Tag Archives: leaders

The Leadership Looking Glass

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Leadership is the core of change.  When it comes to change within an organization, leadership is the most important contributor to success… or failure.  Employees watch their leaders relentlessly.  They know a leader’s action speaks louder than their words.   If the ‘walk’ doesn’t follow the ‘talk’ then the employees won’t follow either.

When it comes to Change Management there are key behaviors we look for in our leaders.  In our book The 8 Constants of Change we note that these behaviors include:

  • Get involved in the change – by attending meetings, process reviews, workshops and making time to attend executive training.  Your attendance and participation signals that these activities are important.
  • Communicate the Change – by getting the message out there, ensuring it is understood, updating the information as progress is made, and paying attention to issues and concerns.
  • Reward people for doing the right thing – by encouraging employees to get involved in the project, rewarding them publicly and maintaining a regular contact with the change management team.  People who are doing a really great job need to be recognized and rewarded.
  • Walk the talk – by showing what is really important in action rather than just words.  There are endless projects competing for time and resources, how a Leader supports any given project reflects directly the likelihood of success or failure.
  • Keep a positive attitude – by expecting the learning curve and knowing that productivity will dip while changes are put in place.  Be patient and maintain that positive outlook, even if the messages are negative.

There are a couple additional behaviors that aren’t included in The 8 Constants but certainly merit a mention here:

  • Never stop nurturing – Mentor the team, and in turn you may learn new ways of thinking and approaching things.  This effort creates a working infrastructure of shared values, ideas and accomplishments.
  • Try what might fail – Empower the team to try things that aren’t necessarily guaranteed to work.  Look at any outcome of an effort as either success or education.  Both are invaluable.

The times when leaders are tested most is when they’re not looking…in a hallway conversation, a passing comment or even a facial expression.  Can you hold up the Leadership Looking Glass and know that your actions reflect your words?

What Kind of Person Manages Change?

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Change is tough for organizations, and helping people navigate through change takes a special kind of person.  There are of course leaders that need to champion and sponsor change.  But there are also people that need to actually manage the change and help people in the organization work through the transition.

There is a lot of hard work involved in helping people in an organization change the way they work.  So what are the characteristics of great change managers?

  1. They’re empathetic. The ability to continuously ask and answer the question “what would I want and need if I were in their shoes” is a critical skill for an effective change manager.  Having empathy and understanding what others are experiencing and what will help build commitment is the core of managing change. When it comes down to it, anyone who has a good strong sense of the golden rule (“do unto others as you would have others do unto you”) has the basic stuff to be a good manager of change.
  2. They’re good communicators. That may seem obvious, but it is really an important skill for successfully managing change.  Good change managers communicate simply.  They interpret complex messages and distill them down to simple, easy bits.  Effective change managers tailor their message to their audiences, and they use lots of different communication vehicles well.
  3. They are naturally influential and generate informal authority.  Effective change managers naturally draw others to them.  They don’t need formal authority to have influence over others and they are able to leverage their networks to make things happen.  They are persuasive and likeable.
  4. They have courage. It is not always easy being on the front lines of an organizational change.  Change managers are often times put in a position to be “representing” the interests of the people impacted by change with the people who are creating change.  That can put the change manager in situations where they need to say and do things that are unpopular.  They may need to tell leaders and or associates things that they don’t want to hear.  Change managers need to be willing to call things like they see them, even if it is unpopular and not typically expected in an organization.
  5. They are discreet and maintain confidences.  Change managers can be put in positions of having sensitive information.  During focus group meetings, interviews, or just hallway conversations, it is not uncommon for people to share specific information about specific individuals with change managers.  If a change manager divulges information that they have agreed to keep private even once, they lose credibility and trust.  It is imperative that change managers know how to keep a secret.
  6. They’re organized.  Some people assume that managing change is mostly art and little science.  But managing change usually requires tremendous exercises in logistics and orchestration.  Being organized is a critical skill for effectively managing change.
  7. A bias for action.  Change management has a bad reputation among people who think managing change is only about asking questions and analyzing people.  Managing change is both art and science.  While questions should be asked and assessments made, real change comes when action takes place.  If someone doesn’t actually do something with the results of assessments, the exercises are moot.
  8. They get their hands dirty.  Change managers can be speaking to executive committees in the morning, and stuffing envelopes in the afternoon. Good change managers are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get stuff done.  Anyone who is not able or willing to dig into the nitty gritty (editing a poster, developing talking points for leaders, editing an agenda for an important meeting) is not going to be as effective managing change as someone who is.
  9. They are subject matter experts in the field of organizational change management.  They understand the human and organizational dynamics of change, as well as the many methodologies that describe ways that change can be managed.  In addition to general change management understanding, great change managers have experience in several different change environments to see how change unfolds.  Having “stories” to share is always helpful when managing change.
  10. They are personally comfortable with ambiguity and change.  An effective change manager can navigate through ambiguity relatively well, and is more comfortable than others working in a changing environment.  Being part of a change project is by its very nature an environment of change.  But it is also true that most changes are not linear, stable activities.  There are ups and downs, periods of acceleration and periods of deceleration.  People who are not comfortable with the ebbs and flow and the ambiguity of change (scope changes, a new leader that enters the picture, changes in direction) will have a tough time effectively managing change.  An effective change manager quickly assesses a shifting situation and adapts to the new environment.  And they don’t get upset or anxious about it.

