Why is it so hard to get my organization to change? And what to do about it.

Why is it so hard to get my organization to change?

You know that change is hard. You’ve experienced it. Often, leaders feel that, with all the day-to-day demands on them, they just don’t have the time to be working on how to get to the future. It could be that the team is faced with a challenge so complex that it seems un-manageable, so they don’t face it head-on. Or it can simply be that assumption that people really don’t want to change.

Close-Up Radio

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 30-minutes with Jim Masters on the difficulty of change and related topics. We also talked about what leaders and organizations need to do to thrive through continual change, why we call our firm NextBridge and how I came to this place in my career.

Listen to the interview.

What role does purpose play in being agile?

Being agile means asking people to step out of their comfort zone and into uncertainty. That can be a scary proposition. Purpose is the north star of an agile organization. Purpose creates the guardrails for action.

Trends, Bends and Opportunities

Dr. Loren Murfield, Pat Lynch and I discuss this topic and how to create agility in your organization. This daily Facebook Live podcast is a learning opportunity that helps you navigate your business in a rapidly changing environment. We discussed practical information everyone can use today to build agility and stay ahead of the competition.

Are You Ready for What’s Next?

As of today, 48 of the 50 U.S. states are ‘re-opening’. Massachusetts, one of the last to take the step, has decided to begin a phased re-opening next week.
I’m curious about what you envisioned re-opening would be like when we all starting staying home about 8 weeks ago. Until recently, I’ve been so focused on trying to master the current reality that I hadn’t given it enough thought. But now, my focus is mostly on the future.
Right now, we have Zoom fatigue and would welcome being able to focus only on work instead of our work, kids, dogs and parents. That said, we’ve settled into this way of making it work and, dare I say it, it feels sort of normal. But as our workplaces start to think about re-opening, we should acknowledge that re-opening won’t put an end to leading through disruption. Going back to our workplaces is going to be disruptive all over again. Soon many of us will be pulled from our current uneasy normal into the next one. Who will go back first? When will I go back? How will that be determined and how do I help my team manage all of this?
In addition, when we go back to our workplace, they won’t be the same place we left. Some, perhaps many, of our colleagues will no longer be working. We may have to go through screening on top of badging in to get into the building. Only a small percentage of us may be allowed in our offices at any given time. Hand sanitizer and overnight sanitizing will be de rigueur. And, how exactly will we all have socially distant meetings in some of those small conference rooms?
When you’re leading your teams through this next transition, remember that you have some resources and tools to rely on – like our 10 Tips For Leading During Disruption. It won’t be leadership as usual when you walk back into the office. There will be new and different challenges. When you find you need support, reach out and let us know how we can help you.
“Edith is working with us during a pivotal time for our company. Her pragmatic approach, ability to understand our business and people, along with her deep expertise in leadership and change make her my go-to call for critical, highly-visible initiatives.”
— Marcus Tgettis, most recently Vice President of Talent
Sage Therapeutics

