Meet The Change BookGet to know the first book in our series on lessons we’ve learned in change management.
If you’re new around these parts, you might not know that we’ve written a series of books. They capture our favorite principles, tips and lessons learned gathered from our collective decades (centuries?) of experience in change management, learning and development, and technology change. We’ll give you a quick rundown of each book in this blog. First, we’re pleased to introduce you to The Change Book.
Sound boring? Well, we wrote this book because we believe learning to manage change doesn’t have to be boring. We used a twist on The Golden Rule: Write unto others as you’d have them write to you. We took pity on the reader and minimized the consultanty, businessy language. (Pro tip: It’s a lot more fun to write this way too.)
Fear of commitment? No problem — you don’t have to read the whole thing. Each chapter stands alone. Flip it open to any page and start reading from there. You’ll find powerful, concise and easy advice from battle-tested practitioners.
The Change Book covers topics like sponsorship, resistance, project branding and messaging, and employee impacts.
We love it, but we’re biased. Listen to some of our fans:
“The Change Book has been invaluable in helping us influence change within our leadership group and I would highly recommend it to all those who wish to progressively implement and successfully lead into the future.” — Thomas Klein, Regional Vice President — California, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts
“The Change Book takes the daunting subject of change management and makes it accessible, understandable, and even fun.” — Rick Barsotti, Partner, Groove 11
Get to know our book – and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear your review.
Simple Advice for Any ProblemBefore you kick off your change project, stop and ask, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?”
I have a 16-year-old male child. (I call him “The Boy.”) He is a great kid, but like many teens, he needs parental guidance so he doesn’t eat seven bowls of cereal every morning or ride his hoverboard into traffic. I often ask The Boy, after he has engaged in some goofball activity, why he did what he did. I get the blank teenage stare that says I had no idea at the time, and now that I’m reflecting on it – nope, I still don’t have a clue. I’ve sort of already forgotten your question. Where’s the cereal? Many of you parents know that look.
I use these interactions to nurture his ability to think proactively – to consider his options before he acts and to pay attention to what matters. It’s fair to say I still have a lot of work to do. It doesn’t help that his frontal lobe – the rational part — won’t be fully developed until he is 25, but I digress. Without fail, a few times each week, I find myself asking The Boy, “Why did you do that?” He never knows.
Sounds ridiculous and kid-like, right? Maybe not! Even adults run into trouble with this. We don’t fully understand the situation before we act, and then we fail to solve the problem. Our work days are layered with examples of this hard truth. Every day, in the name of being agile (no shade), nimble, efficient, risk-taking, or entrepreneurial, we do a disservice to our teams and organization. We define a solution without responsibly considering the nature of the issue.
As a consultant who has worked with many organizations, I see it often. For example, when employees cannot execute, the solution must be training. A deeper look might tie the failure to things like incentives (I don’t get paid for that), culture (no one really does that), or lack of tools (I have to open seven windows to do that). Or how about an organization implementing great new technology? Suddenly, everything looks like a technical problem. Technology can solve it – let’s just add that new thing to our project.
So…do you know why you are doing what you are doing? I’ll list a few non-rocket-science tips to help you begin today.
Don’t start with the answer. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and no matter what you say – their response is hyper-focused on something that currently has their attention? “Suzie, my ankle is killing me. I think I hurt it playing softball last night.” Suzie’s response: “I have this new juicer, and it’s amazing. Juice has so many nutrients – I’m sure it will help your ankle heal faster. Because, you know…nutrition.” We do this often. We force tools, methodologies, and new ways of thinking down people’s throats because it’s the latest and greatest thing – or the company has invested in it — so it must be the answer.
Start with the problem. Before assuming you know what the solution is, ask yourself and your team a lot of questions. Where is your organization going? What does it need to get there? What obstacles are in your way? How do problems present themselves? Do they happen at a certain place or time? What is the magnitude of the problem to your business? Which employee behaviors seem to affect problems? How does your organizational culture influence those behaviors? Questions like these help you take those blinders off, assess the need holistically, and get to the root cause. Once you’re there, the right solution will be easier to find.
