Leaders- Caution! Choose Change Chits Wisely

If you are a workplace leader or manager, change is part of the job.  How you manage change with your staff matters to the leadership success equation.

What do staff expect from their leaders?  Research claims primarily – order, direction and protection.  Staff wants leaders to maintain fair and consistent norms. Yet effective leadership often means changing norms and even mandating change to meet objectives.  This can be a paradox and clearly a challenge for leaders.

I regularly coach leaders with their day to day “people” challenges – helping them manage change is a part of my daily coaching conversations.

Tips from the Coach:

  • Too much change is bad.  People do not have an infinite capacity to absorb change.  Choose your change chits wisely, strategically and frugally.  We mere humans have a finite amount of energy chits each day.  What do you want staff to spend their precious time and energy on?  If you are going to create a policy or process change—make sure its relevant and worthy of the challenges creating it may cause.
  • Don’t hold onto the past or deny inevitable change.  If the company change train has left the station without you on it—you keeping staff stuck.  Staff watches the boss to see how the boss responds or “reacts” to change.
  • Deal with problems!  Complaints regarding the boss avoiding problems and not dealing with them effectively–is the #1 complaint I hear from staff.  Staff count on the boss to resolve conflict and take care of obstacles to success.
  • Don’t put your direct report in the uncomfortable position of having to fend for themselves when it comes to answering unreasonable demands from your peers or theirs.  It’s a boss’s role to deal with problematic obstacles and challenges that impede staff success.
  • Don’t add to the drama factor.  Regulate your emotional reactivity to bad news.  If the boss gets upset, so does staff.  No one can spread the negative emotional “flu” virus like a boss!

Help is available for the people challenges of leadership—invest in yourself this year with leadership development.  Contact me:  360 682 5807 or info@pathtochange.com

 

 

 

Tips for Project Managers

Project Management Tips“Project Management” can mean many different things. In simplistic terms it can be defined as meeting the goals/deliverables of a project within budget and on time. This column addresses some of the common challenges I encounter when coaching project managers.

Effective project management equates to many factors.  The basics are good planning, risk management, organizing and managing resources. Being able to establish and manage realistic expectations for actionable follow through, clear communications and end results often equate to “best practice.” The most effective project managers (PMs) are skilled not only in making the complex simple but being able to communicate the complex in a way that is both understandable and actionable. The best can anticipate the unforeseen including potential roadblocks and obstacles. Project managers that are worth their weight in gold are those with strong problem solving, negotiation, attention to detail, adaptability and interpersonal skills that equate to successful projects and positive customer relations.

To believe every item in a complex project will flow flawlessly isn’t realistic.  Given that, here are my coaching tips to help when the unexpected happens (and it will!):

  • Learn from mistakes (vs. assigning blame elsewhere).  A natural reaction of many project managers is to simply point a finger at either a team member or customer when things go wrong.  This often negatively impacts the relationship (and future business). Instead, “debrief” the problem or situation and “mine” the learnings so you (and your team) can apply them in the future.  Making mistakes the first time is one thing – what drives customers crazy (and away) is allowing the same mistakes to be made again and again.
  • Expect the unexpected. Set reasonable expectations (allow time for problems). Contingency plans are important! Plan for problems and challenges. Identify “go to” resource partners for complex concerns or critical project elements. Having a good relationship with those who can help you in a jam or direct you to the right resource is important.
  • Have checks and balances prior to project execution.   Increase the potential for accuracy, particularly for critical information on projects.  Establish a process to ensure another set of eyes (or multiple sets) that will provide review and authorization on detail items that have big consequences (this will also help you sleep better at night!) Examples of critical items include calculations, IP configurations, published contact information and security reviews/approvals.
  • Be willing to negotiate with customers and vendor partners when things go wrong.  Keep your customers out of trouble if you want future business- there is frequently shared responsibility for mistakes that do happen. Being flexible, admitting fault and “splitting the difference” can often mean saving an important customer or future partner relationships.
  • Identify and have access to key sponsors in the customer system.  If you are having trouble getting response, compliance or action required for the project to be successful, make sure the communication is coming from the right person in the system with the necessary authority and power to get action. Consultants and change agents take note– communications to resolve these issues ideally should come from the sponsors directly, particularly if getting action becomes problematic.
  • Stay positive and cool.  You losing your head when things go awry won’t help. In times of crisis people will gravitate and likely respond positively to those who display confidence and competence.  Focus on finding opportunities and thinking creatively while keeping calm.
  • Keep the end goal, and the relationship, in mind.  Yes, achieving the end result is important but so is how you got there. It’s the people end of the project management equation that often trip up project managers.  How you respond in times of crisis and dealt with others will be remembered long after the project is finished.

Why Workers Resist Change

Resistance to ChangeA client and I were recently discussing the natural resistance that accompanies most organizational change efforts when he quipped, “the only people who like change are wet babies!”  Well said.