Changing for the Workforce of the Future

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Can you imagine fully half of the people who work for your company being either contractors, temporary workers, or freelancers?  That may very well be the future we face.

A 2012 Economic Intelligence Unit Study shows that by the year 2030, 50% of the workforce will be made up of contingent workers.  The U.S. contingent workforce is made up of self-employed individuals, independent service firms, entrepreneurs and temporary workers. By 2020, 40 percent of American workers, or nearly 65 million people, will be contingent, and shortly thereafter that percentage is expected to rise to 50 percent.

Others confirm that the use of contingent workers is already on the rise, and will continue.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as reports from the Staffing Industry Analysts, a research and advisory firm focused on staffing and contingent labor, have demonstrated that the number of contingent workers has been increasing year over year for a few years.  And in June 2011, over 34% of the 2000 organizations surveyed by the McKinsey Global Institute said they plan to use more temporary labor in the next five years.

The trend is clear.  But are organizations ready for it?

Work in the future will be more collaborative, flexible, and goal oriented.  Temporary workers will need to be sharp, and stay sharp, to keep their jobs.  An organiztaion with more and more people flowing into and out of it will need to be radically different than today.

A current client of ours is working on a large project that requires a lot of consultants.  A full time staff person spends over 80% of her time giving out and tracking computers that are given to consultants.  Can you imagine if half of their workforce was contingent?  If the task of managing assets is so cumbersome now, the process and technology implications of a 50% contingent workforce would be astounding.

We have several large clients that are working on becoming more “digitally enabled” in order to meet the needs of their customers.  But with all we have heard from clients about embracing technology to meet the needs of future customers, we have not heard any talk at all about how to be more digitally enabled to meet the needs of their future workers.   The shift to more temporary workers will change how an organization works with its people in profound ways.

Current technology certainly makes workers more “plug and play” ready.  But it will need to make significant strides to meet the needs of a future more transient workforce.

Our clients will have to re-think how they manage people, how groups form and disband to tackle work, how people are on-boarded and rolled-off, how corporate cultures are built and maintained, how they attract and evaluate temporary workers.

They will also need to embrace technology and new digital technologies in an entirely new way. More digital maturity can help organizations build stronger connection to their staff… especially temporary staff.  Not only allowing access, but also targeting communication, facilitating relationships between roles, connecting people to other people and ideas.

Organizations that will win with workers of the future will be more mobile, and will be more agile by providing more personalized or customized needs for each temporary worker.  They will flex based on the work, the location, the worker, and the required interfaces with other people within the organization.

If you are thinking about where your organization will be in 20 years, think about your customers, your products, and your markets.  The demands they place on your organization will certainly challenge you to change.  But also think about your staff.  You might be surprised at the magnitude of change that meeting their unique needs challenges you to also.

Organizational Muscles to Manage Change

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We have been working with several large organizations lately that are trying to build their internal ability to manage ongoing change.  Change is the new normal for many organizations.  Managing how people adapt and adopt change is something that many are seeing as a critical competency.

Change Management is the discipline of helping people in an organization get ready, willing, and able to work in new ways that are required by a change.   Many leaders that see a long string of changes ahead of them are looking to build an internal Change Management competency.  They, in effect, are trying to build their change muscles so that they can handle the seemingly endless series of changes headed for them.

Organizations that build a Change Management competency do a few things.

First, they foster leadership sponsorship for employing Change Management.  Leaders at the highest levels know what Change Management is and why managing change will help them change more successfully.  And they are committed to making Change Management a strong capability in the organization.  They are willing to stand up in front of the effort,  to put money where their mouth is, and walk the talk.

Second, these organizations use a common methodology and model  for managing change.  Having a common Change Management framework across the organization builds a common language that shapes the way people think and talk about change.  A common model also introduces methods and tools that can help people in the organization actually do the work of managing change.