Focus on the solution. Sounds simple enough right? Well, there’s seldom a straight line between a problem and solution. Successful solutions require focused attention. Contrary to common belief, humans are not good multi-taskers – this is a myth passed along with very little push-back or common-sense reflection. Many studies demonstrate our failure at multi-tasking (e.g., texting and driving, or trying to pay off multiple debts at once). Focus is important. It sends all your brain power and energy toward what’s most important. It sounds simple, but with all the things competing for our attention today (inside and outside of the workplace), it’s difficult to execute. If you want to solve the problem, clear the decks and focus.
Much like my interactions with The Boy, I wanted to keep this advice simple. Think before you act. Don’t ride your corporate hoverboard into traffic by rushing to a solution. And definitely don’t do it while texting. Problem – Solution – Focus. No new methodology or tool beats this common-sense approach.
Three Things You Need Before You Trust Your PeopleHow do you know you can trust your team?
When my client – let’s call him John – hired a new president to run his company he expected his stress level to go down. He thought he’d be free to focus on strategic issues and long-range plans. He was wrong.
Within a few months, the president – I’ll call him Paul – started holding meetings without including John. Paul unraveled John’s decision to move their customer service center to a new location. He invested in new products without considering the complexity and the impact on the rest of the business. He couldn’t provide data or detail to support his decisions. The rest of the executive team worked long hours to prepare for key meetings; Paul left at 5:00. This new guy didn’t reduce John’s stress – he was the source of it.
When John confronted Paul with these issues, Paul told him to “Get out of the detail,” and, “Trust me.” Paul understood correctly that John did not trust him. And, following this conversation, John trusted him even less.
How much do you trust the people who report to you? Does trusting them mean not getting into the details of their work? How do you balance trust and effective management?
Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores write in their book Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life that “…the key to trust is action, and, in particular, commitment: commitments made and commitments honored.” So how do you create a pattern of honored commitments with your team?
Before you trust, ask for these commitments.
There are three commitments that create trust, and one of them is not to demonstrate psychic powers. People can’t deliver on something that’s stored securely in your head. You must articulate the commitments you want. Tell your direct reports that is up to them to:
- Manage expectations. You expect a certain level of performance from the people who report to you. However, it is their responsibility to manage your expectations. They should tell you what to expect regarding their results, their timing, and their teams. They should keep you up to speed on the fundamentals of their work: what, where, when, how, why, how often, and to what extent.
- Keep promises. Executive coach Chalmers Brothers describes conversations as a series of promises that are essential to building trust. If you tell me you will meet me for coffee today at 3:00 and don’t show, that moment will inform what I think of you. A person’s word is a promise — a reflection of stewardship and character. You must be able to count on your people to do what they say.
- Eliminate surprises. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for surprises. The minute somebody on your team knows they are taking a new strategy, they’ll miss a deadline, that there’s problem with quality, someone is quitting…they have an obligation to inform you. You cannot manage without crucial information. You must never be caught off-guard by the very people who should help you be an effective leader.
When they fail, have this conversation.
Nobody’s perfect. Inevitably, even your most reliable team member will do something that challenges your trust. Where do you go from there? That depends on what happened.
Solomon and Flores tell us, “Breaches of trust do not mark the end of trust but are part of the process of trusting. (There are many kinds of breaches, from mistakes to betrayal and treachery. It is important not to confuse them or assume that all breaches are betrayals.)” How will you know which one it is? You have to talk it out.
A productive conversation requires preparation. Steve Giondomenica, CEO of technology strategy firm CMI, recommends you get a pen and paper. Here’s his process:
Before the meeting:
- Identify the headline. Distill the problem into one sentence. Don’t worry about others reading it – write down the essential issue. For example, John’s headline might have been, “I am out of the loop” or “You and I are making conflicting decisions.” This exercise forces you to be direct. It will create clarity and prevent misunderstandings.
- Define the ideal outcome. What do you hope will happen as a result of this conversation? John’s ideal outcome might be “We discuss each major decision before you make it.” You are applying the Covey principle: “Begin with the end in mind.”
- List examples and the impact they had. Most of us know we should be prepared with examples, but Steve emphasizes the impact. Both elements — the example and the impact — are essential so that the person you speak to understands why the issue matters. For example, John’s decision not to move the call center cost the company money and made people wonder who was in charge.
I asked Steve, “What if you don’t have an example? What if you just sense that something is off?” In these situations, Steve advises that you set up the conversation by saying, “I don’t have enough data, but this caught my attention.”
