Work Culture Maintenance & Renewal

A company’s work culture is a living, evolving entity.  At least, it should be if you want to effectively meet the many challenges that your organization will no doubt face, regardless of your industry or business model or geography.

Change Intelligent leaders know they need to remain agile and continually adapt to stay relevant and prosper. As we learned from Jim Collins and his team in How the Might Fall: And Why Some Companies Don’t Give In, companies that succeed into the future – while their peers which are highly successful in the short-term fail – is the combination of:

• Constancy of purpose – focus on vision, mission, and values, and

• Flexibility of process – evolving technologies, tactics, and techniques

Indeed, when I revisited I/N Tek and I/N Kote after two decades, the vision, mission, and values statements we drafted in the early ‘90s were still posted on the wall, in the office areas, operations pulpits, and maintenance rooms, throughout the mill – constancy of purpose.  And, now there were employees who were children of the founding team members, upgraded technologies, and new business practices – flexibility of process.

As a leader, do you pay attention to your organization’s work culture?  Work culture can seem an amorphous concept, beyond our intentional control.  And yet, while not completely in our control, we can have a positive influence on our company culture, regardless of our position, tenure, or age.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, as a leader committed to helping your organization be nimble, agile, and Change Intelligent into the future:

• Does your organization have a vision, mission, or values statement?  If so, when is the last time you looked at it?  Mentioned it to your team?  Used it to guide decision-making and behaviors?

• Do you periodically take a pulse of your culture?  What is the level of engagement?  Teamwork up, down, and across the organization?  Commitment to strategic goals and objectives?

• In what areas can we do better – where does our lofty rhetoric not match the reality of what it’s like to work in our company on a day-to-day basis?  On what topics would we benefit from engaging in tough conversations to get ourselves back on track, and in line with our espoused beliefs?

Change Intelligent leaders look to the past to honor collective history, look to the future to progress toward new horizons, and foster collaborative cultures to empower people to partner on the journey together.

What Can Winston Churchill Teach Us about Leading Change?

While in London, I had the pleasure of visiting the Churchill Museum, an extremely well-preserved vista into the past, displaying the underground rooms where Churchill, his ministers, military advisors and staff led the effort to win the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War II.  It was amazing to see history frozen in time, and learn so many details of the life of this great man and the trials and tribulations of that great generation.

Leading change can so often feel like a war zone – devising plans and strategies, arming ourselves with tools and tactics, focusing on the mission and averting scope creep, engaging stakeholders both allies and enemies, overcoming resistance, striving for small wins during the many battles to win the war, avoiding land mines, juggling scarce resources, regrouping and redeploying, coping with stress and battle fatigue, negotiating terms and conditions – I could go on and on, the analogies are seemingly endless.

Visiting the museum caused me to ponder what we as change leaders can learn from Churchill and his stewardship of WWII.  Among many other talents, he was known for his wry wit and exception oratory prowess.  Here’s a sample relevant for all of us in the business of leading change:

  • “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Churchill said this in response to criticisms about the fact that he changed political parties.  Indeed, this quote is the essence of Change Intelligence:  to lead change, we must start with ourselves first.  This is one way that great leaders are both courageous and vulnerable – they reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and course correct – sometimes in very public ways – to ensure their behaviors match their values and goals, even when it’s not easy.
  • “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  This quote reinforces the fact that change can be a long and arduous journey.  While most of us will never have to endure bombing raids or food rationing, we all need to cope with the emotional tribulations of letting go of the old and grappling with the new, and our own and others’ feelings of loss, confusion, and fear.
  • “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”  In this quote Churchill was praising the Royal Air Force, giving thanks for their heroism and sacrifice while fighting the Battle of Britain, during which Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed the country relentlessly for months on end.  So often leading change can seem like a thankless job, and we can feel scarred and shell-shocked during the fight and for quite some time after it’s over.  Great change leaders acknowledge the hard work – both effort and outcomes – that helps us fight the good fight and prevail against what can seem like insurmountable odds.

One more footnote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister in 1940, when he was 65 years old, and remained active in British and global politics long after the war ended, retiring at age 81.  Throughout the war and beyond, he is said to have outworked his staff.  I like to keep that in mind every time I get an invitation to join AARP in the mail!  We’re never too old to make world-changing contributions, and we benefit from the wisdom of our elders.

