Let’s Change the Change Paradigm

“We, as humans, are built for positive disruption.”

That’s how a speaker at a recent virtual conference described change.

Is that how you think about change and disruption?

At about the same time, I read an article in Talent Quarterly by Joe Folkman about research into the push and pull approaches to leading change. When leaders use the push approach, they set a target, and create stretch goals. They then initiate new processes and procedures, and hold people accountable with incentives and discipline. In the pull approach, leaders articulate a north star – a vivid picture of the future. They engage people to adopt it as their goal and lift their aspirations to achieve it. Positive reinforcement helps the organization to accomplish the goal. Until now, I think we’ve relied too heavily on push and too little on pull.

Together, these two thought leaders confirmed something I’ve thought about for a while now. We need to change the change paradigm.

  • We currently define how we think about change into a few common phrases.  Change is hard. People resist change. Change is overwhelming. Change is scary, even when it’s good for us.
  • For decades, we’ve talked about the change acceptance curve  – awareness, questioning, despair, acceptance and, finally, commitment. The curve reinforces those ideas of change being hard and representing loss rather than representing growth and opportunity.
  • I recommend we take the change curve and, literally, flip it on its head, changing the language we use to talk about change.
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This re-envisioned change curve looks at change as growth. When we are learning – experiencing that positive disruption I talked about – we are motivated to master the new rather than pine for the past. For example, when we start walking we don’t look back and miss when we were only able to crawl. When we learn to drive a car we don’t fondly think, “Oh I wish I could go back to only knowing how to ride a bike.” We see change as additive instead of the loss of what we had before.

We start at a place of inexperience.  Because we are inexperienced, we need information, support and encouragement. We need the opportunity to “try things on” and have some ownership of how we integrate the new way into our work and our lives. We see that the end is a worthwhile place to be and we pursue it.

In this paradigm, change is something we embrace and seek. Even when we make mistakes, when the change doesn’t work as anticipated, or we hit roadblocks, it doesn’t mean the change is bad. It doesn’t cause us to stop changing. Go back to the bike analogy. When we are riding our bike too close to a curb, hit the curb and fall off, we don’t decide to never ride a bike again. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, get back on the bike and ride… knowing that next time we’ll avoid that obstacle.

When we think about change this way, we become engaged. We are achieving successes – sometimes small, sometimes large – which are motivating us to pursue more success.  We actively seek out additional opportunities to gain more experience, experiment, and learn. We see value in this new way.

In mastery, what was the change is now completely the normal. And, when we stay at mastery too long, we get bored and it’s time to pursue something that brings us back to that feeling of growth and learning.

And that’s the new paradigm – that we see change first and foremost as growth and opportunity and that when we, as leaders, engage people in that way, change is interesting, exciting and something to be pursued.

What’s Next? Saving 2020

Congratulations on getting through the past three weeks! We’ve just been through the early days of the biggest social and economic disruption of the last 50 years. We don’t have a rule book, so we’ve been figuring it out as we go along.

Honestly, many of us have been focused solely on what’s in front of us, on what’s happening today and tomorrow. That’s completely normal in this kind of situation. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. These aren’t normal times. Now that we’ve started to settle in, we should be asking ourselves “Now what?”

We need to be thinking about how we will pivot to save Q2, where we need to be six months from now, and how we will be ready to succeed when we are at the next new normal. 

It’s not either focus on today or focus on what’s ahead. We need to do both – focus on today and prepare for what’s next.

Managing that balance – between today and the future – doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Engaging your team for just a few hours a week to start with will have a huge payoff. Emotionally, it will help people feel there is a greater purpose. They will have a sense of control over the future. It will also give your business a significant competitive advantage. You will be positioned and ready to restart as soon as you’re able, putting you ahead of the game.

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

1. Set Expectations. Tell everyone that we all are responsible for adapting as rapidly as possible to changes – not just as individuals but as a team and a business. Survival and future success depends on it. We are all in this together.

2. Keep Everyone Focused on the customer, employees and what they can control.

3. Engage Everyone In the Conversation. Certain people may carry through on the tasks that come out of the conversations, but great ideas will come from everywhere.

4. Set up a cadence for communication. What was your cadence up to this point for team and individual meetings. Keep that. What else do you need to add? This is a rapidly changing situation. At a minimum, daily updates, should be the norm until the pace of disruption slows down. The length of the updates can change, but the regularity shouldn’t change abruptly.