During the meeting:
It’s at this point Steve advises you to draw on the power of your relationship. “Ideally, you create a win-win situation, to build the relationship and strengthen mutual trust. When I assume the best of you, the conversation changes entirely.” To this, he uses the following process:
- Confirm good will. This matters most for difficult conversations. In these situations, Steve will ask if the other person believes he has their best interest at heart. “If they answer with an authentic, ‘yes,’ I know they can hear this conversation as constructive rather than threatening. If they hesitate, I then focus on where our trust is broken. This creates a foundation for the rest of the conversation.”
- Frame the conversation. Admit that the conversation is not easy, but that you’re committed to a positive outcome. Steve emphasizes his commitment to strengthening the relationship moving forward. Steve often brings the notes he prepared to the meeting. When the conversation is difficult, he’ll say, “This is a tough conversation, and I want to get it right. This is why I brought notes.”
- Ask, “Were you aware you did this, and was this your intent?” There are two points to this question: awareness and intent. It’s possible the issue was inadvertent. This question allows the person to share their experience, and to address your perception.
- Conclude with agreements. Steve believes this is the most important part of your conversation because it creates commitment to action. He often follows up with a thank you note that summarizes the mutual agreements from the conversation. According to Steve, “This is incredibly powerful. If the person doesn’t honor the commitment, you can move straight to the agreement. You can say, ‘Hey, didn’t we agree to X?’ instead of dredging up the whole conversation.”
Trust is based on commitments made and commitments honored. When you create clarity about what those commitments are, and your people deliver what you expect, you become more comfortable letting go of the detail. You’ve effectively balanced trust and accountability.
Click here to download a tool to help you conduct your own trust-building conversations.
How to Handle Resistance to ChangeHow do you confront the hecklers disrupting your change initiative? You don’t.
You’ve probably watched a heckler interrupt a public speaker. Maybe you’ve watched – on video or in person – as a performer or politician has to deal with mocking or derisive comments, shouted from the crowd. Maybe the speaker answers back, or security escorts the heckler from the venue.
Change initiatives can have hecklers too. They usually don’t shout down a speaker; they use other ways to criticize and disrupt.
It’s to be expected. People are resistant to change. Hecklers might say negative things about your project or predict it will fail. They might even try to sabotage project activities or influence others to join in their negative campaign. You might secretly wish you had security to escort those hecklers from the building! But that’s not going to happen.
So how do you confront hecklers? You don’t.
Here’s what you do. Instead of seeking out and addressing every critic of your project, focus your energy where it counts. Figure out who has the ability to influence the success of the project. Are some of those influencers mildly resistant or mildly supportive of the change? Those people are your sweet spot. They matter, because they can affect the project. And they’re not so strongly against your project that they’re beyond persuasion. Your sweet spot is that group of hecklers that you could actually turn into advocates, with a little effort.
But how do you bring them over from the dark side? Communication and involvement are your tools.
Communication. Ask: What do they care about? What are the benefits of the change to them? What negative consequences will they feel if the project fails? What do they need to hear to make this change seem like a good idea?
Involvement. Ask: How can we help them own the change? Where can we leverage their expertise? What has resonated with them in the past to spur them to action? Based on that, what how can they participate? Focus groups? Governance? Serving as subject matter experts?
So don’t confront all of your hecklers. Instead, focus on those in your sweet spot. Continue to communicate, engage, train, and support them as you execute your change management plan. As the project bandwagon grows, the fans will drown out the hecklers.
How to Be a Facilitative Leader“Leadership is a choice, not a position.”
We are all familiar with the typical autocratic leadership style — the “my way or the highway” mentality. But it’s not the only way to lead.
Well-known business author, Stephen Covey said, “Leadership is a choice, not a position.” Covey is suggesting not only that leadership doesn’t have to come from the top down, but that we can all act as leaders, regardless of our role or title. I’d like to suggest that each of us can become a facilitative leader.
Four Tenets of Facilitative Leadership
Facilitative leadership is all about maximizing others’ contributions. There are four behavior characteristics of a facilitative leader.
- Actively listening and seeking to understand. This includes things like listening intently…asking questions…and paraphrasing what you heard.