Enjoy living in peace and freedom today.

4 Questions about Change Intelligence (so you can apply it today)

To help illustrate how CQ is relevant to change leaders like yourself, I thought I’d share with you some of the questions I’ve been asked about how to apply the principles of the book to your team or organization:

  1. With all the leadership books out there, why was it important for you to write this book? From my first day on the job, standing in front of a room full of all-male steelworkers all decades older than me, I lived firsthand how challenging the role of a change leader can be.  It can be pretty scary to be the one up front and center  and intimidating to realize that even the best education and training doesn’t always prepare you to lead the change.  It’s been my passion for the last 25 years to equip change leaders to successfully navigate and direct change even in the most complex and challenging situations.  When you know your CQ, you know what to do next even if it’s a situation you’ve never faced before.
  2. What type of leader would benefit from reading Change Intelligence? I wrote the book for at any level charged with implementing change.  So, whether you’re on the front lines or in the C-Suite, Change Intelligence can be applied directly to your situation.   That being said, the demands and dynamics of leading change can be very different at the CEO versus project manager versus front line supervisor levels, and I offer advice to guide each based on my decades of experience coaching up, down and across organizations.
  3. What types of change is the book relevant for? What industries? The book is full of real-life case studies of transformations from mergers to new technology implementations to process improvements in industries spanning healthcare to high tech, refineries to retail, and steel to sales teams.  This is critical, because as leaders, we are constantly on point to manage multiple changes at once, and the pace is increasing, and the scope becoming more complex every day.  What matters is less the specifics of the change or industry dynamics, and more that by knowing your CQ you are equipped to lead change even when you’re facing a challenge you’ve never experienced before.
  4. What’s the book’s key message – the bottom line – and how can I apply it today? The big “ah-ha” of the book is that it is possible to lead successful and sustainable change – if it’s led effectively.  And it is possible to lead change effectively – not necessarily by starting with “overcoming resistance by others” or applying a new tool or process – but rather, by looking inside, and starting with yourself as a change leader.  What are your strengths?  What are your blind spots?  What are you natural tendencies as a change leader?  The 15-minute Change Intelligence self-assessment ($97 Value) that comes free with every book helps you answer these questions quickly, and the customized report each reader receives contains simple, practical, and applicable coaching for how to bolster your CQ right now, on the job today.  When you know your CQ, you experience an immediate increase in your confidence and competence in leading successful and sustainable change.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Nurture Yourself Towards Optimism

Watch the news and it’s easy to be cynical – wars, crime, disease, natural disasters.  And yet, is this the reality of modern life, or the interpretation of it that’s reported?  Considering violence, as Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes, “things really are getting better…..headlines are a poor guide to history. People’s sense of danger is warped by the availability of memorable examples – which is why we are more afraid of getting eaten by a shark than falling down the stairs, though the latter is likelier to kill us…..Despite the headlines, and with circumscribed exceptions, the world has continued its retreat from violence….As modernity widens our circle of cooperation, we come to recognize the futility of violence and apply our collective ingenuity to reducing it. Though a few narcissistic despots and atavistic zealots stand athwart this current, history does not appear to be on their side.”  [Click here for compelling statistics and graphics supporting his assertions.]

Andrew Weil, complementary medicine pioneer and wellness guru, recommends periods “news fasts” – “a news fast simply means opting out of watching the news on television, listening to it on the radio, reading newspapers, or following the news on the Internet for a few days or even a week at a time. I believe that taking periodic breaks from the news can promote mental calm and help renew your spirits. In this way, the anxiety and overstimulation catalyzed by the media may be minimized, and your body will function better.”  What a great way to spring into Spring – unplug, unwind, refresh and renew.

It can be challenging to focus on the positive, maintain a positive attitude, and consistently act with positivity.  And yet, the benefits of optimism are tangible.  As Martin Seligman, father of the positive psychology movement, states “optimists are higher achievers, better able to develop to their full potential, happier, and have better overall health,” among many other personal and professional outcomes.

