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. 

Leadership Unplugged: Finding Solutions and Inspiration for Change Initiatives

A few years ago I put myself through a 360-degree feedback process in which I requested developmental input from peers, clients, staff, friends and family.  The strongest “needs improvement” area that emerged was “Work-Life Balance.”  Written-in comments indicated that people were not concerned that I neglected family or friends – but rather that I did not make time for myself – for reflection and rejuvenation.

That feedback really stunned me, especially because it was consistent across all respondents, including clients with whom I do not typically share too much about my personal life or habits.  I took it to heart, and engaged in a lot of soul-searching, resulting in changes to my personal and professional routines.  One of the most important changes was to schedule downtime – no devices, no distractions, no companions – and to step outside my normal environment to take a walk in nature (that is, if we weren’t in the midst of a polar vortex!).

I share this because it was during one of those scheduled downtimes that “CQ” was born.  As I was walking, I heard this phrase bubble up into my conscious mind: “you know your IQ, you’ve probably heard of EQ, but what’s your CQ?  Isn’t that what’s missing from our leadership toolkit that’s causing the high rate of failed change:  the lack of CQ, or Change Intelligence?!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

After inspiration, it’s just a matter of implementation!  (Well that, along with a couple of years of hard work and support from partners like everyone reading this newsletter, of course!)

We all “know” intellectually about the importance of solitary time-outs, but how many of us really hold them as “sacred space” not to be scheduled over when the inevitable urgent crisis of the moment arises?

These “Aha moments” – from the apple falling on Newton’s head while resting under a tree to a major breakthrough in the design for the Hubble Telescope that originated while the engineer was taking a shower – so  often occur while we are taking a “creative pause.”

Note that I didn’t go on my walk at fateful day when I conceived of CQ thinking to myself, “I’m going to invent a ground-breaking innovation right now while strolling around the lake” or anything to that effect.  The point is to deliberately disconnect even from one’s own “intentions” – to intentionally set aside the challenges and problems of the day and simply to let the mind wonder where it will.

As a psychologist (and a human!) I know this can be intimidating.  A mind left to wonder often travels to scary places – where worry and fears run rampant.  Perhaps that’s why we seem to crave constant external stimulation and fill every waking minute with activity, whether or not it’s productive, meaningful or fulfilling.  I fall prey to these dysfunctional dynamics just like everyone else.  I have to remind myself that I’m a human being not a human doing, and that sometimes the fastest way to “get there” (achieve my goals) is to just “be here” (now, in the present moment, in the calm and creative white space).

Paradoxically, it’s often in the white space of creative pauses that we achieve significant breakthroughs.  New possibilities present themselves for vexing problems.  We see opportunities where before we perceived only roadblocks.  I invite you to ask yourself where in your current change initiatives do you feel like you are “pushing the string,” frustrated that no matter what you try, you’re not getting traction.  Consider that perhaps by stepping back, stepping aside, and giving the problem and yourself some space, you might arrive at an insight to help you move forward.

The fact that you are reading this blog post and have derived value from the CQ System is living proof of the transformative impact of intentional disengagement! Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of a mental holiday.  Yours could be a walk in nature, a quiet drive, a longer shower, a mindful meditation, or simply staring out the window.  Reflect upon whether carving out space in your schedule to check-out might be a winning way for you too to perhaps counter-intuitively power-down to speed-up realization of professional and personal goals and dreams.  Not to mention a feel-good experience for your body and spirit – and a way to rekindle your passion.  It worked for me!

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know of any insights or “ahas” that emerge around your change projects as a result of unplugging and taking time away.

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. 

Crisis of Confidence? You Are Not Alone

“What is my goal for this coaching process? To have more self-confidence in myself as a leader. I know I’ve been successful in my career so far. But there are some huge challenges looming on the horizon. I’m not as sure of myself and my ability to lead at this next level.”

Guess who said this to me?  

Was it someone stepping up to their first supervisory position?  An early career professional embarking upon a daunting high-visibility assignment?  A novice project manager taking-on a global IT implementation?

No.