5. Ask Pivot Questions. These questions get us out of our normal way of thinking about a situation. They could be questions like:

  • What if we could start from scratch? What would we do?
  • What are our customers going to need when the economy rebounds?
  • How would someone in another industry approach this
  • Why this and not that?
  • If you were CEO /head of the business unit / functional EVP for one day, what would you do?
  • What are our assumptions? What is the complete opposite?

6. Develop Potential Scenarios based on answers to the questions.

7. Create a Regular Cadence of future-focused conversations – at least once a week for an hour.

This situation isn’t permanent. It will end, even if it doesn’t feel that way. But it will be different. You and your team should start creating that future now.

Are you ready to focus on what’s next? Do you need some help figuring out how to get your teams to pivot?

Call us at 1.978.475.8424 or email us: e.onderickharvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

10 Tips to Help Your Team in a Disrupted Environment

Coronavirus is creating more disruption than many of us have ever experienced. It impacts our personal lives and professional lives. It’s doing the same for everyone around us. The situation changes daily with closings, cancellations, and now, decisions to have many people work from home.

Working from home may be a new way of working for some people or old hat for others.  Either way, it’s now a reality for everyone. Here are some tips to help you successfully lead your team as they adjust to working in a new way, in a new location, in a world of disruption.

1. Reflect. how are you feeling about what is going on? How do you feel about the remote work? In times of uncertainty, your team largely will calibrate their response to the uncertainty based on your response. Set up routines for yourself to help you ‘keep calm and carry on.’

2. Show empathy. people are experiencing everything from minor concern to outright fear, not to mention disruption on multiple fronts. In addition, people may not be able to create the most productive work environment. Schools may close. They may have older relatives they need to check in on. Their ability to shut it all out may be taxed. Talk about Feelings First.

3. Move off email, communicate real time. Even in the most email-driven organizations, we see each other all the time. When everyone is remote, we don’t. Relying only on email can feel isolating. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. Make a live connection.

4. Set up a cadence for communication. What was your cadence up to this point for team and individual meetings. Keep that. What else do you need to add? This is a rapidly changing situation. At a minimum, daily updates, should be the norm until the pace of disruption slows down. The length of the updates can change, but the regularity shouldn’t change abruptly.

5. Check-in, 1-on-1. do personal check-ins with each person. Make sure they are adjusting well and have what they need to succeed. Ask questions. Actively listen.

6. Collaboratively create contingency plans. There are lots of unknowns and risks right now.  What contingencies might your team need? For example, how will the team adjust if members become ill and are out for several days? What if someone has an ill family member they need to care for? Working collaboratively on these plans will create buy-in and better solutions.

7. Create a virtual break room.  Create ways that team members can catch up with each other and chat. It can be as simple as having each other’s cell phone numbers to send texts, hop on Skype/Facetime or actually call each other.

8. Focus on engagement. It’s really easy to feel disconnected when everyone is remote.  Key drivers of engagement are helping people feel they are part of something bigger, the ability to make progress and feel competent, and the ability to make decisions about how one works. Make sure your team members are feeling good about these factors.

9. Break the tension. This entire situation can be nerve wracking.  If your team is not dealing directly with the health crisis, building in some fun could help bring some relief.  A silly contest, posting pictures of your ‘home office’(which may be the kitchen table!), a rotating responsibility to share a dad joke everyday could be just what the team needs.

10. Review the week. Whether on shared drive, Slack, or a live meeting, review the week with everyone. What did we accomplish? What issues are we having? How is our communication cadence working? How is everyone feeling?

One of your goals is to create a level of predictability for your team in a highly unpredictable situation. The more quickly you can use some of these tips consistently, the quicker you will all create a rhythm that works for your team.

Do you need some help getting your head wrapped around what to do with your group, specifically? Do you want someone to help your group exceed expectations in a very difficult environment? Call Edith at 1.978.475.8424 or email her at e.onderick-harvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

Help Your Team Learn From Mistakes

One of your people walks into your office with that look. You know the look. The one that says… I have something I need to tell you that I really don’t want to tell you.

I’ve written in the Harvard Business Review online about ways to help your team be open to change. How you handle mistakes is key part of helping you team thrive during change and become more innovative themselves. The way you handle mistakes can create psychological safety or fear. You have to ask yourself… what’s my goal here? How can I manage this conversation so that we make the mistake a growth opportunity… one that pays dividends down the road?

