Emerson Book Club Review: The Power of FunThe Power of Fun by Catherine Price recognizes that, after the last few years, we all need to focus on lighter things. Read this post for straight talk about the differences between Fake Fun and Real Fun. Price leads us to reflect on times of the truest, realest fun in our lives.
“Create the conditions for fun!”
These are the words of our CEO, Trish Emerson. Our leader. Our founder. And she is all in.
The Emerson team is just coming off our first in-person company meeting in three years. It was fun – true fun. It wasn’t overly structured. We didn’t do a ropes course to build trust. We had ourselves, shared space, and shared time. Just like our weekly All Hands meetings, our in-person time was a mix of acknowledgements, celebrations, strategic updates, storytelling, and laughter. Lots of laughter.
Our in-person meeting came on the heels of our latest book group discussion. As a team, we read The Power of Fun, by Catherine Price; the book was a gift to each of us from Trish. Trish recognized that, after the last few years, we all need to focus on lighter things.
Price leads us to reflect on times of the truest, realest fun in our lives. From those moments, we can mine our own Fun Magnets.
Fun Magnets are the ways (activities, people and settings) we create the conditions for Real Fun.
Don’t get me wrong—this book isn’t meant to be comic relief. Instead it is straight talk about the differences between Fake Fun and Real Fun. She defines Real Fun as “the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow.”
Let’s check our company meeting for Real Fun:
- Flow is “being fully engaged in your present moment that you lose track of the passage of time.” Check! Time flew by. As our group dinners went past my bedtime, I didn’t even notice. I didn’t check my watch (or my phone) once. I was fully present.
- Connection is “the feeling of a special, shared experience with someone else.” We definitely had that. For some, it was the joy of reunion; for others, it was our first face-to-face meeting with colleagues we had only known virtually. We were so grateful to share the day in person.
- Playfulness is “a spirit of lightheartedness and freedom.” We certainly had that. Even the strategic updates included creative, whimsical visuals and games.
I loved reading Price’s support for fun, and recognizing it in my own organization. It is an unspoken, but very important part of who we are—individually, and collectively. It’s why I feel I can bring my real self to work! And it’s something clients ask us to help them build into their culture. But no matter the project, we do meaningful work with people we love—which creates conditions for fun.
The Performance Dip MythSteady (or improving) performance through a change event is no less possible than a sub-four-minute mile.
Does a big change have to slow you down?
How many times have you read recently that companies are in the throes of unprecedented change? We’re all tired of hearing it, but it’s true. On top of all the organic changes we face – the need for new strategy, systems, skills, and structures – the pandemic has added a layer of fundamental change.
For example, nearly every organization has had to reconsider where and how its employees work. And it’s no wonder – a large portion of the work force likes working remotely, and over half of employees would consider quitting rather than returning to the office before they feel safe.
Just when we think we’ve considered all possibilities, we see new changes on the horizon. California, for example, is considering making a 32-hour work week the law.
Business leaders need to land on a model that works for them and then help employees make the shift. No matter what leaders decide, it amounts to another wave of change.
Which leads me to change management – helping your business survive and thrive through multiple change initiatives. Approaching big change fills many leaders with resignation that, at a minimum, the organization is in for a bumpy ride.
Why? Because there is always a drop in performance after a change event.
But there isn’t. And there shouldn’t. It’s a pervasive myth. The fact that we expect one creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our mindset is powerful, and it can work against us. Remember the four-minute mile? It was assumed to be an absolute limit of human performance, until Roger Bannister broke it. He broke it because he did the hard work of preparation, and because he believed he could. And after he believed, other elite runners followed. Not because they were suddenly physically stronger, but because they saw it was possible. Roger Bannister had taken the teeth out of 4:00.
Steady (or improving) performance through a change event is no less possible than a sub-four-minute mile.
Setting the expectation that there will be a drop in performance is giving your power away, just as those runners used to. It’s creating a haven for sloppy change interventions.
