Strong Messages for Tough TimesWhether in the midst of a pandemic or a change in company policy, strategy, or organization—good communication follows these principles.
As change and communication consultants, we emphasize the need for clear and consistent messaging from leaders about any change, big or small.
Inconsistent messaging from leaders only serves to confuse. Our recent COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point. Things are changing from day to day and we’re getting different messages from county, state, and federal officials. We are allowed to go outside to exercise. Does that mean it’s ok to go to a park or the beach? Do we have to avoid passing others on the sidewalk? What’s the safest way to feed our families? Should we shop at a grocery store and cook at home or order takeout? Who should self-quarantine—those with symptoms or anyone who has traveled lately?
In confusing times—whether in the midst of a pandemic or a change in company policy, strategy, or organization—good communication follows the same principles.
People have to hear the same message at least seven times for it to stick. “Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water” or “Our focus for 2020 is reducing costs.” Either one would have to reach individuals over and over, through different channels, to change behavior.
Assume people don’t like to read. Give them the headlines. Use the same words again and again. Offer supporting information, but make sure the essentials are simple. “Stay at home.” “Wash your hands.” “Wear your hard hat.”
And, the bigger the audience, the simpler the message should be.
Ideally, our government leaders would agree on a common, standard message—not one for California, one for Texas, one for San Mateo County, one for San Bernardino County, one for Dallas, one for Houston—make sure all leaders answer the same question in the same way.
At Emerson, we recommend identifying four anchor words to ensure consistency of a message. Agree on the Problem you’re trying to solve, the Solution to the problem, the Approach you’ll take to solve the problem, and the Result you want. Land on one word each to describe the Problem, Solution, Approach, and Result. Those four words are your “message frame.” When speaking or writing about the challenge, everyone should use those four words to recall and tell the story. Use whatever facts and examples make sense to your audience, but stick to those four anchor words.
Appealing to more than one of our five senses helps people retain information. For example, as we hear the speaker saying something in plain terms we understand, we should see the same simple message. If you’ve ever viewed any of the TED talks, the best speakers use simple graphics in the background to illustrate their points. Wouldn’t it be more effective if, every time the President was at the podium, a few bullet points or a clear graphic behind him reinforced his message to the people?
In challenging times, when people are anxious or stressed, clear communication is more important than ever. Use these principles and your employees will thank you for it.
Guiding Your Organization Through Coronavirus FearsThe vast majority of the world will not be affected by coronavirus, but we all feel its presence. The people in your organization are no exception.
The coronavirus is not only infecting people’s bodies, it’s in their heads. The vast majority of the world will not be affected by the virus, now named COVID19, but we all feel its presence. The people in your organization are no exception. The global health threat affects them emotionally, and that means it affects your business.
So what can you possibly do in the face of something so much bigger than your organization? You can make the experience feel familiar, controlled, and successful.
We use the science of the brain to help our clients navigate big challenges. These three principles are key.
- Creating connections between the current experience and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar. This dampens the brain’s fear responses so people can hear you and engage.
- No one wants to step forward in the dark. Feelings of control disrupt that paralysis and help people use their higher brain functions to solve problems and take positive action.
- Winning and sharing success release “feel good” and “connection” chemicals, which reinforce those positive actions and create the engagement you want.
But seriously, the coronavirus? Yes, you can use these principles to help your people get through this very uncertain time.
How do you make an unprecedented event feel familiar? Well, you tap into past positive experiences.
Was there a big threat to your organization that you handled well? Compare this experience to that by reminding people how you got through it together. “Ten years ago, the H1N1 presented us with similar risks. Here’s how we handled that.” “Remember 2017, when we faced that disruption to our supply chain?” Talk about how dire the situation was, and the progress milestones you hit along the way.
Are there people or processes they are used to? Use those. If employees have a place they go for reliable information, make sure information on the health threat is there. If there’s a leader who delivers consistent and reliable information, make sure that’s the voice they hear. Familiarity turns off the fear response so employees can turn their focus to business as usual.
What? Isn’t an epidemic the very opposite of “controlled?” It is, but there are ways to encourage feelings of control.
One way is to create predictability. Tell employees what will happen, and when. And then deliver. When will you give them updates? Who will deliver them? What preventive measures will they experience? Make sure you speak in plain terms, not medical jargon, so all listeners feel sure they understand your message.
