Category Archives: Organizational Change
A couple of years ago, I moved from a Chief of Staff role focused on research and development to a more far-reaching one in a newly created organization. This new role would allow me to see firsthand what it took to run a multi-billion dollar company from the executive suite. I readily admit that I was intimidated. There were lots of big names in the company who were making huge decisions…and they were expecting me to keep them organized!
I decided that I might need to find some different ways to work with this new team so, I took inspiration from a college professor, Kevin Treu. Dr. Treu always asked a ‘question of the day’ to start each class. I had successfully used that tactic in several training classes I gave. and decided that we would start each weekly staff meeting with a ‘song of the day’.
The first Monday morning of the year, I had the song Good Morning by the artist Mandisa playing as the team walked into the room. For a few weeks, I was met with some strange looks (maybe due to my taste in music) but by soon I had people making playlist recommendations!
It’s always been challenging for me to focus on the capabilities that I do have instead of the ones I wish I had. In high school, my choir sang a song called “Moses” that included the line “What do you hold in your hand today?” That line has always challenged me and it’s my challenge to you.
Are you staring at a challenging project, a new role, or an opportunity to be ‘stretched’? If so, take stock of what you have…the experiences and unique mindset that you bring to the table. Then, pick one or two that you can start implementing. You’ll discover that what you already hold in your hand is more important than you thought!
Many thanks to Treyci Lilje for accompanying me on the journey and constantly reminding me of what I had in my hands.
I’ve coached my sons on the baseball field for the past 9 years so it was really strange not to be out there this Spring. It’s often said that baseball is a game where hitters can be in the Hall of Fame if they can only limit their failures to 60-70% for 20 years. It’s true that the highest batting average in Major League Baseball is Ty Cobb’s .366 – meaning he failed 634 out of every 1000 times he went to the plate!
Failure isn’t limited to baseball….basketball greats are acquainted with it as well.
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.Michael Jordan
Marty Osborn made the same observation about football: “In a football game a team will run about 60-70 plays. Of those plays, 90% fail. That’s right. Only 10% of plays will really work. It’s those 6 or 7 plays that will be the difference between winning and losing.”
If we take a step into the world of organizations, it’s clear that there are lots of things we do every day that don’t work:
- That meeting that did NOT go as planned
- A project you poured weeks into doesn’t get approved
- The sales lead you thought was ready to sign the contract goes another direction
- And many more!
So, what do you do with all that failure? I’d propose you embrace it!
Success has been defined as the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.Anonymous – referenced in How to Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers
(not Winston Churchill as I thought!)
The next time you strike out and are disappointed by what was a sure thing, pick yourself up and try again…with enthusiasm!
Who knows, the next time you’re at the plate, you may hit a home run…
Photo Credit: Louis van Oeyen, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)
One beautiful Saturday, my family headed out to take a hike up one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. My wife and I had hiked it over a decade ago with our infant son so we knew that it was worth the trip. The route we chose was completely wooded for 95% of the way and we had a teenager and tween in the crew who were looking for immedicate gratification. They were pretty vocal about their lack of interest in hiking (between their sprints up and down the trail). Finally, we arrived at the top and everyone quietly sat down and enjoyed the view.
The fact that my wife and I, the leaders of our little expedition, had already been to the top of this mountain gave us the energy to encourage our ‘team’ that it was worth the trip.
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”John C. Maxwell
Recently, I’ve been working with business leaders who are trying to get their teams to ‘hike’ a pretty significant mountain. It requires the leaders to run ahead of their teams by looking into the future and working on strategy, then circle back to the team to get them on board. That means the leaders are doing twice the work of the team…and that’s exhausting!
If you’re a leader, and you haven’t (mentally) been where you want the team to go, maybe now is a good time to take a few hours off the treadmill and make sure that the future is clear for you so you can take others there.
If you’re being led (and we all are in some area of life), take a minute to thank the leaders that are running back and forth between the future and today!
photo credit: flickr.com/photos/alphaducentaure/11887177805
Social distancing got you down? Here’s how to take one of your worst experiences and make it one of your best!
Ever since I lived with 2 guitar players during college, I had wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar. My fiancée (now wife of 21 years) had purchased a guitar for me as a gift, I had taken lessons, and I couldn’t play a chord. Finally, I had put my guitar in a closet, irregularly pulling it out, longingly looking at it, and usually beating myself up for my failures in learning.
After seeing an ad on facebook, I decided that June 2016 was the month I would learn. I had purchased an online class from Tristan de Montebello and planned to start it after getting home from a business trip on June 17, 2016.
June 18, 2016 is a ‘date which will live in infamy’ for my family. That’s the day I decided to play soccer with my sons and their friends in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The day an 11 year old kid faked me out well enough to send me tumbling over the soccer ball. The day my kneecap took a direct hit on the asphalt…and broke in two. Ouch!
