.