- Providing clarity and purpose. Facilitative leaders identify the problem that needs to be solved. They ask and seek answers to “Why are we doing this? Where are we trying to go? Do you know what you’re trying to achieve? Does the team know the objective?”
- Connecting the dots. This means making sense of all the pieces of the project or work effort, and connecting all the players (project team, sponsors, business stakeholders, change agents, etc.). How does one area impact another? What can one member do to support another’s performance? What do different teams need to know about each other and their processes or goals? A facilitative leader stimulates creative thinking through brainstorming, communication, and other activities that connect the elements of a team or organization.
- Influencing collaboration. This involves getting all the players to work together to solve a problem — encouraging group participation. Facilitative leaders manage contrasting perspectives and opinions to minimize conflict among members of a group. For example, they design inclusive group processes that honor individuals’ different learning and participation styles, opening up the space for the more quiet individuals.
Can you be a facilitative leader—even though you’re not the boss and have a specific team and role—and still remain neutral and fair? Yes, you can.
- Asking clarifying questions doesn’t put you on one side of the fence or the other.
- Bringing all the key players into the meeting doesn’t make you biased.
- Ensuring that all meeting participants have an opportunity to share their thoughts, does not mean you’re leaning one way or another.
Neutrality does not mean inaction or passiveness. Neutral facilitative leadership can surface solutions that make the team stronger and help reach organizational goals.
Can you be a facilitative leader?
Many of you are already facilitators. If you’re a project manager, business analyst, change lead, or process improvement specialist, you are a facilitator of change and action. Practicing the four tenets of a facilitative leader can move you from being “merely” a facilitator to being a respected facilitative leader.
And it matters. Because facilitative leaders:
- Get everyone on the same page by applying an integrated lens.
- Draw from the strengths of all team members and impacted areas of the business.
- Gather divergent views and facts before deciding on a plan of action.
- Obtain greater commitment and buy-in from impacted stakeholders.
- Drive creativity, innovation, and brainstorming, resulting in better solutions.
Becoming a facilitative leader will make you more successful because the work you lead will be more successful. Give it a try!
Three Factors to Consider in Cross-Cultural Change ProjectsCulture matters when designing a change approach that impacts a global group. Start with these three factors.
Change is hard for all of us, no matter where we sit in the world. However, when a change project spans multiple geographies and cultures, we must adapt our approach. Too often, global organizations disregard cultural nuances and fail to understand that the perception of change, organizational or otherwise, is not consistent across the world. They gloss over cultural norms and value systems and the initiative suffers.
Here are a few cultural factors that might impact your change projects and some recommendations on adjusting your approach.
Cultures share power differently. Some place all authority and decision-making at the top of the organization, while others distribute the power more evenly.
For example, I was working with an executive of a state-owned enterprise in China. They were launching a new ERP system to almost a million employees. We were discussing the best project management and governance approach. The executive said, “I don’t need any of that. I just tell people what to do and they do it.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t just the view of the executive, it was the view of the entire organization. Nothing got done unless and until he said it got done. This didn’t mean that workers had no point of view or that they didn’t want to be consulted. It only meant that no action would be taken unless it came from the top.
Think about how this might impact the way we engage employees during a change project. In this instance, top-down is everything, so we might consider videos or other communications featuring executives. Regional alignment is still needed, but it’s less important than in cultures where authority is distributed more evenly.
Aversion to Risk
We all are risk-averse. After all, who likes uncertainty? It’s really the trade-off between risk and reward that matters.
Some cultures are more entrepreneurial by nature and are more willing to take risks if they believe the benefits will follow. That same spirit permeates the workplace; employees are more willing to change if they buy into the benefits. Messaging benefits is always important, but more so within risk-tolerant cultures.
In cultures where employees are less willing to give up certainty for future benefits, you might take a different tack. Here it’s important to create a new certainty – to make the point that the current state is not sustainable and that future stability relies on the change. Additionally, these cultures want to see more structure around the change. It must be highly engineered and deliver proof of a new order.
A few years back I was working on a project in the Philippines with a local businesswoman. She had a very successful consulting company and wanted help with her sales processes. After digging in, I was surprised to find out how many of her engagements were collaborations with her direct competitors. Not partnerships, but true collaborations where resources were traded back and forth and co-managed for the benefit of the client. Neither firm took advantage of the other, nor did they undermine the other’s position in the engagement. It was amazing to watch.