Drops in performance don’t have to happen. They happen when we have not:
- Clearly defined the performance required after the event. In other words, we have not described the specific actions each person must perform differently on Monday morning.
- Mapped the before and after, from each individual’s point of view. For example, where are the resources people used to depend on? What new resources are in their places?
- Let people practice the skills needed for these new actions. We haven’t let them try, fail, use the new tools and resources, and find a way to succeed.
- Convinced our people that they need to perform these new actions – that the change is vital to the organization and there’s nowhere to go but forward.
- Allowed them to demonstrate their own success, so they won’t be afraid to go all in.
Anything new here? Nope. But here’s the issue: we have spent our days believing in the performance drop, and working to minimize it. What if our change planning made the drop unacceptable? What if the metrics we talk about, but never measure, included an immediate timeframe to adoption: start-to-success within three months?
These steps take significant effort and attention to detail. They require steely commitment. I suspect we’re afraid to step up to the task. And we’re afraid to demand the same of the sponsor whose neck is on the line for delivery.
We’re afraid because we’re looking down. We expect hard times, lower performance, and lots of confusion and adjustment after the change. So our sponsors and our people hesitate.
What if, instead of asking them to weather the dip, we ask them to move upward and only upward? What if we tell them that, after all that ground work (in the bullets above), we’ll be stepping UP, not down?
When an executive has gone to the board for a transformational change, make sure they know how to lead the team in this way. Their careers hang in the balance. Give them the option to support you in doing the right work so your organization steps up — only up — to new levels of success.
Choosing Where Your Employees Work: A Five-Part GuideSome organizations allow their employees to work remotely, some are implementing a hybrid approach, others are in a “wait and see” mode. But what's best for your organization?
What’s best for your organization?
The post-pandemic work model is still being defined. Some organizations have decided to allow their employees to work remotely, indefinitely. Others are implementing a hybrid approach. Some remain in a “wait and see” mode.
Obviously, this is not a “one size fits all” situation. Each organization is weighing its options.
Normal wasn’t working. We must not think of it in terms of pushing a button and going back to the way things were. — John Kerry
If your organization is still on the fence, consider the questions below. They might help you choose the best solution for your organization.
Part 1: What do our people think?
- How do our employees feel about how they’ve been working?
- What is their ideal work setting?
- Have we asked them?
- How can we engage employees in examining the options and choosing a solution?
- How will we communicate and implement a work model change?
Part 2: What are the possibilities?
- Does the work environment have to be one way or another?
- Have we considered all options?
- Can we let departments, functions, teams, or individuals decide what works best for them?
Part 3: How does remote work serve us?
- What are the benefits for continuing to work remotely?
- What’s the down side? What’s been missing since we’ve gone remote?
- What are the business outcomes of remote work?
- Are customers impacted by remote work?
- How do our shareholders view remote work?
- Have we enabled our people to be successful in a remote setting?
- How do we ensure teamwork if we’re remote?
- How is our culture impacted if we don’t work with each other in the office?
- What tools, infrastructure, and support enable employees to flourish in a remote environment?
- What did we learn about remote work during the last two years?
- Did we make assumptions that our people know how to work remotely?
- Are there certain employee behaviors and skills that enable successful remote work?
- Will our recruiting and development change based on new skills or behaviors?
Part 4: Should we return to the office?
- What are the benefits of working in the office?
- What is the downside of in-person work?
- What are the business outcomes?
- How do we ensure we don’t lose those people who would prefer to work remotely? How can we incentivize them?
- If we decide to return to the office, are there certain business events that might drive our timing?
- If we return to the office, do we have proper safety protocols in place?
- Do we have healthcare professionals on-site? Do we have enough healthcare professionals on-site?
Part 5: Could a hybrid model work for us?
- What are the benefits of working in a hybrid model?
- What is the downside of a hybrid model?
- What are the business outcomes?
- What does a hybrid work environment look like?
- Does hybrid mean certain roles work from the office and others work remotely? If so, how will we determine which roles should work from the office?