Third, organizations that have a Change Management competency have a broad based understanding of the value of Change Management throughout all levels of the organization.  Everyone has a baseline understanding of why people make the difference between successful organizational change and unsuccessful change, and why managing change is important.

These organizations also each have a strong and capable Change Management team.  A group of people in the organization who are focused on supporting the organization as they begin incorporating Change Management into their projects and change efforts helps the new practices take hold.  The Change Management group has highly capable team members, clear roles and responsibilities, and an appropriate or organization structure.

Lastly, organizations that have a strong Change Management competency reinforce effectively managed change.  When projects succeed because teams have helped people in the organization engage and adopt new work, they are celebrated and rewarded.  Leaders eagerly to put effective changes in the limelight, and the organization learns what successful change looks like.

If you see change coming at your organization like a speeding train, don’t hide.  Instead, develop a change management competency.   That way, you can face change head-on now, and you will be ready for all of the changes to come in the future.

Priority #1 During Change: Leadership Alignment and Sponsorship

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Studies over the years have continued to confirm what you may have already suspected… the greatest contributor to successful organizational change is leadership.  In a studies of hundreds of companies and their change efforts, “Strong Executive Sponsorship” was cited three times more frequently
than any other contributing factor to successful change  by Prosci (Best Practices in Change Management) in both 2005 and 2009.

If your organization is currently undergoing or contemplating a change, the focus should be on leadership.  There are two elements of leadership that should be fully understood and addressed:

  • Alignment – the extent to which leaders are “on the same page” about what the change is, why it is important, what it will mean to the organization
  • Sponsorship – the things that leaders are actually doing to demonstrate their support for a change such as contributing resources, attending key meetings, and encouraging others to work with the project team

Understanding the degree of leadership alignment and sponsorship around the change and identifying and addressing leadership issues will position the change for success.

Collecting information about leadership alignment and sponsorship that you need doesn’t have to be a big deal.  A few candid discussions and well conducted interviews can do the trick.

Where are We Going? A Team Needs a Shared Purpose

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We recently started working with an organization that is the victim of it’s own success.

A few years ago, this organization was in a phase of explosive growth.  Customers were knocking on their doors, recruiting could barely keep up, and earnings grew and grew.

While growth skyrocketed, they were challenged to field the calls as the phone practically rang off the hook, hire people fast enough to meet the demand, and not mess up their product in the meantime.  They developed new products on the fly when customers asked for new things.  They grew their customer base.  Their headcount ballooned.

Activities that were once done by a small group of guys who could work in a conference room were being done by hundreds of people in several departments and locations.

But, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down.  Actually, they are still kicking some serious you-know-what in the market.  But growth has slowed with the
economic downturn, competitors have cropped up that are giving them a run for their money, and the leadership team has realized that they have become disconnected from the business and each other.

The executives have been so focused looking down to meet the needs in front of them, that they have not done a terrific job of looking forward to the future (where are we going?), or sideways (how does what I am doing link to what you are doing?).

In the rush of the boom times, the executives started to view their peers as barriers rather than as enablers or supports.  They spent as little time together as possible, and when they did get together they became frustrated with each other and got hung up in tactical
details of their business.  They operated in silos.  They developed some level of
frustration with each other.  And they started to think that this group just didn’t trust each other.

While their business results are far from terrible, they are certainly not what they used
to be.  Leaders realize it is time for a change before it is too late.  If this organization is going to thrive in its next phase of maturity, it needs to figure out what the heck it wants to be, and how the executive team is going to take them there.

As the executives have been thinking about how they plan for and execute a long range plan that will take their organization into its next phase of growth, it has become clear that they are all coming from different places.  It was no wonder they aren’t operating well as a team.  They don’t even have a common definition of what it meant to win the game.

The fact that they all have different expectations about what it means to win and what role each of them and their organizations should play in winning, reinforces siloed behavior and erodes the interpersonal dynamics in the team.

If I think we win our game by scoring lots and lots of goals, but you think we win by making sure the opponent doesn’t score more goals than we do, we are coming at the
game from a different mindset.  If we are both be on the field but playing with a different strategy, then we are doing things that we can easily mis-read as either undermining or incompetence.

A group of really strong people with a shared purpose can lead an organization almost anywhere.  A group of really strong people with different ideas about their shared purpose can lead an organization pretty much nowhere.

This group doesn’t need trust-falls or hand holding.  They just need to agree on a few basic questions.  What do they want to be?  What customers will they serve and what products will they offer?

When the executive team can answer those questions and agree to stick to their decisions, they will see that the next phase of growth and maturity for their organization can be just as exciting and enviable as the last.

The Impact of Culture on Organizational Change

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You may have heard it before… “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.”   