More good news:  if you’re not an optimist by nature (and studies show that most people tend toward pessimism), hopefulness and positivity can be learned.  To build this mindset, Seligman sharesin Learned Optimism this simple yet powerful A-B-C model:

  • Adversity:  An event that happens.  For example, your company announces a new leadership team and reorganization.
  • Belief:  Your interpretation of the event.  For example, you think, “Here we go again!  A new regime and another program of the year!  Same circus, different clowns.”
  • Consequence:  Feelings and actions that result from your beliefs.  For example, you anticipate a lot of swirl without strategy, feel cynical and disengaged, and decide to keep your head down until this too shall pass.

Now, I’m not saying this is what “you,” my reader, would do – but you’ve witness this cycle.  Given the 70+% of the workforce that is actively disengaged (according to Gallup research), it’s all too common, and we’ve all experienced the lost productivity, poor customer service, and diminished loyalty and trust that results for organizations.

Yet, what about for us as individuals?  What can we control?  Ultimately, only ourselves – our attitudes and our actions.  While pessimism may be in our nature, we can nurture ourselves toward optimism – and reap all its benefits – regardless of what’s happening around us in our environment.

The first step is simply noticing our reactions to events – unearthing our own beliefs, and observing their consequences.  Second, we can begin to take even more ownership of our emotions and behaviors, recognizing that “I’m the boss of me”!  All empowerment is fundamentally self-empowerment, and all engagement starts with the choice be engaged – in work and in life.  As the Eagles sang, “So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains – that we never even know we have the key.”

Cheers to powerful change leaders  who are full of positive change :)

 

What Can Change Leaders Learn from Salespeople?

When you think of “sales” and “salespeople,” what words leap to mind?  While some have positive perceptions, many would respond with choices such as, “sly, slick, and smarmy”!  Regardless of your formal role or job title, we’re all in the business of sales and we’re all salespeople – whether we like it or not. This is an especially critical message for Change Leaders.  It’s all about influencing others towards new directions. We partner with people to “sell” the new way and our ability to do this effectively has a direct outcome on the results we seek.

Now, in case that sounds like a “sales tactic,” let’s look at what it means to sell our ideas, our vision and intended outcomes.  What is the fine line betweenmotivation and manipulation?  To me, the difference comes down to two critical issues – mindset and goal.  Is our mindset that we are doing something “to” or even “in spite of” others, or, “for” and even “with” them?  Is our goal myopic self-interest, or is our intent to partner with others toward a positive new future for all?

We need to “adjust our style” to fit the audience as well as the stage in the sales cycle.  Change Intelligent Leaders are aware of their style in leading change, and have the savvy to adapt it – whether they are working with executive sponsors, impacting business leaders, or negotiating with project team members – to give people what they need “get it, want it, and be able to do it.”

That of course is the essence of CQ – that we each have a dominant tendency when leading change – to focus on the Heart, the Head, or the Hands – but the most effective among us know that successful and sustainable change needs all three:  to show people the vision for the change (the Head), to communicate how people will be impacted by the change (the Heart), and to devise a sound plan to close the gap between current reality and the goal (the Hands).

We so often focus on the “how” – and this tendency is particularly strong in “high Hands” Change Leaders – which is true for many PMs, given their execution-based roles.  Clearly, this is an important and necessary focus.  Indeed, one of the most common root causes of the shockingly high failure rate of major changes (70%!) is the lack of sound implementation and process to sustain the gains.  This is where high Hands Change Leaders shine.

And (not but!) while the “how” is important, people crave to know the “why” behind a change.  “Why is this happening?  Why are you asking me to do this?  Why yet another change?”  As humans, we are more motivated to work toward a goal when we see the line-of-sight between the part we are asked to play and the end game.

Change Intelligent Leaders communicate the “how,” the “why” – and the “who.”

Connecting with the Hands, Head, and Heart.  All three are requirements for genuine commitment from our teams and our people – as opposed to resigned compliance.  “Rain-making” salespeople and impactful Change Leaders actively develop and deploy their influence skills to follow the Platinum Rule – to do onto others as THEY want/need to be done onto – to “close the deal” and achieve the results they seek – for everyone’s mutual benefit.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

“Painful” Change Can Be a Springboard for Professional Development – But Only If You Are Open To It

Here’s an old story to contemplate:

A boy from a wealthy family receives a pony for his birthday.  The townspeople say, “what a lucky boy.”  The Buddhist monk says, “we’ll see.”