- Does hybrid mean certain activities happen in the office and other activities happen remotely? If so, how do we make those decisions?
Wherever these questions lead your organization, grant your leadership and your employees some patience during these uncharted times. Have faith that, together, you will find the model that works for you.
Rehab Your Leadership TeamHigh impact teams result from meaningful work, not team-building exercises.
Use this four-part agenda to launch and support a strong, focused team.
We talk about the need to both perform and transform. If you only transform but don’t perform, you have no here and now. If you only perform but don’t transform, you have no future. — Frans van Houten, CEO of Royal Philips Electronics
A few years ago, a friend began a company turnaround. His first task: tell his executive team they would not receive bonuses due to missed goals, despite growing revenue and EBITDA.
The team had never met face-to-face. Some had been through three management changes; others were new hires. This is a surprisingly common problem. As Jon R. Katzenbach writes, “Even in the best of companies, a so-called top team seldom functions as a real team. The fact is, a team’s know-how and experience inevitably lose power and focus at the top of the corporate hierarchy. And simply labeling the leadership group a team does not make it one.”
My friend was up against this daunting challenge. He couldn’t afford to build a new team from scratch, so he asked for our help to build his team as they were running the company. They needed both performance, in the moment, and transformation to their vision for the future.
In preparation for our working sessions, we agreed on the following principle:
High impact teams result from meaningful work, not team-building exercises.
We met in a series of four meetings. Over the following two years, this team increased sales 50% and EBITDA 300%.
Meeting 1 Outcomes – Strategy and Working Agreements
The CEO had an overall vision for the turnaround. The team, shell-shocked from bad news, needed to hear it. Because they needed to jell quickly, we wanted them to explicitly agree on how they would work together.
At the first meeting, we:
- Defined the culture they wanted.
- Described the strategy using four key words and personal stories.
- Determined specific actions for the next 180 days.
- Agreed on how to work together.
Meeting 2 Outcomes — Momentum, Working Styles, and Profit
In the first 180 days, the team agreed on a new budget, met five new distributors, introduced three products, and hit their targets.
In this second meeting, we:
- Celebrated a successful quarter.
- Identified their preferred working styles and examined ways to adapt to their colleagues’ styles.
- Explored how to work with existing assets to increase profitability.
Meeting 3 Outcomes: A Visual Vision
People crave meaning. The most successful companies are clear on what they stand for, and why. Now that the team had worked together for a while, they were ready to clearly articulate their direction.
Here, we summarized their:
- Core Values – what they stand for
- Core Purpose – what they exist to do
- Aspirations – what they want to be
- Visual Vision – what the future looks like, in hindsight
Meeting 4 Outcomes: Focus, Goals, and Connection
The team was winning, clearly focused on a differentiator, and they had resolved factory capacity to increase profits. The CEO wanted them to sustain progress into the new year, create long term impact, and strengthen their connections as a high-functioning team.
- Examined how they accomplished what they did, and how to sustain it.
- Created steps to achieve their personal goals with the differentiator.
- Applied strategies to stay focused.
The CEO had inherited this collection of executives. Using a thoughtful structure, we created an experience that turned them into a team.
Change Under PressureStudies show individuals change their behavior when the perceived cons of changing are less than perceived cons of staying the same.
Behavior science can overcome resistance.
By Paul Mastrangelo, Emerson ReadyStaff
May you live in interesting times. Although the phrase is NOT really a Chinese curse, it remains an appropriate quip for the decade so far. Organizations faced with constant external pressures need to enlist employees to change, so the organization survives and thrives.
Change models show us that individuals change their behavior when the perceived cons of changing are less than perceived cons of staying the same. The Gleicher Formula (D x V x F > R), says that Dissatisfaction with the status quo, Vision of an alternative, and First steps toward that end will overcome Resistance to change.
