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What To Do When A Senior Leader Leaves

Executive ExodusI’ve been hearing from some of you about changes that are occurring in your company.  A few people have talked to me about senior leaders leaving their organizations — their manager or the executive who leads the division, department, or group.  Anytime someone leaves a work group it’s disruptive to the group but when a senior leader leaves, the organizational shock waves can really knock you back.

When a senior leader leaves and you are a leader in the organization, you are in a difficult position.  You are trying to navigate this change yourself and trying to provide guidance and support for others.

It’s common when a senior leader leaves, that the organization and you as an individual:

  • Feel like the rudder has come off the boat. As much as we talk about shared leadership, there are special expectations of leaders at the top.  They are the ones who establish a vision or direction and guide the organization in pursuit of that vision.  Without that, we feel we’re in a boat without a rudder.
  • Aren’t sure what to do.  People start to ask “is this still important?” “I was in the middle of this big project, will it continue?” “What about…?
  • Wait for the other shoe to drop. Now that X has left, how soon will it be until others leave?
  • Wonder what that person knows that they don’t. People will often question why the person left and because the reason isn’t often public information, people fill in the blank with negative reasons.

You’re thinking these things and you’re pretty sure you’re people are, too.  How do you lead now?

  • Reiterate that, unless a new person has been put in the role already and made a significant announcement, the direction has not changed. Clients and customers still need what they needed yesterday.  The products or services you provide haven’t changed.  You work in the same locations.
  • Use the opportunity to solve challenges collaboratively. If the person who left was your direct boss and you now find that you don’t have a sounding board, find a colleague you trust and can collaborate with around ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Take the bull by the horns. This may be that opportunity to shine you’ve been looking for.  When the world seems to be falling apart, if you are able to keep yourself and those around you together, you’ll be remembered.  Review what your team is doing.  Assess what the priorities are.  Maintain focus and direction.
  • Open up the dialogue. Talk and listen to the people on your team and the people around you.  Listen to the anxiety and concerns they’ll have, no matter how outlandish they seem.  Assure your people that, as of right now, you are still pursuing certain projects,  your customers still have needs, and that the business is still functioning as it was.  Let them know that the situation will probably be fluid and dynamic for the foreseeable future and commit to sharing what you can as soon as you can.
  • Talk to the new or interim leader as soon as you can. Introduce yourself and let him or her know that you want to provide whatever support you can during the transition.  Ask what he or she plans for the next 60 – 90 days.  Help this individual learn about your team. Position yourself to be viewed in a very positive way.  Do great work and help your team do great work.
  • Prepare for what may be next. It’s no secret that new senior leaders often change the membership of their new leadership teams.  If you reported directly to the previous incumbent, be prudent and prepare for the possibility that you may find yourself in different circumstances when the new leader is done putting his or her team in place.  Dust off your resume.  Make sure your network is working.  Think about what your next move could be if you needed to move on.

 

“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.

Changing the Tire While the Bus is Going 60 mph

Transforming an Organization

One of the issues I often hear from client during times of change is ‘how can I implement change when I can’t even keep up with what I’m doing now?’ People often feel like they have to change the tire and steer the the bus while it’s going 60 mph. Change is like that. The world and your business don’t stop so that you can transform the culture, the strategy or the organization.

However, there are some things that can help you slow the bus down while you’re changing the tire.

          • Separate the urgent from the important. There is always something that needs our ‘urgent’ attention at work. The key is to decide if it’s urgent and important or urgent, but in the end, not really very important. If it’s the latter, let it go, especially if it doesn’t help with the transformation. If it’s urgent and important to the transformation, give it your full attention.
          • Remember that change is a process. When faced with transformation, we can get trapped into thinking it all has to happen now. Change takes time. Transformation doesn’t happen quickly. Create short-term milestones and work to achieve those milestones.
          • Enlist others. Involving others in the change effort has enormous benefit. It speeds up the buy in. It develops others abilities and capacity to change. And, it distributes the work. Some of you steer, some of you change the tire, some of you take care of the passengers on the bus to make sure it isn’t too much of a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Designing the Organization

Organizational DesignI recently went through the process of re-vamping my website. Thinking through the website design was similar in many ways to the work I do with clients to design organizations that position themselves for future growth and change.

