Leaders can make change easier

Currently, there is an unprecedented need for companies to adapt and change. From the big automotive companies to Wall Street to small Main Street businesses, this is no such thing anymore as “business as usual.”

To succeed, companies big or small will need leaders who can support and manage the necessary change successfully. Resilient teams get through tough times because they have leaders who are effective in getting their teams off the dime with focus, creativity, commitment and alignment (everyone rowing in the same direction), and actively engaged in problem solving and “making it happen.”

Harvard change management guru John Kotter has just released a timely book, “A Sense of Urgency.” He equates leading successful change with the ability to establish a sense of urgency with employees. As a coach I know by experience that behavior change doesn’t happen easily. Most humans resist change unless they have a compelling reason to change, or put another way, until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. Leaders who establish urgency around workplace changes provide an incentive for people to act now versus acting when it’s convenient or “when I can get to it.” In this economy, embracing and acting on this urgency may well define the difference between success and failure.

Here are some coaching tips to help bosses manage change:

Let your team know what’s at stake. Being candid and straightforward about current challenges will help you to maintain loyalty, trust and commitment — people both deserve and appreciate honesty. Be forthcoming about where things stand and what will happen if the change doesn’t happen. Communicate the vision, focus and plan for how the business will move forward. Let employees know a) they are an important part of that plan, b) what their part is, and c) that success depends on everyone doing their part.

As the boss, behave like you mean it. In other words, walk your urgency talk and be the model for what you are asking others to do. Your people will be watching you closely to see if your actions are aligned with your words. How you spend your day-to-day activities must be congruent with what you have asked of your team. If you are asking your team to work extra hours, expect skepticism and resistance if you aren’t in there with them.

Bring your team together for a problem-solving session. People are naturally more supportive of change they were involved in developing. Harness their collective wisdom, skills and experience. Re-emphasize the fundamentals or core values of what your team (or company) does best. When identifying who will be doing what, capitalize on and leverage the strengths of your team members. Identify and prioritize projects that will generate the most value and benefit to the company. Have the team also identify any broken, costly or inept procedures and processes so these can be eliminated.

Rally your key influencers (those who can bring people together to get it done) and don’t put up with those who put up roadblocks to the necessary change. Successful change requires all hands on deck to win; deal with naysayers directly.

Engage their hearts and minds. Sadly, according to a Gallup poll, a mere 29 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e., loyal, enthusiastic and productive), while 55 percent are passively disengaged. Don’t rely on the numbers or the business case to move people. Humans have emotional needs. While people need to see and understand the need for change to be inspired and moved, they also need to feel the need for the change. As the leader, how you show up emotionally matters.

Help your team see how to make lemonade from all those lemons! It’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, doom and gloom. Help your team reframe the current scenario by identifying strengths to capitalize on and market opportunities that can be taken advantage of (vs. business as usual or continuing to ignore market opportunities due to bureaucracy). Encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Putting everyone’s head in the game often can lead to creative and winning solutions.

Recognize achievement and short-term wins to build momentum. Find a way to measure and acknowledge even the small successes. Don’t overlook the importance of verbal recognition. Tell your people that you recognize how hard they are working and that you appreciate what they do.

Get help with change.  I can help you with the “people” side of change and coach individuals anywhere in the world via Skype.  Call: 360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com


Tips for managing office change

There is no “magic bullet” when it comes to effectively leading change. Managing change is a tough and serious challenge — even for the most experienced and highly capable leaders.

Research reflects that well-managed change initiatives frequently have common and fundamental program elements. Here are a few to increase your odds of success:

  • Model the behavior you want. The best leaders lead by example. If you are leading a change effort, know that people are watching you for cues about how they should respond to the change. Senior leaders need to set the pace and tone for others in a positive and realistic way. If you are anxious and dreading the change, you can bet your people will pick up on this and respond accordingly. Anxiety is contagious: The good news is so is energy and enthusiasm.
  • Be adaptive and open to influence. Wise change leaders demonstrate flexibility. They demonstrate a willingness to listen, learn and adapt the plan as necessary.

They understand there is no “one size fits all” and know it’s better to rework the plan than to continue to lead in the wrong direction. They communicate the expectation for feedback (including bad news) and acknowledge the importance of receiving real information (not just what the boss “wants” to hear).

