The first day of the KMWorld Conference brought many great thoughts to the fore, perhaps none better than the question posed by innovation-phile Gordon Vala-Webb, who simply asked, “Are organizations dumb?” I do believe that organizations employ incredibly brilliant individuals; however, those same organizations are rarely capable of making their collective sum as brilliant as their individual parts.
Once you’ve acknowledged that change is a necessity, the next step is assessment. It is important to understand the assessment stage is not about solutions, faultfinding, strategizing, or any one of a host of knee-jerk reactions so common among leaders and change agents.
Assessment is merely the act of “determining.” Specifically, determining where you are and where you want to be. The assessment is not inherently positive or negative—it just is what it is.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but I really want to drive home the importance of allowing the assessment to simply provide the necessary data for making decisions and plans. Interpreting the data and finding context can be done later. What’s critical in this stage is identifying the starting and ending points.
Let’s see if I can illustrate what I mean with this example: A grown man measures 4 feet and 11 inches. Is he tall or short? If his desire is to be an NBA power forward, he will be vertically challenged to be sure. However, if his goal is to be a champion horse jockey, he’s probably sitting pretty. Until the context is provided, he’s merely 4 feet and 11 inches.
While context is vital, it’s imperative to leave it out of the equation at this point. Doing so helps you to view things objectively, which may prove in the end seeing as an asset what context might have marked as a liability.
In addition to identifying where you are and where you want to be, this is also the time for drafting your roadmap. The role of the roadmap is to identify the myriad possibilities of getting from Point A to Point B. If you want travel from Kansas City to Chicago there are numerous routes that can be taken; there are direct routes and there roundabout routes, scenic routes and speed routes, interstates and back roads. The route you choose will be determined by what you want to accomplish on your way to Point B. (Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination—perhaps in many respects even more so!)
The roadmap can only provide you with a macro view of your starting and ending points. It can tell you where to travel, but it cannot tell you how to travel; that is reserved for stage three: Planning.
The greatest challenge in the Assessment stage is exercising restraint and discipline in obtaining a truly comprehensive view of where you are and where you want to be.
While the temptation will be great, it is important not to be reactionary in this phase of the change process. It’s a mathematical certainty that problems will be revealed in specific areas, processes, or paradigms, which will clamor for—almost demand—spot adjustments; however, the root of the malady may actually exist elsewhere or deeper within the organization. Premature reactions usually have an adverse effect and are likely to cause further damage. Restraint and discipline are the order of the day.
Successful leaders exercise patience and wisdom and use the assessment stage to involve others, create buy-in, and act collectively. Only when all stakeholders are on board can you proceed into the next stage.
This week I’m off to Washington, D.C. for the KMWorld 2013 Conference. I’ll be listening to fantastic knowledge specialists share their insight on a host of topics from Digital Workplace Trends to Building Smarter Organizations. On Friday, I’ll deliver a talk on the Four Keys to Facilitating Organizational Change, or as I like to call it: Creating a Bold Culture.
Over the next four days I’m going to share thoughts on each of those four keys, exhorting you to develop a Bold Culture in your own space, be it your home, your workplace or the PTA.
Some years back, as a partner in a small business and personnel development firm, I noticed—among both our clients and organizations in general—leaders could talk a good game about the values they espoused and the kind of organizational environment they desired, but they seemed powerless to turn it into reality.
Since that time, and after many trials and errors of my own, I have identified four elemental principles necessary to affect the organizational change you want. In fact, these cardinal principles can help you affect any change, from dropping a bad habit, to learning to the play the ukulele, to any program aimed at tighter abdominal muscles. They are: Acknowledgment, Assessment, Planning, and Commitment.
Before change can begin, it must first be realized and accepted that change is necessary. Without this principle action all efforts toward change will be derailed before they get started.
Beginning is the toughest step of any endeavor, especially one whose goal is improvement. It is vital to embrace the need for change, as this will sustain you and keep you centered on your mission.
Several years ago I worked with a company that was experiencing greater than 50% turnover annually. While it’s easy to recognize the negative fiscal impact this had, the effect it had on morale and organizational culture, though harder to quantify, was just as substantial.
The company leaders recognized the turnover as a significant obstacle, but in their minds it was just the cost of doing business. And while they had made some cursory attempts to change, it wasn’t until they fully acknowledged the need to change that things actually started changing. Until then, their corporate culture saw no value in changing. Until then it was just an option, not a necessity.