Whether working with world-class universities or businesses that are implementing a new business strategy or organizing for growth, similar questions need to be answered. The obvious questions is how do we allocate our resources to effectively implement our strategy? On a website its about pages, content and navigation. In an organization its about people, processes, roles and structure

When designing organizations, I ask several other key questions:

      • How will customers or stakeholders interact with us?
      • How do we create value in each part of the organization?
      • How do we create efficiency without forsaking effectiveness?
      • How do we think about what we need rather than building the organization around what we have?
      • How do we create the talent pipelines we need to take on new or different roles and responsibilities?

Interested in learning more about my organization design services and solutions? Click here.
About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

What’s Critical for You?

Institute for Corporate Productivity

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) released the results of its 2014 Critical Human Capital Issues Survey . The survey shows that creating change-ready organizations is still the top priority for high-performing companies. One of the key takeaways from the study is that most companies simply do not have the internal bench strength to enable sustained high-market performance.

Working with companies that are tackling rapid growth and change, this rings true for me. When I work with clients and we are identifying bench strength for key roles, we often see that the bench strength for those roles is limited. Our challenge then is to proactively begin to develop talent and identify talent sourcing strategies to fill the gaps.

If you see this in your company, you’re not alone. Here are the survey’s top 10 human capital issues for 2014 for high-performance organizations:

1. Succession planning
2. Leadership development
3. Knowledge retention
4. Coaching
5. Managing/coping with change
6. Non-executive succession planning
7. Measuring/rewarding behavior
8. Talent shortages in critical areas
9. Measuring/rewarding results
10. Internal communication

  
  

About Edith Onderick-Harvey
Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent,  Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Making Room for Failure

Making Room for Failure - Factor In TalentHow often are innovation and risk taking discussed in your organization? Among the executives I’m working with, they both seem to be to be hot topics. In leadership team meetings, they’re talking about how to get people to take more risks. They want new ideas that will change their product mix or increase market share. But when you look at how their companies approach risk you find it’s focused on mitigating it. Or when you look at how products are developed the process favors a small tweak or a modest change to a ‘proven winner.’ The actions aren’t supporting the words.

If you want more innovation and risk taking in your organization, you have to expect, allow and celebrate failure. Without failure, breakthroughs don’t happen. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes it’s not going to work. It will fail. And if you want someone to take a risk again, you have to take that failure and hold it up to the light. Not to highlight what not to do but rather to highlight what to do. Jason Seiken, former SVP and General Manager for digital at NPR wanted to create a more innovative culture. So, he made failure part of everyone’s goals and performance. He created the failure metric and integrated into daily conversation and formal performance reviews. As a member of the digital team, if you did NOT fail during the year, you received a lower performance rating. In his recent Harvard Business Review blog, Seiken notes “In the end, the failure metric was something of a verbal stunt. Here’s what staffers said a few years later: If I had simply announced that they had permission to fail, they would have considered it corporate blather. By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously.”

What would shock your organization into action?

Creating Space for Innovation

Biogen Huddle 260 x 176There was an interesting article in the Boston Globe recently about my client, Biogen Idec’s, new space. It doesn’t have offices or cubes (finally, the death of the cube). It has open adaptive space, workstations connected to treadmills and huddle rooms for impromptu meetings. The hope for this radically different design is to drive innovation, speed and allow for more informal, unplanned communication.

Many, many companies are talking about how to drive innovation in the workplace. The design of physical space definitely plays a part. But, it only helps if people can free up mental space and time to take advantage of the space. There doesn’t seem to be enough of either in the world of work. In many of my client’s work environments; there is no time for informal, unplanned communication because people are scheduled into back to back meetings day after day after day. They have so many things on their ‘to do’ list and little time to prioritize so the focus is on getting them done but not on what if we did this instead? Or how can it be done better? Colleagues are unavailable because they are on the road or in other meetings.