  • Include those whom the change will affect. Savvy leaders of change know that the key to success is seeking the input of the “end users” of the change. They include all those affected by the change, from the time the potential change is being considered, to the design phase and through implementation.
  • Communicate early, consistently and often. Caution: The more surprised people are by the change, the greater the resistance. Keep information about the change constant and flowing from all directions. You can’t overcommunicate when it comes to change.
  • Paint a picture of the desired future. Communicate the vision clearly and concisely while appealing to hearts and minds. Selling a vision that is blurry or confusing won’t work. Keep it simple — no jargon or techno-speak.
  • Be direct and consistent. Be straightforward about the changes and consequences of an expected change. Avoid misunderstandings or sending inconsistent messages and be honest regarding anticipated sacrifices and expected workload that will accompany the change.
  • Create a system that supports real communication. Make it safe for people to tell you how they feel about the change and what is really going on. Allow people a platform to voice their concerns, questions, suggestions or ideas. The last thing a leader of change wants to foster is a “kill the messenger” approach: It’s frequently a deflection or distraction from real issues that need to be resolved.
  • Recognize and celebrate victories and progress along the way. Success begets success; the key is to identify and communicate it. Communicate progress, milestones and successes to reinforce the change and to foster teamwork and camaraderie.
  • Tune into your employee station “WIIFM” or “What’s in it for me?” Tell employees how they will benefit from the change. Acknowledge their sacrifices and provide employees with evidence that the sacrifices they are making are worth it. If it’s so the business stays open and they keep their jobs, say that is so. Be honest about the reasons for the change; your employees will appreciate it and will frequently respond in amazing ways.
  • Be undeniably aligned behind the effort. The larger the organization and scale of change, the more important the consistency of the support from all levels of “bosses” is in the organization. Having all management speaking the same talk and walking the same walk is vital to success. How all managers address expectations, rewards and consequences around the change and with their employees needs to be clear and consistent. Bottom line: What’s shown to be important to the boss is what will become important to the employee.

I can help you with the people end of managing change more effectively.  I coach via Skype anywhere in the world!  Call 360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com



Re-org with Care

Restructuring, strategic redirection, quality programs, work flow redesigns … the efforts at change go on and on in many organizations, but few leaders know how to lead and execute change effectively. (Seventy percent of change attempts fail, according to studies.)

Organizations waste valuable resources by not achieving targeted change goals, including their opportunity to grow and deliver results that may be critical to success. Leaders also lose credibility when their changes go by the “flavor of the month” wayside.

What can be done to improve the odds of developing a change initiative that is ultimately successful? One key is effective sponsorship (particularly for complex, large-scale change programs that affect the entire organization).

Sponsorship is a term applied to the role of the individual who has the power to sanction the change, and it requires the necessary influence and authority to legitimize the change.

I caution sponsors of change to be realistic about the manageability of the projects they take on because success will depend on their time, attention and commitment.

Here are the fundamentals sponsors need to provide:

  • Clear, consistent and enthusiastic communication (passion to engage hearts and minds!) articulating the vision, goals and necessity of the change.
  • Necessary resources to make the change happen (time, money, equipment, training, people, etc.).
  • Persistent attention to the project.
  • End users’ input and involvement in creating the plan.
  • Reinforcement, rewards or consequences (expectations minus consequences equals wishes) for both success and failure.

Typically, when change initiatives get stuck or aren’t going well, it’s often a result of poor sponsorship. Failed change programs often share common elements:

  • Management failed to clarify the importance or priority of the initiative. (Complacency often results when there is no sense of urgency.)
  • Management demonstrated a reluctance or unwillingness to deliver consequences around success or failure.
  • Management was ineffective in dealing with the resistance to the change and/or was unwilling to sacrifice for the change.
  • Management failed to identify for people a) what’s happening and why, b) how it will affect my job, and c) what’s in it for me?
  • Management failed to provide direct reports with clear expectations.
  • Management failed to plan for the systemic effect of the change.
  • Management wasn’t aligned top-down.

Another critical role required for successful change is that of the supporting managers assigned to deliver and execute details of the plan down through the organization.