Change is a part of our every day lives.  The pace of change is rapidly accelerating in workplaces.  Companies simply must keep up with the constant marketplace demands of change if they are to survive, much less thrive in this economy.

The ability to manage change effectively is a complex requirement of most managers and leaders in today’s workplaces.  Understanding how human’s process change is an important part of learning how to manage workplace change. The most challenging part of this equation is the “people” component.

Some of us are more receptive to change than others.  I’ve witnessed a worker revolt because of the need to move their desk by a foot! Others embrace almost any change as an exciting new opportunity or a deterrent to boredom.  Picture a typical bell curve when it comes to change.  About 20% of workers will be on the far end of the continuum of “Like change, bring it on!” while another 20% is on the other far end, “Not only no but —- no!”  The other 60% is in the middle and on the fence about the change; these are the folks you want to target your change management efforts towards.

Understanding the nature of change is important if you are going to succeed in your attempts at managing change in the workplace.  Humans seek control.  We tend to fear, dislike and avoid ambiguity.  We “react” negatively when our expectations for the way things should be aren’t met.  One rule of thumb–the more surprised we are by the change, the greater resistance you can expect.

It takes time for us to process and accept change.  Most initially respond to a change we didn’t create with disbelief and denial, “I can’t believe this is happening!”  This is usually the first stop on the change journey followed by resistance– picture arms crossed in defiance!  The next step is exploration, “OK, I guess we can try it anyway, do you have more information?” Exploration however is dependent on whether or not change is consistently well sponsored and communicated from leaders.  Once we have dipped our big toe into the change water and find it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated, most of us will finally move to commitment (“I can support the change in this way”).

A few coaching tips to increase the likelihood of your change effort sticking:

  • Most humans are tuned into their own personal radio station-WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)  Leaders trying to manage change should broadcast on this station to answers their typical questions like:  What will get better as a result of the change?  Worse? How much control do we have over what happens?  Can we assimilate this change at a reasonable pace?  Do we understand the micro/macro implications of the change?
  • People are more likely to support and commit to change they have helped create or design.  Involve your people (particularly the front line or “end users” of the change) early in the creation of the change.  Consult with them about their opinions.  What obstacles do they foresee?  How would they like to see the change rolled out?  What will work (or not) for them regarding the change?
  • Communicate often and consistently about the change.  Yes this will mean you have to repeat yourself—in my experience, most leaders greatly under communicate about change.  Use all available forums of communication available—intranet, email, phone, meetings and of course face-to-face conversations reinforcing the need and requirements for the change.  Wise sponsors of change know that what will dictate whether or not the change is adopted is their commitment and time spent shepherding it through the organization.
  • Allow people an opportunity to talk about and “vent” their frustrations about the change.  Yes, this may turn into a gripe session but better to get it out in the open and aired than for resistance to go underground.  Truly listening to understand what how your people feel about the change is important.    Once we feel “heard” we are more likely to move on.  Your people want to know that you care about them and how they will be impacted by the change. If you don’t respect them enough to at least hear them out about it—expect ongoing and potentially damaging resistance.

Employee Stress

Have you noticed Seattle workers seem more highly stressed than ever? It seems to me there is a perceptible increase in grouchiness, negative emotional reactivity and stress levels. This spring’s lousy weather coupled with the ongoing recession reality, global distress with the nightly barrage of horrific oil spill pictures seems to have combined for a perfect storm leaving everyone on edge.

Job stress specifically is on the rise. Recent surveys (Northwestern National Life) indicate that 25% of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. 75% of employees surveyed believe workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago (according to Princeton Survey Research Associates).

Workers are being asked to do more with less and cover task responsibilities for laid off co-workers and diminishing resources. Technically is advancing at warp speed, keeping most of us on a vertical learning curve just trying to keep up. 5 generations in the workplace keep us all challenged trying to communicate effectively with each other. Many workplaces operate at an unending fast pace where urgency has become the norm vs. the exception. The constant urgency keeps many in “fight or flight” mode day after day. Migraines and tension headaches are on the rise along with fatigue and illness. All this constant stress takes a tremendous toil on our physical and mental well-being. It’s no wonder many Americans dread going to work.