Another way to create control is to give people agency – in other words, let people take some action to help themselves and others. Feeling helpless is the enemy, so give them something to do. Give employees a channel for asking questions — then make sure you answer them! Introduce safety processes, no matter how simple, that employees can act on. For example, you might make it easier for employees to wash their hands properly. You could allow employees to put themselves on a “no fly” list temporarily, opting out of non-essential international travel. You could ask employees to post company updates on progress against the threat in common spaces. You might publish simple safety practices for employees’ families, as well. Meaningful actions, no matter how small, make people feel they are doing something to protect themselves.
What are you, the CDC? How can you successfully fight the coronavirus? You can’t, of course. But you can make the people feel successful at what they want – to be safe from it. Share positive updates, like safety measure implemented. “100% of employees now have access to our weekly update.” “All business travel to Asia has been suspended for the time being.”
And share successes for the world outside your organization. If infection rates drop in a particular country, let them know. If scientists have a target date for a vaccine, make sure it’s out there. Visible successes create a sense that the organization is moving through the crisis and will emerge healthy on the other side.
We’re all in uncharted territory, and we look to our leaders for guidance. You can do more than that – you can make a significant positive difference for your employees and your business by using the science of the brain.
Iowa Caucus: Don’t Blame the AppCompanies we work with might not worry about failing on a world stage, but when they attempt something new, the stakes are high for their employees and leadership.
Lessons from the Iowa Caucus can help your business.
“After 9 p.m., disorder really descended. The app for reporting results wasn’t working. When I’d downloaded it on Jan. 31, the installation instructions had been convoluted: You had to fill out a survey, which then got you a link, and then you had to download a different app, and enter in a code from your email, and then you would get the real app. But we have caucus chairs who need their grandkids to program their DVRs, and the training for the caucus chairs hadn’t included any guidance. The party didn’t really roll out the app so much as drop it on the doorstep.
In our county, only two of the 22 caucus leaders were able to use the app successfully. So across the state, counties just like ours called their results into Des Moines headquarters the old-fashioned way, flooding the phone lines and overwhelming the few volunteers assigned to this job.” – Zach Simonson, Chairman of the Wapello County Democratic Party
“As the smartphone app for reporting the results of the Iowa Democratic caucuses began failing last Monday night, party officials instructed precinct leaders to move to Plan B: calling the results into caucus headquarters, where dozens of volunteers would enter the figures into a secure system.
But when many of those volunteers tried to log on to their computers, they made an unsettling discovery. They needed smartphones to retrieve a code, but they had been told not to bring their phones into the “boiler room” in Des Moines.
As a torrent of results were phoned in…volunteers resorted to passing around a spare iPad to log into the system. Melissa Watson, the state party’s chief financial officer, who was in charge of the boiler room, did not know how to operate a Google spreadsheet application used to input data…
Others, desperate to verify results, began telling some precinct leaders to email photographs of their worksheets — the paper forms used to tally results — to a dedicated email address. But for hours, no one monitored the inbox. When it was finally opened Tuesday morning, there were 700 unread emails waiting, with photos that had been sent sideways; volunteers had to crane their necks to decipher the handwritten forms.”
– How the Iowa Caucuses Became an Epic Fiasco for Democrats, The New York Times
Did you notice anything about these accounts of the Iowa Caucus debacle of 2020? There’s not a lot of focus on the prime suspect: a coding error in the app. Instead, the story is about people — unprepared and poorly skilled — doing their best.
This is exactly the kind of nightmare we help clients avoid.
Companies we work with might not worry about failing on a world stage, but when they attempt something new, the stakes are high for their employees and leadership.
As a change and learning professional, here’s what jumps out at me:
- The process wasn’t clear. Even those in leadership positions didn’t understand the flow of information and tasks required with this new technology. And it seems no one had even considered a “Plan B” work flow, namely falling back to the paper-based system. People tried and failed to follow the process, then they did what smart people do: they found a workaround. They looked at the tools available (paper, screen shots, email) and tried to get to the goal. But the organization wasn’t staffed or skilled for either process: Plan A or Plan B.
- There was no consideration of the people in the roles. The folks who had to perform came to the caucuses with a variety of skills, preferences, and backgrounds. One way of doing things won’t work for a diverse group like that – the smart thing to do is to understand who the people are. If you really know them, you can develop supports that meet them where they are and bring them across that gap of knowledge and skills to a place where they can perform.