Cultures with a collective mindset value the contributions of the group over the individual. The opposite is true of individualistic cultures; in these cultures, a team-based recognition and reward structure might actually be demotivating and create conflict and distrust. It is critical to understand the collective vs. individualist mindset during the change process, particularly when we think about alignment and messaging.
In the United States, we have a more individualist approach and build our change interactions accordingly. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time and effort positioning the change’s value to the firm and to society in general. It’s about the WIIFM, and making sure individuals view the change as a positive step for themselves and their careers. In Sweden, however, this approach might feel unsettling or even shallow.
It’s important to understand what motivates people to change and those motivations might be completely different in a multi-culture change initiative.
Our culture impacts the way we view change and consequently how we should approach change management in multi-cultural implementations. In the end, change management is about changing behaviors. If we believe that behavior follows thought, then we first need to understand how cultural norms and values influence the way the organization thinks. In multi-cultural change initiatives, our interactions should motivate and support each culture according to its own set of values.
The Risks of Not Communicating Until You’re ReadyDon’t make the mistake of waiting until you have all the information and a big communication plan.
Think about the last time you saw a news story about an organization in trouble. If the company representative answered questions with “no comment,” how did it make you feel? What assumptions did you make? You might have felt they were hiding something, right? Did you decide for yourself what was probably going on?
There is no such thing as saying nothing. Silence sends its own message.
We often delay communicating about a change until we have perfect alignment and all facts in order. We believe the risk of a misstep is too high if we start too early. But if we’re always communicating — whether we intend to or not – that means we’re always assuming risk.
And, often, silence holds the greater risk. It leaves room for the imagination. Small, incomplete, or irrelevant facts fill the space where the truth should be. People’s biases and interests color their versions of the story. Often, by the time we decide to send an accurate message and set a course in the right direction, it’s too late – people have already decided what they believe is happening.
Doing it right starts early, and it starts from the top. Ahead of any significant change project, we must get leadership aligned. We do this with our clients using a simple message framework. A group of leaders and sponsors distills the initiative into four key words, which represent the challenge, the solution, the approach and the result. The four words help each member of the leadership team tell the story with consistency and passion. As they do so, the story cascades to all the groups affected by the change.
Doing this early is especially critical when we have a large, complex project. People sense something big coming – they want to know why it’s happening and exactly how it will impact them. In that case, we want leaders, sponsors and other key stakeholders on-message and ready to walk through the story as soon as possible. The more complexity, and the more stakeholders, the greater the challenge. There’s nothing like multiple versions of a message to push a project off the rails. The sooner we move the story through the organization, and get local team leaders and change agents ready to consistently tell the right story, the less risk. We are filling the information gap before it has a chance to grow and become an obstacle. Getting ahead of that gap keeps everyone grounded in accurate information and moving in the right direction.
This simple but critical process – creating an accurate, consistent and compelling story – sets your project on the right course. And it’s much less risky than the sound of silence.
Your Diversity Training Isn’t Working; Here Are 5 Ways To Fix ItIn a divisive world, your company can be a powerful unifier. Here's how.
You have to hand to it Starbucks. It knows how to focus attention on fixing an issue. The act of shutting down operations for a half-day of training, whether it be for a turnaround or to address discrimination, says it is committed to a change and voting with its profitability. The execs clearly know that substantial short-term financial loss is better than long-term erosion of the brand.
But make no mistake, while its commitment to training is legend, its employee behavior change strategy rests on the symbolic act. The reason? Most diversity training doesn’t work. Here’s why:
We don’t think we’re the problem. Let me ask you directly. Are you racist? Of course not! Neither am I. We can’t see our own biases. They are unconscious. It’s a weird form of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we assume our ability and our empathy are better than they are. The very lens we use to view the world is hard to see.
It feels punitive. Remember the one kid who acted up in school and got the whole class punished? Diversity training feels the same. It’s a bit like mandatory traffic school without an aspiring comic. So we enter the classroom closed to learning.
We don’t like training. Okay, there are nerds out there who do. But most people prefer to spend their time in other ways. We tend to favor information that solves a problem when a problem arises. And we know that diversity training, like sexual harassment training, can be a cynical exercise to prevent lawsuits rather than a solution to the essential issue.