The boy suffers a crippling injury while riding the horse.  The townspeople say, “what an unlucky boy.”  The Buddhist monk says, “we’ll see.”

An invading army attacks the town and conscripts all the men and boys to fight with them, but the boy is not chosen because of his handicap.  The townspeople say, “what a lucky boy.”

You get the message.

As tortured Hamlet observed, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  At times, each of us can feel like we’re in a hellacious situation, trapped, confused, scared, frustrated, and these reactions can be particularly acute in times of change.  Yet, at the same time, most of us can relate to how we have grown exponentially during our most challenging times.  We find hidden capacity within ourselves, untapped reserves of strength.  New, amazing people come into our lives.  New doors open that we would have passed by otherwise.  Whether it’s at home or at work, change can be a springboard for professional development.

That’s why I encourage you to, every so often, take some time to reflect on the power that change has in your life. Need some help getting started? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What changes have I been through that seemed negative at first, but turned out much better than I expected?  Situations when were my fears not realized, but instead I emerged stronger and better than before?
  • What changes am I facing now that are causing me stress?  Even if the change itself is out of my control, what are three specific actions I can take to help me and my team cope with it more proactively, to take charge of what we can, to influence the direction or outcome?
  • How can I use the possibility presented by current change challenges to emerge as an even more impactful leader?  How can I use my skills at connection and communication to coach people to see unrecognized opportunities?  To perceive change as an opportunity versus a threat?  To share stories about taking response-ability to respond with resilience and agility?

As Price Pritchett affirms, “change always comes bearing gifts.”  Sometimes those gifts are buried deep or concealed in dark corners.  But always, every time, those gifts are there for us to find, and treasure, and share.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Is Organizational ADHD Derailing Your Change Project?

Sound familiar?

  • “Here we go again – another program of the year!”
  • “Another reorg – who’s my boss today?  And I’m expected to pick up the slack – again?!”
  • “Our company slogan should be, ‘All swirl – no strategy’!”

As an “organizational doctor,” when I hear clients vent such frustrations, I know they are symptoms of a deeper disease. My diagnosis? Organizational ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  Just like people can struggle with the symptoms of ADHD, so too can organizations struggle to stay focused in the face of conflicting priorities and constant redirection. As a change leader, how do you know your organization is suffering from ADHD, and what can you do about it?  Let’s break it down.

The “Attention Deficit” Change Challenge

When it comes to focus, what is grabbing the attention of your employees and team members – not to mention your own?

Here are some sobering statistics:

  • People see more than 34 billion bits of information per day.
  • 91% of workers in the U.S. report they discard work information without fully reading it.
  • Interruptions caused by  information overload are estimated to cost U.S. companies $650 billion a year.

Your inbox is a perfect example of all the subjects vying for your attention.  In addition to this email from me today, how many others have you received?  How many are in your inbox unread?  How many have you deleted without even opening?  Voicemails received but unanswered?  Checked your social media or snail mail today?

Information overload (or info-toxicity as it’s also called) reduces our ability to make effective decisions – and even to genuinely understand the data we are receiving.  Any surprise your change-related communications are not cutting through the deluge?

And what about the “deficit” in “attention deficit”?  Lack, loss, something missing, something wrong.  When overwhelmed, stressed and confused, we can fall prey to the “threat-rigidity effect”:  We feel threatened and devolve into rigid behavior patterns.  Less oxygen gets to our brains, so we revert to well-learned routines – flight, fight, or freeze.  Creativity, positivity, and energy evaporate.

When embattled we can start seeing everything as a problem to be fixed.  The incessant spotlight on “solving problems” – dealing with what’s wrong – keeps us rooted in the past and perceiving only the negative aspects of the current reality.

What can a change leader do?

It’s been said that “leadership is the art of focusing attention,” so let’s start there:

Are you role modeling focusing attention on the right things?  On the important few versus the trivial many?  Are you protecting your people from distractions?

Are you culpable in polluting your workplace with info-toxicity?  When you need to deliver messages, how can you be even briefer and more relevant to your audience – create a killer story-that-sticks?  Go beyond information to insight?

