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. 

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. 

“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.