Helping your team learn from mistakes includes 5 actions you should take during conversations with your team.  The first and last are actions you should take during conversations with your entire team on a regular basis. The other three are for those times when someone with that look walks into your office:

Action 1: Model the Way

Acknowledge and be accountable for your mistakes, especially if you are a senior leader. Too often, people who are a few layers removed from you in the organization feel like you may be where you are because you did not make significant mistakes. Tell stories of times you made mistakes and how you moved forward. Learning from mistakes is easier if leaders show you how.

Action 2: Respond Rather Than React

When someone comes to you with a mistake, you may feel frustration, disappointment or even anger.  Use your emotional intelligence to respond rather than react. Ask yourself a few questions. How does this make me feel? What would be the most productive response in this situation, if our goal is to use mistakes as a learning and growth opportunity? How is the other person feeling? How can I help both of us use this as a springboard for innovation?

Action 3: Acknowledge feelings first. 

No one feels good about making a mistake. Ask how they feel about the situation. Recognize that it can be difficult to make a mistake, much less to have to tell your boss about it.  You might want to tell them you’ve made that mistake (or one like it) yourself in the past.

Action 4: Ask questions. 

During the conversation, you may be tempted to jump right into problem-solving mode where you explain how to fix things. Resist the urge. Instead, ask questions. Let the individual explain the situation and follow-up with questions that allow the two of you to turn this into a learning conversation.  If you could do this over again, how would you approach it?    What do you think we need to do at this point? What is an important take away you have from this situation? What could I have done to support you differently? How can I help going forward?  When someone figures out how to fix their own mistake, they begin to learn how to fix mistakes in general and even how to avoid similar ones in the future.

Action 5: Champion the mistake-makers (judiciously, of course)

In a 2010 Inc. article, Michael Alter tells the story of how he created a ‘Best New Mistakes” competition at SurePayroll and its impact on the culture. The rules were simple – you must nominate yourself, explain the mistake, and what you learned from it. Entries were read, discussed and winners were chosen at company meetings. It was approached in a light-hearted way, allowing everyone to have fun and learn at the same time. Alter ‘formalized failure’ and allowed people to get over the stigma associated with mistakes.  

When one of your team members comes into your office with that look you want them to walk out feeling understood and even energized by the opportunities created by their mistake.

What other tips do you have for helping your team learn from their mistakes? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at info@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

What do 181 CEO’s Agree On?

Purpose Matters

181 CEO’s signed a letter from the Business Roundtable last week, stating that purpose matters and shareholders are not the only stakeholders who should receive value from the endeavors of business.

They specifically note that there are 5 stakeholders they are accountable to – shareholders, employees, customers, communities and suppliers. Interestingly, as a young consultant, my firm used this framework for strategic planning with our clients back in the late 1980’s. By taking this more holistic view of who should benefit from the corporation, the purpose of the organization became more meaningful to everyone the organization touched.

We’ve spoken about purpose for years. It’s what gets people up in the morning. It’s what makes people put in the extra effort when it’s needed. It’s what makes us feel a part of something bigger.

Empirical research now supports the fact that purpose and profit go together. Research by Gloria Gartenburg and George Serafeim found that companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5-7%. This finding, according to Gartenburg and Serafeim is on par with companies that have best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities.

According to Gartenburg and Serafeim just having a purpose is not enough. Success comes when:

  • Senior leadership has embedded that sense of purpose through the organization, especially at the middle manager level
  • There is strategic clarity throughout the organization about how to achieve that purpose

Purpose as a Core Tenet of Successful Change: These findings made me think about one of the critical elements of change I’ve been writing about for years, including recently in HBR Online and elsewhere. Clear, compelling purpose provides clear direction and ensures that everyone understands the “why “ of the change (i.e., the purpose), not just the what.

Today, organizations have to be able to change quickly. A natural outgrowth of rapid change is uncertainty and, at times, frustration that what we’re doing today flies in the face of what we did yesterday. However, if your organization has a clear sense of purpose and change is continually tied back to that purpose, uncertainty can be managed, and frustration minimized.

And when that purpose is not just aligned to shareholders but to the multiple stakeholders, the change will be meaningful in new ways. It will not just be a singular group who benefits. Rather it will have more meaning for the entire ecosystem of the organization.

Those organizations who establish a meaningful purpose and embed it in the culture of their leadership and their organization stand the best chance of thriving amid the chaos of constant change and upheaval in the world.

Disruption, Anyone?