- Nobody prepared people to perform. “Once you hear the phrase ‘trouble downloading today,’ it is not the technology,” Jeremy Bird, Obama’s former political strategist said in a Tuesday tweet. “That is a training/planning/organizational problem. Should have had multiple dry runs & zero people should have been downloading anything on caucus night.” You must make the change familiar, in a safe environment, with opportunities to practice, long before the pressure is on. How many volunteers were involved in the testing stage before the app was even finished? Testing is an opportunity to involve end-users early, explain the process with time for feedback, and get volunteers doing successful dry runs before the real thing.
- There was no overall change plan. Any big change – especially something as high-profile and consequential as this one – needs a thoughtful, strategic, tight change management plan. A good change plan includes the right interventions, at the right times, with the right checkpoints and measurements to ensure success…and one our favorite results at Emerson: “no surprises.”
Hindsight is easy, of course. But for us at Emerson it was wide-eyed, head-slapping dismay that none of the basics of change were followed. Next time, Iowa Dems, just give us a call!
Familiar, Controlled, and SuccessfulThere is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you […]
There is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you make any organizational change or learning program better. Science tells us that if we want to implement something new in an organization, we should make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful.
The first principle is Familiar. Our brains see anything new as a threat. We feel fear. Familiarity can make a new thing feel safe and valuable. Familiarity is created by comparing the new thing to your past experiences. Compare the change to something good. Compare the change to something bad. Use what they already know. And, of course, we know stories are powerful. So you can use a story as the vehicle for each of these. I’ve used story telling on many of my projects. Typically, I find executives or experienced / well-respected managers to share stories that help make the change to feel familiar. Also, use repetition. Perhaps the information is new to people when you start the project, but if you keep repeating it over and over, it becomes familiar. I do this by having multiple resources sharing their stories.
The second principle is Controlled. Our brains don’t like uncertainty and they don’t like feeling vulnerable. Giving people predictability and control lowers anxiety and unleashes people’s potential to plan and organize. Control is created by giving a change predictability and structure, and by giving people choices. Share a schedule or project roadmap to help those impacted by the change to understand when things are happening. This helps them to schedule the rest of life which gives them some control during the change. Also, Frequently Asked Questions provide stakeholders with additional information which helps them to feel control.
The third principle is Successful. Brain research tells us exactly why winning feels good. And why winning together feels even better. A feeling of success is created by engineering small wins and celebrating milestones. One way to make someone feel successful doing something new is by breaking that new thing into small, simple tasks. Another way to make people feel successful is by making the new thing doable. Also, be sure to make your change measurable. Being able to measure it helps to show when goals are being achieved. Once those goals are achieved or those milestones are met, use rewards to encourage people to continue moving forward with the change. In past projects, I’ve set it up so that teams who are showing progress, get recognized by the company. This encourages them to continue moving forward and it helps the rest of the organization see how things should be done based on the new way of doing business.
Creating connections between your change and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar, which turns off fear, makes the change feel valuable, and helps people remember it. Adding choice, structure, and predictability makes the change feel controlled, so people feel less anxious, more engaged, and get to use their brains’ executive functions. Engineering small wins; measuring; providing feedback and rewards; and celebrating make people feel successful, activating the feel-good chemicals in their brains. Use the simple strategies outlined here to make your change feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful. In doing so, the change will be more quickly adapted in your organization. Good luck!
Good for Business: Positivity in the WorkplaceFour big business benefits of positivity in the workplace.
My personal performance and creativity soar when I am happy and surrounded by supportive and genuine people. The quality of my work is even higher when I am in a supportive environment. I can feel it, but can my company’s bottom line? Does positivity have business benefits? Shawn Achor says it does.
In his book, Big Potential, Achor says there are many benefits beyond the personal. Being in a positive environment has a huge impact on my personal productivity, achievement, and willingness to see something through. Achor’s work bears this out. In a joint research project with LinkedIn, he found that the return on investment on praise in a work environment is remarkable.
Positivity improves retention.
“If (someone) received four or more touchpoints of praise or recognition in a quarter, the retention rate increased to 96 percent over the next year.” So companies could reduce turnover if they just used more praise in the workplace. That is an absolutely stunning finding considering how easy it is to add a little praise to your day. Take the time to do two things: Add at least one complimentary comment to every interaction, and include praise as a part of the standing agenda in your meetings.
Positivity removes limits.