Similarly, Edgar Schein explains change as spurred by the imbalance between Learning Anxiety and Survival Anxiety – the fear and personal cost of learning something new versus the fear and personal costs of staying the same. Schein, however, observed that tipping the scales by increasing fear of staying the same is NOT effective.
Instead, the key to influencing individuals is to decrease the fear of the new.
Note how many recent behaviors bear this out.
- 25% of the US population resist getting vaccinated for COVID 19. Why? They are being told that remaining unvaccinated is a threat to survival, but they rationalize that the vast majority of COVID cases are like a bad case of the flu, which is far less scary than a brand-new vaccine. The anxiety around the new vaccine is too high, so getting vaccinated is a hard change to make.
- Currently, one out of six posted jobs is remote, compared to one out of 67 jobs in 2020. Why? Before 2020 remote work options were uncommon because most leaders feared reduced performance, less innovation, and weakened culture. Once the pandemic forced the issue, remote work became the status quo, which now feels safe. Leaders’ anxiety diminished greatly (and reducing overhead costs certainly sweetened the pot). Allowing remote work as the default has become an easier change to make.
- Recent data show that people now value flexibility as much as a 10% pay raise. Why? Employees feared that removing themselves from the office, out of sight from their boss, would be detrimental to promotions, raises, and developmental opportunities. After nearly two years of partial or full remote staffing, it’s the new normal. The fear is gone, along with hours of commute time. Demanding flexibility is now an easier change to make.
- There is a sudden labor shortage, largely due to older employees retiring early. Why? The idea of spending more time at home and with family was always counter-balanced by the uncertainty of life without work. But the pandemic gave seniors a glimpse of that lifestyle. It now feels safe, especially compared to the potentially covid-ridden workplace. So of course early retirement is an easier change to make.
Once you recognize that behavioral change results from reducing the fear and cost of trying something new, you might reconsider using statements like “We must change if we’re going to survive” or “Change is inevitable.” Those messages attempt to increase fear of staying the same, but that’s the wrong pressure point.
The right pressure point is to make the change feel safe. Through this lens, overcoming resistance to organizational change is a challenge we can meet.
Leaders: Lean On Your Org Culture for the Tough TalksWhen you have challenging news to share, is there a right way? Yes! Here's how.
A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Messaging Go Down
Have you had to deliver any hard messages lately? If you lead a team or an organization, the answer is probably “Yes.” Maybe it’s your company’s vaccine mandate, safety protocols, rules about where and how to work, or covering employee shortages. When you have challenging news to share, is there a right way?
There is a right way, for your organization. The right way depends on your culture. In addition to the basics (be direct, transparent, and empathetic) your organizational culture points the way.
Why? Because culture is powerful. It’s the unconscious mechanism that drives decisions and work in your organization. Put another way, it’s your organization’s immune system.
Information and messages that fit the culture are accepted and absorbed, but content that doesn’t fit the culture is rejected.
What is your organization’s culture? Many people know the answer because their company has done some kind of culture assessment. But if you don’t have a definitive answer from a valid assessment instrument, you can often make an educated guess.
When we approach culture, we like to use the work of Carol Pearson. Pearson established culture archetypes – each one describes how the organization operates and presents itself to the world. Do you see your organization in any of the types below?
Organizations with this archetype have a strong belief in the importance of each individual and tend to single out those who distinguish themselves with their performance and accomplishments.
This archetype is manifested in the level of respect between the company and its employees. Lover organizations demonstrate direct communication and emotional honesty. They tend to manage by engagement, collaboration, support, and consensus.
The Jester archetype brings enjoyment and fun to the work environment. It is manifested in “lightness” in the interactions within the company and with its stakeholders. Jester organizations have a good work-life balance and emphasize celebration of holidays and milestones.
This is the most common archetype in western organizations. Members of Hero organizations believe in working hard to make the world a better place. Hero organizations usually have a cause and are able to enlist employees in working for it. This translates into vitality, competition, discipline, focus and determination. These organizations value and reward exceptional contributions.