These are tough times for workers and leaders. No one is immune. So how can leaders keep up morale in these high stress times? I don’t have a magic bullet but I can offer some suggestions for leaders:

  • Manage by walking around. Don’t hide away in your office. Keep a pulse on what’s happening with your people. If you disappear or go silent, rumors will take over adding to the stress levels. When you do communicate, do so authentically and candidly. Treat your people like the adults they are and don’t withhold information.
  • Model work life balance. If you never leave the office, likely your staff will feel pressured to do the same. Avoid sending out emails to staff late at night! This is an unconscious message that they too should be tethered to their Blackberries and PDAs 24/7 which is unhealthy. Leaders and staff working at a rapid fire pace need to take time to rejuvenate. Taking care of the foundation is important. Exercise (it releases endorphins and burns off excess adrenaline and cortisol) and find ways to truly disconnect from the workplace.
  • Be careful about the emotional wake you leave with staff—your emotions are contagious. Your staff looks to you to see how you are reacting/responding to stress—if you get wigged out, expect them to follow you. Be conscious about how you show up emotionally to your people. As best you can, try to demonstrate a calm confident demeanor. If you find yourself highly anxious, develop methods to self soothe (I like belly breathing because your breath is always with you as a highly reliable strategy, besides it is proven to lower heart and respiratory rates).
  • Find a coach or trusted outside partner that you can let it all hang out with—someone you can safely vent to and be a sounding board. An objective perspective can often be invaluable during tough times. It’s lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Isolating yourself isn’t healthy.
  • Notice the emotional field of your team and workplace. Give people time to talk about their stress and emotions during team meetings. People find comfort in hearing from other team members. Your job during these venting times is to listen well and offer them sincere appreciation and understanding for what they are going through.
  • Engage hearts and minds. Involve and consult with your team before making decisions. Ask them their opinions. Allow them opportunities to get involved with creative problem solving.
  • During highly stressful times its more important than ever to reward and recognize. From verbal thank you’s to special public recognition, make a concentrated effort to demonstrate true appreciation. Bring in special treats for the team (consider a massage therapist or yoga instructor) to reward a job well done.

Leading Change

A common truth in today’s workplace is, “The only constant is change.” Change comes in many forms — from reorgs to new software and information systems, work flow processes and programs, etc. Many of these initiatives are presented as a method to “make our lives easier” or “make us more efficient.” The jury is still out for many workers on this.

Expectations around all of this change are dramatically different from even a few decades ago. When business owners in 1970 were asked in surveys how they viewed their future, 60 percent anticipated “no change.” Today, a mere 1 percent of businesses surveyed say they anticipate no change in their future.

The concept of “Kaizen” (a Japanese workplace quality strategy designed to constantly improve and eliminate waste) was introduced in the post-World War II era, and businesses today are still riding high on the continuous improvement wave.

What is so striking in today’s workplaces is the sheer volume of those continuous improvement changes and the rate of change to the changes.

While most senior leaders are constantly focused on making continuous improvement changes, far too few of them stop and consider the true systemic impact of these initiatives, why they succeed or fail, and what they can do to improve the success rate.

I counsel leaders to choose their change chits wisely (change fatigue is real), and to recognize that to sponsor change requires dedication, commitment and specific change-management skills and methods. Most managers today are tasked with leading change, but few have the necessary time, attention, commitment, tools or skills to do it effectively.

The truth is corporate America has a poor track record implementing change. According to the McKinsey Quarterly, approximately 70 percent of major change initiatives fail in today’s workplaces.

Another study (Booz Allen Hamilton) reflects similar statistics — with only 25 percent of all change projects being successful while 63 percent are canceled and 12 percent are identified as failing outright. Clearly, leading change isn’t easy.

The majority of my executive coaching clients reflect that managing change is their most pressing challenge.

Here are just a few of the hurdles they face:

  • It’s human nature to resist change. Change can be highly stressful. Most leaders underestimate a) the impact of this stress, b) the intensity of the resistance to change and c) the problems this resistance creates. While it’s true that some are energized (even exhilarated) by change, these individuals are the exception versus the rule. The truth is that most people dislike change — and often react with fear, anxiety, resistance or denial.
  • Nobody addressed “What’s in it for me.” Major change won’t happen without people on board. Too often employees have not been provided with sufficient information and understanding of the intention or expected benefits of the change. Complacency results when a) there is no buy-in by the expected participants, b) consequences for success and/or failure are not understood and c) the stakes aren’t high enough.
  • The “No one asked me” syndrome. Employees are more resistant to change they feel is “done to them” rather than formulated and designed with their input. The biggest mistakes leaders make are not involving the end user and undercommunicating the change. You can bet on this formula: The more surprised people are by change, the greater the resistance.
  • The “Here we go again” reaction. We have all become tired of the typical scenario of “management” making another “flavor of the month” change that in the end won’t stick. Employees learn (because of previous failed attempts at change in their workplaces) that if they wait it out, the change project will often run its course before anyone really holds them accountable to it.
  • Failure to understand change roles. Successful change happens when senior leaders understand how to effectively sponsor change, and those tasked with making the change happen learn how to be an effective agent of change.
  • Failure to look at the big picture. Few organizations take the time to map out their change efforts and realize how the change will affect the whole system.

A push on one side of the system will always cause a bulge somewhere else in the system — the challenge is to identify where and what impact it will have on the organization — short term, long term and systemically.

The good news is I can help! I have solid tools, change management models and insight that can help you beat the odds.  Call me at 360 682 5807 or email:  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

I coach professionals via Skype all over the world.