Acknowledgment is more than simply recognizing that a problem exists. It involves intent to rectify the issue and a decision to get started…today.
Accountability (uh-koun-tuh–bil-i-tee) v. – 1770, from accountable + ity. Accountable “answerable,” literally “liable to be called to account,” c.1400 (mid-14c. in Anglo-French).
“It’s easy to dodge accountability, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging accountability.” ―Anonymous
My wife and I have a love-hate relationship: She loves to point out my faults and I hate to hear it!
Honestly, does anyone really love being told where they’re falling short? It can be a painful experience to be sure, but I have learned over the years, the pain—as much as I would like to deny it—does not come from my wife or any other external source. The pain actually comes from within; from my wrestling with the truth of who I really want to be and who I really am right now.
The word accountability often gets a bad rap because we use it almost exclusively in a negative connotation. Think about it, when was the last time you heard the word accountability? Was it in a positive light, with someone encouraging you to embrace it for the self-development tool that it is? Or was it from your boss citing how she was going to hold you accountable for this month’s lackluster performance on the Richardson Account?
Like the definition implies, the word accountable simply means giving an account or being answerable. This, in and of itself, is neither negative nor positive—whatever context we assign it will determine its usefulness or threat.
While it’s true that many a manager or boss has wielded accountability as a personal punishment instrument, recognizing accountability for the self-mastery opportunity it creates allows us to respond with honesty and purpose and opens the door for genuine dialogue and feedback; for learning and growth.
I’m reminded of a touching story a good friend once shared with me. Embedded in the story is a profound leadership principle.
The story took place while my friend was at his bank making some lunchtime financial transactions. Ahead of him in line stood a young man who looked as if life had not been so kind to him. His clothes were a bit soiled, with trousers that were worn at the cuff. The young man was not much to behold and would have easily gone unnoticed if he had not been standing right in front of my friend.
As the young man stepped to the counter, he greeted the teller with an unexpected enthusiasm and authenticity; seeming genuinely interested in her and the kind of day she was having. He requested his account balance. The teller scribbled the balance on a piece of notepaper and slid it face down across the counter. My friend then overheard the young man say, “So, if I withdraw $3.15, my account will stay open?”
It was the way the young man inquired about the withdrawal’s impact that really struck my friend. He could sense that it was a humbling moment for the young man, yet he asked with tenderness and invitation, as if he were drawing the teller into the decision‐making process with him.
The teller confirmed the withdrawal amount would indeed keep his account solvent. The young man nodded approval and the teller counted out three one‐dollar bills, one dime and one nickel. The man received his money, and again with genuineness, graciously thanked the teller, spoke a blessing over her day, and bid her goodbye.
My friend was so moved by what he had witnessed that he stepped out of line and contacted the man. He told him how he had overheard the transaction and he wanted to do something for him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two twenty‐dollar bills, handed them to the young man and said, “Today, lunch is on me.”
The young man gratefully received the money, thanked my friend, then said, “This is amazing! I have a buddy who hasn’t had barbecue in a long time. I’m going to go find him and today we’re having barbecue!”
As he was sharing the story with me, my friend spoke of how it was an emotional and touching moment for him. He had been standing in line, thinking of a number of different things—everything from pressing work issues, to how his DVR had messed up recording one of his favorite shows. He said in light of what that young man was facing, all of his troubles seemed inconsequential and made him very appreciative of the blessings he had in his life.
While this is most decidedly a story about generosity, and brotherly kindness, and even focusing on what truly matters, there is also a hidden lesson about leadership tucked inside this story.
I submit to you that young man, regardless of his appearance or outward state of affairs, is more of a leader than the majority of men and women in positions of authority in corporate America.
His humility was striking. His invitation to joint decision‐making was admirable. His appreciation of received blessings was laudable. But most of all, his desire to bring someone with him is an enviable leadership characteristic.
Too many leaders are preoccupied with their own accolades, accomplishments, and agendas. This young man, while not in control of any boardroom or P&L statement, displayed incredible leadership by way of his immediate response to bring someone with him.
I ask, do you for one minute think that his friend will NOT go have barbecue with him? And don’t deceive yourself, lest you think his friend would go just for a free meal. His friend will go because he has likely followed that young man before and because that young man is mindful of him.
The story of this young man is a great lesson on the intrinsic character of real leaders: Leaders always bring someone with them.
Remember, the old saying: If a leader turns around and finds no one following them, they’re not a leader; they’re just a person out taking a walk.