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Posts from the ‘Organizations’ Category

Is It Caution, Resistance or Differences? Reactions to Change

Why does one person rejoice and another one feel dread when change is afoot? Why does a leader drag his heels while the staff is pushing for change? Why does a team stage a revolt when a new leader comes on board? Why do some people just sit back and hope to wait out the latest initiative?

Few things will evoke more “stupid human tricks” than responding to change efforts. Most of us are wired to feel cozy with homeostasis; it mirrors our biological imperative. Our companies, however, have a knack for upsetting that balance. That sets off our own idiosyncratic reactions. Understanding some typical patterns in ourselves and those we lead can help us figure out how to interpret and manage the dynamics.

Which category do you fit in? What about your staff?

  • “The CEO just doesn’t understand.” These people have usually been around for awhile and have done a thorough factor analysis to point out that a) this is not cost effective or b) it will damage the business or c) people will get hurt or confused or disengaged or a whole host of other terrible things. If only the leader had consulted more people (sic. ME) then s/he would clearly understand that this is a very bad idea.
  • “I respectfully disagree.” A variation on the first group, these are objective thinkers with low ego needs. They have studied the situation and simply have a different opinion about the best course forward. They may actually welcome some parts of the change but their problem solving brains lead down different tributaries and they believe their analysis is a stronger one.
  • “We’re fine as we are.” Leaders and/or staff exclaim that there is nothing to see here, everything is going fantastically well and no change is necessary. These are people who struggle to absorb the facts on the ground; poor earnings, market loss, dissatisfied customers and other relevant metrics. Like an ostrich, they prefer their heads in the sand.
  • “You’ve got to be friggin’ kidding!!” Open hostility with a tinge of self righteousness and arrogance; always a fun crowd to deal with. This is not the same as push back, which is more polite and rational. These folks get nasty and make this personal although it is often hard to know exactly why that is. Where does that rage come from?
  • “Yippee! This will be so fun.” Thank the heavens for those who truly enjoy changing things up. They often see the benefit of doing things differently, like learning new stuff and have a view that if you aren’t changing then you aren’t keeping ahead of the pack. They are not just early adopters; they are flexible, open minded and adventurous.
  • “My mouth says yes but the rest of me says no way.” Most people fit into this category. They want to be good sports and have some appreciation for the rationale for change but they struggle mightily to get comfortable with it. They would rather stay in their comfort zones and don’t like the unsteadiness that comes with doing new things. They take one step forward and two steps back as they slowly inch themselves towards inevitable disruption.
  • “Please leave me alone.” If I just ignore this, maybe it will go away. These are often more introverted folks who focus on self mastery. Imposed changes upset their ecosystems and they can become semi-paralyzed. They keep doing their work but resist the change until they realize there is no choice.

As you can see, some people are more cautious or uncomfortable with change. Others can’t get enough of it while some prefer to ignore it altogether. Some people have a different rational opinion while others are just emotional spewers. As leaders, we are quick to lump everyone together and label it resistance but that isn’t accurate. Simpler, yes, but not correct.

If we see everyone as resistant, we will just use the hammer. But we can’t take out 20 different tools so we don’t just see all those nails. I suggest that leaders do three things across the board that will address the needs of this cast of characters.

  • Acknowledge differences right up front. You are launching a new organization structure. In your initial communications (and for the first few months of implementation) speak about the range of reactions you expect from enthusiasm to skepticism to complete disagreement. Tell the staff there is room for all these emotions because each person has a unique way of integrating new behaviors and arrangements. That’s okay. You want people to remain professional and civil so any venting or feedback needs to be delivered with positive intentions of supporting the movement forward. We humans want to know that we are not invisible; that our thoughts or feelings are heard. Signal that you do and you will hear them.
  • Explain the Why repeatedly. Most leaders breeze over this in favor of getting into the What details. Sure, each of us wants to know What is changing for me. But we are more likely to withstand the discomfort of change if we have a clear understanding about Why we are being asked to do this. (“Because I said so” does not work well with adults.) If the leader lays out what threats or challenges or opportunities are at the door and Why we need to act now, most people will agree even if they might disagree on this specific plan.
  • Don’t tolerate saboteurs. There will always be a small group of people who will act badly to undermine the success of the change effort. It might look passive aggressive or overt. It might be an individual or an angry cabal. We all know who those folks are and we have difficulty gauging how much real power they have to tear things apart. But we know we can’t stand being in the same room with them. As leaders, we must cut these people off. They need to know they must play nice or else. And you need to follow through on the “or else”. This is when a hammer is appropriate.

