“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. 

Change Lessons from “The Innovation Pipeline” at AT&T

I want to share a real-life example of an organization leading change intelligently to help you on your leadership journey. Through their process, “The Innovation Pipeline” (TIP), AT&T has been able to overcome abysmal 70% change failure rate and achieve continuous innovation.  Although it sounds too good to be true, let’s take a closer look at how their leaders pulled-off this notable – and all-too-uncommon – triumph.

Let’s start by defining TIP. As described in Forbes, “TIP is AT&T’s online crowd-sourcing innovation tool that allows any employee to submit, vote on, and discuss innovative ideas.  Participants use virtual currency to ‘invest’ in the proposals they think will have the greatest impact.  The top-ranked ideas get pitched by their ‘founders’ to senior management, and any approved proposals then move to other phases of incubation including Prototyping, Production, and Commercialization.”

Is it effective? The results speak for themselves. Amazingly, this global organization enticed over half its workforce around the world to “proactively participate in creativity, innovation, and change,” leading to 25,000 ideas and over $38 million invested in potential projects.

How did they do so? By putting Heart, Head and Hands into action.

Engaging the Heart

As we know from research using the CQ Assessment, most front line leaders lead with the Heart.  Their focus in change is to rally the troops toward new futures. However, many often feel disempowered from doing so, disenchanted with their ability to make an impact and have their voices heard.  They are like the “bologna in the sandwich,” caught between often legitimate resistance from below, and demanding edicts from above.

AT&T’s TIP enabled front line leaders and employees to have their smart thinking bubble up and get noticed by decision-makers.  It also reinforced to team members across the organization that their contributions matter – regardless of whether their ideas are “chosen” or not.

Inspiring the Head

The CQ Assessment clearly demonstrates that executives lead change from the Head, focusing on scanning for new trends impacting the business and creating strategic visions and plans to bring transformation to their organizations.  However, they can be disconnected from the impact of their “exciting” new visions within their companies.  Leaders at the top are often isolated from the majority of those they lead and are challenged with obtaining real-time, genuine feedback about the status of initiatives.

AT&T’s TIP opened up lines of communication up, down, and across the geographically dispersed system.  Miles of red tape and stifling bureaucracy were eliminated by the crowdsourcing process.  Instead, people with the best ideas and in the best positions to hear real-time, actionable input from key stakeholders (everyone from front-line employees to actual customers) are now able to get them in front of decision-makers who could sponsor them and devote resources.

Help the Hands

Regardless of level, we know from the CQ Assessment that the biggest blind spot during the change process is execution – moving beyond grand visions and motivational kick-offs to “making it real in the field.”  While many leaders have their radars tuned to setting strategy and participating with the people, far fewer have their eyes on the implementation ball.

AT&T’s TIP equipped the people who saw the opportunity and offered the solution to move forward with velocity through design and implementation of their innovation ideas.  With the open, transparent nature of the process, everyone is able to see who these innovators are, how they worked, and the successes they achieved – spawning a lot of information about “internal best practices” as well as internal mentors to connect with for guidance for future projects.  This web of connection will go far towards increasing the probability for sustainability and transforming AT&T even more towards the culture of an agile, resilient, learning organization.

By engaging the Heart, inspiring the Head, and helping the Hands, AT&T’s TIP is a powerful example of impactful innovation, and one that we can use as leaders to create lasting results and sustainable change.

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.