An organization with the best strategy in the world, but a culture that won’t allow it to make that strategy happen is doomed from the outset.  Want to be the first to market with the most innovative products, but live in an organization that is full of bureaucracy and afraid to take risks?  Fat chance you’ll be the first one anywhere.   Want to have the highest quality, lowest failure rate of anyone but live in an organization where rules are lax and people make decisions quickly without much data?  Chances are you will be chasing initiative after initiative trying to make your goals happen to no avail. 

Culture is the sum of the beliefs and values that shape norms of behavior and dictate the ways things get done.  There are several continuums that help define an organization’s culture.  Is the organization driven by results and achievement, or relationships and people?  Does the organization have an internal focus, or an external focus?  Is the organization adaptive and flexible, or is it structured and stable?

Culture tells you a lot about an organization.  What messages do leaders send with their words and actions?  What type of behavior is being reinforced?  Is conflict and risk encouraged or hindered?  How do people communicate?  How do people learn and share company knowledge?  Is the organization open to change? 

Some think that it’s too hard to change culture… that we can’t change it even if we know what gaps we have between our current state and our desired culture.  Not true.  There are real, tactical activities and leadership actions that can shape a new culture.  

For example, if the organization lacks the needed focus on customers, then insist that every manager and above spend at least one day a quarter out in the field with customers.  Or if your organization makes decisions on the fly in the absence of adequate data (not a good thing for, say, a pharmaceutical company), then insist that all projects use Six Sigma or similar tools.  Or if your organization is too cautious and can’t move quickly enough to respond to new demands (not a good thing for, say, a software company), verbally encourage teams to make decisions faster and try new things… and then throw a big party the first time one fails as visible demonstration that we appreciate and value risk-taking and new ideas.   

If we are serious about change in an organization, we can’t ignore the organization’s culture.  If that culture is not consistent with the change that needs to come about, then the culture needs to be addressed head on.  If we as leaders decide that we don’t want to do our part to change the culture, then we will live with the consequences of failure.

Leading the Change and Smiling for the Cameras

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Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some of it is innate, some of it is learned; some of it is clearly definable, some of it is more esoteric; some of it is easy to recognize, some of it sneaks up on you. 

Studies have consistently confirmed that the greatest contributor to successful organizational change is leadership.  In repeated studies of hundreds of companies and their change efforts, “Strong Executive Sponsorship” was cited three times more frequently than any other contributing factor to successful change. 

Why does leadership have such a huge impact on change?  Because people support what they think their leaders support. If they don’t think their leaders are really going to make a change happen, they figure they shouldn’t waste too much time or effort thinking about it.  They figure they have an “out” to just ignore.  If they duck down in their cube long enough, all of this change stuff will blow over.   For organizations that have tried to change in the past and failed, people feel even more justification in believing they can wait it out and nothing will come of it in the end.

But how do people really know what a leader supports?  Certainly anyone in a leadership position is going to be telling their people that the big new thing is going to be great for the organization and the people.  But people develop their perceptions about what leaders support not only through leaders’ words. Leadership action is even more important.  Acting in ways that are consistent with words is the magic combination that moves people to act in new ways that leaders define.     

It is like the leader is the celebrity and the employees are the paparazzi.  People are watching what leaders do and say, and they are filtering all of that information to figure out if they should be on board with a change or not.  Talking the talk is useless if walking the walk doesn’t follow.

Being a Rebel Isn’t all Bad

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I always knew that being a rebel had an upside… Are you are Rebel or a Leader? Hopefully both! http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/01/are_you_a_rebel_or_a_leader.html

Build the Management Team, and Propel the Change Forward

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Groups of management peers with similar titles and similar levels of responsibilities can be hotbeds of dysfunction.  These people often competes for resources, promotions and attention.  But unfortunately for organizations trying to transform, this group is integral to effectively changing the way an organization works.  Management teams need to work together to achieve goals but sometimes the environment encourages the opposite. 

If the leaders don’t create the right environment, managers focus solely on their individual fiefdoms, their silos.  If resources and attention are scarce, this group can become a cesspool of finger pointing, competing, back stabbing and ganging up.

To prevent this limited focus, leaders need to set the right tone and stage for this group to work effectively and successfully. A few things can be done to encourage these managers to work together, tackle problems as a team and leverage opportunities cross functionally:

  • The manager group needs common cross functional and organizational goals
  • Managers need to be recognized for team efforts
  • Leaders need to handle the troublemakers
  • Managers need tools and training on how to work together

As employees and managers, we work within the limitations of our work environment. We work within the rules and expectations that surround us. We respond to signals about what is important and what is valued. When that environment encourages unproductive behavior, new signals need to be sent, new rules and expectations delivered.