We can’t be all things to all people in our organizations. But we can give voice to the normal, human responses to change. It doesn’t matter if I’m slow as molasses and grumpy and you are quick and happy about it. In the end, the change will take place. It’s just that some of us will get there sooner and with less commotion than the rest of us.

What’s Wrong With A New Leader Making Massive Changes Immediately?

All conventional wisdom suggests that when a new leader is hired to make significant changes, s/he must be thoughtful, strategic and measured. The mandate for change must be clearly understood by the entire organization, even if there are pockets of resistance. The leader must understand that change does not occur “because I said so” but rather through the engagement of those whose lives are going to be altered (supporters and naysayers). Real organizational change that gets fully implemented can only happen when the leader forms productive alliances and relationships with key constituents and influencers. This requires loads of listening and learning about this operation the leader has now been asked to lead.

Too often, however, new leaders charge full steam ahead thinking that ramping up in the first 100 days only means taking urgent action. A more careful read of all the best literature (see Michael Watkins) states very clearly that a balance between learning the culture, people and key relationships with some early winning actions is the key to success. After all, pronouncing a slew of directives will usually leave the leader with few who will follow orders. Without building those connections early on, all subsequent edicts will be met with (at best) skepticism or (worse) resistance. Et voila: no change.

So rather than emulating the mistakes of the person who currently occupies the Oval Office, here are some recommendations for new leaders brought in to make changes.

  • Communicate a compelling mandate. Most new CEOs have been handed a very specific agenda by the board; such as improve profits, weed out the under achieving products and people, grow or prepare the business for an IPO. Staff may not be aware of these concerns so early communications that balance what needs to be fixed with a desired better future need to occur. Big meetings, small gatherings, one on ones. Lots of explaining in hopes of gaining early support for the new direction.
  • Learn, learn, learn. Each organization is so unique even if they all have marketing, finance, R&D and all the other disciplines. The culture, how things formally and informally get done, the cliques, the early adapters, the institutional wisdom, the pent up potential, the wisest advisors, the bad pennies, the antiquated systems, the hiring practices, the compliance parameters….all of it must be absorbed. This doesn’t happen in the first 3 months. It can take 6-12 months depending on the size of the organization. But appreciating what is before making a bunch of changes is essential to being a credible leader.
  • Base decisions on data. In organizations there can be “felt” needs and “actual” needs. Both are valid but in the end the leader must see the data to assess the need for making changes. Feelings can be a warning sign of problems but are not sufficient for decision making. The leader will be seen as erratic if s/he makes emotional or impulsive decisions.
  • Select 2-3 early wins. Bite off small pieces that are doable out of the gate. You may telegraph that a big change is coming but start with something that has a high probability of success. Even better, pick something that staff would feel is a good thing rather than a threat. It could be some technical training that hasn’t been provided but most want that dovetails with that something bigger down the road. It could be eliminating a low performing product line and reassigning those resources. Pick a no-brainer or two.
  • Engage staff support for change. Form an extended leadership council that helps to shape, lead and implement the bigger initiatives. Tap the informal leaders lower in the organization for key roles in the change efforts. Remove a stinker or two that no leader before you had the guts to do to gain staff admiration. Conduct ongoing conversations with all levels of staff to uncover the biggest pains and empower them to fix it. In short, make the change agenda “our” agenda rather than yours.
  • Take the long view. The most sustainable and high impact changes in an organization take place over an extended period of time. It is important to understand the pieces of the journey, how it will effect the staff, what is flexible or not and how fast you need to move. Oh, and there is the rest of the business to run while the changes are afoot so the best laid plans usually get altered. Not a sprint.

There isn’t a high performing professional who takes a new leadership role who doesn’t want to come out of the gate raring to make stuff happen. I wish I could say that I have followed my own advice to a tee but I seem to have a habit of wanting to “add value” immediately. And by “add value” I mean “proving how smart you were to hire me because I can really get great shit done quickly.”  And by that I really mean that I have to prove to myself  (and others) that I am going to be great at this job. We all need to understand that we are adding immeasurable value by taking the time to cultivate good connections in the organization even if it doesn’t look like a flurry of activity. Activity and orders do not equal effective leadership nor is it a winning formula for facilitating change.

