Recently, I’ve been talking with leaders, including mid-level leaders, about the challenges they are facing with staff shortages, continued ambiguity from COVID, and end of year pressures. In these conversations, the underlying theme is the toll these issues are taking on their emotions and their continual effort to push those emotions away or to simply plow through them.
The context for these conversations is a broader discussion about leading with emotional agility. Susan David and Christina Congleton, in their Harvard Business Review article, define emotional agility as the ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings in a mindful, productive way. When most of us get hooked by our negative thoughts, especially at work, we have one of two reactions. We buy into them (“I always do something stupid that gets in the way of my success.”) and avoid the situations that may evoke them. Or, we rationalize them away (“I shouldn’t have these thoughts. Just get on with it.”)
When we get hooked and choose one of these two common reactions, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to respond effectively and intentionally. To choose to respond rather than react, the first step you must take is to recognize what is going on with you.
When I talk with these leaders, I ask them how many times a day they check in with themselves to assess what they are feeling. The overwhelming response is never. Some will say rarely. A very small fraction will say regularly. Then we do the following exercise:
First, we pause the conversation right there and I give them 30 seconds to just stop and check in with themselves.
Before the pause, I encourage them to work hard to accurately name what they are feeling. Don’t just tell themselves they are feeling stressed. Rather become more granular in the assessment. Are you angry? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Constrained? To respond, rather than react, the first step is to accurately identify and understand what you are feeling. You can’t create an effective response or strategy if you are unable to clearly define what you are responding to.
At the end of 30 seconds, I ask them about their experience. They often say it makes them feel more centered, have more clarity, and are better able to manage those emotions than have the emotions manage them. It provides them the space to choose a response.
We then discuss how pausing 1-2 times a day – taking 1 minute out of an 8, 10 or 12 hour workday– can significantly impact the ability to become more emotionally agile and the impact of that agility on their ability to lead in challenging times.
Over the next few weeks, take a moment or two throughout the day to check in with yourself. What are you feeling? How are you reacting to those emotions? What opportunities do you have to pause to make the choice of how you will respond?
These are stressful times. You’ll find that this technique also works quite well at home.
The Hard Truth: It’s Not Going to Get Easier. Here Are the Trends and What You Can Do…
Adapting to rapidly changing market, technology and client-demand trends will consume organizations in 2022. Which means that the risk of change burnout for employees and leaders alike is soaring. Leaders at all levels will need to improve their change leadership capability quickly and continually.
Consider the following trends:
- Hybrid work models are here to stay and will continue to evolve. 63% of high-growth companies already have enabled hybrid work models. While 69% of negative or no-growth companies are focused on complete on-site or all-remote models. McKinsey
- Hybrid models will fail for 30% of businesses on their first try. Why? According to Forrester, shifting to a permanent hybrid model won’t be easy. There are significant, competing demands between face-to-face and remote work along a myriad of dimensions: including roles, processes, and promotion opportunities.
- The “great attrition” will continue. 64% of workers said they are at least somewhat likely to leave their job in the next 3-6 months, according to PwC.
What talent development strategies are most organizations focused on?
- Skill building is the number one action taken by businesses to close pandemic-era skill gaps – for 69% of businesses. That’s 13 points higher than redeploying, 17 points higher than hiring and 33 points higher than contracting. McKinsey.
- Social, emotional, and advanced cognitive skills are the most focused-on development targets. What’s #1? Leadership and managing others. McKinsey.
- Top two priorities for 2022 according to 550 HR Leaders surveyed by Gartner? #1 is Building critical skills and #2 is organizational design / change management.
- Start with strategy. How will your organization respond to both the business and talent changes coming your way? Link team objectives and people development to your strategy. Be sure to set expectations that priorities will shift over the course of 2022.
- Increase engagement. Seems like you’ve heard this before? It gets more important in 2022. To ensure your hybrid model works, make sure you have a thorough DEI plan. Get a balance of both office and remote voices when you consider policy, plans, and assignments. Align your reward and recognition strategy with your DEI objectives.
- Don’t fall behind. This is not the year to be playing catch up. Your 2022 organizational strategy and planning must account for the massive market and talent changes taking place. Uncover what’s worked over the last 18 months, what hasn’t worked, and build some projections about how things will be different in 2022. And that includes assessing the leadership skills necessary to implement and continually adapt your hybrid model.