Google is getting into the gaming business. According to the Wall Street Journal, they’re launching with a cloud-based service, hardware component and separate controller. Google is set to disrupt another industry.

There are plenty of disrupters out there. Some are behemoths like Google or Amazon. Others seemingly rise from nowhere. And, no matter what our industry, disruption is a very real possibility. We can’t run from it. We can’t hide from it. We need to be ready for it.

How can you get ready? Or even better, how could you become the disrupter?

Keep in touch with new technology. It can be overwhelming because it changes so rapidly. That’s the exact reason we need to stay in touch with it. Join a tech-focused professional group. Check out tech blogs. Pay attention to the everchanging buzz words – AI, autonomous vehicles, blockchain – and then find out what they mean. And ask, ‘how could this impact the work we do and the value we provide to clients?’

Look outside your industry. Clients invariably ask me ‘what are other company’s like ours doing?’ It’s not a question of what other company’s like yours are doing, it’s what are other companies unlike yours doing? I don’t know the gaming industry but it’s quite possible gaming companies didn’t look at Google as a company ‘like ours.’ Have your team look outside, too.

Listen, really listen, to your customers. Don’t just ask how you can do what you do better or how to improve your product. Ask them what their problems are. Find out what they want to solve. It quite possibly will have nothing to do with what you are currently providing. The question is then, do we have an opportunity here? Your team is probably positioned even better than you are to ask these questions and see the opportunities. Make the asking part of their job.

Build space to experiment. With different perspectives added to your thinking, there should come new ideas. Give space and resources to experiment. Try out ideas on a small scale. Learn from the failures and build on the successes.

Disruption, almost by definition, is something you’re not prepared for. It can be a disaster for companies and individual careers alike… so you have to get prepared. So, before Google, the start-up around the corner or across the globe turns you and your company upside down, invest time and resources making yourself as disruption-proof as possible.

Improve Your Global Mindset and Strategic Thinking

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a Danish company at their annual meeting in Dubai. It reminded me that some of the most instructive client relationships I have (especially the long-term ones) are those that provide me with a global perspective. It also reminded me of this newsletter article I wrote several years ago…

Some of you may have heard the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the dilemma of how to get it unstuck. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this post.

I thought about that story at a recent professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. All of the speakers had interesting perspectives to share and one in particular made a point that was particularly thought-provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. He further explained that “experiencing” a culture didn’t mean going there on vacation for a week or two.

It is immersive, longer-term experiences like ex pat assignments or managing global teams where you had to travel to work within their culture. The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they change your perspectives on the world, how it is organized and how it functions. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the implications.

How, then, can someone stretch their perceptions and perspectives and develop their strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility?

Seek out Projects That Involve Global Teams.  It’s not the same as working overseas, but working on projects with global teams is a great start. It will expose you to different ways of thinking, conversing, and decision-making. Regardless of your role, really listen to others.

Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations folks think differently from researchers. See how someone different from you may be experiencing the same organization, issues, etc.

Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to understand the industry more broadly. The problem is that it is a closed-system approach. Biotechs benchmark other biotechs. Car manufacturers benchmark other car manufacturers. The perspective of someone in a totally different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. It helps you see the forest for the trees. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he thought about products and perspectives he gained from things like digital animation architecture.

Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. In addition to the more commonly referenced and important diversity categories, we can hire for diversity of thought, experiences, and education. Also, the US has new populations from other cultures within the country that can be brought onto teams. So, if working globally isn’t possible, the US still has a rich population of people to choose from. Then, regularly ask those you’ve hired for perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.

Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed to think more strategically.

So, the story about the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this…  A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police, fire and tow truck drivers were trying to figure out how to get it out, but they had no workable solution.  A little boy walked up and asked what was going on. The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said. “Let the air out of the tires.”

Among other things, the story illustrates how important it is to look for and value unique perspectives, especially those outside your typical orbit. Something a more global perspective can provide us.

Is Storytelling One of Your Leadership Superpowers?

I’ve been working with some senior leaders recently on using powerful tools like storytelling to engage others in strategy. Just last week, I also saw a headline that Marvel’s most recent movie – Ant Man and the Wasp – opened in 1st place this past weekend. It was their 20th straight #1 opening. Marvel is telling some great stories. How can we, as leaders, start telling some great stories?

A recent article in The Mission identified 20 Storytelling Lessons We Can Learn from Marvel, analyzing what makes them so good at the art of the story. I’m not going to discuss all 20, but but here are three that all leaders can use to make storytelling one of their superpowers.