Do you communicate the connection between what may seem like “new” or disparate activities to the overall vision, mission, and values – so people appreciate the purpose behind priorities?  Showing people the “why” in addition to the “what” and “how”?

How are you clarifying the line-of-sight between people’s day-to-day tasks and impact on consequential goals?  So often what unblocks old routines is not top-down information-sharing but rather bottom-up behavior change – not pithy slogans, but the powerful pull of seeing with your own eyes glimpses of the transformation enacted real-time by soldiers in the trenches together.

Are you balancing a concentration on “fixing what’s wrong” with “finding what’s right”?  Do you “share the dream” and work with your team to design a new, motivating future state?  Do you foster an environment of complaining about the past or present state, instead of demonstrating commitment to charting inspiring new directions?

The “Hyperactivity Disorder” Change Challenge

To keep up with the unrelenting pace of change, it can seem like we all need to be in constant manic motion.  We can feel like we take-on lots of activities, but have little tangible impact.  Even within a change project, it’s so easy for team members to become overwhelmed by the amount of detail, number of deliverables, and scope of work.  Urgent crises derail important tasks.  At the end of the day we ask, “what did we accomplish?”

We know now that multitasking reduces effectiveness, yet here are more sad stats:

  • People are interrupted and move from project to project every 11 minutes.
  • It takes 25 minutes to return to the original project and get back “in the groove.”
  • People are as likely to self-interrupt as to be interrupted by someone else!

“Busy-ness” is loosely related to the attention deficit challenge, but manifests differently.  Hyperactivity disorder gives the appearance that everyone is “working hard” and that your team is making progress.  In fact, you could be just treading water, or even worse moving quickly in the opposite direction of where you want to go.

Moreover, what’s on the other side of manic motion is often disengaged depression.  Just as individuals can suffer from bipolar disorder, so can people in organizations swing from relentless frenzy to resigned apathy when it all gets to be too much, when they don’t see their efforts resulting in positive forward movement, and when they can’t perceive the correlation between their contributions and outcomes.

Yet, behind every complaint is a request.  Those infuriating eye-rolls from your people at the announcement of a “new program!” is often the result of severe change fatigue.  What seems like complacency or even indifference can be a survival instinct for having tried way too hard for way too long and being way too disappointed in seeing no sustained results and receiving no sincere recognition.

What can you as a change leader do?

As yourself again – what am I role modeling?

Break out of hyperactivity through inter-activity.  Stop rushing and start relating.  Partner with your team to consciously assess whether activities are supportive of goals and prioritize accordingly.  Develop the discipline to laser focus.  Banish the irrelevant to make space for the significant.

Work together to create meaningful metrics targeting relevant results.  Switch attention from checking boxes on a project plan to managing performance outcomes that matter.

Demonstrate as clearly as possible what specific behaviors will lead to valued outcomes.  Show how right actions lead to right results.

Recognize, reward, and celebrate key milestones – when small steps have led to real results.

Develop the discipline to just say no.  As a wise woman once said, “‘no’ is a complete sentence.  You are in control of your own behavior, not a puppet.  Set boundaries.  Train people how to treat you.  As you build muscle in this area, you will give others confidence to do so as well.

Balance activity and interactivity with inner-activity – knowing that this is vastly different than “in-activity”.  Are you balancing doing and being?  Leaders who are more reflective are more effective.  The essence of continuous improvement is continual learning, which mandates time for contemplation.

Am I powering down to power up?  Just like your computer, your brain and body need to “shut down” every so often to reboot and refresh.  Get the gunk out.  Take care of yourself, and make time for family and friends.

Organizational ADHD and the Change Intelligent Leader

Change intelligent leaders know the antidote to Organizational ADHD is THEIR ability to develop and deploy their own CQ.  Providing purpose unleashes passion.  Focusing attention facilitates forward momentum.  Lasering in on mission-critical activities keeps people on the path.  That’s heart, head, and hands in action – leading in a way that people get it, want it, and are able to do it – working together toward the goal of successful and sustainable transformation.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

When It Comes to Change, Seeing Is Believing!