Revolutionaries are troubleshooters and tangential thinkers. They look for the reasons why the glass is half empty. They are change agents looking for continuous improvements. Revolutionary organizations are able to make tough calls in challenging situations, such as dealing with non-performers.
Magician organizations run on transformative energy. Innovation, high energy, and flexibility are characteristics of the Magician. They are extremely adaptive and respond easily to changing markets and world conditions. Magicians are systems thinkers and natural change agents
Organizations of the Innocent archetype typically highly hierarchical with centralized power at the top. Management acts as a guardian and the company is seen as the provider of employees’ wellbeing. Employees trust management and seek guidance in their development. Learning is passive and directed by management. Innocent organizations tend not to depend on innovation to thrive.
Explorer organizations promote individuality, exploration, risk taking, and self-discovery. Employees take responsibility for their own development and use it to drive value at work. Explorer organizations tend to be flat and flexible, allowing individuals to work at their own rhythm and time.
The Sage organization is gathers knowledge and uses it in practical ways, achieving and demonstrating mastery. They establish centers of excellence that have real effect on the success of the organization. They consider learning to be an integral part of the work day. They value action learning and transformative learning practices.
Caregiver organizations exist in great part to provide for the wellbeing of their employees — from compensation and benefits to personal development. Caregiver organizations value cooperation and support for team members. This archetype is also manifested in care of the organization for the community, society, and world.
The Creator archetype values innovation and the creative process. Management and high-performing employees demonstrate imagination, artistry, and vision. Creator organizations do not value formality, bureaucracy, or the mundane parts of running a business.
Ruler organizations are all about maintaining order and creating harmony amidst chaos. They value responsibility and properly balancing resources. The organization and its individual employees run on decisions, authority, process, systems, goals, and strategies. The challenge for this organization is to balance decisiveness and direction unique situations and needs.
If you know which one best fits the culture of your organization (or the subculture of your division or team), you’ve got a key you can use to effectively deliver information.
So why not get a leg up on those tough communications? Embed these message themes, based on your culture.
Each of you is essential to our success. Here’s how you, personally, can play a role in this transition.
We feel strongly about this, and we know you do too. We will continue to work on this, together, so we don’t lose what’s so special about our organization.
Let’s get through this with our trademark humor and creativity, and then celebrate when we’re on the other side.
This change is the right thing to do. It will be hard for all of us, but it will make our organization (…community, world) a better place. Let’s focus on what it takes to get through this and come out stronger on the other side. If anyone can handle this, it’s us.
If we want big rewards, we have to constantly improve. That’s what this change is about. Not every organization could handle this, but we’re made of stronger stuff. We will come out better if we do the smart thing now.
We can do anything, and this is no different. We’re nimble and smart. It looks hard, but we have a unique solution that will transform us into an even better organization.
This will be a difficult transition, but don’t worry – we have a plan to get us through it. We will provide everything you need to be ok. When we are through this process, we’ll return to business as usual. Please reach out to management if you have any questions or concerns. We’re here for you.
We want to go places no other organization goes, so we’re ready to make a big move. It might be a tough journey, but we are made for this. We will learn a lot along the way, which will allow us to plot the course to even bigger heights.
We have a sound strategy, based on data, and we know it’s the smartest way forward. In your teams, you will be helping plot the course; you will gather information and lessons learned to hone our plans. This will inform our next wave of change, so we’re smarter as we go.
We’re doing this for a better company and community. It will be a tough journey, at times, but we’re in this together. Each of you will have a custom path through the change, so you finish the transition with new skills and a stronger team.
Get ready to move! We have a vision to share with you, and we think you’re going to be excited to get started. And we need your ideas, so work with your teams to bubble up the best and send them to your point people.
We have a strategy and a process for getting to our goal, but we need each of you to play your part. We will share step-by-step instructions so each of you knows exactly what to do during the transition. As we hit each milestone, we will report out and let you know our progress. Please talk to your manager with any questions on your role or the process.
The right messaging will help your change plans go down easy. People will recognize themselves, and the organization they belong to, in the communications. That’s half the battle.