After a few days waiting on the couch, I had surgery and wasn’t allowed to bend my knee for 6 weeks. It would have been really easy to have a pity party, tell myself that this was just another roadblock to learning and given up. I definitely had my share of feeling sorry for myself but, for some reason, I pressed on, finished the class, and began playing a few songs for kids at our church.
Almost 4 years after these experiences, I have a 4 inch scar and a guitar I can pick up and play between virtual meetings at home during a global pandemic
Speaking of that global pandemic, did you think this was going to be a time you finally read that book, reconnected with that former client, or made progress on that objective that was so hard to complete with the interruptions of the office? If you’re anything like me, there’s been a significant conflict with those intentions and reality. After 28 days of ‘isolation’ I was sure I would have written several articles and posts that are on my list and maybe even made progress on a book manuscript.
Until now, I’ve accomplished none of those things. The urgent is STILL crowding out the important! So, I’m challenging myself to spend just 20 min a day on some of these important professional goals (knowing that I’m likely to be interrupted by my even more important family). How about you? Have the urgent tasks (or even the pity parties) taken far too much of your time and attention? This week, try to find just 20 min a day (or 25 if you’re a believer in the Pomodoro Technique) and make progress on one thing. You may find you can make one of your worst experiences one of your best!
The 4 year old takes the pitcher of water in both hands and with as much focus as she can muster, tilts the pitcher and aims the stream of water into the glass. The last thing she wants to do is make a mess so she’s being really careful. It looks like she’s going to make it until the last second when a surprise ‘slosh’ of water jumps out of the pitcher and it’s more than the glass can handle. Water overflows from both the glass and her eyes.
I feel bad for the the little girl in this story and I made her up! We often work with leaders in organizations who are much like her. They really want to do the best for their team. They don’t want to make a mess so they are very deliberate about the changes they implement. Then, slosh! One unplanned change (new legislation, mandatory software version, employee turnover, etc.) causes their team to go into ‘change overflow’ mode.
In this recent post, I mentioned a major company whose employees “had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year.” If you’re implementing a change, how do you know the amount of changes those around YOU are facing? Organizations have a limited capacity for change. It’s like giving a patient medicine…essential at the recommended dosage limit, but beyond that potentially hazardous!
I’d propose that it’s worth your time for a quarterly review of the changes going on both inside and outside your organization. Just a quick list developed in a team meeting is enough. After a couple of times, you’ll be able to start seeing trends. How did we deal with the past quarter of change? Are there any lessons learned for the future?
You could even translate the feedback into an understanding of your organization’s ‘ability to absorb change’. Are we a yellow in change capacity because of recent benefits changes? Maybe we’re a red because of an unplanned change in import/export laws?
Within a year you’ll have a great feeling for the capacity of your organization to change and you’ll begin leaving some bandwidth for those unexpected ‘sloshes’!
Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!
- Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
- Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
- 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.
In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:
“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.“
Holy smokes, 250 changes per year! I bet that’s true for most of us. Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc. The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.
I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!
How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?
Imagine you’ve spent a nice day building a sandcastle at the beach. After several hours, you’ve got something to be proud of but you know that the rising tide or just one big wave will wipe out all of your work.
Now imagine that you’ve spent a nice 10 years building a career. After years of hard work, you’re proud of where you are and what you’ve done. But what’s that out in the ocean? It’s a wave of change…and it’s coming straight for your ‘sandcastle’! You worry it will wipe out all you have worked for and woosh….suddenly you’re in a new role in a new department and you’ve got to start all over.
This article on approaching change like a skill instead of an event got me to thinking about some of the companies I’ve worked with. Employees at newer and smaller companies expect and even welcome changes…at the expense of their sandcastles getting destroyed on a regular basis. On the other hand, employees at older, larger companies have gotten used to building their sandcastles on the shore of the lake…where there is no tide and only the occasional pontoon boat makes a ripple.
If you’ve built your sandcastle at the lake over decades with detailed ramparts and moats, a wave of change (which will inevitably come) is a huge disaster! How will you ever get all of those grains of sand back in place? It feels like a hopeless cause…and that’s a good thing.
Wait, what!? How can the destruction of my years of hard work be a good thing? Well, I have a dirty little secret to pass along…your castle was probably outdated! I know turrets and moats were all the rage 20 years ago but since then we’ve created security cameras that can warn you when there’s any motion outside…and installing one of those in your sandcastle would take A LOT of work. Even though the change is painful, it’s an opportunity.
Like those famous sandy philosophers, The Beach Boys, said, “Catch a wave (of change) and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!” It is a difficult thing when something that you’ve worked hard on suddenly changes. If you can treat those changes as opportunities, you’ll see the waves of change NOT as sandcastle destroying opportunities but a chance to learn something new…surfing!
