Tag Archives: leadership

The Blind Spot

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You’ve probably heard the phase “actions speak louder than words”.  What are your actions saying? 

Tacit communication is the type of communication that is invisible, unspoken, inferred, or implied.
It communicates much more than our words often do.  It is a key part of how we relate to one another and gather meaning, and it unveils what’s behind our intentions, assumptions, prejudices and biases. 

Understanding what our actions are really saying requires us to have a good deal of self-awareness and actually seeing what for many may be a blind spot.  

The key to understanding and managing your own unspoken messages is a healthy dose of introspection.  Ask yourself….

  • Do you value some opinions more than others?
  • Do you have unspoken beliefs about how things should be at work?
  • Do you give all an equal opportunity to succeed?
  • Do you have relationships that you value above others at work?
  • Do you truly, deep down, care about someone’s opinion or idea? 
  • What do you truly want out of a situation, your job, your life?  

Ask questions of yourself and see what you can uncover.  If you are stuck, turn to someone you trust that will be honest with you about the messages you send.  The more diligent you are at uncovering your blind spot, the more effective you become as a leader. 


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.

Are You Getting the Return on Your Investment?

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How much has your company spent on initiatives: cost reduction? quality? product launch? What were the business cases for these initiatives? What was invested in these efforts externally and internally – in terms of budget and people? What was the projected ROI of these efforts? Have you reached that promised ROI yet?

Odds are that you haven’t. Many times, the promised benefits are not reached in the projected time. Sometimes, they are never reached. So, maybe you’ve made it some of the way there. Maybe there are valid, unforeseen causes for not reaching your ROI.
You’re not alone. Google “project failure rates” and you find pages of articles and research. One example is the 2009 Standish Chaos Reports (research on client success and failure implementing IT systems). This report states that only 32% of survey participants characterized their projects as “successful”. 24% characterized their project as “failed” and the other 44% characterized their project as “challenged”.

Projects fail to meet objectives for many reasons but among the most cited reasons are related to people issues: leaders not aligned in support of the effort, lack of communication, lack of understanding, resistance, lack of support or skills, lack of reinforcement of the effort.

A people strategy is a required component to reach a project’s ROI. After all, it’s people who use the technology, adopt the new processes or sell the new product. Without a majority of people willing and prepared to make the change happen, it is doomed to fail. Influencing people to change takes a strategy. It takes a plan. It will not happen effectively just because you say so.

Change Management is the people strategy and planning approach that prepares employee to transition from how they work today to how they need to work in the future. Just like project management or Six Sigma, there are proven processes, tools and tactics that help company’s create a thoughtful proactive people strategy. A Change Management approach easily fits hand in hand with a project plan to implement a new technology, process or the like.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” If you haven’t achieved the ROI on your past projects, don’t go about the next project the same way. Include a thoughtful, proactive people strategy and get a different result.

The Importance of Followers by Stacy Aaron

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You can tell a lot about a leader by the actions of his or her followers. This follower was only mentioned once at the very end of an article in the New York Times. I read this quote by Mr. McCall, who is 76 years old, which made me want to write about followers:

I’ll follow Father Marek wherever he goes. I told him, ‘don’t stop fast because I’ll run into you’

I don’t personally know Mr. McCall or Father Marek but I can tell a lot from this quote. Mr. McCall is a follower and with followers like that, I think Father Marek has a good chance of accomplishing whatever vision he’s created. From that quote, I know Father Marek is about change. He has inspired people like Mr. McCall to change and change fast. Anyone who can inspire that type of commitment to change is a leader.

All leaders need good followers. Followers understand the leader’s vision and can translate it to their work, their level. Followers ask questions. Followers express their support to others. Followers do what is asked and volunteer for more. Followers share their ideas on how to make the vision work. Followers get stuff done.

Followers don’t want to let the leader down. They believe in the direction that leader is forging. They run close behind that leader, focused and determined, committed, like Mr McCall. They count on that leader not to stop. As Mr. McCall so eloquently puts it, if the leader does stop, someone might get hurt! Followers count on the leader to forge ahead, to keep going.

I can’t decide who is more impressive Father Marek or Mr. McCall and maybe I don’t have to choose. I can’t decide who needs whom more. They both play an important role in driving change. More attention needs to be paid to the awesome followers out there. Not everyone can, should be or even wants to be a leader, thank goodness. Obviously, Mr. McCall is inspired by Father Marek but most likely the opposite is happening too. Father Marek is inspired by Mr. McCall’s faith in him, by Mr. McCall’s commitment to him. I’m sure Father Marek doesn’t want to let Mr. McCall down. So starting today, let’s look at an expanded scope of what is really happening around us. Let’s not just focus on leaders and potential leaders. Let’s also focus on the followers. They are just as important to driving change.

“Off-Shoring”, “Right-Sizing”, “Out-Sourcing”… Whatever You Call it, it Means Big Change

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For organizations seeking to reduce costs by sending work to other countries, the
path is long and difficult.  Off-shoring may be absolutely necessary for your organization to remain competitive or possibly just stay in business, but don’t underestimate what it will take to do it and do it right.  With the pace of change around the globe these days, even the basic questions like “Where should we send the work – India?  Ireland? China?” may be hard to answer.

What is also hard, but often overlooked, is how to deal with the people within an organization during the process.  There are two primary groups you need to think about when you are off-shoring:  the people who will lose their jobs, and the people who will be left behind and will watch the process unfold before them.  If off-shoring doesn’t take into account the needs of the people who are impacted by it, the gains that you hope to make can be lost by large scale disengagement, decreased productivity, and massive turnover.

During organizational transition, everyone is affected.  People who will lose their jobs are obviously impacted; but also, employees who don’t lose jobs may experience guilt that they “survived” and fear that they could be next.  The things we do to help both groups transition are completely inter-related.  For the “survivors,” the #1 factor that contributes to their experience of the off-shoring is their observation of how those who lose jobs are treated.

During out-sourcing (well, any time actually), there should be an underlying desire to treat people with respect and dignity.  It sounds easy enough, but it can be difficult in situations like this.  It’s not as if we intend to treat people poorly, but sometimes we just forget what people need or we just get too busy and forget about the people impacted.  Every day, you need to ask yourself, “Are we doing for people who will lose their jobs what I would want to be done if it were me that was going to lose my job?”

As you make every decision, keep the golden rule in mind.  How would you want to find out your job was being eliminated?  Most likely, you’d like to hear it directly from your manager in a one-on-one conversation rather than in a meeting of 50 people.  And you probably would want to hear it before anyone else in your group heard it.  While it is logistically difficult, the effort will pay off.

Remember that the people who will lose jobs are also likely friends of people who will remain a part of the organization after they are gone.  If the people leaving the organization are treated poorly, not only do you engender ill will from organizational alumni who are out there bad-mouthing your organization, but you also plant the seed with employees who will stick around that you might not treat them so well either in the future.

While the work of off-shoring is difficult, it doesn’t mean you should steer away from off-shoring.  Just go in with your eyes open about the work it will take.  Treating people well is not about just coddling people.  It is about getting the business results you are seeking by keeping your organization engaged and productive.