So if you are a new leader who is expected to make some significant changes, take a breath and get to know the people and how things work. You will gain much more traction, support and respect for whatever happens next.

If You Aren’t Learning You Are Getting Stale

Remember how you felt as an incoming college freshman? Not the “I just got out of the jail my parents call home and now I’m ready to cut loose” part of it. And not the “Oh my gosh, everyone here is so much smarter than I am even though I was number 3 in my high school graduating class”. Instead, do you remember the thrill of taking classes on subjects that you knew nothing about or more advanced classes on things you already had some experience with? Can you recall those moments of discovery that opened your mind to new ways of thinking that didn’t require the assistance of drugs?

Curiosity, exploration, making brain space for new topics or ideas, having more questions than answers and a sense of fascination are traits we don’t usually discuss when we think about leadership. We focus more on grown up characteristics like results oriented, decisive, team developer and accountability. We no longer look for or value more childlike or adolescent wonder that accompanies discovery. But we should.

As leaders (and colleagues) we could all use a heavy dose of that freshman feeling of a kid in the candy shop of learning. Or even less sophisticated, the four year’s relentless “why, why, why”. That insatiable quest to understand so many mysteries fades as we age and acquire experience with the world and our chosen professions. We are focused on mastery so we hone skills and thinking in specific areas which can limit our curiosity. This is a normal developmental stage and it is quite useful. But I believe that if we could keep some part of our brains supple enough to remain curious then we would be better leaders, more inventive, greater collaborators and our organizations would benefit.

When was the last time that you:

  • Asked someone from another department to explain in detail some aspect of his/her work?
  • Spoke with someone at length who comes from a completely different walk of life than you do?
  • Invited someone with a point of view that is the exact opposite of yours to describe how he/she arrived at this idea?
  • Wandered into an operational space of your company and asked for a tour or explanation of the services?
  • Spent time being trained by a staff person many levels below you?
  • Admitted to a colleague that you don’t fully understand some aspect of the work you share?
  • Raised a question in a team setting that you feared might make you sound stupid?

We all arrive at a point in our careers, roles or organizations when we believe we always must demonstrate mastery and that to do otherwise is a sign of weakness or ignorance. It is true that the most experienced among us are amazing resources. But it is also true that we envy people who are excited about something new they have learned about or uncovered. In that case, I recommend that we all try to develop both aspects. We will, in fact, keep accumulating experiences that will lead to excellence in our work. At the same time we can remain open to new: topics, ways of thinking, adventures and people.

Re-engage yourself as a learner and try some of these things:

  • Read books that are not the usual suspects; outside your discipline, recommended by an outlier, just because
  • Visit parts of your organization that you don’t know much about or that you always think of as the slow down in the system and ask for a walk through and explanation of the processes
  • Ask only questions in some meetings to gain a deeper understanding of people’s thought processes and assumptions
  • Have a conversation with someone you struggle with. Just try to get to know him/her as a person
  • Take a class on a more right-brain topic
  • Probe your own assumptions more deeply. Ask yourself if something you believe is too rigid or out of date. Explore the latest thinking on the topic and then give yourself permission to change your mind
  • Take the role of devil’s advocate to challenge the team’s business-as-usual solutions
  • Use art forms (visual, music, writing etc) to switch brain gears to shake up well-grooved thought patterns
  • Find a worthy contrarian in your sphere who you can spar with routinely

I never liked that Bible passage about “when I was a child I thought as a child but when I became a man I put all those childish ways behind me”. It always struck me as terribly sad and unfortunate. We need to preserve and nurture aspects of childish thinking. We need to remain curious, to ask why, to see wonder all around and to greet new things and people with enthusiasm. Without that sense of awe we lull ourselves into thinking there is nothing left to learn. Once we stop learning we become rusty or arrogant or predictable or boring. Those traits make us less valuable to our colleagues and the organizations we serve.

So think back to your best college professor or class. Remember how exciting it was to have your mind blown. Remember that learning is exhilarating. I hope you were as lucky as I was in college to find a professor or two who taught me how to learn. In retrospect I realize that was the most valuable subject I encountered.


Leaders: This is What the Staff Wants

It’s not that complicated, really, to understand and deliver what employees want from their leaders. I boil it down to just three things: truthful and open communications, respect for what they professionally and personally bring to the party and opportunities to use and expand upon what they know. If staff experienced this nearly every day there would be so much less noise and much more productivity.