This is a quote from a very senior executive, responsible for a 400-person $100M global business unit.  In my work on an assignment for his firm, where I am coaching him and six of his peers, five of the six expressed similar coaching objectives – listing “building self-confidence” as one of their top three developmental priorities.

How is it possible that leaders at the helm of a major enterprise would be experiencing a crisis of confidence?

Back in the early 1980s psychological researchers coined the term “Impostor Syndrome” to refer to the fear of being “found out” for “faking it” – for not being as talented or competent as one appears.  Initially it was believed that women suffer from this syndrome more than men, but now we know that both genders are at risk, as many as 70% of the population may be affected, and that these misperceptions are particularly prevalent among high performers.

The Impostor Syndrome may be especially likely to strike when we are presented with a difficult new challenge.  Even though you’ve successfully met every new challenge in the past, is this next one too much?  Will it all come crashing down?  Will your wings burn flying too close to the sun?

Moreover, when encountering new opportunities, do you shy away from stepping forward to grab them?  Do you tell yourself you’re not quite ready yet, or that someone else could do the job better?  Do you avoid climbing the professional ladder, or are surprised when career opportunities are offered to you?  Do you neglect positive self-advocacy because you don’t want to appear to be bragging, arrogant, overly ambitious?

If you endure any of these examples of negative self-talk, you may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome:

  • One day they’ll find out I’m not as great as they think I am.
  • My boss just put me up for a promotion.  I don’t know if I’m ready – I still have so much to learn – the new position seems like three steps beyond me.
  • I got nominated for “team leader of the year”?  I’ve got them fooled!
  • Wow, I can’t believe I’m part of this organization.  They are all so much smarter than me.
  • I know that I’ve gotten the highest performance rating every year for the last five years, but this new assignment is just beyond me.  I know I’ll have to put in 80 hour weeks and work twice as hard as everyone else just to get a “meets requirements” evaluation.
  • When I look back at my major career accomplishments, luck played such a big part.

Indeed, it’s often in times of change that the Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.  And given that we’re all bombarded with constant change, which is by definition ambiguous and uncertain – and at times unwanted – and increasing in scope, pace, and complexity – it probably should not come as a surprise that my executive coaching clients – and perhaps many folks we all work with, and even some readers of this newsletter – might be feeling stressed and anxious about not being up to the task.

If you suffer from Impostor Syndrome – at least in some situations – and if you have the nagging fear that it’s holding you back from realizing all you were meant to contribute – here are some strategies to try out:

As with developing Change Intelligence, the first step is awareness – become aware of this tendency, acknowledge that at times it plagues you, and accept that it’s normal to sometimes feel insecure.

Next, recognize “your own b.s.” for what it is – a belief system – that you created and that you can change.  The Impostor Syndrome results from flawed thinking, and by shining a light on your own misapprehensions you can fix your flaws.  Reflect, and reframe.

Make a list of your successes and your talents.  Keep score.  Now, reconcile this objective, factual database with the subjective, fraudulent fears you have invented.  Acknowledge the part you actively, intentionally played in your accomplishments – not luck or chance.  Celebrate!

On the flipside, we all have ways we can improve professionally and personally.  If there is a skill you would benefit from building, or a behavior it would be behoove you to change, make a plan to do so.  Setting and achieving goals boosts self-confidence and is more evidence of your self-efficacy.

Remember that your behavior and your results are not who you are as a person.  We all stumble and we all fall.  The only failure is the failure to try, and the failure to pick ourselves up when we misstep.  We’re all only human, and high achievers tend to be harder on themselves than anyone else around them.

Think “complement” not “compare.”  We don’t have to look far to find someone who’s better than us at something.  And I assert we also don’t have to look far to recognize that there are things we are better at than other people are.  Rather than seeing such differences as good/bad or better/worse, perhaps it is healthier to consider ways we complement each other’s gifts, making us all more effective together.  Moreover, adding empathy to the mix is an even more powerful formula – remember that lots of our coworkers feel like “shams” at times too!

Get into the ring.  Staying safe is boring.  You have too much potential to waste playing small.  Don’t die with your song unsung.  You (and only you) know what song I’m talking about!