Why People Continue to Quit Their JobsHere we are in 2022 and it persists -- workers continue to quit their jobs in record numbers. Why? One word: control. So what’s a company to do?
And How To Stop Them
Vaccines are here. Hopeful for post-pandemic normalcy, employers across the country are bringing their employees back to the office. But not all of them.
To put it mildly, many people are quitting their jobs in what the media are calling “The Great Resignation.” Back in March, the 2021 resignation rate was 2.4 percent – the highest rate of quitters recorded in any March of the last 20 years. Some of this is the release of a backlog—would-be leavers who kept their jobs in 2020 to fend off pandemic-driven hardship. But, as the backlog clears and businesses welcome everyone back to the office, many are still saying, “No, thanks.” Just this week the Labor Department released its November 2021 jobs report showing a record number of workers opting out.
Why? There are several reasons. One is increased savings and debt reduction. Another reason: people hated the pandemic, but loved working from home. Faced with a choice between going back to the office and quitting, some people will quit.
And, if they have another job option, why not? During remote work, they saved a lot of money and a lot of time—no commute, no travel costs, no dry cleaning, no costly lunch, no co-worker-you-hate, no drop-ins from the boss, no sharing the bathroom with dozens of strangers… I could go on, or I could sum it up in one word: Control.
Yes, pajamas are comfy and your dog’s head resting on your lap makes a meeting more bearable. But home is greater than the sum of its perks—working from home (or a coffee shop, or a beach) gives humans the autonomy we crave. It’s not the fuzzy slippers; it’s the choice to wear the fuzzy slippers.
So what’s a company to do? Create control.
In our change management work for clients, we use the concept of control to create momentum and improve adoption of a change.
We do this by making people feel in control of a change. That doesn’t mean we’re tricking them, just building in autonomy where we can and focusing their attention on those autonomous feelings.
Here are a few ways you might create feelings of control to entice workers to stay with you.
- Flexible Hours. Giving people their choice of shifts—earlier, later, or even a four-day week—might soften the return to a commute.
- Goal-Based Weeks. Don’t make people sit at their desks eight hours a day, regardless of what they’re doing. Set realistic performance milestones and give employees the remainder of the week off after they hit them.
- Work-at-Home Days. Schedule all-hands-on-deck days, for in-person work, and let them work from home the rest of the time—but only if they want to! Choice is the point here.
- The Comforts of Home. Think about what workers will be missing when they come back to the office, and give them alternatives. Cheap lunch? Pay for it. Privacy? Create pods for people who want to get away. Kids nearby? Set up a day care. A better view? Think of your office space as a campus. Open up new spaces to work, so people can curl up on a sofa near a window, or feel like they’re at their favorite coffee house as they work.
The keys to making any of this work are genuine choice (not a top tier for some choices and a slower track for others) and communication (clear, consistent messaging on choice before they decide to quit… so get on it).
Some of these ideas sound costly, don’t they? Maybe not more costly than turnover and productivity dips.
A final thought: As they contemplate bringing the work force back to the office, the C-Suite might ask itself why. Why do you need them in the office? Is it because seeing the work and the workers right in front of you makes you feel in control?
What Comes After OmicronFirst it was COVID-19. Then it was the Delta variant. Now it’s Omicron. How do organizations reconcile an innate need for stability with constant global upheaval?
Using Behavior Change to Create a Nimble Organization
People love stability. Stability, to our brains, equals safety. Organizations love stability. Stability, to organizations, means predictability, which makes customers and markets happy. So it’s no wonder people and companies are suffering.
After years of feeling threatened politically, financially, and physically, we’re trying to find our feet. But the pandemic, for one thing, keeps rocking us. First it was “just” COVID. Then it was the Delta variant—even more deadly, if that was possible.
Now it’s Omicron; we’re googling the Greek alphabet and bracing for the worst. But health experts are delivering the good news/bad news. It appears to be much more transmissible, but also much less deadly. What do we do with that?