My most profound performance shift has been from fear-based delivery to praise-based delivery. Achor writes about shifting your own picture of the world to a vision that gives you power. When you see the world as positive and supportive, you can be bold, support your team, and create a workplace that fosters creativity and high performance. Lead through guidance and praise rather than criticism or threats. With the right environment, teams are free of counterproductive limitations. Don’t be surprised if creativity and high performance become a core competitive advantage for your business.
Positivity improves performance.
I have noticed that praise is contagious. When I’m kind and complimentary of another’s contributions, it comes right back to me. I also feel a boost in energy and creativity. Achor’s research supports this. “Praise creates a virtuous cycle; the more you give, the more you enhance your own supply. When done right, praise primes the brain for higher performance.” To create this reciprocal cycle of praise and performance, start giving compliments. Life has a way of serving up situations and people that reveal this power, so use everyday situations to create volley of positive conversation. Start practicing in any interaction – with a bank teller, a postal worker, a barista at Starbucks, or your team at the office. The uplifting effect, on your mood as well as your work, is tremendous.
Positivity creates momentum.
Achor says “the more energy (people) channel in a positive direction, the more power they have to pull others along with them.” Having a greater impact – beyond my personal goals – is a powerful motivator and helps me show up to work as my best self. You can reach further and create forward momentum by building alliances with peers and sharing encouraging stories. Pretty soon, you’ll see signs that your organization is changing and know you played a part.
Achor’s book is all about leveraging the power of positivity to reach your own potential, personally and professionally. His research is full of proof points, to which I can personally attest. His tips are easy, immediately rewarding, and good for business.
How to Manage the Transition StateChange isn’t instant. You can’t avoid the trek, but you can make it a nicer ride.
Are we there yet?
A few years ago, an unexpected letter informed me that I’d reached “Million Miler” status on my most-flown airline. This status earned me lifetime travel benefits with the carrier. It also earned me sanity-saving insights into the art of air travel.
I’d flown those million miles with untold numbers of fellow travelers—people of every age, background, and ability—and it was an education. Let me clue you in on one hard-won lesson:
The quality of the journey is shaped well before the journey itself.
Travel—the progression from point A to point B—is just like any transformation: It’s a change process to be managed. And the best-prepared travelers are often the most satisfied.
For example, I’ve shared an aircraft cabin with thousands of toddlers. (Not all at once, thankfully!) It doesn’t take long for kids to realize that air travel is uncomfortable. It’s cramped. It’s loud. And it constrains these human perpetual-motion machines to sit in one spot for who knows how long. No matter how much the kids love their grandma or want to meet Mickey, the process of getting there tests their limits.
I’ve seen traveling parents adopt a variety of change management approaches, with varying degrees of success:
- Some don’t give it much thought or planning. They wing it and hope for the best.
- Others rely on the child’s self-discipline, as well as their own ability to impose their will on the child. “Behave, because I said so!”
- The most effective change-managing parents don’t rely on chance or dominance. They choreograph the experience—both before and during the flight—to build success into the process.
Think of your own transformation initiative as a journey.
- Map the course. How can you help travelers envision the route and set expectations in advance, so they can prepare and pace themselves?
- Get a good night’s rest. What can you do before the flight to put your travelers in the best physical and mental state for the trip?
- Idle hands make fretful minds. What snacks, activities, and other necessities can you pack to keep travelers comfortable, productive, and in good spirits throughout the transition?
- Window or aisle? What choices and control can you afford travelers along the way to prevent them feeling powerless or acting out in frustration?
- Eyes forward. How can you remind travelers of the destination ahead, keeping them focused on the positive and assured that the long flight is worth it?
Change—like travel—isn’t instant. You can’t avoid the trek between where you are and where you want to be; but you can make it a nicer ride.
 Shelley Shepard Gray, American author
Our Favorite Reads on Behavior ChangeWant to get geeky with us? Here's what we've been reading lately about behavior change.
Every so often, we like to share what the Emerson team is reading and talking about. With the staggering amounts of content created each day, it’s hard to sift through and figure out what’s valuable. We did the work for you. Here are some of our favorite behavior change reads.
Good reads on behavior change
We can all improve our listening skills. The New York Times’ Adam Bryant put it this way, “Listening can feel at times like a lost art, maybe because we are communicating so much more electronically.” Good listening won’t just help you at work. This skill will benefit your personal life, too. Bryant has a host of Do’s and Don’ts to help you be fully present. Learn how to demonstrate you’re listening and hearing what the other party says.
