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Is Middle Management Really Going Away?

Middle Managers

I had the pleasure of watching an interview with Jay Samit, CEO of SeaChange International and author of Disrupt You speak at the C-Suite Network conference a few months back. One of the more provocative predictions he made was that in 5 years, one half of all middle management jobs will be gone. Not 20 years. Not 50 years. Five.

Needless to say, the number of implications that creates are far too many to discuss here. Jeff Hayzlettthe interviewer, asked the question we were all asking ourselves — if half of all middle management is going away, what should middle managers do? Here are Samit’s 3 pieces of advice:

  • Commit to life-long learning: change is occurring so rapidly that we can’t possible know what our opportunities will be in 2 or 3 years much less 10 or 15.  By continually learning you can see what may be coming around the bend and be ready for it while those who have chosen to shut-off their learning will never know what hit them.
  • Keep an open mind: the further we go in life we can begin to assume that we know the answers and how it should work.  The truth is, without an open mind, it’s amazing how wrong you can be.
  • Invite data in:  in some circles, you hear a lot about big data.  Data comes in many forms – quantitative, qualitative, anecdotal. Data is available in so many ways, don’t be afraid to gather and use data to help inform your path and illuminate possibilities.

The quest for certainly blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”

-Erich Fromm

Change and Keeping the End in Mind

change_innovation

Trying to promote change and innovation? Keep the end in mind with a robust, vivid, compelling vision that you keep front and center. It can unleash innovation and be a touchstone, barometer and guide for what and how things get done.

When you have a robust vision of the future, it opens up possibilities. Rather than closing down options, it can allow for change and innovation. With a robust and compelling vision, the focus becomes on achieving the vision — on moving forward — not just making the here and now more efficient or productive or less risky. It allows people to engage in creative thinking about how to get to that vision because ultimately there can be a wide variety of ways to achieve it. Without a vision:

  • people and organizations become overly focused on what and how things are done now
  • change represents uncertainty and as humans, we hate uncertainty
  • there is no gauge to measure a new idea, which makes the idea that much harder to justify pursuing

The vision provides a road map for how something new or different is, indeed, not leading us into uncertainty but closer to the ultimate destination.

And it’s important that the vision not just be a statement that hangs on the wall. It needs to serve as a tool to guide conversations, to help make decisions, to determine how resources are allocated and to promote debate.

How are your vision helping promote change and innovation?

Your Brain on Change

man on elephant

Those of us that are of a certain age probably remember the ad ‘this is your brain on drugs’ with the egg sizzling in a frying pan. A very effective visual. You can argue whether it was an effective campaign.

There is a visual I’ve been using recently to help explain the neuroscience of change. Jonathan Haidt originally talked about it in The Happiness Hypothesis and it was made famous by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch.

Picture a rider and an elephant going down a path. The rider is the rational, thinking part of your brain. The elephant is the emotional part of your brain. The emotional brain is far older evolutionarily than the thinking brain. It is so old that some people refer to it as the reptilian brain. This is the area of the brain that responds to the environment. When danger is perceived, it triggers the flight or fight response. It is here that you determine whether you will take on the ‘danger’ or flee from it.

Under normal circumstances, it is surprisingly easy for the rider to control the elephant. The rider can guide the elephant down the path and make it comply to his or her wishes. Now introduce change. The brain perceives change as a potential danger. Why? Because it is uncertain, something we can’t predict, something that we have less control of than our current situation. And, with this potential danger, the emotional brain takes over. Think of an emotional elephant. One trying to decide whether to fight or flee what it has encountered on the path. How easy is it for the rider to control that elephant? The rider needs to put the rational aside and work with the emotion.

So, when you’re leading change, you need to make sure you are communicating to both the rider and the elephant. The rider needs to talk about what is happening, what the timeframe is, how it will be implemented, etc. The elephant needs to talk about the fact that change can be difficult and scary, it needs to have its emotions recognized, it needs to have an opportunity to vent its concerns and to replace the negative emotions with positive ones that allow it to move forward. Once the emotions are part of the conversation, the rider and elephant can begin working together again.

How To Build An Agile Organization

change 228 x 202

i4cp defines agility as ‘the ability to move quickly, decisively, and effectively in anticipating and taking advantage of change.” The question is, how do you create this ability in your organization? According to i4cp and based on my own experience, high performing organizations instill agility by being prepared. That’s right. You manage change by anticipating, planning and taking advantage of it.

How can you make that happen?