The research on this has not moved an inch in a couple decades. It’s not about the generations or digital explosion or globalization or any other trendy topic. It’s all about people and work and relationships and human value. No one rolls out of bed in the morning and thinks, “I can’t wait to get to work so I can be disrespected and under utilized and told a pack of lies! I do my best work under these conditions.” Beyond financial security (which is a big one) we all hope to grow in skills, competence, confidence and position in our jobs. Again, not complicated and not news.

But for too many of us our organizations are run by people who aren’t able to fulfill these very basic requirements. And as leaders, we struggle much more than we need to on these dimensions.

Communication. The majority of leaders work hard to provide timely information to the staff. They try to balance the good and bad news while remaining focused and inspiring. This goes off the rails in a few common ways.

  • Information flow is all over the map. A small inner circle may be privy to closely held (and difficult) information that seeps out into the organization in uncontrolled ways. This means that some people know things early and incompletely while others are in the dark. Rumors foment, anticipatory responses get prepared, passive aggressive power grabs ensue. Conversely information is held so tightly that only a small portion of it ever gets communicated. In other words, there isn’t a plan in place.
  • Erring on the side of too much or too little. There are executives who value a strategy of complete transparency and communicate often, early and in full. Most employees prefer this approach but then find themselves inundated with TMI. They lose focus or get anxious and don’t know how to digest everything. They wish for some judicious editing. Other leaders believe that everything is too confidential to share openly. This leaves staff very uninformed which breeds suspicion and mistrust.
  • Limited one on one contact. When an employee has limited access to his/her boss in the first place and then there are no quarterly check ins or private annual reviews, the disappointment can lead to disengagement. Add to that the continuous cancellation of update meetings and it is a bad recipe. The employee has prepared for those precious few minutes and when they are bumped from the schedule s/he can feel only one thing: insignificant. Oh, and maybe pissed off.

Respect. See me! Value me! Especially if I am different than you are. That’s what employees want. But here is what they usually get instead.

  • Benign disregard. Someone gets hired because of some great skills that no one else has and then it’s as if amnesia hits the manager because that person is rarely tapped to provide that expertise. Or women and people of color are served up a daily dose of micro aggressions that make them feel invisible and unimportant. Or who you know matters more than what you know and do. I could go on, but the point is a whole set of small jabs that add up to big and painful feelings.
  • Overt disrespect. Most work is accomplished through team work or collaboration but many leaders will take full credit for the results. Tearing down someone in public, offering open support but privately preventing a promotion or pitting staff members against each other are all ways that employees feel hostile disrespect.
  • Differences. In spite of some good intentions, most leaders continue to struggle with people who are different. Older white men did not ascend in a world filled with working women or professionals of color. Unconscious deference to other white men is still the default so to be fully respected if you are different than those in power still sucks.

Utilize. The number one reason people leave organizations is that they feel under utilized and see no opportunities for growth. This has been true for 2-3 decades and I don’t see this changing much. There are fancy, complicated HR strategies and initiatives in many companies to reverse this trend but there is more work to be done.

  • Bench sitting. In the best companies staff get told once or twice a year how they are performing and what their future looks like. Plans are made for new jobs or projects but most of that is for naught. When are you going to call me in? When do I get to play? You promised! Right idea but very poor follow through.
  • No resources. Most companies aspire to develop talent in all sorts of ways but when the rubber hits the road they can’t find the resources. Either development budgets are cut or HR staff is overwhelmed or senior leaders are maxed out on mentoring or training is at your own expense. When belts get tightened, staff growth programs are cut while exec bonuses are reduced by a percent or two. Message received loud and clear.
  • Risk averse. Someone is warming up on deck and ready to take the plunge but senior leaders pull back for fear of failure. In spite of promises and good supervision and consensus that someone can step up, leaders hold too much control by sticking with the tried and true ones. Staff stop striving for new roles because they doubt it will happen or they get aggressively competitive to dethrone and take down the regulars.

These are all examples of ordinary human behavior…not evil incarnate. We all have a groove and we get comfortable in that groove. Doing a better job at just one of these things means stretching ourselves. Some days we can make the effort while other days we snap back to our usual habits. But here’s the problem on both sides of the table with that. If the leader listens better on Monday and Tuesday but the rest of the week reverts to being less attentive, the employee will feel hopeful and then disappointed. Rinse, repeat. Pretty soon the leader will stop altogether and the employee will feel duped and will disengage more completely. False hope is a bitch. So what is the fix?