Too often these managers aren’t consulted or included and, therefore, are not “on board” with the change. Without alignment and reinforcement by middle managers, most large-scale change is doomed to fail.

While the president (or other senior executive) may be the primary “sponsor” of a change initiative, it is the middle managers below them that now take on the role of sponsoring the change to their underlings.

Success or failure often resides with these individuals — in the end it’s the boss who defines for the “doers” of the change whether or not it is important that it gets done.

Sponsorship must be delivered consistently through the organization — top to bottom — for change to happen. Senior leaders should expect change and compliance only to the degree that immediate supervisors require those under them to make the change. Sponsorship works in layers — and by organizational design, sponsors can only “sponsor” or reinforce change with those who they have hire-and-fire authority over.

Often individuals get tasked with implementing change who have no authority over those required to make the changes (as is often the case for those in HR or IT). These “agents” for change will only be effective to the degree they are well-sponsored, which is why many of them find managing change so frustrating!

Finally, sponsors need to involve and seek input (clarifying obstacles to success, and effect on the department or individuals) from the end user — those making the change/doing the work. Wise sponsors are unwilling to ignore bad news and make necessary adjustments from users’ input.

Without effective sponsorship, individuals will not typically embrace the change nor make the effort required for it to succeed. Instead, they react predictably with resistance, denial, interdepartmental bickering and/or avoidance of those trying to implement the program.  I can help you become a more effective sponsor of change.  I coaching leaders anywhere in the world via Skype.  Email me: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or call 360 682 5807 for my help.


To thrive, embrace change

Last week’s column focused on the importance of how individuals react to change, and the significance of being adaptable and resilient. This week we shift our focus to the oganization and the key question: Is your organization adaptable, nimble and resilient in today’s reality of constant change?

Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” To survive and thrive, organizations today must be adaptive, managing change proactively. Those that don’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Companies that are thriving survivors foster a culture of flexibility, innovation and adaptability. Hewlett-Packard is a great example. While sticking to core technologies and values, it continually adapts to evolving technology, markets and new distribution channels. Hewlett and Packard began building basic electronics (out of a garage) and have continuously morphed their product focus from gadgets to computers to printers to supplies (as well as shifting distribution from traditional retail channels to e-commerce).

The most successful organizations approach change systematically and build in process, structure and systems to increase their capacity to compete in constantly changing markets with new technologies and delivery systems. Change-ready organizations identify marketplace shifts and are positioned to respond rapidly to changing customer needs.

From the bottom up, employees in these organizations share and integrate information on all levels (with one another, customers, vendors, etc.) and leverage all available resources. In these companies, employees are encouraged to “imagineer,” take reasonable risks and, yes, even make mistakes along the way. In a “learning” organization, employees understand they will be supported when pushing the envelope and not be punished for mistakes as a result of positive or creative effort.

Peter Senge, in his 1990 breakthrough book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization,” defines a learning organization as “an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.” His concepts still resonate today.

Learning organizations have common elements. They:

  • Encourage and support learning, celebrating errors as “learning opportunities” vs. mistakes or “failures.”
  • Reward innovative creative thinking and reasonable risk-taking.
  • Encourage and support creative collaboration and knowledge sharing vs. internal political turf wars, silos and personal kingdoms of “it’s mine.”
  • Encourage all levels of employee engagement and involvement in change.

How do you foster an organization that is change ready?

  • Hire and promote “problem-solvers” who can demonstrate their adaptability, creativity and zest for learning and innovation.
  • Build in processes to share knowledge and support learning, such as holding “debriefs” and “post-mortems” following project completion to mine and capture lessons. Share these with others to increase companywide wisdom.
  • Remove obstacles to effective change (such as complex approval processes). It isn’t practical to ask your thoroughbreds to run a successful race if the track is a junkyard of obsolete policies, processes and ineffective or inconsistent support.
  • Reward and build in structure that fosters entrepreneurship, innovation and learning (Google’s employees are told to spend 20 percent of their time on innovation). Prioritize continuous training. A highly trained work force will be more capable to take advantage of new opportunities.
  • Set well-defined expectations, particularly around the importance of productive, healthy debate, information sharing, creative collaboration, accountability and performance.