It fosters the problem. Sometimes well-meaning programs can be divisive. Affinity groups can be alienating. Poor facilitation can create barriers rather than bridges. Focusing on the negative can be counter-productive. In fact, researchers have found that some training actually reinforces bias.
It reinforces bias?
Unfortunately, it can. In 2001, Lori Robb and Dennis Doverspike asked 90 undergraduate men to take J.B. Pryor’s “Likelihood to Harass” scale before taking an hour of a popular off-the-shelf video training. The men who originally tested as most likely to harass tested with a more negative attitude toward women after training.
What can make a difference?
Putting diversity training in an overall system. In 2016, Katrina Berzukova, Chester Spell and Karen Jehn analyzed over 260 diversity studies to determine the impact training might have. They found that if you want behavior change, not just an intellectual exercise, you need to embed training into the company’s ecosystem. Mentoring groups, social networks, and integration into a broader curriculum demonstrate the organization is committed to an inclusive environment. And that reinforces inclusiveness in your culture.
Mandatory medicine. Berzukova and her colleagues also found that required training is more effective than voluntary. This speaks to the fact that we don’t know we’re biased and might be blind to how we behave. It took court action to integrate schools, and legislative action to allow women to own property and vote. These decisions were controversial at the time but now we have generations of people who can’t imagine the world any other way. We’ve normalized to a higher standard.
If you want a wonderful eye-opener to your own unconscious bias, check out Fons Trompenaars’ work on something we all share: seven common dilemmas. These problems are universally uncomfortable, and our response to them is shaped by our culture.
Ongoing training. One standalone course creates the impression that diversity training is a compliance issue and that, once the class is complete, a legal requirement has been addressed. According the research, periodic training conducted over time reinforces the company’s commitment to its values, and signals that those in authority believe this is what is right.
Physical changes to the work environment. Historically, orchestras were dominantly male. This was because the director personally hired the musicians. This began to change in the 1950’s when orchestras began to involve members in the selection process. But what revolutionized the gender balance in today’s orchestras was blind auditions – having the musician play behind a screen so those evaluating them would have to judge the music alone.
According to Claudia Goldin & Cecilia Rouse, “…the transition to blind auditions from 1970 to the 1990s can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras.”
Measures. Data can indicate whether the overall system is what you intend. Take a clear-eyed look at your demographics, complaints, compensation, job applications. These can tell you who your environment attracts and what gets rewarded.
We belong to families, communities, interest groups, and companies. In a divisive world, our company can be a powerful unifier. Accomplishing this takes focused thought and design that reaches beyond the classroom. It’s easy to think that such steps won’t work. But they already have. After all, now we can use a Starbucks restroom without buying a venti triple no-foam latte.
What You’re Willing To Tolerate Sets The Tone For Your Company CultureAs a leader, you might expect top performance, but ultimately you get what you’re willing to tolerate.
I’m obsessing lately about a presentation Harvey Goldberg gave on leadership. He asked a simple question: “What do you expect from your people?” Then he asked, “Now, what do you tolerate from them?” He then drew the two squares above and said, “What you tolerate is what you will get, and that becomes your company culture.”
Our job is to align what we tolerate and what we expect…to get to zero gap.
Think about it.
Read down the columns. What kind of performance do you expect from an organization that exhibits the behavior on the left? How about the right?
And would people in your company be able to come up with the list on the left, on their own?
Why do we tolerate poor performance?
We are leaders responsible for running successful organizations. We are accustomed to giving direction and we are accountable for results. Yet that gap between what we tolerate and what we expect exists for all of us. There are some simple explanations.
We look away. Ever have that “how did we get here” moment? When I started my company, I didn’t look closely at employee expense reports. People would take their colleagues out to lunch. Those lunches became weekly events at wonderful restaurants. They soon involved wine and no clients. Then one month-end, I found myself staring at $30,000 of internal employee restaurant expenses. A grain of sand is nearly invisible, but in bulk it becomes a beach.
We rationalize. Do you tell yourself things like, “I don’t like admin; I’m not that person’s parent; I should empower people; I believe people will naturally do the right thing?” Our internal dialogue is based on how we want to see ourselves and the world. That dialogue is storytelling; we often tell ourselves stories that let people off the hook. Look at your story. Is it enabling people to behave badly? How does the story you tell yourself serve you?