Take a trip to the mall.  There was a hilarious scene from the movie Soap Dish, in which Sandy Field played an aging soap opera diva and Whoopie Goldberg her supportive manager.  When Sandy was feeling down because an attractive new actress was hired on the show, Whoopie took her to a mall in New Jersey.  Sandy started descending from the top of a huge, open escalator in the middle of the mall.  At the bottom of the escalator Whoopie, pretending not to know Sandy personally, shouted, “OMG – is it really YOU?!”  After which throngs of adoring fans accosted Sandy for autographs and showered her with an outpouring of affection.  Who’s your Whoopie, the president of your fan club?!  I’ll bet you have many admirers who would welcome the opportunity to remind you how great you are.  We’re so busy that we so often forget to give the people who matter most to us an encouraging word:  I often say that positive feedback is the most impactful and most under-utilized leadership behavior in our workplaces today. Don’t be stingy – give someone the gift of contributing to you – ask a buddy for a “trip to the mall”!

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

Do Men and Women Lead Change Differently?

The short answer is “yes.” Although in the U.S. women comprise half the workforce, earn the majority of college and post-graduate degrees, and own 40% of businesses, when we look at Fortune 500 companies, only 4% of CEOs and only 16% of Board Members are women. Yet, we also know from research by Catalyst, McKinsey, and others that a higher percentage of women in top leadership positions leads to 50% higher profitability, 25% increases in revenue, and higher motivation and retention rates.

What can we do about this paradox?  Research into gender differences in leadership styles using the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment reveals ideas for a new way forward.

Regardless of gender, each change agent has a basic tendency to lead with his or her Heart, Head, Hands, or some combination of the three. Leaders who lead mainly from the Heart connect with people emotionally (I want it!). Those who lead from the Head connect with people cognitively (I get it!). And those who lead from the Hands connect with people behaviorally (I can do it!).  The powerful combination of all three is what Change Intelligence, or CQ, is all about.

My research clearly indicates that men tend to lead change more with the Head, women primarily with the Heart, and that for women, Hands is a strong secondary style:

Said another way, almost half of men surveyed lead change by focusing on vision, mission, and strategy (Head strengths). Almost half of women, conversely, place a premium on engaging, communicating, and collaborating (Heart strengths), and almost a third of women emphasize planning, tactics, and execution (Hands strengths).  Most men have their radars tuned to purpose, and women on people and process.

Why is this?  These findings are consistent with other research that shows women on the whole tend to display more emotionally intelligent as well as transformational leadership behaviors.  Men focus on results, and women on relationships that facilitate results. Note that it is not inherently better or worse to focus on Heart or Head or Hands – the most effective change incorporates all three.  The point is not for change leaders – men or women – to change their natural style.  The point, instead, is awareness of our styles, and the ability to adapt our behavior to incorporate other approaches to be optimally impactful across a variety of people and situations. Also, the point is that when leading change, men tend to display behaviors traditionally associated with strategic executives, concentrating on future vision and new business horizons.  Conversely, women tend to center on supporting their teams to work together and to detail a road map to achieve a change objective, functioning more like supportive coaches.

Implications? Many — both for men’s and women’s careers as leaders, as well as for organizations intent on leveraging the best leadership talent as well as on managing successful and sustainable change.

For organizations:

  • What leadership behaviors do you value and promote during change processes?  Are you including diverse perspectives –a focus on purpose and people and process?  Managing change that sticks mandates a balance on all three.
  • Are you including women in executive-level deliberations and decisions?  Are they being mentored to develop their strategic business skills?

For women:

  • Are you actively seeking opportunities to learn about other parts of the business, or are you “head down” in the trenches assisting your team and accomplishing your immediate objectives?  At times, women need to get their heads up and out of their short-term and day-to-day responsibilities to develop Head skills!
  • Is your voice being heard at work, beyond your immediate team?  How can you expand your influence outside your work group and upward in your organization?

For men:

  • Are you remembering to bring people along as you pursue your lofty goals (Heart skills)?
  • Have you laid out a realistic plan and given people the training and the tools they need to partner with you on the journey (Hands skills)?