If innovation is part of your company’s mantra these days, look at how you spend your days.

• Is there enough time for informal conversations that are spurred by an idea or new issue?
• Are there scheduled meetings that can be combined or don’t need to happen at all?
• How easy is it for me to get in touch with colleagues either in person or through technology?
• Have interactions become so formalized that there’s no time for what’s not on the agenda?

You may also want to think about bringing down a few cubicle walls.

 

RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU FEEL OVERLOADED

raised hands 220x125If you raised your hand, you’re not alone. A new survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College says that 83% of us are stressed by at least one thing at work. That’s up 10 points from 2012.  

 What’s causing the stress?  The #1 reason is low pay and unreasonable workloads.  Many of us can’t do much about the pay.  However, we can impact workloads. One of the things I see contributing to the unreasonable workloads is how much change is being introduced and how it’s being introduced. 

Often, introducing change and innovation is a bit like changing the tire on a bus going 60 miles an hour.  You have to keep the bus going but you also have to change the tire so the bus can get where it needs to go more efficiently, is able to take rougher roads or deal with dangerous conditions.  Still, slowing the bus down, just a little can make getting that tire changed go a lot faster.  Too often, when companies introduce change it is done rapid fire. We’ll change something over here, something’s over there and a few more while we’re at it.  In even the most change ready and change rich environments — those where people love innovation and change– you will reach the point of overload. 

 To make sure your team or company are not tipping into change overload, implement listening posts to check in and talk about the pace of change, the frustrations, how it could be done better. A listening post is a regularly scheduled time for people to talk, as a group or one-on-one, with you, about what’s working and what’s not.  Your job during a listening post is not to spend the majority of the time on updates about change or innovation projects. It’s not the time to sell change. It’s a time for people to talk about the personal side of change — how it feels, what it’s like for them and the impact it’s having. It’s a time to listen to what’s going on and to synthesize that input into how change is being managed and lead. 

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

Why Change Kills Engagement


A big concern for manager during times of change is how to keep their people engaged. We all know that change is hard. Just because it’s become a regular part of our work life doesn’t make it any easier. As a matter of fact, because we are continually changing and adapting, keeping people engaged when we announce the fifth major change in the past two years is harder than keeping them engaged for the first one.

Why is that? In large part it’s the nature of change but it’s also because of how our organizations manage or mismanage change.

Long term, real engagement comes from four factors — having a sense that what you’re doing is meaningful, the ability to make progress, feeling competent and having a say in how you do your work or a sense of autonomy. Too often, our change efforts fly in the face of these four factors. For example:

    • Change that seems to be done for the sake of change. Too often why change is happening isn’t communicated well. It may not be apparent why this change is meaningful. If someone understand why it’s happening, he’s more likely to make the connection. When communicating about change, make sure you talk about why it’s happening and how it connects to what’s important to each individual. 
       
    • The change effort never makes it to the goal. Too often, change efforts are stopped before they ever reach the stated goal. And then, we introduce another one. People are never going to feel like they’re making progress if half way into every change initiative, we stop that effort and introduce the next one. Before deep sixing a change, step back and ask if you’ve really given it the time to work. 
       
    • “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Change creates uncertainty. Roles can become unclear. People are sure what the expectations are. Individuals may not be sure how to accomplish the task in the new organization. It’s difficult to feel competent when you don’t know what you’re doing and no one will give you direction. Make sure you are helping people understand their roles and responsibilities. They need to hear it multiple times in multiple ways. Don’t assume that because you’ve told them once, it’s all clear. 
       
    • Changing the processes so that there is no room for inconsistency. Some change is about improving service or quality by creating immutable standards. Templates and procedures and operating principles are created to make the achievement of these standards easier. However, when these templates, procedures and operating principles are implemented so that there is no room for personal adaptation or creativity, you’ve lost people. As someone once said, “you could have a monkey do this job. What do you need me for?” Yes, sometimes templates and procedures add value but ask yourself if your approach to implementing them is also killing personal autonomy.