Silver Linings of Covid 19

We are about a month into widespread WFH (work from home). As people tend to do during significant change, we notice the things that we are missing – our favorite lunch restaurants, seeing colleagues and friends without social distancing, and the opportunity to go to the office.
During my conversations with a number of leaders over the past couple of weeks, it’s been interesting to hear about some of the positive impacts the new way of working is having on them and their teams. They are simple but powerful examples of how leaders and their teams are responding to challenges.  Here are a few:
  •   A much deeper connection with each other. Leaders and members of their teams are starting conversations by asking, very genuinely, ‘how are you?’ It’s no longer a throw away greeting we use with each other. Communication is more frequent and it’s not just about the work. Leaders are finding and sharing the innovative ways in which they are creating connection with their team.  One shared that he interviews a member of his team each week and shares their bio with the entire team on Fridays. He said he talks to some of these people all the time and now knows them on a completely different level. Teams are building in other ways to have fun and strengthen connections and trust – trivia Tuesday, times to share something silly they did as a child, and so many more.
  • Intentional communication. Leaders are having short stand-up meetings at the start or end of every day to talk about what’s going on, issues that have arisen and what is on the horizon. These meetings are helping teams become more united because they are continually discussing common purpose and creating greater awareness of what each other are accomplishing, struggling with, and how they can support one another. Several leaders have shared with me the frequent check-ins they have with their teams. They are asking people if they are getting what they need, what else they can do and how they can improve the way they are working together. They are hearing that their teams are communicating more frequently and effectively than they ever have. One leader uses a survey to check-in. His team gave the current way they are working a 4.9 out of 5.0 and said they need to talk about how they continue communicating and collaborating this way once they are co-located again.
  • Greater agility. Working remotely when other members of your household who are doing the same or your children are home from school or daycare, creates distractions. Learning to use meeting tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams is new to some people and sometimes the technology is overloaded, so you can’t work as planned. Leaders and teams are being more agile in how they’re approaching the work — readily sharing best practices, calibrating expectations, creating alternate approaches in the moment,  laughing when someone’s cat walks across the keyboard, or understanding when you have to step away from a meeting for a few minutes because the 3 year-old needs something.
Even with all the positives, we are all still adapting. One area where people are struggling is how to make sure work doesn’t take over their lives (or at least anymore than it had prior to the pandemic). Most leaders have told me that it’s difficult for them and their teams to turn work off.  It’s easy to lose track of time – you aren’t catching a train, getting in your car, or seeing that everyone else has left the office. It’s just you and your laptop. You can just keep working or go back to it after dinner or before breakfast.
One solution to this challenge is to create a visual signal – for yourself and others you work with – that you’ve ended your work day.  It could be a simple “I’m signing off now” text. One leader I know has a brief team call right around 5:00 or so which has become the signal that they are done for the day. Physically putting your laptop away, shutting off the desktop, or closing the ‘home office’ door are other signals you could use.
No one is glad the coronavirus has changed our world. But we must and we are finding ways to rise to the challenge. The real silver lining is that the pandemic has forced us to become more agile in ways that will pay dividends long after things return to “normal.”
What are you doing with your teams to help them adjust, be more flexible and remain productive in these difficult times? I’d like to hear from you. Please email me at e.onderick-harvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com

Feelings First

When I’m facilitating leadership development workshops or coaching executives, I often find that participants – who are often very high performing individuals —  really struggle with how to handle emotions that arise during important conversations.  I’m not even talking about those really difficult situations where someone has an angry outburst or is crying in their office.  I’m talking about the conversations that happen every day.  It may be those times when a new mandate comes down from corporate that causes disruption and frustration.  It can be when the individual has made a mistake.  It’s when deadlines are tight, and tension and stress run high.

For many of these leaders, the natural reaction is to jump in and act, to focus on tasks, figuring out what needs to be done move things forward or fix the situation.  The problem with this approach is that the emotions get in the way.  Until someone feels their emotions are recognized and addressed, it’s challenging to just push through or get on with it.

We need to start those conversations with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the other person’s experience, perspectives and feelings.  These five tips can help you become more comfortable with and skilled at putting feelings first:

Check in on yourself How do you feel about engaging with you team members about their emotions related to work situations? Are you aware of what you naturally do when presented with others’ emotions?  Do you go right to task?  Do you just try to avoid the conversation until the emotions go away?  Are you naturally empathic?  The starting point for increasing your empathy is to start with understanding yourself.

Increase your social awareness.  How good are you at picking up on how people are feeling?  It comes naturally to some people and is difficult for others.  One way to do this is be present in the conversation with the person.  Don’t be thinking about the meeting you just had or what is on your to-do list.  Do a gut check with yourself.  Are you completely focused on this individual and this conversation right now?  This can take practice. If this is a development area for you, keep practicing.

Recognize the emotions the person is feeling.  Call out what the individual is experiencing.  Say something like “that sounds really frustrating” or  “these deadlines are stressful.  I’m not surprised that you feel overwhelmed.”  Many times, people feel like their emotions aren’t recognized enough, especially at work.  Speaking to the emotions will help the person feel those emotions are important.

