Archives for August 2010

Arrogance: I can’t believe the message if I don’t believe the messenger

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Change is too often seen by employees as something happening to them rather than through them, and in turn, leaders experience compliance rather than commitment?

Compliance is good in some areas of our lives; taking prescription medication, adhering to the speed limit (give or take 5–7 miles per hour), and not shouting fire in a crowded movie theater. Commitment on the other hand is far more preferable in other areas of our lives – specifically with our family and ideally to the organizations we work for.

John Kotter, in his book Leading Change, positioned that leadership needs to secure the commitment of twenty-five percent of the workforce “to go beyond the call of duty” in order to produce significant change. For you as a leader to generate commitment, employees need to trust you, believe in your idea, and see you as credible. They want to know you care about them as an individual and that their opinion is important to you.

The fourth of the Seven Deadly Sins is the sin of Arrogance. It’s best described as when leaders don’t fully understanding the human potential of employees to make important and pivotal contributions to a change effort. It’s about leaders seeing themselves as the most important part of the change initiative and not the front line employees interacting with the customer.

Avoiding the sin of arrogance starts with an understanding of four separate and distinct roles in the change process.

The Sponsor: The Sponsor is a person who has the authority and the resources to make decisions and initiate and legitimize the change. This can be any C-level executive or a senior executive who has the authority and resources to undertake a change process. Sponsors need to be able to clearly articulate the “what” and the “why” of the change and involve others in the “how”.

The Change Leader: Change Leaders are responsible for implementing the change; they’re not necessarily the most senior executives; they can be but don’t have to be. They have a clear vision for the change and are seen as credible by key stakeholders. Change Leaders have the ability to inspire others to willingly want to follow them, and not unlike the Sponsor, work in tandem with Change Targets.

The Change Targets: Target is a strange word to describe a person, but in essence a target is anyone who is expected to change. Targets need to understand the “what” and “why” of the change and be integrated fully into the “how”. Given the opportunity to actively contribute to the change plan and to identify any unintended consequences regarding the change garners more commitment than compliance from Targets.

The Change Advocates: Change Advocates aren’t necessarily in a formal leadership position. Advocates believe in the change and are best seen as the marketing arm of the change initiative. While they don’t have the direct authority and resources to initiate change on their own, people see them as exemplars and seek them out for their insight and enthusiasm.

Here’s two questions senior leaders need to ask themselves:

1. Do we have each of the above four roles appropriately covered? Is there synergy and commitment among all four roles?
2. How are we going to give our employees a meaningful say in how this change effort is going to role out?

If you’re not asking these question you’ll be in jeopardy of securing compliance and not commitment.

Technocentrism: Organizations don’t change – people do

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The third of the Seven Deadly Sins of Change is Technocentrism. Simply stated, Technocentrism is focusing on the technical side of change management at the expense of the human side. In Michael Hammer’s book, Reengineering the Corporation, he found that sixty to seventy-five percent of all change efforts fail not because of inadequate strategy, but because the human factor was not addressed appropriately.

The technical side of change management is the easy part. Creating a plan and having project managers manage it are easy things to do. But when you consider the people side of change management and all the different types of reactions you’ll find within your organization – well, that’s where things break down.

Some people enjoy change. They embrace it and get energized by it. They look at change from an optimist’s perspective and believe the end result is not only possible, but something they want to get involved with actively. They can be overheard saying, “Cool! Let’s get going”.

There are others that view change skeptically and believe that preserving the systems, procedures, and the way things have been done in the past is their unofficial responsibility. They look at a change management plan and find all the reasons why it will fail. They can be overheard saying, “I can think of twelve reasons why this has failed in the past and why rocking the boat is not a good idea”.

One of the most profound barriers leaders face in the change management process is resistance to change and doing things differently. Resistance is rooted in self-imposed boundaries that surround an issue and limits the reaching of our full potential – we simply cannot experience our lives to the fullest when we are resistant. Understanding how resistance shows up in employees as well as our own lives is the first step to effectively managing change.

There are four levels of resistance you may see in yourself or your employees:

Level # 4 … “I can’t”
This is the level of impossibility. In this state you are stuck and unable to move forward. You experience despair, discouragement, and hopelessness.

Level # 3 … “I have to, Gotta, Don’t Wanna”
This is the level of survival. There is no choice. There is no freedom. You experience heaviness and joylessness.

Level # 2 … “Should”
This is the level of obligation. It’s what you believe you were supposed to do, not what you want to do. There’s a certain sense of duty in this level, though it isn’t as heavy as “have to”.

Level # 1 … “Hope or Wish”
This is the level of desire. There is a longing and, if the longing is not fulfilled, there is a sense of loss or lack. Although many see this as being beyond resistance, the reality is that hoping and wishing is also a form of resistance. Why? Because accomplishing a goals is seen as something accomplished by external forces rather than personal conviction and dedication.

Addressing these four levels of resistance cannot be accomplished technically – it requires a deeper awareness, understanding, and appreciation for how people choose to comply or commit to your proposed change. But the payoff is profound. Getting really good at the people side of change switches you from being part of the 75% of change efforts that fail to the 25% that succeed.

Who could resist that?

Reactivity: Having more time is not the answer

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The second of the Seven Deadly Sins of Change management is Reactivity. In my video blog with Dr. Vergil Metts, we discussed Reactivity and shared a common realization. Within the executive suite, we hear one lament more often than any other when it comes to managing the change process: “I just don’t have the time”. Most executives believe that if they had more time they would be more effective. But the reality is that we each have all the time there is – there is no more time to be had, we have a complete supply of time. The issue is one of prioritization.