Leaders, pick one of these three things (communication, respect, utilization). Then pick one behavior you are confident won’t be too hard for you. Let’s say, only cancel an employee meeting if there is an emergency. Otherwise, you will keep all staff appointments (or at least 70%). Ask your assistant to monitor this for you and help you achieve your goal. Commit to a three month trial period. If you find at the end of that time that a) you feel these meetings are worthless or b) you do not see improved engagement or productivity from your staff, then reevaluate the process or your communication style. But I’m fairly certain that you will derive any/all of these things from ongoing communication with your staff: deeper knowledge of what and how well they are doing, who the gems are in your group, who has more to offer than you thought, insights about those who are struggling, more opportunities for you to delegate stuff, new ideas, better sense of how your team is functioning as a whole. That’s a big bang for the buck if you ask me.

And staff, keep insisting on getting these basic needs met. Keep your leaders challenged to do the right thing.


Xenophobia: Misplaced Fear and Anger

It’s hard to ignore the news of the day and think of it as separate from issues of leadership in the real world of corporations and nonprofits. The Trump campaign and the Brexit vote send a very clear message: We don’t want outsiders, those people who are different, foreigners who are not the “originals” who made the country great. These leaders have unleashed anger, frustration and dark emotions that lurked in the shadows. These are movements with brash leaders and millions of followers.

Yet there are opposing forces who extol the rich history and virtue of embracing our differences. How does this conflict show up in our work place? How are leaders and staff mirroring this tension? Even when our companies behave more civilly than our public forums, how is that vitriol playing out? And how well are the calls for greater inclusion faring?

Recent data reveals that corporations have barely moved the needle when it comes to non-white and non-male representation on boards and in C suites. The majority (sic. white and/or male) want women and people of color to feel great about how things are so much better than they used to be. Sure, there have been some strides but most of us would say things have remained stuck in first gear for decades.

So in spite of angry outcries that immigrants or minorities or women have displaced millions of white male workers there simply isn’t fact to back that up. Which makes me dig deeper into understanding this hostility and rage at these “others”.

I spent a lot of time working in Ford and GM plants in the 90’s. Toyota and Honda were invading the US auto market, much to everyone’s surprise. No one took them seriously. Union workers assumed life long security in their jobs and pensions and senior leadership never imagined the US auto industry being challenged by the Japanese. What I heard from the shop floor to the board rooms was “consumers wouldn’t dream of buying a foreign car” and “they are not a real threat to the business”. Everyone thought that if they ignored the situation that the US cars would remain supreme and everyone would live happily ever after. As plants were shut down and workers went on 24 month leaves and ultimately drew on their pensions at the age of 50, the shit got real.

There were minority opinions in the room warning that the leaders and workers ought not ignore reality. The world was changing and everyone needed to wake up and adapt. Those pleas were ignored. Instead what I heard was anger. Anger at those “damned Japanese” and “disloyal consumers” who didn’t buy American. The hostility was turned outward rather than looking inward to see that arrogance, ignorance and denial had lead to a series of bad decisions. Executives, unions and workers all refused to take personal responsibility and cope with the new reality. (As an aside, the hatred was so visible that I was not allowed to drive my Honda to these plants because they did not allow foreign cars in their parking lots.)

I have similar stories about US based electronics companies and newspapers and accounting firms and consultancies. All of these organizations were dealing with huge forces of change in their sectors due to economics, globalization, digital transformations, labor costs and many other factors. Evidence was everywhere in the news and industry trends that the world of work was changing and would never be like it was in the good old days. Things change and many of those changes are outside our control. And that makes change doubly hard.

So I have been listening to this externalized rage for a few decades. If it wasn’t the Japanese it was Silicon Valley. Or the SEC or Indian call centers. Or greedy venture capitalists or automation or cheaper labor costs overseas. Or it was a trade agreement or a political party or an activist board or an ignorant CEO. There was always a target for the pointed finger where blame could be assigned. But the blame was never staring back at anyone in the mirror.

This has me scratching my head. Aren’t we the country of roughed individualism? Don’t we value taking personal responsibility? Don’t we look down on those who take government hand outs? Why isn’t this true in our corporations? I’ve heard leaders give every excuse under the sun for poor results from shortsighted decisions and listened to employees blame the leaders for not keeping them employed. And this makes me mad.