If you don’t know how they’re feeling, ask.  Rather than shying away from emotions, ask about them.  A simple question like “how are you doing with the change that was just announced?”

Recognize when someone feels really good about something that you may need to say no to.  To this point, my tips have focused on negative emotions. Sometimes people come to us with really positive emotions connected with something that can’t move forward.  Rather than simply telling them it can’t be done and why it can’t be done, recognize the positive they see in it.  Saying something like “I can see why you would be really excited about that idea.  Unfortunately, we can’t move forward with that for two reasons.”  This recognition of  how they feel will keep the individual from feeling embarrassed or unrecognized by having an idea turned down.  Also, remember:  do NOT use the word “but” after you recognize it. The word ‘but’ is interpreted as nullifying everything said before it.

By recognizing emotions that impact how people are feeling about their work, their team and the work environment, you can then more effectively move to the task at hand.

Keep Your Team Focused on Shifting Priorities

When is the last time that you felt like things were comfortably status quo? Changing business strategies, morphing project parameters, and turnover that leaves you short-staffed are more the rule than the exception these days. So how do you ensure your team stays focused in an environment of ever-changing priorities? Clear communication with your team and proactive change leadership are key to keeping your teams engaged and on track. Here are three strategies you should employ on a regular basis.

Strategy 1: Talk About Priorities Regularly

Setting priorities doesn’t come naturally to everyone. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned relatively easily. Start by making it a part of your ongoing conversations with your teams. Yes, work with them regularly, in a structured way, to help them establish and revise priorities. For more on that, Derek Lidow outlines “A Better Way To Set Strategic Priorities” in this Harvard Business Review article. But it’s also important to engage the leaders who report to you in general, ongoing conversations about their priorities. It helps them become more fluent in the language of managing priorities and it conveys the importance you place on that fluency. And it helps you to gauge how closely their priorities are in step with yours and the organization, and where their prioritization skills need to be improved.

A lot of leaders struggle with how to engage in everyday conversations with their direct reports about priorities. Here are some questions to start the conversation:

Strategy 2: Get Ahead of Changes in the Workplace

When teams get hit with unanticipated changes, it can feel like “here we go again… another fire-drill.” Well, preventing fires is a lot more effective than putting them out, especially when they seem to crop up on regular basis. Not only is it a more efficient approach, but it keeps the level of frustration down when people don’t feel blindsided.

As soon as you anticipate changes that will affect your part of the organization, reach out to your direct reports (or your leadership team?). Apprise them of what you know and ask them questions. You want them thinking about this… really engaging in the challenges ahead. The earlier they’re involved, the better their responses will be. And they’re also likely to provide food for thought that will help you manage the change upward.

Consider these conversation starters to help make the inevitable transition happen more smoothly:

  • What obstacles do you anticipate with the upcoming change?
  • What knowledge and skills do you think will need to be shored up to make this change work?
  • Which of your team’s current priorities can take a backseat while we’re transitioning?

Strategy 3: Teach Your Team to Shift Gears On Their Own

Ideally, you want your teams to be able to shift their priorities effectively with only the lightest of steering on your part. That leaves you more time to focus on strategic issues. The challenge? Too many managers have been taught by their organization and past bosses to take direction on prioritization.

If you’ve been leveraging the first two techniques, this third one will be easier. Some things to keep in mind:

  • First, make sure they’re well-acquainted with your organization’s business strategy and goals. They provide a framework for them to understand what their priorities should be.
  • Second, in the simplest terms, what are your highest-level priorities? “Client problem resolution will always be my number one concern.”
  • Third, what are your expectations on the latitude they have for changing priorities and how to communicate with you about them?