Omicron feels like a tipping point. We just learned how to vax up and lock down, but now we’re not sure what to do. It’s almost worse; a whole new flavor of pandemic offers us even less stability.
Change is our new normal. That’s a common refrain. But what do we do about it? How do we reconcile our innate need for stability with constant global upheaval?
At Emerson Human Capital, we believe behavior is the foundation of any change.
If you can engineer different behaviors, you can change outcomes, mindsets, emotions, and even organizational culture.
If you want to prime your organization for our new normal—relentless change—try instituting these kinds of behaviors.
- Assess. Encourage teams to continually take in new information and use it to make their work better. Implement checkpoints to stop and reassess based on new information, then adjust goals or processes. The individual behaviors you want to see are gathering, analyzing, and sharing information.
- Fail fast. Make trial and error normal. When you want to change goals or processes due to new information, green-light a pilot to test the new way. Quickly gather results, adjust, and implement. The individual behaviors are raising new ideas, approving pilots, and celebrating what you learned (not what the pilot achieved).
- Sprint. Any project can learn from Agile software development projects, which do their work in sprints. A sprint is a set period of time during which a discrete chunk of work is produced and evaluated. Sprints are typically no longer than 30 days. Sprints allow a team to absorb and react to new information quickly. Imagine a one-year initiative. Now think of everything that has changed in the last year. Sprints don’t plan everything, then design everything, then build everything…they create individual components of a solution, fast; components are easier to fix, and new sprints benefit from new information. The behaviors you want are all the parts of an Agile sprint process.
- Step up. This is about using all the information you have—external and internal forces, lessons learned from your own projects, and information from other teams—to up your capabilities. It’s like a rock climber who gains muscle and agility by climbing a mountain; she uses that new ability on the next mountain. We strengthen not in our “downtime,” but as we climb. The behavior you want is asking and acting on questions like these: What did you learn to do on your last project, or in your last cycle? What have you learned from the outside world or from another team’s experience? Who learned it? How can you encode and use that new capability?
When we say “institute these behaviors,” we mean you have to identify them, communicate them, measure them, and reinforce them. It’s an investment; you either want this kind of organization, or you don’t.
Behaviors like these will not only improve your performance, they will begin to create a more nimble culture—where questioning is ok, risk is celebrated, and you commit to being smarter tomorrow than you were today. Companies that do this well are ready for whatever the world throws at them.
Why Is Change So HardIf change is everywhere, all the time, why do we still have so much trouble adopting new ways of working?
The Challenge And Imperative Of Change Management
Unprecedented change has become our new normal. We face shifting economies, social change, and threats to our very existence. The remote workforce seems here to stay. Technology has enabled—or invaded—every aspect of our daily lives. For organizations, constant change is now business as usual.
If change is everywhere, all the time, why do we still have so much trouble adopting new ways of working?
Research tells us that most change initiatives fail.
How could this be? Is change adoption the Achilles heel of progress? Why is change so hard, even when it is clearly necessary?
When change is on the horizon, employees often experience cognitive and emotional reactions that leave them feeling insecure, uncertain, and even fearful of what is to come (Dufrene & Lehman, 2014). These emotions cause people to resist the change.
Based on research and personal experience, I believe that our change challenges have a common factor—lack of effective communication.
- Authentic communication from leadership helps diminish resistance. Dufrene & Lehman believe that “timely and sensitive messages delivered in a sincere personal manner can go far in assuaging fears and building a sense of optimism.”
- Effective communication provides a new narrative. Good change leaders use the power of story to replace negative associations with comparisons to positive experiences familiar to the audience.
- Communication should be expertly planned to focus attention on what’s important. Often, change leaders use blanket communications that don’t fit the audience. Each stakeholder group needs custom messaging that makes sense for them. The language, examples, tone, channels – all must target the hearts and minds of the group on the receiving end.
- Good communications are streamlined. They grab the attention of the audience with clear, concise, and motivating content aligned with the culture.