How dare executives make efficient, stupid decisions that will please Wall Street but damage the staff? How far in the sand are workers’ heads to not read the handwriting on the wall? If you are going to be a CEO or an executive then you better damn well understand how many thousands of people are counting on you to make intelligent, well intentioned, strategic and prudent decisions that benefit more than your ass! If you feel extreme loyalty to a company then demonstrate that by constantly learning and adding value rather than feeling entitled to a steady pay check!

You may not have tons of control at the macro/global level but you sure do at the local one. So stop blaming all those “others” and deal with the reality that has been around for decades. You don’t get to revoke your membership in the real world. And all your anger that has now turned to xenophobia and hatred is unimaginably dangerous. Dangerous to you, your company and all the rest of us.

Going back to those Ford union workers…There was a fork in the road in the 90’s. The new world was becoming apparent and people had to make choices. Do I have faith that the company will survive the turmoil and I will get called back to work and I won’t have to worry for the rest of my life? Or is sitting back and waiting and hoping too risky for me and my family? Should I take advantage of some of the training programs that Ford and my community college are offering to get some new skills? My high school drop out brother in law was faced with this exact dilemma. He worked the line and had no other skills. But he had a wife and daughter to support. So during the 18 month shut down he got an associates degree in computer repair. While he waited to get called back to the plant he got a job working with computers. This launched him into a completely new direction and he has been extremely successful in the field of electronics. He took the risk of personal responsibility. Sadly, he is the exception. Most of his peers took the other fork in the road. They are the angry mob.

Much of the current dialogue politically and within corporations is about how to give a leg up to those who were left behind in the globalization push and outdated industries. I have deep compassion for those folks, especially since the CEOs were not left in the cold or imprisoned. But if this was the whole story then the mobs would be railing only against our institutions or companies. They would be tar and feathering CEOs and demanding justice. They would be going for the head of the snake. Instead the rage is turned against the least powerful “intruders” in their narrative: the “others”. They did not create your misfortune. They are not the enemy. But when we feel at the bottom of the heap we need someone to direct our hurt and fear and anger towards. How about we stop blaming all these “others”.

Will That Work Here? Context is Critical

We’ve all been guilty of this one. You hear a great TED talk, you read an inspiring book or you talk with a colleague in another company. You learn about a fantastic culture or process or mindset that excites you. As a leader in your organization you share your enthusiasm with your team and insist that this New Thing is exactly what the company needs. Nods all around, everyone catches the fever and you are tasked with making it happen.

You gather some allies around you to join the cause and you are all convinced that the New Thing will bring the same results to your company that you read about in the Harvard Business Review. So far so good. Right?

As you initiate the change process things don’t go as expected. It’s not just the inevitable resistance anytime a New Thing comes along. It’s that you have cut and pasted the template onto your organization without considering your unique environment. The context matters a great deal and needs to be the first step in the discussion.

How large is your organization? What resources are available; time, money, people? What is your unique mission or service or product? What is the history? Where does your CEO stand? What will get disrupted or reprioritized? Is the staff co-located or dispersed? And so on. However great New Thing is, it must be translated for your context.

And that is the guidance that is usually missing from these great formulas. They never state that step one is to ask: Will this work here?

Twice in the last month I encountered organizations that had discovered the Holy Grail of deeply psychological assessments and personal and intense transformation assistance for senior leaders. Hey, I’m a psychologist by training. I love this shit. But I kept asking the leaders, “How is this being received?” It was all rosy until I kept pressing. “Well, we are getting some push back. The leaders keep canceling their counseling sessions and the coaches claim that the leaders aren’t willing to dig deep.” Then I asked, “Is your culture one where there is much talk about people and development and courage and self awareness? Is talking about human behavior or listening skills or making space for all voices the norm?” In both cases the leaders told me that there is some lip service but very few leadership or culture behaviors to back that up.

Okay, so maybe this initiative is the beginning of a major shift and the leaders are going first. Great. But maybe they jumped into the deep end rather than wading into the pond. Maybe the New Thing is exactly what the company needs but the template doesn’t fit the organization. To get a team of leaders who avoid psychological depth to jump in with both feet out of the gate is completely unrealistic. And it could backfire.

I’ve seen this so many times that I have a standard line. You are trying to build a Cadillac when a VW Beetle will do just fine.

Think of all the New Things as fantastic stimuli rather than strict formulas. To figure out how New Thing could work in your context have some lively conversations with leaders and key people.

