And so we’ve come to the end of the four stages of the change process.
This last stage is the hingepin that holds the others together. While change most certainly cannot be sustained without any of the other stages, no amount of intensity or passion in the other three can substitute for a lack of commitment to the overall process.
I read a book many years back by author Eugene Peterson called, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The title piqued my curiosity and what I found was a testimonial to perseverance, commitment, and endurance. These characteristics are even more meaningful when contrasted against our technology-ladened, instant-gratification societies. These traits are vital within change management as well.
Growth occurs organically, not mechanically. Change, as it mimics growth, is a marathon, not a sprint. That may sound cliché, but it’s true nonetheless and it demands that perseverance, that commitment, be the order of the day.
Understand that every member within the organization—in their own way—will test the resolve of those who desire change. This is because culture—not policy—drives behavior and motivation in the organization. This is important to note because every vision, mission statement, or executive campaign is destined for failure if it does not first acknowledge, and subsequently address, the culture.
Fear of loss, triggered by change, can lead to opposition and a kind of possessive hoarding of organizational resources, rather than a liberal outflow of them. Subsequently, if a strong enough sense of loss is felt, members will find ways—both deliberately and unintentionally—to impede and suffocate change. Commitment is the cure.
By establishing commitment early on, and by allowing it to endure repeated assaults and testing, demonstrates the resolve of those initiating change and creates new, stable pathways for individuals to advance their careers and establish familiar patterns.
To recap: change begins with acknowledgment, is gauged through assessment, bolstered by planning, and sustained through commitment.
The process is infinitive not linear. You must continually pass through each of these stages and realize there is likely no finite destination. After you’ve lost those 25 extra pounds, what then? After you’ve learned how to play the violin, what’s next? Once you’ve reduced your turnover, increased profitability, and improved customer satisfaction, what will your sights be set on then?
The process is never-ending. Wash, rinse, repeat!
In the last post, I spoke about the need to objectively assess both where you are currently and where you want to be in the future. I want to emphasize once more, the importance of being as objective as possible when making your assessment. Don’t allow past experiences or biases to influence your assessment; rather, let the information stand on its own.
The third stage of the change process is planning. Here, you begin to interpret your assessment and wrap context around it. What impact will this have on the organization? How long will it take to reach your goals? What will you need to get there?
Using our roadmap analogy again, if the goal is travel from Kansas City to Chicago, and your assessment finds you in Joliet, well, things are looking mighty nice. However, if you find you’re only in St. Louis, you’ve still got a long road ahead of you. The point being: without the assessment, you won’t know what needs to fit into the plan, and without the plan, the assessment is pointless.
Your plan of action must take into account both the current state of the organization (where you are) as well as the future state of the organization (where you want to be). Additionally, a sense of urgency must be conveyed.
Urgency is a nod to the first step of the process, during which the necessity for change is acknowledged. Without a sense of urgency, the corporate economic value of the need for change plunges significantly. The caveat is to convey a sense of urgency, not haste.
Haste makes waste is an axiom. As I mentioned previously, you will discover trouble spots that almost beg for your immediate attention. Exercising patience and restraint, rather than reactionary bravado, will prove more beneficial in the long run and will save both time and resources.
The planning stage has two goals: Collaboration and Solutions.
It is almost a universal fact that organizations cannot be coerced into change. A common change strategy in organizations today is that of buy-in. Yet, the concept of buy-in may be too dictatorial. What we need is collaboration.
Collaboration draws all of the stakeholders together and by definition necessitates group input and effort. Buy-in implies that the plans and strategies are not inherent; that they are external and must be adopted. Collaboration promises origination.
Collaboration asserts that the ideas for change already exist within the stakeholders and are waiting to be expressed. Where collaboration thrives, not only will that organization embrace change, it will create its own opportunities for making change a reality.
Finally, the plan of action must acknowledge the difference between people solutions and systems solutions. Failing to recognize this difference, or worse, recognizing it, but failing to handle them accordingly, is one of the major reasons organizations are unable to sustain their efforts to affect change.
People and systems must be treated differently. This is a truth that cannot be ignored. Additionally, people and systems can never be used interchangeably to solve challenges.
The primary lesson here is realizing that people solutions are not more important than systems solutions; however, they must precede any and all systems solutions.
As President Eisenhower alluded to in the above quote, flexibility is an absolute. When planning your route from Point A to Point B, you must be prepared for potholes, detours, traffic jams, and the occasional multi-car pile-up. Those challenges are never an indication that you chose the wrong route; rather, they are opportunities to demonstrate just how badly you want to reach your destination!
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.
Triage (tree-ahz) v. – 1721, “action of assorting according to quality,” from French triage “a picking out, sorting,” from Old French trier “to pick, cull.” (from Etymonline.com)
“The urgent problems are seldom the important ones.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower
The ability to triage, specifically when differentiating between what is urgent and what is important, is the mark of every good leader.
There is no shortage of urgent things clamoring for attention in our lives. Indeed, that is often what consumes the majority of our days. Whether in the board room or on the social scene, urgent is the order of the day. The challenge is making sure the important does not suffer under the demands of the urgent.
We live in a time-starved, instant-gratification, consumer-driven, media-saturated society that is bent on perpetual motion, overindulgence and continuous stimulation. It seems that from the moment the alarm clock chimes we’re operating in deficit mode. As an unfortunate result, often the truly important things take a back seat to that which happens to be in front of us at any given moment.