Since 1995 (how can that be!) the Toy Story movies have given us a window into the ‘secret life of toys’. The movies are very effective at reminding us of the simple joys of childhood using some very adult storylines. This group of friends learns they can count on each other through thick and thin as they work through jealousy (Toy Story), abduction (Toy Story 2), and betrayal (Toy Story 3). Pretty heavy stuff for a ‘kids’ movie!
The cast of characters spans the toy world and includes some common personality traits that we see all around us. Rex, the dinosaur is always anticipating the worst. Slinky, the dog, is laid back and calm. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are a classic ‘old married couple’. However, when it comes to organizational change, two characters are great examples of typical responses you may see:
•Woody, the cowboy, does NOT like change. He’s happy with the status quo, thank you very much, and doesn’t see any need to do things differently. His motto could be ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’!
•Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger, is the face of change. He’s never met a problem he couldn’t solve or a challenge too difficult. His personal motto, “To infinity, and beyond!” shows us that he’ll always be reaching for the stars.
If you take just a minute, I’m sure you can identify at least one Woody and one Buzz in your team…maybe even by looking in the mirror! How do you use these mindsets to help you make a change?
If you’ve got a “Woody”, recognize that you may never have them fully supporting your change. You can help them see the benefits while also appreciating their perspective and trying to move them to ‘neutral’. However, if you can get a skeptic like Woody to support your idea, expect many others to follow!
A “Buzz” can be a challenge as well. They may be so passionate about moving to ‘the new thing’ that they steamroll everyone in their path. Harness their energy by helping them see everyone’s perspective and the challenges ahead. Then use them as sympathetic evangelists of the change throughout the organization.
When it’s time for a change in your organization, take a look around you to find both Woody and Buzz. Once you’ve identified them, you can use their unique strengths to help your change “reach for the sky”!
photo credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/783510
Over 14,000 General Motors employees will soon experience a major change…but other factors will account for their perception of it
It’s very challenging for organizations to implement necessary changes without alienating their employees. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, changes at work are as stressful as the birth of a new child and more stressful than the death of a close friend!
In a recent course on “Leading Change” we discussed the Kübler-Ross model of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients. That model uses five stages to explain what is often called the ‘change curve’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. During the course, we had an excellent discussion that, as humans, we may be on many ‘change curves’ at one time.
For example, someone who has experienced an emotional family issue may be in the bargaining phase for that change while they are also in the depression phase about a personal injury. Those changes already underway multiply the effect of a major change at work (like the layoff of 14,000 co-workers).
General Motors has a significant challenge ahead…not only with the impacted employees but also with stakeholders like the media and government. It’s important for them to remember that everyone affected will see the change through the lens of the changes they are ALREADY going through.
That also means some groups of stakeholders will arrive in the acceptance phase sooner than others. GM can take advantage of those early adopters to influence the rest of the population. We’ll all be watching their progress closely.
photo credit: wikimedia
Herb Shepard directed the first doctoral program focused on successful organizational change and performance. In 1975, he published “Rules of Thumb for Change Agents” which have held up surprisingly well to the test of 40+ years of time. Let’s take a look at one of them.
RULE I: Stay alive.
Organizations are designed to deliver results but the world is changing around them. When change is triggered externally, most organizations find struggle to find the right people to help them respond. So, when a few brave souls take up the mantle of ‘change agent’ you would think that they would be celebrated…but that’s not usually the case. “Antibodies” in the organization, often at the middle management level, attack the internal change by convincing those who will listen why ‘it’s not a good idea’ and ‘things are fine just the way they are’.
How do you survive the attacks from those internal antibodies? Become a Change Ninja…wait, a what!?!
The two main roles of historic ninjas were espionage and strategy. Change Ninjas gather intelligence about the organization around them and figuring out ways (a.k.a. strategies) to influence the organization (most often indirectly). After peacefully living in the current system, Change Ninjas can jump out of their camouflaged position once opposition to change has been reduced.
Some budget is available? Shed the camouflage and make a strong case for directing it toward the growth project. A team needs a new member? Make sure to nominate someone who is sympathetic to the changes that need to take place.
Why the camouflage? Shepard says it best. He “counsels against self sacrifice on behalf of a cause that you do not wish to be your last.” Risks are necessary but make sure that they are “taken as part of a purposeful strategy of change, and appropriately timed and hedged. When they are taken under such circumstances, one is very much alive.”
When you need to make a major change, become a Change Ninja and live to fight another day!
Need some ‘Introduction to Change Ninja training’? Johannes Mutzke and I will be teaching a our Leading Change class in the Upstate of South Carolina on November 13. More information is available here and you can register here. Would love to see you there!
Not in the Greenville, SC area? Check out my book on the three types of people that are key to every change.