I was recently reminded of the truth of the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and why it’s so relevant for us as change leaders. By nature, I’m a rather left-brained, analytical person – and with my doctoral-degree academic training, early in my career I was the queen of dry, fact-based, death-by-PowerPoint (or back then, overhead transparency) presentations!  Yet, even then I knew that when I learned, what was often most memorable to me was a simple graphic, or model, or a photo that depicted clearly and succinctly current state, future state, and what we needed to do to get from here to there.  Back in the day, we talked a lot about “paradigm shifts”, and what makes “shift happen”:  the combination of data + emotion.  So often, we overplay the data and downplay the emotion.

As John Kotter and Dan Cohen wrote so well in The Heart of Change, most leaders focus on prompting people to “think differently” – but that’s not how change really happens.  Instead, change occurs at the level of individual behavior change, which happens when people “feel differently.”  We not only have to engage the brain (Head), we have to connect with the emotions – appeal to Heart even more than the mind.  Many of us logical folks were trained to lead by employing the “analysis-think-change” model – when the real change dynamic relies on the “see-feel-change” cycle.

Impactful change leaders embrace this truism and capitalize on the fact that transformation takes place for emotional reasons – which is not “soft” but based on “hard science.”  We need to creatively and compellingly “show” not merely “tell” – through visual cues that can range from educational and entertaining videos to diorama-like display showcases to transforming physical space design.

A couple of my favorite examples conveyed by Kotter and Cohen were these powerful ones:

  • To spur a customer-focused cultural transformation, a company replaced the photographs of past CEOs that had lined the entrance hallway in the corporate office with pictures of customers’ stores;
  • To obtain buy-in from senior executives to champion a strategic sourcing initiative, the procurement manager piled the boardroom conference table with each of the 424 different gloves used in all the company’s many factories currently purchased from a wide variety of different vendors.

Why are pictures (or any visual images) worth a thousand words? Because they convey vast amounts of complex information instantaneously.  Images make a compelling case, often (seemingly) effortlessly, eloquently, and unequivocally. Visual management, as the total quality management, six sigma, and lean professionals often point out, focuses attention on what’s important and tells an immediately comprehensible short and simple story. We as change leaders are really “sales people” – passionately advocating for a new and better future.

For innately left-brainers like me, incorporating visuals can help us connect with our right-brained colleagues, resulting in a holistic, whole brain approach.  We can reach people with a variety of informational needs and learning styles – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Images prompt interaction, not passive reception.  Visuals are dynamic, not static.  They cut through the clutter, grab attention, and incite interest.  Ask yourself – and perhaps a colleague:  what does the CQ image above “say” to you?  What do you “see”?  What does it make you “feel” or “think”?  What jumps out for you that may not be immediately obvious for others?  Such loosely structured, open dialogue, often produces new insights and innovative paths forward.

What can you as a change leader do?  A recent client example portrays some of countless ways you can put images of CQ front and center to help your team imagine change intelligent needs and opportunities real-time when and where it counts.

A steel producer I’ve been consulting with has been the market leader in its niche for many years.  The CEO brought me on board to work with “leaders at all levels,” explaining that “I fear we’re becoming complacent.  We’re catching wind of new competitors with new technologies, raw materials, and product lines.  Our people are becoming resistant to new ideas.  I’m hearing comments like, ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ ‘it ain’t broke so don’t fix it,’ and ‘we’re on top of our game – they should be doing what we’re doing – why should we change?'”

During our early meetings we shared visual images and told actual stories (many experienced first-hand by team members themselves) about how some of those comments sounded and smelled a lot like the integrated steel mills of the past – who got their lunch eaten through decades of plant closings, restructurings, and downsizings of the American steel industry.  As quality guru W. Edwards Deming remarked, “it is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.”  Plant leadership “got” the message about the bottom-line business need to “change or die.”  Yet in many ways, “getting it” is easy – “sticking it” is the hard part.