This entry from Chief Learning Officer highlights how corporate learning and development can affect behavior change. Todd Maddox, the founder and CEO of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, urges L&D professionals to better their understanding of behavioral intelligence [BI]. BI is someone’s ability to affect their environment through overt behavior. Maddox talks about the relationship between cognitive, emotional, and behavioral intelligence. This is a great read for anyone in the behavior change field.
“What should I be doing each day to stay healthy, happy, sane, and productive?” is the key question Sebastian Marshall, the founder of Ultraworking, tries to answer in this entry. Don’t be alarmed by the spreadsheet method. That’s how Marshall executed his behavior change and prompted good habits. He used a visual representation to motivate his actions. This is a simple way to engrain consistent behavior. So, if it’s all in the name of happiness, why not give it a shot?
Are you suffering from decision fatigue? If you answered yes, it’s time to acquaint yourself with The Ivy Method. This is an effective strategy to become more productive at work. The premise is simple: at the end of your day, write down the six most important tasks for you to accomplish tomorrow in order of importance. On the next day, you work on the tasks one at a time. Give this strategy a try and let us know what you think!
If you’re looking for more of our favorite reads, check out our learning and development picks. We love sharing big thinking on behavior change. It inspires us in our professional and personal lives.
Managing Change? Manage Your EnvironmentWhen we lead through change, we have a powerful tool in our arsenal: the physical environment.
What if I told you your community justice system could lower adult recidivism by 10%, juvenile recidivism by 20%, and would need to send only 1% of defendants to jail? It might be as simple as changing the courtroom.
Judge Alex Calabrese did just that. He decided to reform the criminal justice system with a new objective: “Improve behavior rather than punish it.” In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker describes his innovative approach. He thought about the courtroom itself. A defendant encountered a dark, unfamiliar room, where a judge decided his fate from on high – literally. The towering judge’s bench and the layout of the courtroom seemed designed to make the defendant feel small, isolated, and hopeless. Instead, Judge Calabrese set Brooklyn’s Red Hook Community Justice Center in a former high school, with big windows that bathed the space with light and a judge’s bench at eye level. Red Hook made other changes to the process too, but the physical environment played a crucial role in their results.
There are many findings that tell us environment affects our behavior. For example, researchers found that the very presence of a number on a classroom door can influence a student’s choice of a number in an estimating exercise. Williams Sonoma found that placing an expensive bread maker next to mid-range priced bread maker improved sales of the cheaper version. People in theatre know that emotion is contagious, so they choose venues where audiences sit close together.
Scientists call this priming – cues in our environment affect how we perceive or interpret information that follows. Priming changes what things mean to us and how much attention we give them, which changes our behavior.
For example, companies that want their teams to collaborate often use open seating arrangements – removing physical barriers and signaling a lack of emotional barriers. The dotcoms that want their people to stay and work long hours prime the environment with free food, foosball tables, and in-house dry cleaning – they are signaling “home” and “community,” which is where people live. Starbucks used its warm colors and small tables to create their famous “third space,” encouraging people to linger over pricy coffee.
We see the effects of environment often, in our change management work. When we were helping a Chicago hospital implement a new process for approving IT projects, we realized the pagers the IT team carried symbolized an automatic “Yes!” to every request. In order to get people to use the new approval approach, we explored the idea of taking away the pagers. That was too big an interruption to the process, so we came up with Plan B: we changed employees’ pager numbers. This made the requestors stop and pay attention to every request. The new numbers were also a symbol of the new way of working – both for people asking for help and for the service-oriented IT team.
This is a question we should always ask ourselves: How are we using the work environment to frame our change and support the right behaviors? We want people to enable – even embrace — the change and shift behavior. How is their environment defining the change? Is it good? Is it safe? Where is the environment focusing their attention? What are we triggering in those we want to succeed?
Dr. Brian Gunia, of Johns Hopkins University, studied environment-influenced deception during negotiation. He believes it can impact the outcomes of mergers and acquisitions. In summarizing work by Kay, Wheeler, Bargh, and Ross, he writes, “objects …help people make sense of ambiguous situations and determine how to act.”
Dr. Gunia’s findings give us some tips for constructing the work environment to support a business change:
- The science: If you make people think about money, they will put their own interests first. In fact, symbols representing extreme wealth cause some people to justify cheating. They are driven to somehow make things fairer. And cheating is more likely if it costs an organization, as opposed to a person. It’s just business, after all.
