How Does an Engaged Work Culture Thrive for 25 Years?

Twenty-five years ago the ground broke in a cornfield in Indiana for an innovative new type of steel mill.  Nippon Steel of Japan and Inland Steel of the U.S. partnered with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) to construct I/N Tek and I/N Kote.  The mill broke new ground both in its “technical” system, as well as in its “people” system.

After spending the recession years of the mid-80’s laboring in the Rustbelt and consulting with firms that were in bankruptcy, in danger of insolvency, or in general needing to “change or die,” the opportunity to work with a start-up company was a thrilling adventure early in my career.  As part of the renaissance of American steel, the company was going to be a radical departure from traditional, integrated mills of the past.  Instead it would be founded upon lean, continuous operations technologies.  To run the new type of “technical system,” union and management wanted a new type of “people system” – a new vision of partnership – a self-managed team approach.

During our design team meetings as the mill was built and commissioned, the dark joke was that “either I/N Tek and I/N Kote would be the shining light that would transform the autocratic, outmoded way ‘the old company’ [Inland Steel’s main integrated steel facility just a few miles away] would do business, or they will send troops to squelch the revolution in the cornfield.”  The design and implementation process was filled with excitement – and trepidation.

Last year the parent companies and union hosted a 25th Jubilee to celebrate their Silver Anniversary!  Twenty-five years of profit, productivity – and partnership.

Much has changed in over two decades.  The joint owners and the union has changed.  Nippon is now Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals.  Inland Steel is now part of ArcelorMittal.  The USWA is now the USW.   And the steel landscape has changed.  Foreign competition.  Domestic competition.  Customers changing expectations and preferences for lighter metals, new alloys.

Through it all, I/N Tek and I/N Kote has not just survived, but thrived.  Through management changes, union changes, employee changes, technology change, industry changes – and on and on.

Why?
Of course, the company is founded upon still-innovative technology and a winning business model.  And, a major success factor is the soundness of its founding work culture principals:  a TRULY team-based work culture, with people at all levels, in all functions, working together toward a common goal.

Are there problems?  Of course.
Opportunities? Yes indeed. And that’s why they contacted me a year ago, to ask me to come back and partner with them once again to “renew the work culture.”

These steelworkers have the savvy to realize that you can’t operate the equipment without periodically shutting down, taking it apart, lubing it up, and sometimes retrofitting it with new and improved parts.  Similarly, a work culture needs period maintenance and renewal.

We all can relate to that just thinking about our bodies – which are systems too!  Twenty-five years ago, I could work 16 hour days, travel to a new client with little sleep, and do it again.  Now, in my second half-century, I need exercise beyond running to catch flights, to eat right, and get a reasonable amount of sleep per night.  As the graphic shows, the longer we or any system last, the more energy we need to expend just to maintain “steady state”

Work Culture Maintenance & Renewal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Through Transition: 3 Powerful Tools to Equip Your Team

Dr. Bridges, a giant in the field of change management, shows us the distinction between “change” (what happens on the “outside” – be it a harrowing tsunami or a hostile take-over) and “transition” (what happens on the “inside” – our psychological and emotional reactions).

As Dr. Bridges demonstrates, transitioning from the old to the new happens in three stages; the Ending, the Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings. As leaders charged with supporting our people through major transitions, how can change intelligence help us as we endeavor to help others move through these phases?