  • Distill the essence of the New Thing. Describe it in a few sentences. Don’t go into the how. Stick with the what.
  • Imagine the value of New Thing in your organization. How will it improve the culture or the productivity or the services or the customer experience? Ground the concept in your context and what is needed at this moment in time.
  • Evaluate the methodology. Is it more complex than you need? Does it leave something out that is important to your company? Does it address implementation challenges? What is the simplest way to get the bang for your buck?
  • Define New Thing in terms that make sense to your staff. Take it out of the textbook and put it into their reality. Of course they want to experience success similar to Facebook but you are an accounting firm. How can “speed and customization” fit into a regulatory business? If you haven’t grabbed the essence and sorted out how it would look in your context, no one will buy it.
  • Size the effort and opportunity properly. Executives have a habit of underestimating the churn each New Thing creates. There are times when a major overhaul is appropriate but often smaller changes can create staff willingness and big wins. Each success builds satisfaction and organizational muscles for continuous changes.
  • Create your own hybrid. Just because the TED presenter said you must do all ten of these things to get the payoff doesn’t mean that will work in your company. If you have taken the steps above, had robust discussions and still feel very excited about the essence of New Thing then create your own roadmap. Add, subtract or modify how to get from here to there.

We have all experienced the difficulties of implementing change either as leaders or staff. And we all know that many of these efforts never fully realize the theory of the case. And that leads to staff reluctance to keep engaging in New Things. I believe it is because we are always aiming for the Cadillacs. Processes are over-engineered, initiatives are too grandiose and there has been little thought given to the context. When leaders hear “that will never work here” that is nails on a chalkboard. But maybe there is some overlooked wisdom.

Here’s another way to think about this. I love to cook. I read cookbooks, go to cooking classes, watch cooking shows and try new foods every place I go. My head is filled with great ideas and New Things. I print out the recipe and then go through a check list. The seasonings are amazing. But the family doesn’t like chick peas. And this is too many carbs for our life style. I’d rather use chicken than beef. What if I added more veggies? I can’t use that much sugar. In short, I’m taking the essence of something that sounds so yummy and modifying it for my family’s specific needs and preferences. I will still try New Thing and chances are it won’t be perfect the first time through. The family will chime in with “more this and less that”, I will try it again and it might just make the list of Most Favorite New Thing.

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A Woman’s Worth

I was already depressed about the pay gap between men and women but this article put me around the bend. Here’s the punch line: as soon as women move into jobs that have been traditionally male, the job itself is devalued. If a woman can do the work then it must not take much skill. So on top of women getting paid less for the same work that men do, certain fields are paying less because it’s now considered women’s work! Can you hear me scream? Roar? Here’s the link to the article.

These attitudes and practices are part of a much larger cultural phenomenon and not so easily addressed within one organization by one group of leaders. That said, I believe companies are a more potent route to change. CEOs and their teams need to take a strong position and quickly remedy the situation. My current favorite example of all-things-must-be-fair-and-not-afraid-to-say-it CEO is Marc Benioff from Read this:

I am especially impressed that it only took 6 months to close the pay gap in a company of 20,000 employees. This pretty much shoots a hole in the “it will take time” position that I’ve heard too often. If you read the NYT article and see the domino effect when highly educated and qualified women move into male dominated fields and then see how Benioff is bucking the trend then it is easy to see how one leader and one company can make a difference.

But it takes a special kind of leader to right a wrong.

I sit with good leaders every day. They are smart, driven and care about their people and the company’s success. But I can only think of 3 people in the last 5 years that have demonstrated the courage and resolve to take action to correct longstanding and senseless practices. I’m being all inclusive here: pay gaps, diversity, outdated processes or practices, environmental policies, bonus philosophies. Absolutely every leader says the right thing and then adds the postscript. “We don’t have the (resources, time, board support, proper data etc) to do anything about it at this time.” Utter bullshit. I would be more satisfied with an honest response like “We don’t really care enough about any of this stuff.” I can’t stand when leaders say the right thing and then do the wrong thing. Sadly, this is the norm.

I urge you to study Marc Benioff’s leadership. He has introduced meditation into the company, closed the pay gap and pulls his business and staff out of states that have anti-gay laws. And his business is booming. I’m a big fan and wish that more CEOs would look to him as a great role model rather than constantly harkening back to Jack Welch! This is 2016 people. Our working world is filled with women, people of color and LGBTQ folks. We are long overdue for a 21st century form of leadership.

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