We experimented with a variety of visual management mechanisms to ensure change intelligent conversations were taking place every day.  To share a few:   

  • Daily team huddles and monthly staff meeting agendas started with “CQ moments” immediately after “safety moments,” usually incorporating a catchy graphic or relevant video clip of some kind.  These ranged from “ripped from media headlines” national news stories to home-grown show-and-tell examples of a peer “soldiers in the trenches” role modeling out-of-the-box invention, such as a really great IPhone video made by the operations manager and his son at their local hardware store role playing an “aha moment” that resulted in a fix to a nagging maintenance problem in the plant.
  • Decision-making sessions ended with “line-of-sight” communications plans that explicitly incorporated “heart, head and hands” messages- using logos for each and simple, easily memorable-to-talk-about images instead of words.  That is, specifics for the leaders on how to share agreements that motivated their people emotionally, engaged them intellectually, and equipped them behaviorally to want it, get it, and be able to execute in tangible, concrete ways.
  • Some leaders even wore the “CQ Triangle” depicting their Change Leader Style on their hard hats!  Others had their CQ Profile page from their CQ Assessment results posted on their office/cubicle/pulpit entrance ways.

As Joe McCormack shares in the brilliant new book Brief, “people you deal with everyday are on the receiving end of over explained, underprepared, and complicated communication……We are transitioning from a text-based world to a visual one……Visuals attract attention and capture imagination…..giving individuals a simple and more powerful tool to wrestle with information and put order to chaos.”

If seeing is believing – what can you as a change leader do, today, where you are at, to help people see (and then feel, and ultimately act) differently?

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Be a Change Leader – Not “Just” a Change Manager!

Unfortunately, most change-based training programs focus exclusively on “Change Management” and exceedingly few on “Change Leadership.”  Change Management is the methods and tools of change: and these are critical to get the job done.  Yet, being savvy in deploying a Change Management Toolkit is best viewed as a baseline competency – what we need to be nominally effective at a very basic level. What we need to be optimally impactful is to hone our Change Leadership capacity.  As an example, this is the distinction between drafting a Stakeholder Engagement Plan, versus being able to genuinely engage stakeholders at all levels, from the C-suite to the front lines and across functions and geographies.

Think Globally, Act Locally, and Panic Internally

When I train leaders in Change Intelligence, we spend a lot of time diagnosing and developing our strengths, blind spots, and coaching opportunities to enhance our competence and confidence – and reduce our stress and frustration.

Quick example: an IT project manager I coached had the epiphany that emailing a quick reference guide for a new procedural change wasn’t quite enough to encourage adoption by end users (in other words, he provided a training tool that helped the hands, but completely missed the opportunity to show people why the change was necessary from a business sense as well as to engage with them to communicate why they should care). In his words, “maybe it wasn’t them resisting – maybe it was me not leading – who knew?!”

The bottom line message of the CQ/Change Intelligence System is that what so often looks like resistance in others, is a lack of effective leadership behaviors in ourselves. We as change agents are not giving people what they need to “get it” (engaging the brain – the “what and why” – the vision and strategy), to “want it” (inspiring the heart – the “who” – the hopes and fears), or to be able to “do it” (helping the hands – the “how” – the training and tools).

Here are some provocative questions to inspire both your own personal self-reflection as well as coaching conversations with clients on your Change Leadership journey:

  1. Am I aware of my own emotions in the face of change?  Do I deny or explore them?  What are they telling me and how can they lead me to the solutions I seek ?  How can allowing myself to feel what I feel help evolve me into an even more powerful Change Agent?
  2. Are the leaders/sponsors of your change initiatives “doing as they say others should do?”  Are they catalyzing or crushing commitment?  Is there an opportunity for you to have a courageous conversation with a leader you are working with?  If so, what would that be?  If so, what’s stopping you?  What would you do/say if you weren’t afraid?
  3. People in organizations today are hungering for a sense of humanity – what can you do in your change work to keep the human element at the forefront?  Would it be worthwhile to not just create a Stakeholder Plan, but also an Empathy Map delineating change impacts?  Is the human element in change being considered at each step and decision-point along the way?

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

When Change is Out of Your Control: What You Can Do

Have you ever experienced the shocking blow of an unforeseen major change in your organization? Three of my clients in the middle-management ranks of their companies are currently facing changes that were sudden, unexpected, and from their perspectives, out of their control:

  • An IT organization notified of the decision to outsource several major functions
  • A manufacturing division suffering the disappointment of a canceled major expansion
  • An insurance firm undergoing reorganization that will entail relocating a significant number of personnel to a different region of the U.S.