- The application: Take money off the table. Don’t use images of cash, wallets, status, or wealth. For example, promising big bonuses for hitting milestones might be a mistake. And don’t brand your initiative with dollar signs or glitzy imagery.
- The science: Certain objects and images remind people of their identities. Mirrors and video or audio content promote self-awareness. They also discourage cheating.
- The application: If you’re remote, insist on video conferencing. Seeing each other’s faces and hearing their voices reminds people they are dealing with human beings. And seeing one’s own face on a video share is like the mirror – a reminder of identity. You’ll promote the best behavior from team members.
- The science: The senses are critical in interpreting our environment.
- Gunia suggests that disgust drives our sense of what’s good or bad. There’s a subconscious moral overlay that comes from religious rituals such as baptism. Our desire to clean can represent making amends. Clean spaces are seen as morally better. Cleaning products can represent taking higher ground.Dark spaces seem threatening. Dark colors feel more hostile and aggressive. People associate bright lighting and white spaces with moral behavior.People who smell fish oil view situations more suspiciously, those “exposed to ‘fart smells’ made harsher moral judgments about others.” Pleasant smells (the researchers used citrus Windex) prompt generosity.People who drank bitter drinks were more judgmental than those who drank sweet drinks
- The application: Prime the project team workspace. Project war rooms are famously windowless and littered. Put your team in a large room with windows. Keep it meticulously clean. Whip out the citrus Windex if you must. Townhall, kick-off or workshop? Treat the senses. Put the group in a light room. Wear light colors and avoid flashy accessories. Splurge on delicious food. Make sure there are sweet drinks. Definitely avoid anything that smells bad. Whatever the research, you probably should keep the coffee!
- The science: Using the concept of time causes people to consider their actions more carefully.
- The application: What’s on the walls? A large clock? Good. You’re conveying that what happens now fits in a longer-term experience. A statement about your values? Excellent. You’re reminding people of a higher calling.
When we lead through change, we have a powerful tool in our arsenal: the physical environment. Science teaches us that spaces, symbols, and materials can work for us or against us. Design the environment to promote your change.
For fun, take a look at this video and count the number of times you see the ball passed. Environmental cues and priming impact all of us, even when we’re aware of and looking for them.
How to Harness the Power of Change InfluencersGet influencers on your team to advocate for change and generate momentum.
There is an increasing number of articles and blogs about influencers: marketing, social media, and Instagram influencers to name a few. Emerson is a company that specializes in behavior change. So we understand the importance of partnering with these individuals, especially ones focused on change.
To make change happen, you must enlist influencers in the organization. Identify individuals who give the right energy for change. Then, use them as change advocates to create momentum and move the organization.
Methods to find change influencers
Brainstorm with key people. Find those who know the organization and understand the change.
Use visuals. Create a map of the organization’s people and departments. Identify potential influencers. Are there any individuals you definitely want on board? Are all impacted groups represented?
Look at previous initiatives. Who was involved? How did it go? Any lessons learned?
After following these methods, you should have insights into who the right people are are within the organization.
How to use change influencers
Once you have identified those individuals in the organization, have them actively participate in developing the change solution. Influencers can help craft a solution that actually works in their setting. They will have great insight into the organization and can provide ideas on how to engage impacted groups.
On a recent large transformation project, the Emerson team built a cadre of change influencers. This group represented all functional areas, at various levels and locations. They participated in a strategy workshop to provide input into the change plan. Afterward, the team had a shared vision and consistent messaging to share with their teams.
Once influencers have a shared understanding of the desired state, they can become change advocates and generate momentum. Simply stated – these individuals make change happen.
If you’re curious about how project sponsors can influence the success of change, we’ve got you covered. Read this.
When Should You Reboot Your Team?Three signs your team might need a refresh.
In Hero of the Empire, Candice Millard writes that the British were so accustomed to world domination that they knew the 1899 Boer war in South Africa would be easy. The generals didn’t prepare. In fact, they planned parties. They saw the war as a no-brainer career move to achieve fame and political power.
They made errors that, in hindsight, are shockingly arrogant and naïve. For example, they moved troops in open-roofed train cars with no doors. To get in and out, the men had to climb over the train car walls carrying heavy armory and equipment. As they traveled, the tops of their pointed hats were visible to the enemy; the Boers saw slow-moving train cars stuffed with British troops who couldn’t easily climb out. The Boers derailed the train, slaughtered the trapped men and captured Winston Churchill.