If you want them to better manage their own priorities, never, ever tell your direct reports what you want right away. Encourage them to present you with their ideas first. Probe for why they’re thinking the way they do. Test their assumptions. Here are some effective conversation starters for setting parameters and promoting self-reliance:

  • Let’s talk about our organization’s goals and how they should be reflected in our department’s priorities. How do you see them aligning?
  • If you were in my shoes, what would be your biggest priority? Why? How will you reflect that in your priorities over the next quarter?
  • On a regular basis, you’re more than capable of managing your team’s priorities. Here’s what I want you to do any time you’re on track to miss your monthly goals…

Once upon a time, managing priorities was a standard, quarterly process. Now shifts happen too often and too quickly for such a static approach. In my Harvard Business Review online article 5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change I talk about how critical it is for every leader to integrate change leadership into the very fabric of who they are and what they do on a daily basis. An essential part of that is guiding your team leaders’ ability to re-prioritize.

Learning as a Journey

A question many of us think about on a regular basis is ‘what do I need to do to continue to be successful?” The definition of success itself is very personal. If you’ve been successful up until now, it could be easy to assume that what made you successful in the past will work in the future. In reality, it’s uncertain what will make us successful in workplaces, markets, careers, and industries that are changing so rapidly.

Change has a way of doing that – creating uncertainty. What do we seek when we feel uncertain? A return to a comfortable degree of certainty again. Certainty helps us feel in control. News flash: at work, we’ll never have 100% certainty. That said, maybe rather than searching for certainty, we should ensure our relevancy.

There is a prescient article in the Wall Street Journal titled “I’m Still Under Construction; Six Tales of Lifelong Learning.” It profiles six very different individuals who are living the idea of life-long learning. It demonstrates that learning can happen in a wide variety of ways and that it pays off in big ways. If you read the article, you’ll see that learning didn’t create more certainty, but it gave them more opportunity and relevancy.

There are some predictions that 30% of today’s skills and knowledge will be obsolete in a few years. Overstated or not, this statistic represents the reality that we need to be thinking about how we are continually preparing ourselves for what’s next. Second news flash: learning isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.

Where is your journey going?

Am I Dressed for This?

Much of the country is experiencing record-breaking, bitter cold this winter.  And yet, some weeks, we’ve had snow storms on one day, with bright sunshine and 50 degrees the next.  In a few months, we’ll be experiencing heat and humidity.  The old saying goes ‘if you wait a minute, the weather will change.” As human beings, we readily adapt to these weather changes. We build a wardrobe for whatever the weather in our area brings – hot, cold, rain, snow, sun, etc. 
 
You could apply that old saying to what happens at work these days – wait a minute, and it will change. As I sat yesterday evening in front of the fire, I was thinking about what kind of wardrobe we are building for ourselves at work so that, when change happens, we have what’s needed to adapt. Are we building an athletic wardrobe so that when we need to reach  across silos we are comfortable and able to move easily?  Do we have our creative hat when we need to approach a challenge in a new and unique way?  Do we have our metaphorical heavy coat so we can get results even when things feel blustery? 

Too often we put on armor to protect ourselves from having to adapt and change.  Wouldn’t a wardrobe with a nice pair of shorts help us to be comfortable when things get heated?  Or a well-tailored coat for when we have to face a cold front?  Or a comfy pair of jeans for when we need to be ready to stretch and reach feel so much better?
 
What are you doing to not only broaden your work wardrobe, but to update it for what’s needed in 2019? How about your teams?  Are they stuck in a snowbank?

Hold Onto Your Hat

Happy new year!!  2018 is in the books and now we’re looking at 350+ new days ahead of us. What will 2019 bring? Hard to say with certainty. With that said, what are some experts saying may be ahead of us in the coming year? Let’s take a look:

Hello Generation Z: For the first time in 2019, Gen Z is entering the workforce in meaningful numbers. For the first time we’ll have 5 generations working side-by-side. What are Gen Z all about? According to Brené Brown, “My experience is that they lean in and lean hard. They are all very different people, but as a group I experience them as curious, hopeful, always learning, painfully attuned to the suffering in the world, and anxious to do something about it.”