  • Heroes are not inherently interesting. Only dynamic, flawed characters can connect with dynamic, flawed humans. Too often leaders, especially senior leaders, are viewed by other people in the organization as being different from them. And, too often, these leaders hide the parts of themselves that would make people believe any differently. I’ve facilitated many leadership sessions where a senior leader shares his or her story. The most impactful stories are those where the senior leader opens up and shares the stories of the hardships, the mistakes, the questioning of themselves and the missteps that they have experienced in their lives and careers. And what they did to overcome those challenges that led to success.
  • The world is more than blue sky and green grass. Create a believable universe, not a pretty backdrop. When we tell a story, we may tend to gloss over the parts that aren’t too pretty. We only talk about all the benefits that will come from the company transformation. Just like showing your own human, less than perfect side, you should paint a realistic picture of what your team and your organization faces. “The new organizational structure will position the company to be more successful. AND… yes, it will mean growing pains. Some people will no longer fit into the company’s future, and some people will have to learn new ways of working or report to new managers. And we’ll all have to manage a degree of uncertainty as all the kinks are worked out. We don’t take these steps lightly.  But there is no growth without growing pains.“
  • Avoid info-dumping by maintaining a thread of suspense until the last possible moment. I recently saw a video by Lani Peterson, who is an executive coach and storytelling expert. She explained what happens when we talk facts and figures. She notes that we make sense out of information by turning it into a story and comparing it to other stories we’ve experienced. We, as the listener, have to do all the work. As leaders, if we are focusing on facts and figures – info dumping – rather than weaving a story that builds to a important point, we are not engaging our listeners. Instead, they’re in their own heads, working to figure out how to make sense of what we are telling them. When you’re communicating, don’t rely on Powerpoint or spreadsheets to share where the organization is going or why a particular decision was made. Build a good story that pulls the pieces of the story together, allowing for the big reveal at the end.

If you’re a fan of Iron Man, one of Marvel’s most successful heroes, you probably see all three of these dynamics play out. Marvel gives us a character, Tony Stark (he inhabits the iron suits) who is deeply flawed. Like most people, he struggles with his weaknesses, overcoming them on the way to saving the world. Likewise, Marvel also doesn’t try to paint the good guys’ organizations in the story with an overly flattering brush. Like the heroes, the agencies eventually overcome their own challenges. And finally, like most good stories, there is a feel-good twist at the end. A sense of the heroics of overcoming difficulties both superhuman (defeating an evil empire) and every-day (salvaging a friendship, or coming together as a team) in the service of a greater good.

Growth by Design

I was having a conversation with a CEO earlier this week. The business is very successful and healthy. But like most CEO’s, he is concerned with growth and what’s next for his company. During our conversation, we talked about taking a step back, what I sometimes call taking in the view from the balcony. This view allows you to see how the different aspects of the business and organization are working together (or against each other) to achieve today’s results. And begs the question… how effectively will our current structure and processes spur that next phase of growth? Taking this view helps you to create growth by design, making it easier to align and integrate purposefully. And it prepares the organization to take that next step.

Growth by Design is our framework for helping clients build an organization that can propel them to the next level. It has three core components.

  • It’s starts with compelling clarity, ensuring alignment of the vision, mission, goals and culture. Every leader and every employee should know at all times exactly what their priorities are and how they fit with the strategy and goals of the organization. A how they both serve the mission.
  • Second, you need to leverage the critical drivers – understanding and instilling the growth imperative, making change agility part of your company’s DNA, and ensuring you have the talent to innovate and execute.
  • Third, the organization needs to build adaptive structures and processes– both business and human resources/talent processes and structures — that meet today’s needs but also prepare the organization for what’s next.

Asking the right questions and finding the best answers will help even the most challenged CEOs and senior teams cut through the fog. Building a compelling strategy for what lies ahead… begins by design.

Five Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change

I had the opportunity to share my insights on the behaviors of leaders who embrace change as part of Harvard Business Review series Competing in the Future.

In today’s VUCA environment, leaders can no longer manage change, they need to enable it. In the article, I discuss how “Successful change-agile leaders at all levels in the organization respond to changes in the business environment by seizing opportunities, including throwing out old models and developing new ways of doing business. They try to make change thinking contagious, embedding it into everything they do from the most fundamental daily interactions to the most complex strategy.”

To read the article, click here. After you’ve read it, let HBR and me know what you think in the comments section.