  1. During the Ending Stage, we need to let go of the past, say goodbye to “the way things have always been done.”  Change intelligent leaders start with the “heart,” connecting with people at an emotional level, dealing with feelings of loss (security, status, skills).  They then educate the “head,” clarifying the why and what of the change:  What is really ending, and why are these changes necessary?  What’s the business case, and what’s the implication for me?  Helping the “hands” by explaining the specific plan and sharing as much information as possible multiple times through multiple mechanisms lends comfort and some sense of control during this stressful time.
  2. The Neutral Zone finds us, just like the first ambitious flowers poking up through the still-falling snow here in my hometown near Chicago, hovering between two realities – often confused and feeling caught in “limbo.” In this phase, build on your heartfelt connection with others by sharing your vulnerability:  in what ways have you been unsure and even doubting yourself, and how have you overcome your anxiety and gotten back to effective action?  Exhibit patience with missed deadlines and off-target efforts – recognize this is a sign that you need to engage the brain by prioritizing new goals and actively listening to unearth barriers people are facing, both in the shifting workplace and within themselves.  Talk tactics with people.  Change intelligent leaders recognize that they may need to deploy temporary procedures.  Providing structure and “hand holding” from an involved, in-the-trenches leader can be invaluable to guide people on the new path.  Work alongside people to channel the chaos into creativity, so you can all move from stuck to back in momentum.
  3. New Beginnings come when the change finally starts to happen. People’s first efforts in a new style are delicate, fragile, and easily injured.  It is a leader’s responsibility to protect and nurture.  Recognizing small successes and behaviors supporting the new way of working both recognizes people’s efforts as well as clarifies the new expectations for others.  Remind people of the purpose of the change and demonstrate to them through anecdotal stories and hard statistical evidence corroborating the soundness of the rationale.  Be consistent in rolling out the change and relentless in identifying and remediating systems and actions blocking the transformation that must occur.  Involve people as partners in the process – you’ll get actionable feedback, higher quality solutions, and mutual accountability to the team and the change objectives.  By approaching the transition process in this way, change intelligence leaders inspire the heart, engage the head, and help the hands toward a brighter future. And, they remember that the three stages are iterative, overlapping, and happen at different times and manifest differently for different people and groups.

While we can’t foresee when the tsunamis of life will hit us, we can prepare ourselves and be of service to others by building our change intelligence, so when the inevitable comes, we’re as ready as we can be. That’s why the most effective change leaders have the self-awareness to adapt their styles to the unique demands of unique individuals and their unique transition experiences.

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

 

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

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

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

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

Nurture Yourself Towards Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Women’s Voices at Work

From Marissa Mayer’s high profile people-management decisions in her role as Yahoo’s CEO to Sheryl Sandberg’s provocative assertions in her  book Lean In, there continues to be a lot of debate about leadership and the sexes – and whether men and women lead differently. Although there’s some hype and “drama” surrounding this topic, it’s a critical one to explore, since it impacts our ability to drive critical changes in these chaotic times.

Consider three intriguing sets of research findings:

  1. As reported in the Harvard Business Review: “Many believe that bias against women lingers in the business world, particularly when it comes to evaluating their leadership ability…To our surprise, we found the opposite: As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured. There was one exception, however, and it was a big one: Women scored lower on ‘envisioning’—the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”
  2. In contrast, Dension Consulting: “the global leader in culture change and assessment, has found that women are rated higher on all leadership dimensions than their male counterparts.  However, men rate themselves stronger on “having a mission” and “adaptability” (traits associated with strategic leadership), while women rate themselves stronger on “involvement” and “consistency” (traits associated with people leadership and tactical execution).”
  3. Similarly, in this blog postI shared findings based on the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment, that men are significantly more likely to report acting as Visionary Change Leaders (focusing on long-term goals), and women as Coaches and Facilitators (focusing on people and implementing short-term objectives.

What can we make of these findings – and how do they impact our roles, behaviors and attitudes as leaders?  Both Denison’s and my research demonstrate that men and women perceive themselves differently as leaders – men focusing more on purpose, women on people and process.  In other words, men tend to focus on results, women on relationships that facilitate results.  And, at least according to the Harvard study, others perceive these differences as well – at least with respect to visionary leadership. Can these results partially explain the glass ceiling effect – that while women outnumber men in the workforce and at lower and middle management ranks, they are sorely absent from the upper echelons?

As Sheryl Sandberg observed during her career as the COO of Facebook and wrote in Lean In, of course there are organizational and societal barriers that women face – and yet, there may be important internal barriers that hinder us as well, which may be invisible even to us.  How we perceive ourselves – our mindset – impacts our behavior – our behavior impacts how others perceive us – and how others perceive us impacts our opportunities to move ahead and to make a difference.  This is true for all leaders, men and women.

These are critical issues to explore if we want expand the ability of our teams and organizations to get the best from our brightest.  When women’s voices are heard at the top levels, companies see bottom-line benefits spanning from profitability to retention.

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

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. 

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.