What can a leader to when change is “forced” upon his or her team? One of my favorite models to use in situations like these is called the “Spheres of Influence” from leadership guru Stephen Covey:

The Spheres of Influence is a powerful coaching tool for ourselves as leaders as well as a potent exercise for our teams during times of unwanted and involuntary change.

To use the tool, ask yourself and/or your team:

What can we control?  Regardless of your industry, your title or your specific circumstances, the answer to this is consistent. Typically, the answer is only ourselves – our individual behaviors and attitudes.  However, this is not nothing.  As the saying goes, “your attitude determines your altitude.”  Moreover, in times of change, leaders “walking the talk” speaks volumes, and role models for others.

What can we influence?  Although we cannot control the behaviors and attitudes of others, we can influence them.  In my 25+ years of coaching leaders at all levels, there has never been an instance where I did not observe that an individual’s circle of influence was greater than they initially perceived.  That’s the essence of Change Intelligence:  cultivating awareness of our own behaviors so we can more effectively adapt to influence others.  Often, an even small shift in our mindset or our approach will enable us to have a far greater impact than we had achieved in the past.  For example, by sharing neuroscience research that shows that giving people some sense of “certainty” during a change process – such as by informing people of a date by which a significant announcement will be made, even if the details are unknown – an IT Project Manager was able to convince her Director and peers to begin the communication process much earlier than they had planned.  A month after the announcement the director told the PM that the senior team was pleased with the decision to increase the communication cadence, since they perceived the tactic led to significantly less disruption than with previous reorganizations, giving people the degree of comfort they needed to continue focusing on day-to-day priorities even in the midst of significant uncertainty about their long-term roles.

What can’t we influence at this time?  Of course, this is often the easiest question to answer.  We may not be able to control the final decision to outsource, not expand, or downsize.  However, by answering these three questions – and then by reversing the order, and challenging yourself and your team to consider whether all the factors that seem “out of our control at this time” actually are,unseen possibilities often appear.  For example, the IT PM in the example above wasn’t able to control the ultimate direction of the senior team, but she was able to control – or significantly impact – the process by which the change was rolled-out in the organization.

Although the strategies I’ve shared thus far are very helpful in times of involuntary change, they are all reactive moves.  What can we as leaders do to proactively prepare ourselves and our teams to cope with the inevitable changes sure to come, since we know organizational change around the world is exponentially increasing in pace, scope, and complexity?

Here are some practices to put in place today to set yourself up to take control of your future tomorrow:

At the individual level:  Build trusting relationships with your staff, peers, and managers.  Make it easy for others to be comfortable approaching you about issues and concerns.  Take the pulse of how people are “feeling” in addition to what they are “thinking,” and use your own and others’ emotions as data.  Mutually supportive connections will greatly increase your span of influence – relationships facilitate results. Also, when you build trust and connection during the “easy times,” the trust will be in place when the “change hits the fan.”

At the team level:  Institute regular process checks on your team. Make room for “time-outs” in your meeting agendas to solicit input into what people see as challenges, and opportunities, impacting the group – and importantly, what they see looming on the horizon.  Schedule informal walk-arounds where you ask team members questions such as, “How do you think we’re doing?  What could we be doing better?”

At the organizational level:  Create multiple methods to both effectively communicate information from the top-down, but also to elicit feedback from the bottom up.  So often, executive communication regarding major changes is transmitted ineffectively, causing confusion and even fear.  How can communications be tailored to specific audiences in ways that not only help them understand they “why and what,” but also the “how and when” and a positive part they can play, enabling some sense of personal control, or at least influence.  The higher you go in an organization, the more difficult it is to get timely and accurate feedback about what is happening on the front lines and through the ranks.  One of the most important – and most difficult – roles of middle- and front-line managers is to demonstrate leadership courage by giving feedback to those above them in the hierarchy about how changes are being perceived and the impact they are having – including at times that the “emperor has no clothes” and that the senior team may need to change how it is operating (walking the talk, providing resources, removing barriers, etc.) to enable the change to take root.  Is there a courageous conversation you can facilitate right now? One that would have a positive impact for you and your team today? One that would enhance the possibility of effective upward influence for the future? I invite you to take 5 minutes today to identify 1-2 actions that will bring the greatest impact to you as a leader, to your team and for your organization and then schedule time to execute. Once you do, send me a reply to let me know how it went.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here.