    • Make it a regular practice to look outside the organization to see what may be just over the horizon. Most organizations only look as far as the trends within their industry. The best organizations look at the broader context. They look at other industries from which they can learn lessons. They look at societal, political and economic changes. Opportunities are often identified where on the surface, none may seem to exist. When people are mentally able to analyze, play with and explore potential change, they are more easily able to embrace it when it actually occurs.
    • Assess your organization’s capabilities in the context of those potential changes. Do you have the talent and resources you need to take advantage of what the future may hold? If not, how will you develop or gain those capabilities.
    • Determine how agile people are in your organization. Do you hire for it? Is agility an expectation? Is it rewarded?
    • Leverage what makes you successful now but don’t rely on it for your future. Often, success can reduce one’s ability to change. However, when success is paired with the expectations that change is part of success and that change will happen, starting from a position of strength can make change more powerful.

How many of these characteristics describe your organization?

Spring Cleaning Your Priorities

Happy Spring CollageSpring is that time of year when everything is new again. The winter cold and drab is finally receding. It’s a good time to think about what needs some sprucing up in your company.

Take a look back at the achievements and new opportunities presented in the first months of the year. What’s been achieved? How are you progressing? What new opportunities are presenting themselves in your market? What’s going on with your people – what talent do you have and what talent do you need? Are development plans moving forward?

It’s also a good time to clean things up. What’s no longer relevant? How have priorities shifted? What can fall off of your (or someone else’s) plate? What processes just aren’t working anymore and need to be revamped? What talent is not working out and may need to be reallocated inside or outside the company?

Don’t just save spring cleaning for the yard or your home. Do some spring cleaning at work, too.

“The only constant is change.” – Unknown

change is the only constant

 

Over the past several years this saying and many others about change have become rather trite. “Change is everywhere and to be successful you must embrace it.” “Change is the new normal.” “Champions eat change for breakfast.” Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.

What is somewhat new about change is the sheer pace of it. With the advent of breakneck technology advances, change is not only constant but accelerating. Every few months there is a new social media outlet that can help you reach your customers while you’re still trying to figure out Twitter. Some businesses are wondering if they should create an app for their services. Messages can travel around your company, not to mention the world, in nanoseconds. And there are still the usual changes like new product introductions, reorganizations, and new workflows.

– How should you take a leadership position around change in the 2015 workplace?

– Answer the big question, “WHY?” People yearn for context. They want to understand why things happen and how they fit into that equation. As things move ever more quickly, we often forget to answer this simple question in our haste to “just get it done.”

– Listen to the reactions. Sometimes we think that in order to lead change, we need to be the cheerleader, playing down the realities that change is hard and that there will be bumps along the way. Take the time to listen and to respond in a realistic way to the reactions people have — the good, the bad and the ugly. In some situations it’s okay to say, “Yes, this stinks and at times it is going to be difficult. When we get through this, here is how we will be in a better place…”

Know that some people will be more ready to change than you. When it comes to introducing technological change, there are people in your organization who will be asking why the company isn’t moving more quickly. We have a whole generation who have grown up with IM, texting, Facebook and other forms of social media. Harness their enthusiasm to learn all you can about the benefits and the drawbacks of various technologies. Engage them in understanding how it could be used in your business or why your business isn’t ready for it.

Be a storyteller. Think back to your childhood. I could probably mention a story that you haven’t heard in 30 years and you could tell it to me. If I asked you to explain Freshman Algebra concepts to me, that would probably not be so easy for most of us. We are wired to remember stories. They help us put ourselves in situations and to remember information. Tell stories about the successes of previous changes where people first had doubts. Tell stories about how a team worked together to make it happen. Tell stories that help people paint a picture and understand how to move forward.

-Use social media. More and more of our organizations are using social media as way for people within the company to communicate with each other. Use social media yourself to ask questions, share updates, talk about successes, and ask for ideas. Again, if you need help in this area, there are people in your organization who are social media savvy. Encourage your team to use it as a way to have a productive conversation about the changes that are occurring. Soon you’ll see leaders emerge on your team, taking the reins of championing change.

Love Change? Not so much.

Change is Coming

People often don’t relish the idea of change. As a matter of fact, many people just don’t like it. However, the reality for the foreseeable future is that change is happening quickly and often.