- Communications should be layered. Once is not enough. Change leaders should deliver the same content many times, through different channels. The more important the message, the more layers you need.
- People do not invariably resist all change, but rather resist change that is imposed upon them. Think of communications as engagement. Information should flow both ways. Change leaders must respond to what they hear from stakeholders and create an ongoing dialogue. The conversation itself is motivating and creates positive momentum.
If change is our new reality, leaders must embed communication excellence throughout the organization.
Marshak, R. J. (2014). Organization development as an evolving field of practice. In C. G. Worley., A. McCloskey., & M. Brazzel. (Eds.). The NTL Handbook of Organization Development and Change: Principles, Practices, and Perspectives (pp. 3–24). San Francisco: Wiley.”
Why Are Your Executives in the RoomTime for leadership sessions! Before you head into days-long meetings, ask yourselves: what question are you trying to answer?
Don’t schedule your strategic planning session until you figure this out.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time for those leadership sessions we use to plan for the future. But before you clear those calendars and head into days-long meetings, ask yourselves: what question are you trying to answer?
We’ve helped many leadership teams plan for the following year. It’s surprising how many companies schedule an off-site or a series of working sessions without clarity on exactly what problem they’re trying to solve and what objectives they want to hit.
So before you schedule, figure out which questions you’re trying to answer.
- Who are we and where are we headed?
Every executive team must align around their purpose, vision, and values. But not every team knows how to align. It takes practice. The process builds relationships as team members discuss, work, collaborate, and agree on a singular view of the future.
This work might seem unnecessary; most organizations already have a purpose, vision, and values. But it’s worth asking whether these “truths” require revision. Triggers include acquisitions, changes in leadership, and significant market shifts.
- Are we organized to achieve our vision?
A good operating model is the blueprint of your organization, It shows all the key components that contribute to the organization’s value stream, including inputs, outputs, processes, metrics, and technology. It highlights the interdependencies within teams and processes and how they deliver value.
By constructing the model together, the leadership team develops a greater awareness and appreciation of all contributions and understands the importance of acting in unity.
Again, you probably already have an operating model. Or do you? Many of our clients are surprised to discover they don’t have it documented, and certainly not accessible to the company or used as guidance for day-to-day work. Even a strong operating model is worth refreshing every few years.
- How do we get there?
“There” is wherever you plan to go—the mission, the vision, the operating model… Businesses thrive when the organization knows what it wants to achieve and by when. Every company should have a roadmap.
Executives are responsible for identifying the high-level “what and when.” The session should include representatives of key business functions to determine the “how.”
- What is our message to the organization?
If an organization must change in any way, it needs a message. As the executive team creates the message frame—the four key words that anchor the message—they clarify and align on the change.
The message frame ensures all leaders and advocates tell the same compelling story, consistently and authentically, without relying on written materials or PowerPoint decks. Each communicator customizes the story with details and data that mean something to that particular audience—this is what gets your entire organization pulling in the same direction.
- How should we work together?
We all have natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Effective teams understand how these patterns impact the overall team dynamic and how to use the strengths of their members to deliver results and move the organization forward. Smart teams create working agreements that take into account different working styles and reduce conflict. Agreements should be simple and direct, created by the team, and present at all meetings.
One of our favorite tools to craft these agreements: the Clifton Strengthfinder™ Survey. We work with a team to find each member’s unique contributions and leverage them in service of the strategy. Then we define team agreements, taking working styles and culture into consideration.
- How do we sharpen our performance?
To make improvements in business processes, org structure, and behaviors, leaders need to know what’s working and what’s not. A working session can pinpoint what should change, and determine how.
Some of the tools we use as a first step: 1) SWOT analysis, which identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and 2) the Start, Stop, Continue exercise. Then we take those findings, prioritize, and plan implementation.
Many executive teams blend these types of sessions into something custom that works for them. What’s most important is clarity—understanding your problem, the process you will use, and the outcomes you want—before you start.