When you are accustomed to winning, take a look around. Are you waiting for a traumatic loss to reveal your weakness? Don’t wait. Proactively refresh your team.
Here are three signs that it’s time.
1. Your leadership is complacent.
They ride on the company’s reputation. This shows up as arrogance and disrespect. Is there chatter about how your company is the best? Do they make snarky comments about your customers or belittle the competition? Are they cocky during negotiation? Such disrespectful behavior, often disguised as humor, comes from a belief that customers need you more than you need them.
They spend. They take their team, clients and “network” out to expensive restaurants. They stay in fine hotels. They lease fancy cars. I’ve seen several cases where executives have relocated entire companies or divisions to be close to their own homes. Their focus on status shows a disregard for the money’s source and the company’s well-being.
They blame outside forces for missed objectives. Watch how the team responds to weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals. Do they take responsibility for the results or do they play the victim? At one point in my company’s development, my executive team told me they were not responsible for how much our consultants were working on client projects (what we call in the services industry “utilization”). That showed me they were resting on our company’s momentum rather than taking ownership of our future.
2. Your team focuses on internal operations.
Respondents to Workfront’s 2019 State of Work survey reported they spend 60% of the work week on time-wasting tasks. Those tasks become the mission rather than the mission itself. You’ll see it in the following:
- You have complicated administration, reports, and approvals.
- Your executives are working overtime to get work done because they spend their days in meetings. Look for signs of meeting overload: the volume of meetings, the duration, and also large numbers of people attending.
- Allocated costs make it cheaper to work with outside vendors than to use your own employees. And internal costs inflate your pricing.
3. Your team’s strategies openly signal weakness to your competition.
The pointed hats showing over the boxcar walls include:
- Differentiation. If you can slap someone else’s logo over your differentiators and it’s not jarring, you are no longer different.
- Dominance. You don’t have to be a good aim to hit a large target. The more you win, the more your competition will look for ways to exploit your blind spots.
- Innovation. Are your big ideas only small improvements to your main product or service? Competitors will find a way to win doing what you are not.
So how do you refresh your team? Well, when you’re fighting inertia, you have to break glass. You must capture attention, be utterly clear and unequivocal on what you want, and deeply disruptive. This is hard, especially because – if you’re doing this proactively – your company is doing well. People won’t understand why change is essential.
Here’s a game plan for your reboot:
Be direct. What do you want? What is broken and what does the opposite look like? Write down the ideal outcome and keep it under five words. If you can’t state it clearly, people can’t act on it. The turning point in my company was when I began an executive meeting with a slide that said: “Trish Emerson is responsible for utilization.” I had a single slide for each executive, repeating that sentence but using their name. I concluded with “If you are not comfortable with this, I need your resignation.” I received one. The executive team effectively rebooted.
Design from scratch. What if you started the company fresh, today? How would you organize if you had no constraints? Draw that. Then figure out what’s the highest value and easiest to implement; use that to create stages for the transformation. Starting with a blank sheet of paper helps you avoid two traps: designing around people and wasting time fixing small problems.
Separate innovation from daily operations. You need the company to continue to function while you change it. Operations and innovation are so different that Geoffrey Moore advocates separating them. This allows your teams to focus – one team creating the profit you need to fund innovation and another inventing the next idea that will sell and scale. He advises dedicating a third team to scaling the organization. This structure helps you move forward without disrupting your profitable business.
Hire audaciously. Bring in talent based on where you are going, not where you are. If you hire to your current state, you cement a plateau. A few of my advisors told me my recruits were overqualified and worried they’d get bored and turn over. Some of my team told me we didn’t have the work to justify some recruits — that they might get laid off and that would be cruel. These advisors operated from fear. The right hires have the experience to clearly see what you are addressing and create the opportunity for growth.
Reward to keep people focused. You might need to bridge bonuses and guarantee salaries for a short time while you change direction. This helps people to focus on the goal rather than on themselves. Then create a disincentive for staying in the current state. Geoffrey Moore believes half of everyone’s compensation should depend on the success of the company transformation. He says too many people earn their pay by doing work the old way, which sends the wrong signal.
But money isn’t your only tool. Changing a job title can elevate status for those who are creating the future. Your team will assign meaning to your every move during this time, so be intentional about the messages you send.
Millard quotes Churchill, “’Nothing looks more formidable and impressive than an armoured train, but nothing is in fact more vulnerable and helpless.” Are you winning? This might be a good time to reboot.