We need to remember that a significant percentage (over a third) of men do “start with the Heart” and a substantial number (over a quarter) of women do lead with the Head when facilitating change.  A common complaint from both these groups is that they can be misunderstood, because at times their behaviors seem contrary to others’ expectations:  men talking about exploring emotions and women about driving results.  Change intelligent teams and organizations embrace all perspectives so people at all levels are empowered, engaged, and equipped to partner together to lead mission-critical transformation.

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

Empathy: How it Can Help You Become a Better Change Leader

“I thought I came here today to learn more about myself, in order to help me do my job to manage change. What I really learned was empathy for other people, which will help me partner with others to lead change.”

This revelation was shared by a Change Intelligence (CQ) workshop participant, and one that I’ve heard many times from many others.  The definition of CQ is the awareness of one’s change leader style, and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective across people and situations.  As a person builds awareness of their own style, they naturally become aware of other styles of leading change.  The Heart-oriented change leader gets exposed to Head-oriented change leaders, increasing their awareness of the need to make progress toward the goal while taking care of the people. Head-oriented change leaders get exposed to Hands-oriented change leaders, increasing awareness of process and tactics in addition to vision and strategy.

At times, due to how we are hard-wired as humans, “different” can be perceived as “bad” – in the same way that “change” can be perceived as “threat” when we first encounter it – no matter how pro-diversity or change-friendly we might be deep down inside.  What I’ve often observed, in myself and others, is that once we become aware of other styles, we can initially judge them negatively.  For example, I am a high-Heart-and-Head change leader – the Champion change leader style.  Early in my career, I looked down on high-Hands Executors, criticizing them as “plodding” and “pessimistic.”

However, over time, particularly once I realized that some of my early change projects were veering off-track because of a lack of focus on the details, I began to see the value of efficient planning.  What I once perceived as plodding I began to appreciate as keeping a firm handle on activities, deliverables, issues and risks, so nothing got dropped out.  What I once perceived as pessimistic I began to appreciate as a realistic appraisal of resource requirements and timing targets.

I’ve seen such a realization occur time and again in the change leaders I coach – no matter their industry, functional expertise, or hierarchical level.  I refer to this as the “judging to valuing ladder” as we transition from being an “aware” to an “evolved” change leader:

What happens when people step up the ladder is that they begin to empathize with a much wider array of people than they may have in the past.  They begin to understand the journeys others have been on, and appreciate that they are honestly trying to do the best they can capitalizing on their strengths.  That is a huge mental shift, because so often, to the “unenlightened change leader,” the strengths of other styles can seem very frustrating and even detrimental – like my initial judgment of planning as plodding and realism as pessimism.

When we are able to “get out of our heads” (or “hearts” or “hands” or whatever our dominant style may be), magic happens.  As the old saying goes, “it’s amazing how when we change, others change too.”  When we look at people with new eyes – with respect and gratitude – it’s a palpable gift to them.  We “show up” very differently to them as well.  At the top of the judging to valuing ladder, the door to new possibilities for partnership opens.

To put these insights into practice right now, I invite you to ask yourself:

Is there someone you are working with who you find frustrating? Looking at them through the lens of empathy, could they be honestly trying to do the right thing, but just in a very different way than you would?  Might they possibly be leveraging strengths that they genuinely believe will lead to successful outcomes, but those strengths may not be ones you value?

Is there someone you are working with who you are trying to influence in a positive direction, but not getting traction?  Consider that perhaps you have been communicating with them in a way that works for you, but not in a way that they can truly “hear.”  For example, as a high-Heart-and-Head Champion change leader, I tend to get excited by the “what” and “who” of change – that is, the exciting new vision and engaging with people to get there with urgency.  To connect with high-Hand Executer change leaders, I need to incorporate “how” messages.  If I don’t, then they will be stuck ruminating about “how are we going to make this work,” and often view me as a “cheerleader” not a “champion,” because I have not helped them see the path from current to future state, which is what they need to know to connect with my message.

Is there a change initiative you are leading in which you are stuck and not achieving the results you aspire to?  Study the strengths of change leader styles that are not your own, ones that are less typical or even uncomfortable for you.  Can you try out one or more of these strengths, flexing some new muscles in areas you have traditionally been weak, or under-valued?  Is there a colleague you can reach-out to who is strong in critical aspects of the change process that you are not as skilled at, or just do not enjoy?