Is your organization a learning organization? Or are you stuck in the “It’s always worked in the past” syndrome? You may be in trouble if:

  • Mid- or upper-level management continually fails to prioritize (or support) the need for continuous change and improvement in process and skills as key to remaining competitive and adaptive.
  • Due to the “shoot the messenger” culture, employees are reluctant to bring forward bad news or new ideas.
  • There are different standards of values, ethics, performance and accountability (including acceptance of nonperformance or mediocre performance in some departments and not others).
  • Employees have given up trying to make change or feel powerless to change bad systems that hinder improvement or doing a good job.

*I can help!  Email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or call: 360 682 5807.  I coach via Skype anywhere in the world!

The Only Constant is Workplace Change

How do you react to change? Your answer may affect your career — more than you might believe.

“Resilient” individuals are recognized for their ability to absorb change more effectively than their less resilient counterparts; they adapt to change positively, keeping their composure, without the change negatively affecting their emotional, mental or physical well-being — or of those around them. Less resilient individuals tend to react with fight (emotional outbursts, passive/aggressive behavior or sabotaging the change effort) or flight (“I hit the job boards the day I heard the news.”).

Ambiguity is everywhere. The workplace today is full of changes, uncertainty and complexity from changing work flow, processes and overlapping roles to reporting structures and new information/technology systems. The rules of how to succeed in the workplace are changing. Companies place a high value on employees who can adapt to all this change successfully. The winners will be those who are identifiable for their adaptability and resiliency — those seen as effective, optimistic, supportive and proactively seeking solutions. The losers will be those seen as being overwhelmed, putting up roadblocks to success, paralyzed, “stuck” and resentful.

Dr. Spencer Johnson illustrates the importance of anticipating and adapting to change in his simplistic parable “Who Moved My Cheese?” The book is full of cheese (change) nuggets:

  • “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”
  • “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.”
  • “Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese.”

The cheese story reminds us to embrace change vs. becoming immobilized or traumatized by it. Simply put, change is coming — so get over and on with it!

Adaptability has become a workplace buzzword — and a key hiring standard. Staffing for all this change has become important. I counsel job candidates to prepare a story that demonstrates their “adaptability” for interviews. Employers equate the ability to deal with uncertain and unfamiliar situations as key to potential success in positions. Being seen as the one who “makes it work” may be the difference in getting the job or promotion.

While easier said than done, here are a few ways that employees and managers can increase the odds of adaptability and resiliency:

  • Self-awareness is essential. Be aware of your emotion to the change but “choose” your behavior in how you react to it. Extreme negative reactivity can — and will — hurt your career.
  • Communicate to management your desire to learn new coping and adaptability skills. Demonstrate you are willing to improve and change. Ask what training or coaching is available to you to become more valuable to the company.
  • Develop an open mind. Be curious — ask questions. Explore and consider vs. deciding quickly or rigidly planting your stake in the ground. Change often opens up better and new opportunities.
  • Be proactive. Take action given calculated risks and have a plan for problems. Remember — it’s not IF problems will come up — it’s how you deal with them that makes all the difference.
  • Remember Ben Franklin’s wisdom: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Be identified as one who challenges the status quo and provides solutions (you will stand out from those who hide behind, “It’s always been done that way.”).
  • Identify the positive opportunities and keep a big-picture perspective. Just because your company just got taken over doesn’t mean disaster — it may mean good riddance to processes that have been getting in your way of success.
  • Attitude is everything, and humor helps. Scream in your car (not your cubicle) and try viewing the change as another *#@*! growth opportunity!
  • Be compassionate. Empathy and understanding that change can be “scary” and uncomfortable can go a long way toward soothing ruffled employees. Back those willing to challenge the status quo (good leaders pave the way for their people to be successful).
  • Be “coachable” — professional coaches or supportive mentors can help.
  • Be a lifetime learner — stay current. Keep adding to your knowledge and skill base. Those that stagnate will not thrive in the new order of the workplace.
  • Accept it and embrace it. Change is coming — it’s inevitable.

Adaptability also means being creative to find solutions that work. Most organizations can’t afford to carry those who fight them tooth and nail over changes to improve the business. If you aren’t moving forward, someone else is passing you by.