Friday, December 16, 2011

How to do still more change

Yesterday we noted the importance of achieving 'short-term wins.' It's important to use each of those as a stepping-stone towards more change on the way to achieving the overall vision for change.
Keep working towards that goal, looking all the while for ways in which processes can be improved. Identify what is working, and what is not, and work with your team to make the necessary course corrections.
And repeat successes: sometimes early 'wins' arise, but from a fluke set of circumstances. Trying to replicate the success will help to check that processes are working and appropriate for the range of situations that you will encounter. And you'll be helping all the while to embed the new way of doing things in the culture of the organization, to make sure that change doesn't fizzle out as soon as you move, or energy starts getting applied in a new direction.

Learning points:

  • Take opportunity to analyze what went right and what needs improving.
  • Set goals to continue building on your momentum.
  • Keep ideas fresh by bringing in new team members and leaders for your change coalition.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Creating short-term 'wins'

Whenever a group embarks on change there's a lot of nervousness around whether or not it will work, normally because the stakes are pretty high.

Nothing motivates more than success so one of the best ways of building and keeping momentum is by striving to ensure that there are some things that people can see are successful quite early on. These 'wins' don't have to be huge, but they do have to be real, and they do have to be relevant. The most important factor, though, is that they are shared successes by the team that you want to continue to drive the change through.

One of the best ways to work on this is to break the bigger goal down into smaller chunks, some with milestones that can be seen and reached within a short time frame, perhaps weeks or months depending on the length of the overall project. Celebrate each success and use it as a springboard to get everyone gathered around reaching the next target.

Important factors:
  • Look for things that you can implement without help from any strong critics of the change.
  • Look for targets the easily justify the (relatively small) investment at each stage.
  • Make sure that the 'wins' you achieve actually matter to key stakeholders, such as your boss.
  • Reward and celebrate with each of those who help you meet the targets.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to remove the obstacles to change

As I write this my wife is giving a presentation as part of a job application that she's making. If she sticks with the ideas she was having in her practice run-through earlier then she'll be making the point that she boils down a lot of the fancy phrases and detailed research concepts that she's come across in management training books and articles. In fact, at heart she says that leading a small team is about two things:
  1. Make sure that the team consistently (daily) understands what is expected: not just what to do (task) but how to do it (quality)
  2. Remove the obstacles by making sure that they have the resources they need, and nothing holding them back from doing it
I think that simplification is super. But when it comes to introducing a broad change initiative it's often necessary to go further and consider whether anyone is actively resisting the change. Are there processes or structures that are getting in the way?
More than this:

  • Make sure you have, beyond just you, other leaders whose main role is to bring about change.
  • Look at your organizational structure, job descriptions, and performance and compensation systems to ensure they're in line with your vision.
  • Recognize and reward people for making change happen.
  • Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what's needed.
  • Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to communicate a vision for change

Too often leaders spend some time and effort building a vision for change, but take it no further. Perhaps you get together a team to drive the change; maybe you go off-site with the team and plan the steps necessary ... These things, though good, are absolutely not enough to see the change take root.

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will have strong competition from all the other things going on so you need to communicate it frequently and embed it within everything that you do.

Find ways to talk about the vision at every opportunity you get. Consciously use it daily to influence the decisions you take and the way you solve problems. Be especially careful to explain that this is what you're doing when working with others. This way they'll catch on and see that the vision for change is not just a bright idea that you'll  move on from when other pressures come along, but something that truly is here to stay.

Most importantly, your actions have to reinforce the need for change and the vision for change. If there's any hint of a gap between what you say and what you do then others will pick up on it and notice the gap in integrity. And they won't follow you.

  • Talk as often as possible about the need for change and the vision to achieve it
  • Take as much time as needed to address others' concerns and worries
  • Apply the vision to every aspect of the operation. Tie everything back to the vision
  • Lead by example
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Monday, December 12, 2011

How to create a vision for change

Your vision for change needs to be simple enough for people to grasp and remember.

After all, if it's too complex to grasp it can't be understood and implemented. And if your team needs to go back to notes to remember it then you've added a big barrier of inertia. Most importantly, people need to understand why change is necessary.

To be realistic in your hopes for success
  • Make sure that your proposed change is consistent with the values you want
  • Encapsulate the change in a summary that's ideally just a single, brief, sentence
  • Work with your team to develop a strategy that will bring the vision to being
  • Make sure that your core team can understand the vision and strategy
  • Communicate the vision at every opportunity possible, using different ways to explain or clarify and apply it to specific circumstances so that it doesn't get stale; and so that people who are impacted can more readily grasp what needs to be achieved

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Transformational change needs a strong team

After ensuring people understand that the pain of staying where we are is greater than the cost of moving forward, the next thing a change leader needs to put in place is a powerful coalition of people committed to change.

Leaders are rarely located just at the hierarchical 'top' of an organization. And you're in deep trouble if they are! To build and maintain the change momentum it's necessary to find the key influencers throughout the organization, and build them together as a team committed to seeing the change through. Be aware that their power and influence won't just come from job title or position in the hierarchy, but from their expert knowledge, network of relationships and more...