Here are a few simple tips to help you sort through the daily barrage and focus on what is indeed most important:
Tip #1: Just say no – I’ve always said that success is measured by one’s ability to say no, not in saying yes. Learn to decline those things that do not need your direct attention or do not support your overall goals. Allowing others to take appropriate ownership releases you to key in on the important things in your day and in your life.
Tip #2: Handle the important things before they become urgent – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is one of my weak points. It’s not that I don’t care; I just get overwhelmed because I forget Tip #1! Deal with the important things when they’re small enough to handle quickly and save yourself loads of trouble on the back side.
Tip #3: Remember that technology is the vehicle, not the destination – Too often, the enjoyment of the moment passes by while we’re fixated on capturing it and posting it on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Don’t let your virtual connections interrupt your in-person connections. Turn your phone off when you’re in meetings, block out dedicated time to check/respond to emails, and set limits on your social media surfing. Regaining control of your time helps you establish what is truly important—and lets others know it too.
Tip #4: Make a list – If you’ve ever grocery shopped when you’re hungry, then you know you’re almost powerless to defend against all of the “data” flooding your senses. The same is true when prioritizing your day. Make a list and stick to it! Start with the most important tasks of the day, adding the less-important items at the end. Even if you don’t complete your list, writing them down serves as a subconscious referee for your mind and helps you stay on target.
In a November 2010 issue of Business Week, I read a small article about two college students who converted their business school project into a legitimate business.
Through a strange course of events, a random email and a crazy idea for expanding their business, I ended up on a phone call with Brett Nicol and Nathan Tan, owners of Forgetful Gentleman, whose focus is helping the men of today restore the gentlemanly polish that was once very common among our predecessors. My idea for expanding their business never took off, but I recall their enthusiasm for exploring new ideas and very much appreciated their entertaining my ranting.
Earlier this year, Nathan Tan published his book, The Forgetful Gentleman: Thirty Ways to Turn Good Intentions into Action. This is a must-read for the would-be gentleman of today who aspires to be something more than his hipster dressing, video-game playing, Axe body spray wearing, ROTFLMAO texting, failure to launch contemporaries.
Mr. Tan dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the resurgence of the necktie, which has declined in popularity since the mid-1990’s. In my work with the police department as well as in other events, both social and corporate, I occasionally find myself in need of sporting formal neckwear. Perhaps from my days in the military, I have always been keen on having a neat and impeccable appearance, but I go the extra mile when I know formal attire is in order.
For many men, the temptation to don a pre-tied tie can be great, especially if they lack real tying skills or wardrobe prowess, but I encourage you fellows to invest the time learning one of the four most common knots, which will give your appearance that extra lift and give you reason to hold your head high when draping a little silk around the collar.
For the sake of space, I’ll forego going into detail, but the How to Tie a Tie Video is a great resource for learning to tie a necktie. The four most common knots are: 1) The Windsor; 2) The Half-Windsor; 3) The Four-In-Hand; and 4) The Pratt. My personal favorite is the Pratt, for its uncomplicated, small-medium sized, symmetrical knot.
Learn to tie these knots and understand how they each complement your wardrobe in different ways. Once you’ve learned to tie and wear each of them, it will be quite apparent who else hasn’t.
Your organization will follow where the culture leads—not the other way around.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you learn the origin of a thing. It takes on new meaning, purpose and value. What once might have been obscured in ignorance or confusion is suddenly illuminated and made clear.
Golf didn’t make sense to me until I learned how to score it. HTML was just gibberish until I understood tags. Blogs were for techno-geeks until I started this one, and Beowulf was confusing until…well, it’s still confusing! At any rate, by peeling back the layers to understand a thing, clarity becomes a natural byproduct. In similar ways, business leaders who fail to understand that an organization and its culture are inextricably linked, often attempt to lead organizations with only partial understanding and less-than-optimal results.
I believe it’s incredibly important to know just how deeply an organization’s culture is rooted in order to learn how to influence and reshape it. I once read that, “…culture is rooted in the shared assumptions of the organization…” I agree with that because it’s those assumptions that determine how the organization will be run—even if that means running counter to operational policies. Make no mistake, culture—not policy—controls behavior and motivation in your organization. Why is this important? Because every vision, mission statement, or executive campaign is destined for failure if it does not first acknowledge, and subsequently address, the culture.
An organization’s culture provides its members with a corporate worldview. That is to say it provides members with a framework for what to expect, how to posture themselves, and how to make decisions within the organization.
One reason changing Organizational Culture can be so difficult is because the culture is tucked away deep inside the organizational mindset where it’s hidden from superficial examination. Unexamined assumptions can go unquestioned for years, as they silently calcify, making the organization rigid and resistant to change. Once they’re brought to light and scrutinized, however, they trigger fear and discomfort within influential members who have a vested interest in protecting those assumptions. For them, they represent safety, familiarity, and comfort, and do not require them to change. Those influential members—both positionally and culturally—not only have the greatest to lose, they also have the positional and cultural authority to frustrate the initiatives of any would-be agent of change.
Fear of loss generated by change actually leads to a kind of possessive hoarding of organizational resources, rather than a liberal outflow of them. Subsequently, if a strong enough sense of loss is felt, members will find ways—both deliberately and unintentionally—to impede and suffocate change.
Organizational Change is hard, but creating opportunities for members to successfully confront the culture will return huge dividends and help develop and foster a #BoldCulture. A Bold Culture recognizes that conflicts within the corporate worldview point to deeper issues of understanding and value, and then creates space to proactively dive into those deeper issues; the expectation being the safe preservation of the organization and its members. The benefits of creating a Bold Culture can produce results that lead to a dramatic improvement of performance, scalability, and sustainability for the organization and those within it.