Whenever we help organizations move from where they are to where they want to go there is the issue of how leaders fight day-to-day fires, respond to the always present urgent crisis of the day, and remain focused on the larger term change effort? It’s really rather simple. You have to have a plan and you have to be willing to work the plan.

Leaders need to inspire followership for a change initiative to be successful, and yet the first person whose commitment I want to secure is the change leaders. Their job is to consistently role model the behavior required for the change initiative to be successful, and to do so, they have to prioritize and establish boundaries of what is going to be required not only of others, but for themselves.

Leaders have to create the space to define a clear and compelling vision of what the future holds, and to pursue the vision meaningfully in the midst of today’s urgent priorities. My friend and colleague, Dr. Vergil Metts, says that trying to do this is analogous to changing a flat tire on an automobile while the car is still in motion.

There are three first steps a leader needs to take to be successful in any change effort. They are:

1. Define and articulate what is it that you are moving away from. Your job is to help people understand what is it about the current situation that makes it unacceptable, and what is it about the current situation that puts your organization at risk.

2. Define and articulate what it is you are moving toward. What is it about the desired future that makes it compelling, attractive, and or necessary? What is it about the future that might appeal to people and make them want to willingly follow you?

3. Why is this change important to everyone involved? Why should they care? Why would making this change benefit them and or your organization?

I like to think of myself as an optimistic pragmatist. Optimistic in the sense that I believe that with a compelling desired future, one that inspires and excites you, the chances of you “finding time” have been stacked in your favor. Think of the productivity you experience before going on vacation.

I’m also a pragmatist in the sense that I believe the smallest good deed is of more importance to you, your leadership, and your change effort than you might imagine. Yes, the pull toward the urgent away from the important is something leaders will always have to wrestle with. But, in the time it’s taken you to read this blog post you could have made progress on one of the three questions above.

What? You don’t have any more time? Remember – it’s all about prioritization!

Complacency: The biggest barrier to future greatness is our current success

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There are a lot of approaches and models to getting meaningful change accomplished in the workplace. There are equally as many reasons why people get off track and why change initiatives fail. To be successful in creating positive and constructive change you need to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Change.

The first Deadly Sin is Complacency. John Kotter in his 1996 book, Leading Change, said the biggest enemy to change is complacency – becoming satisfied with our current results and unaware of how the known and predictable erode performance. Complacency has a way of lulling us as individuals and organizations into accepting the status quo and limits our ability to investigate unfamiliar and uncharted territory. Without urgency we have nothing that propels us in the direction of something new, and in turn, change doesn’t happen.

The implications for organizations are important. When our organizations become complacent we will have a difficult time evolving to the demands and changes in our marketplace; we will be reluctant to adopt new business strategies; and we’ll remain enamored with how we’ve always done things in the past.

Complacency happens for a lot of reasons. Oftentimes within organizations people don’t want to make waves. They see making waves as a risky proposition and not something that is helpful to their career. Whatever the reason, leadership plays a role in creating or eliminating complacency. Leaders need to not only support, but role model what the development and adoption of new ideas looks like behaviorally. In order for organizations to change, leaders need to foster a culture where people can feel safe in taking risks and experimenting with new ways of doing things. Within the change management process, a leaders primary role is to create a culture where people feel safe to have urgency around experimentation. There are three ways of doing that:

1. A leader can create urgency for addressing a crisis that’s taking place either within the organization or within the industry at large. In this way a leader is moving away from something, and is creating a burning platform that communicates “we have to leave here in order to survive”.

2. The inverse of option one is to create a desired future that is positive, inspiring and compelling enough to draw people into a more rewarding future. The language used here is “being there will provide us with more options, greater flexibility and will allow us to thrive”.

3. Develop high levels of personal accountability for change. Within our consulting practice we oftentimes find that people are not accountable for change within the organization. The reality is that you always get the results you reward. If you’re not rewarding people for new behavior you will continue to get the old behavior.

Let’s face it; we all like to feel successful. We want to know we are making a meaningful contribution to our organization and that we are bringing value to our organization. But consider this…if you are relying on what has made you successful in the past and are not actively investigating what you will do differently tomorrow, you are at risk of becoming complacent…and that is the death knell to professional success and security.

Conversation As A Catalyst For Customer Engagement

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I’m in St. Louis speaking at the African American Credit Union Coalition’s annual convention. One of the breakout speakers spoke about “Managing the Media”, and proposed that the best way to approach working with the media is to see the process as not “talking to them”, but rather “talking through them to your target audience”.

That raised an interesting question for me. Could a leader benefit from viewing each conversation with employees as a conversation with customers? If you believe that employees interpret, internalize and take their marching orders from each conversation with their leader, the answer is a unqualified yes.

It’s common knowledge that employees view leaders as role models for what’s important and valued. What’s missing is the common practice of asking how each conversation with employees influences their behavior with customers.

After being in St. Louis with credit union leaders I’ve two observations.

1. The first is that leaders, no matter the industry, have to think differently about their internal communications. Leaders have become too accustomed to communicating content without context, and are neglecting an all too important perspective – that an employees behavior toward customers and other employees is influenced by their interactions and experiences with their leaders.

2. The second is that the leaders of today’s credit unions have an unparalleled passion and commitment for making people’s financial lives more rewarding. They marry that commitment with the charisma and conviction of an evangelical minister – which leaves me saying hallelujah to credit unions and goodbye to my bank.

What should you do differently? Start asking yourself this question, “How will this conversation influence my employees? Will it inspire them, engage them, and motivate them to delight our customers? Just to be clear about one key leadership point … if the content of your conversation doesn’t inspire you, engage you, and make you want to do something different, the likelihood of it having this effect on employees is close to zero.

What our economic recovery needs is a little more of number one and a boatload of number two. If you have any doubt, just go ask your credit union.