It’s the path of least resistance. Accountability takes work and it takes vigilance. Letting things slide is easier – in the short term — than holding people accountable. Creating clear guidelines, setting expectations, establishing measures, then following up is intellectual and emotional work. And it takes time. Letting your standards slide is easier.
We don’t like confrontation. Everyone likes to be liked. And telling someone that they are not living up to our expectations means we risk a negative response – defensiveness, excuses, embarrassment, or rejection. We encounter what Dale Carnegie observed: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” And many of us find that uncomfortable.
How do we get the culture we expect?
- Identify essential behaviors. What do you expect of your people? Make a list like the one in the table above. Detailing what you expect will help you be clear when you give direction.
- Prioritize and focus. You have a limited amount of time and capacity, so focus your energy on one behavior at a time. Map the behaviors on a grid – low to high impact, vs. low to high difficulty. What is high-impact and easy to do? Start with those behaviors to establish a foundation, and then build on it.
- Hold people accountable for one behavior per quarter. Research by Phillippa Lally and her team shows that it takes 66 days on average to ingrain a habit, but since business tends to run in quarterly cycles, a three-month cadence is just fine.
- When you are tempted to let a bad behavior slide, ask yourself, ”What if everyone in the company exhibited this behavior?” If you visualize the behavior as it scales across the organization, you will see the urgency. This can be a helpful shot of motivation.
- When you see the behavior that is not what you expect, ask the responsible person directly: “Why is this ok?” Help them see the gap that you see. If they don’t see it, they can’t close it.
Behavior drives culture. Culture drives results. You might expect performance, but in the end, you will get what you’re willing to tolerate.
The Four Elements of a Powerful MessageThere are four words that tell the story of your organization’s next big change. What are they?
You’re proud of the project you’re working on. You’ve invested late nights and a couple weekends. You missed your son’s semi-final soccer game and your friend’s birthday dinner because of it — it’s that important.
But imagine this: a colleague stops you in the cafeteria and asks you about the project.
Them: Hey, what’s this Project Axis about?
You: Well, it’s a systems implementation to replace Iroquois.
Them: There sure are a lot of people working on it.
You: Yeah, it’s important. It’ll solve a lot of things. But it’s pretty complex; I don’t want to bore you with all the details.
Is that really the best you can do?
No, you don’t want to bore anyone. But there’s an easy way to get everyone on the project — especially the leaders – telling a short, clear and powerful story.
Distill your project strategy into four main points that are easy to remember.
Select a group of leaders and ask them four questions.
- What’s the challenge we’re faced with?
- What’s the solution to the challenge?
- What’s the approach we’ll take to execute the solution?
- What’s the result we want?
For each question, brainstorm a one-word answer. Hint: start broad, then narrow down to the top two to three words, and then down to the final one.
Once the four words are selected, string them together in a 30-second elevator speech, buttressed by facts or examples. You’ll have a robust answer to the question, “What’s that project about?” When you deliver it, customize it for whomever you’re addressing. That is, use different examples for a Marketing employee vs. an IT employee. Note that each project member’s elevator speech will be slightly different, based on their communication style, area of expertise, and position.
Practice your 30-second elevator speech. Then, practice it again. (Even fluid presenters aren’t smooth the first time around.)
Let’s try our scenario again. A colleague approaches you and asks you about your project.
Them: Hey, what’s this Project Axis about?
You: Our procurement system, Iroquois is totally outdated (challenge). It doesn’t support mobile and has some system “holes” in it. A few of our biggest vendors tell us that doing business with us is getting harder. So we really need a more flexible (solution) system that closes our risk gaps and brings us into the 21st century. To develop the best system, we’re asking for the participation (approach) of all our stakeholders, including three of our top vendors. That’s a first for us. We think that the new system will increase our efficiency (result) by two-fold. Did you know that, today, it takes us three weeks to get a simple one-month contract set up?
Them: Now I see why there are so many people working on the project.
This four-word “message frame” is the foundation of all project communication — road shows, newsletters, emails, intranet pages, posters, etc. Each time it’s used, it’s made more real with examples, quotes, and facts customized for the audience.
A consistent, well-crafted message helps the organization understand, embrace and support the change.