In leading change you'll need to identify these people and ask for an emotional commitment from them. Then work hard on team building within this change coalition, making sure that the commitment to change doesn't fizzle out when the going begins to get tough. You can't lead change on your own, and it won't be a short-term effort for anything that's going to last.
I've learned some of these lessons the hard way: it's tempting to feel the pressure to make progress and jump into change before ensuring that around three quarters of those impacted grasp the need to make the change; and it's sometimes easy to take glib verbal commitments from the 'change coalition' at face value and realise too late that they're not fully on board or, worse, subtly putting the brakes on, or trying to steer change in a different direction... 
But then, if change leadership was easy, everyone would be doing it!
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

12 qualities of transformational leadership

What are the best traits to look for in a leader?
  • Great leaders have integrity: they say what they mean and do what they say
  • They set clear and unambiguous goals that can be easily understood
  • They clearly communicate a vision that acts as a powerful 'burning imperative'
  • They set a good example that others want to copy
  • They expect the best from the team and set high standards
  • Great leaders are encouraging of those around them, not condemning
  • They recognise good work and good people, and freely give credit where it's due
  • They provide stimulating work that others can engage in creatively
  • They inspire people to see beyond their self interest and focus instead on the team's needs
  • Great leaders are inspirational: difficult to define, but worth working on!
  • Great leaders are great at motivating others
  • Great leaders are trusted
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Challenge of leading change

The single biggest barrier to change comes from the fact that people don't like it; we always resist it. There's something comforting about the familiar and daunting about the new and, very often, the strongest resistance comes from those currently in positions of power and influence - because they fear that they have most to lose.

My experience is that the kind of change you want to happen doesn't just happen. Normally the first requirement for any change initiative is to build an understanding of the need for change.
  • Perhaps the group has to become unhappy with the way things are right now
  • They probably need a sense of urgency, even of impending doom or difficulty if change doesn't happen
  • At heart, the equation has to change so that the cost of making the change doesn't seem as expensive as the cost of things staying the same
Of course, that's just the first step. But without that there's little chance of success.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Business situations need different strategies

Some of us have been working through the different approaches needed in different situations.

'Situational leadership' theory teaches that a good manager should take a different approach with individuals based on how mature they are as workers and how experienced they are in relation to the task or situation they are in.

Similarly, there's no point in trying to treat a business start-up the same way that you'd run an enterprise that has been producing nicely for the last several years and is really just needing to sustain its success with relatively minor modifications.

In fact, be prepared to think through and take decisive action for each of four different scenarios:
  1. Start-up is the entrepreneurial beginning that is common to all
  2. Sustainable success is where everyone would like to get to, and remain
  3. Very often though some degree of re-positioning or realignment is necessary
  4. And, if there's a hiccup, then some degree of turn around and recovery may be required
Which phase is your operation in? What are the different skills and strategies you need to employ?
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Branding and communications

My wife works in Britain's National Health Service and today showed me the Person Specification for a role that NHS recruitment is seeking to fill. One of the bullet-point requirements in the 'Leadership Essence' section simply reads 'Clear personal brand' (while another is, 'Ability to use different leadership styles as and when required;' still another, 'Integrity, genuineness and trustworthiness in all interactions').

This was in stark contrast to another organization I worked with recently. They want to overhaul their web and other communications, but show little appreciation of branding, still less the way that communications styles support or detract from strategic leadership.

There are undoubtedly arguments that branding is over-stated and too-widely prioritised, but I still found it encouraging that one of the UK's biggest public-sector employers is demonstrating an appreciation of how branding can complement other skills to bolster leadership effectiveness.

Situational leadership is a critical skill to deploy when influencing teams to excel beyond the ordinary. And how encouraging to see the Person Spec. emphasizing the importance of integrity.

Expect further transfer of ideas and skills between private and public sector as cost-cutting forces transformation of traditional ways of doing things: other aspects of this same job specification call for demonstrable experience of entrepreneurialism and managing complex change, process improvement and high performance culture to set up a new public sector venture with 'commercial strength and clear strategy.' Fabulous!
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Check out assumptions

Surprise results from a workplace survey. The middle managers thought there would be a big difference: they expected that line workers would have money and not working too hard at the top of their list of things they value about work. Middle management said they, by contrast, would prioritise things like 'challenging task' and 'being creative.'

The surprise was that both lists looked a lot more like the managers' list, with money way down the pecking order for both groups. What we want from work.

It's easy to assume negative stuff about others. But it's equally easy to assume that everyone else thinks, feels and acts the same way that we do. Senior leaders often assume the same intensity and passion in those elsewhere in the organization without realising that it's their job in part to instil that passion through casting vision.

It's too easy to act on assumptions without checking them out first. The more we can bring expectations out into the open and reach shared agreement the easier it is to work with people.
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