To continue to be successful, organizations will need to do some or all of the following:
- restructure jobs
- figure out how to organize work processes differently
- rethink how your teams need to work together
- build trust and rapport with your employees
- work hard to maintain or recreate a better business culture
- address the change burnout problem we’re all facing
- develop new leadership mindsets and skills
Could You Use a Partner to Help Boost Your Team’s Leadership Capability and Business Culture?
We’ve been working with our clients for over 20 years to help solve these kinds of challenges. As your leadership team develops your 2022 plans, we’re here to partner with you.
In recent months we’ve seen an uptick in inquiries into how we can help leaders and their organizations work, lead, and organize differently. Our clients have been benefitting from our newest suite of programs and consulting services, Solving the Hybrid Puzzle.
Our previous two articles talked about creating alignment for success in 2021. First, your organization (and your teams) need a clearly articulated North Star and strategic clarity. Second, it is imperative to build a culture that reinforces alignment between how you work and what you aim to achieve. Alignment is essential for success. However, agility – in addition to alignment – will lead to competitive advantage.
Agility without alignment is chaos.
Over the past year, rapid response and breakneck adaptation have been watchwords for successful businesses in the COVID environment. The pace of that agile response has left people exhausted and organizations risking burnout among their teams. Some organizations have been changing so quickly that they have prioritized adaptation too highly. They are no longer aligned with or certain about their business strategy. And some feel they no longer recognize their culture. In a deep and dire emergency, business survival trumps culture. Nevertheless, it has its negative consequences.
And therein lies the conundrum. Organizations that build and maintain competitive advantage create a balance between two competing elements: alignment and agility. It can be convincingly argued that the benefits of agility are only achieved within the context of ongoing alignment with strategy and culture. It is also a fact that change and alignment are, at their core, competing forces that require constant attention.
How can you create alignment and agility within your team?
- Clearly focus on only a handful of strategic imperatives. And don’t assume clarity. Revisit those imperatives regularly with your team and discuss how the team’s work contributes to them. Use them as your guardrails.
- Help strategy bubble up from the bottom. People in the organization who are closer to the customers, operations and technologies often see opportunities and threats more quickly than executives do. In my HBR article, “5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change”, I shared these two ideas for building this capability in your team:
- Make opportunity-seeking part of the regular conversation. Simply asking questions like “What are our customers talking about? What do you think they will want a year or two from now? What new trends do you think will impact us?” sends the message that looking ahead is important. And that you value their input.
- Advertise successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Tell the stories at company events and recognize team members who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Demonstrate that the status quo is not enough anymore.
- Encourage experimentation and learn from failure: Too often, traditional organizations’ first response to a risk is to ask, “Why?” Change agility requires leaders to ask “why not?” and to establish opportunities for pilots, prototypes, and experimentation. Experimentation is an integral part of R&D. While an overall strategy informs the researchers’ focus, any R&D scientist will tell you that there are sometimes dozens of experiments that don’t get results and that, without those failures, they wouldn’t have been able to find the successes.
- Reallocate resources with discipline. As Sulls’ and Homkes research found, organizations tend to move too slowly or move quickly but lose sight of the strategy. I consulted to an organization a few years ago where moving too quickly without discipline was hampering their ability to achieve results. The CEO had started the company and was the classic early-stage entrepreneur; extremely responsive to market needs, ready and willing to change strategy, and endlessly shifting resources. However, the company was not early stage anymore and this nearly sole focus on agility led to a complete lack of follow-through, very little alignment and was seriously impacting results. The board removed him and named a new CEO who added a new level of discipline to resource allocation through a combination of centralized oversight and distributed decision-making.
Start 2021 with the ideas we’ve discussed in these three articles – defining your North Star, creating strategic clarity, building a strong culture and creating aligned agility – and you will have improved your ability to thrive.
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.
How should you handle a bad situation?
Facebook is facing a crisis. Cambridge Analytica used 50 million users’ personal information without their permission to create targeted campaigns during the 2016 presidential campaign. Users want answers. The media wants answers. Congress wants answers. Still, during this storm, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was conspicuously absent. From news accounts, it’s not just that he wasn’t appearing in public. He also seems to be invisible internally. One news account was speculating that we had more concern about protecting his brand than facing the bigger issues. He broke his silence yesterday, after #WheresZuck took over social media. By not being present, his leadership brand has taken the hit.
Crisis situations (and even garden-variety mistakes) often involve rapid rates of change in stakeholder perceptions and actions. How should leaders handle it when things go wrong? When poor decisions are made? When they simply make a mistake? Here are four tips:
How have you seen leaders handle bad situations?