AI and machine learning come to workforce management: According to TheWorkforce Institute at Kronos, AI and machine learning will finally be integrated into workforce management practices. It will lessen the burden of admin-heavy tasks for managers and provide predictive analytics to head-off potential issues. Managers will have more information for data-driven decision making and more time to lead. The question in my mind is, are managers prepared and equipped to lead?

Economic uncertainty causing angst: With the behavior of the stock market over the past month, the early signs of trade wars and some economists predicting recession, the economy seems to be full of uncertainty. With uncertainty comes doubt and fear. Even though the great recession started over a decade ago, the scars are still fresh for many.

Leaders will need to handle a potential downturn in ways that sustain trust and guard against over-reaction to any changes it brings. In any scenario, organizations will need to ensure they have the right talent focused on what adds the most value. Effective leadership will be essential. 

What do you think is going to be impacting you this year?

The Leadership Link to Sustained Excellence

Can your organization sustain performance excellence? Recently, McKinseyresearched the link between leadership and organizational health (i.e., the company’s ability to sustain exceptional performance over time). Key findings:

  • 80% of a company’s variance could be explained by the strength of leadership.
  • 57% of companies don’t think their training efforts are developing the leaders they need to meet their strategic priorities.

Too often, they note, leadership development focuses on bringing universal leadership capabilities to a limited number of individuals in the company. Why doesn’t this work? Change is constant. Decision-making needs to be decentralized. Impacts need to be achieved across the organization. Effective leadership needs to be local.

They suggest four principles that closely align with our approach to developing leaders who can thrive in high-change environments.

  • Focus on leadership behaviors most effective for driving performance.McKinsey identified 4 that account for as much as 89% of leadership effectiveness. One is focused on results. The other 3 on people.
  • Identify a critical mass of influencers so that change becomes self-sustaining. This is true for any change. You need to identify your key stakeholders and influencers and make a plan for engaging them.
  • Use neuroscience to create lasting change. Neuroscience helps explain why we resist change and what we can do to create change. It provides insight into motivation, decision making and influence. Leadership development needs to utilize these concepts to help leaders create highly effective and efficient leadership practices.
  • Integrate programs into broader organizational systems and measure impact. Leadership development can’t stand alone. It needs to be aligned to the strategy and integrated into how you hire, enable high performance, reward and recognize.

Leading change is now central to every leader’s role, and the organization’s success.  

It follows that leadership development and change leadership development should not be looked at as separate topics or processes. Change leadership should be fully integrated into training programs, but also into all leadership development strategies, plans and assignments. And every senior leader should be asking themselves:

How ready is my team to lead change?  

What are their change leadership strengths and weaknesses?  

Who Are We Today? Who Do We Want To Be Tomorrow?

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with two executive teams. Their businesses are very different.  One is over 20 years old with almost 4000 employees.  The second is a start-up driving towards commercializing its first product.  While different, both of them were exploring a common question.  Who are we today and who do we want to be?

In both cases we started with who the team wanted to be so we could frame that sometimes more difficult conversation – who are we now?

Answering this question requires that these executives become aware of and more comfortable with the answers to several other, deeper questions about themselves and the team:

  • Do we fully understand who each of us is?  Do we understand how each of us filters information, makes decisions and communicates?
  • Are we aligned around a common vision of where this company or department is going?  And how are we, as a team, are leading it? This may seem obvious, but misalignment amongst leadership is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and average performance.
  • Are we role-modeling the characteristics we want this organization to exhibit?
  • How are we pushing each other to step out of our comfort zonesin a productive and effective way?  Innovation doesn’t happen when everyone is comfortable.
  • How do we provide impactful feedbackto each other so that we increase the team’s effectiveness rather than diminishing it?
  • What about when the inevitable happens – when we’re sometimes annoying each other? Are we avoiding certain people?  Aggressively confronting them?  How well is it working? There’s a third option that gets better results.

Why so many questions?  Because good answers require good questions.  In today’s environment, personal and organizational curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership and business growth.  And if you’re not digging deeply…, you’re limiting the depth and speed of your growth.