Daniel Goleman, who popularized “Emotional Intelligence” or “EQ” (which encourages us to hone our capacity to understand and manage our own emotions) has in more recent times developed the concept of “Social Intelligence,” to empower us to forge effective relationships with others.  In his words, “self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

The first step in building Change Intelligence, or CQ, is in fact to look within, and become aware of own change leader style.  However, the true gold is when we can then build on this understanding to empathize with others, and adapt our style accordingly.  Thinking about all the tumult in our workplaces and our world, it can seem “scary out there.”  So many people are living and working in fear.  By developing and displaying empathy, we can not only help others and ourselves rise above that fear, but we also vastly increase the probability of successful partnerships and sustainable change.

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

What’s YOUR Style of Leading Change?

WHAT’S YOUR STYLE OF LEADING CHANGE?

Knowing your CQ (Change Intelligence) style can make all the difference for your ability to influence others and overcome resistance to change!

Just as each of us communicates, collaborates and handles conflict in our own unique ways, so do we each have our own style of leading change.  And, just as we are much more effective in working with others when we understand ourselves and how we are similar and different than others – and can adjust accordingly – so we are much more confident and competent in influencing and partnering with others towards challenging goals when we understand the various change leader styles.

Our Change Leader style is comprised of our tendencies to lead with our Heart versus our Head versus our Hands. Powerful Change Leaders “start with the heart,” “engage the brain,” and “help the hands” move in positive new directions.  Of course, none of us leads only, all the time, in every instance with the Head or Heart or Hands.  We are each a blend of all three.  It is this unique combination that represents our Change Leader Style.

There are seven possible styles, depending on how strong you are on heart, head and hands.

  • If you’re a Coach, you’re all about Heart.  You love engaging your colleagues whenever you get a chance, and you find great reward in supporting people around you as you all move through a change process.
  • If you’re a Visionary, you are the one who’s always looking forward to an inspiring future.  Thanks to your Head focus, you have a gift for seeing opportunity and planning for new situations, and you tend to get excited about what lies on the other side of a change.
  • If you’re an Executer, you focus primarily on the Hands.  You like to get things done, and people know they can rely on you to not just talk but take action.  Often your execution is backed up by comprehensive, step-by-step plans.
  • If you’re a Champion, you use a combined strength in Head and Heart to get people pumped about a change.  Like a Visionary, you see abundant possibilities for the future and, adding the people skills of a Coach to the mix, you’re able to energize and excite your colleagues as you all work to bring about change.
  • If you’re a Driver, you’re strong on both Head and Hands.  You see an enticing vision before you, and you use your executional abilities to drive toward that vision, laying out clear strategies and tactics along the way.
  • If you’re a Facilitator, you focus on specific people and specific activities you need to support on a day-to-day basis to lead the change, thanks to your strong Heart and Hands capabilities.  You know the tasks that need to be accomplished to make measurable progress, and you succeed in motivating others to work together on those tasks.
  • If you’re an Adapter, you’re about even on Head, Heart, and Hands.   You can employ all three approaches as necessary, and you’re generally flexible, politically savvy, and willing to collaborate with others.

The relationship between the seven styles can be represented as a triangle, which, incidentally, is also the Greek symbol for change:

We enhance our influence and impact when we learn how to shift our leadership strategy to more meaningfully connect with people of different styles.  We all know the Golden Rule, “do onto others as YOU want to be done unto.”  To optimally partner with others through change, follow the Platinum Rule, “do onto others at THEY want to be done unto.”

Depending on the circumstances, sometimes we lead in one way and sometimes in another.  No style is better or worse, right or wrong.  However, at any given time one style may be more effective in leading change.  Awareness of our style can help us adapt to different people and situations and ultimately take action to become more powerful change leaders.

By building Change Intelligence, Change Leaders are able to overcome what looks like resistance, but is really either confusion over the goal (no “Head”), lack of connection to the goal (no “Heart”), or lack of tactics and training to partner together to work toward the goal (no “Hands”).  That’s CQ!

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