How hard is it to get 100% of even the smallest group of people to agree on anything, never mind a whole company? We’ve all struggled with that dynamic. But when it comes to culture change, Konica Minolta CEO Shoei Yamana believes the number is a lot smaller:
“Across a big company it is impossible to get 100 per cent of people to change. But you only need 20 per cent of the people. If I can do that, I am 100 per cent confident I can change the whole company.”
Last week, the Financial Times asked me to share my perspective on culture change. Their How to Lead feature was a profile of how Yamana is moving Konica Minolta past 140 years of success into a new business model. I shared my perspective in their companion piece Ask the Outsider. While his journey is focused on leading a traditional, 45,000 person, Japanese company through a major shift, his insights can help anyone who is trying to change mindsets in their team, department or company.
What do you think? Is 20% buy-in the tipping point for change?
At NextBridge, we advise leaders and leadership teams on successfully changing their organizations and cultures.
What conversation would you like to have? Call me at 978-475-8424. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
The Power of Conversation
Powerfully effective leadership requires a great deal of skill – or should I say skills. What do change agility, delegation, performance management, and motivation all have in common? Conversation. Not just talking to or at someone or some group, but talking WITH them.
At the root of almost all leadership successes and failures are conversations that did or did not go well. Leadership conversations can run the gamut from basic to complicated and they are ubiquitous. A rather basic conversation can change a performance issue. A conversation can create the win-win of an effectively delegated task or project. Conversations do the heavy lifting of leading change. Conversations are used to explain a strategy and enlist an executive team to execute it. Conversations articulate the vision in a meaningful, real way and provide those irresistible invitations to come along over a period of time.
As business becomes ever more complex and changing, there is less room for misunderstanding, mistrust, and disengagement. And yet, we increasingly rely on email and texting to communicate – tools that often contribute to more misunderstanding and can create mistrust.
We all know that some conversations are great and others are not. What are the characteristics of a powerful leadership conversation? Here are our top 5:
As a leader, do you spend more time crafting emails and presentations than working on the conversations you have every day? What opportunities are you missing?
Mastering the art and science of conversation will improve or help you better leverage virtually every skill you need if you want to excel as a leader in our rapidly changing world.
At NextBridge, we place a premium on great conversations as we help our clients navigate organizational change and leadership development.
What conversation would you like to have? Call me at 978-475-8424. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
When it’s the wrong type of loyalty.
We’ve talked in the past about the importance of building trust in leading change efforts. Change creates discomfort and disruption to the way people do things and how they interact with others – sometimes in profound ways. In short, it puts a strain on relationships, and therefore, on loyalty. And what does a leader under pressure to manage a significant change often do, almost reflexively? They try to leverage the loyalty of others.
There’s good news and bad news in this. Here’s the good news. The right kind of loyalty provides a solid foundation for the trust and leadership people are looking for from others during challenging situations. It makes it easier for a leader to convey the value of the change and enlist others in making it happen.
The bad news? It’s all too easy to misunderstand the nature of loyalty or to disregard the consequences of “fake loyalty.” You risk building a house of cards that falls apart under the high stakes and duress that change often brings.
You want to build the kind of solid relationships that allow you and your management team to build long-term change agility into your organization’s DNA. You want to avoid:
- Blind loyalty. This is based on the premise that an idea or argument is right simply because it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership or iinfluence. But great ideas come from robust conversation and differing perspectives. Blind loyalty doesn’t question. And blind loyalists simply execute the plan. Don’t count on them to take a lot of initiative to uncover or find solutions to problems that inevitably pop up.
- Forced loyalty. If someone is demanding loyalty, it is given out of compliance and fear. Forced loyalty may look like engagement to an outsider but it’s not. Underneath the surface is resentment and anxiety.
- Favor-seeking loyalty. This individual laughs at even your worst jokes and is often way too eager to support your ideas – even the ones you’re not too sure of yourself. It isn’t about the team or the larger vision. It’s about being rewarded for being a favorite. This type of loyalty is toxic to the team. People recognize what’s happening. It often creates distrust, jealousy and behaviors that undermine rather than elevate.
- Conflict-avoidant loyalty. Some people go along to get along. They always do what’s asked (i.e., they’re loyal) because even modest amounts of conflict make them very uncomfortable.
When you are a leader implementing change, ask yourself: how do I create buy-in and enhance loyalty? Have you and the organization helped people move through the change curve or have you tried to go from awareness to commitment in one giant step? We work with leaders every day to create loyalty and move people through the change curve. Read about one of our client’s results.
NextBridge partners with you to create and execute pragmatic, sustainable business solutions focused on building your organization and culture, developing talent and navigating change.
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