Our mindset about change is a significant factor in how we think and feel about it. Let’s look at how we can use our mental models to approach change more openly and positive

 

Old mental model: Change means loss. The first thing we often think about when a change is announced is “what will I lose?” We do lose during change. We lose what is familiar, what is stable, and what is defined. And, often times, that is a good thing.
New mental model: means opportunity. Focus your mind space on what you can gain from change– the ability to learn something new, the potential to be re-engaged in what used be very routine and possibly boring, and the opportunity to contribute to making something new.

Old mental model: Most change is a mess when executed.
Unexpected things come up. Time lines shift. We all scramble when it doesn’t go as planned.
New mental model: Change is messy, so think about contingencies. One of the best ways for change to work well is to think of those things that may not go as planned, plan for them and put those contingency plans in place if need be.

Old mental model. Change happens to me. I’m the victim of change. It’s like an engine coming down the track and I can’t change how fast it’s going or where it will end up.
New mental model: Be part of the change. Think of yourself as one of the many engineers of change. Ask to contribute to change planning. Suggest an improvement to change that isn’t working well. Learn all you can about it and share your knowledge with others.

Even Shakespeare recognized the power of your thinking on how you perceive your situation:

“There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”
— Hamlet

Change Lessons from the New Pope

popeLast week 1.2 billion Catholics were introduced to their new leader. We all know that the church has many problems and challenges that this pope may or may not address. However, in his first few days he has let people know that his leadership will be different and that there is a potential for change. Here are a few lessons in change we can all take from Pope Francis:

Use language that signals change: By choosing the name Francis, the pope needed to use only one word that, for Catholics, carries huge symbolic meaning. St. Francis of Assisi is known as a reformer, rebuilder, and one who gave up his wealth to focus and live with the poor. It was a name many considered no pope would ever consider taking.

Let the people most impacted know they are important: When a pope is elected, the first thing he does is meet with his direct reports (the Cardinals) and others in the Vatican who will support him during his tenure. After meeting with the Cardinals, he asked the others if they would be their for a while. When they indicated they would, he let them know he’d come back and talk with them later because the people had been standing in the rain waiting to see him and he didn’t want them to wait any longer. He knows these are his stakeholders and he is there for them.

Listen before you speak During his first address rather than providing a blessing to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square he asked for them to bless him. Rather than speaking, he chose to listen.

Show those you are leading you are, in many ways, just like them: Within the 24 hours after becoming Pope, Francis indicated he was the same guy he had been. He went back to where he’d been staying on the bus with the other Cardinals. He showed up at the hostel the next day and paid his bill. He want to a local church, giving them 10 minutes notice, and then crossed the street to say hello to some school kids and people on there way to work. Too many times, leaders give off signals that they are different from everyone else and that he or she is separate from the others who will be impacted by organization change.

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Between an earthquake and a hurricane, we heard that Steve Jobs announced he is stepping down as CEO of Apple. Jobs has been the face of Apple and its innovative environment for two decades. Naturally there is commentary on what his departure means and on what it means across media — from The New York Times to BNET to mashable.com.

The questions remains about what Apple will be like without him and only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the lessons we can learn from Jobs and the culture he built at Apple:

 

    • The Think Different mindset. Apple has created products that we didn’t know we needed and done it Apple’s way. They are famous for doing things on their timetable and listening to Apple’s own drummer. While most other companies are looking at the best practices of others to determine what they should do, Apple created best in class. Don’t look to others to tell you how you should move forward. 
    • Bring in thinking from the outside in to inform, not to replicate. This is different from search for best practices. It’s about being curious and looking for good ideas. Jobs noted that being ousted as CEO back in 1985 was one of the best things that could happen to him. He built a little company called Pixar that changed movie making and animation forever. He took those experiences from a company that was not a traditional tech company and infused them in Apple upon his return. 
    • Build an environment where taking risks is expected. Risk taking is hard for many people and is especially hard in a really tough economy. Jobs is a natural risk taker and by infusing that into Apple’s way of working, has changed technology, our expectations of the aesthetics and design of our technology, and quite honestly, has literally changed industries (think about it, car manufacturers changed their designs to include ports for iPods). If Jobs were the only risk taker at Apple, it would not be the company it is today. He took that desire and ability to take risks and built it into the culture.
    • Have a successor.  Steve Job’s departure will be smooth because he has had a successor identified for 7 years. His wake-up call came when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Because of the time and effort that has gone into grooming his successor, his resignation letter simply had to state that he recommended his successor take over. While I’m sure his resignation was a huge part of the conversations at Apple the next day, there was no doubt that a capable, though different, leader was stepping into the void.

 

As you approach your work, put a little Steve Jobs swagger into what you do and see what results it brings.