Get on the “change train”

It’s rolling down the tracks and you don’t want to be left behind.

For any of you who know me well, you know that I hate metaphors. They tend to break down and when they do, they are worse than useless. That being said, there is a time and place for the limited use of metaphors. Especially with concepts like change, comparing our ubiquitous evolutionary imperative to make things better and thrive in our constantly changing environment in our lives and in our workplaces to a frog in a pot of boiling water or a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly are meaningful and they spark creative and enduring mental models to frame the change process.

In-line with concepts like Moore’s law, that technological growth doubles every two years, we understand the change is inevitable and is occurring at a faster pace than ever in our digital society. As a young Air Force officer, I used to read histories about the evolution of Air Power in conflicts starting with the use of balloons as spotting platforms and evolving to the hi-tech computer-integrated and stealth capabilities that we have developed in the last few decades. Taking a step back and looking at change over a larger span of time shows us that there were decades, even after the industrial revolution, where things just didn’t seem to change very much. The typical command and control style of leadership worked just fine. Overweening bureaucracies were the way things got done.

The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades. – John P. Kotter

It would be an exercise in understatement to say that things change often now. Change is constant and inevitable, as Benjamin Disraeli described it. Any leader unable to adapt to change and indeed, to lead to change efforts with magnanimity, optimism, perseverance, and strategy will not experience success. Anyone unable to change will be left behind, unlamented.

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. – Mark Twain

There’ve been so many psychological studies done on change fatigue. It is real, but it is something that simply put: must be lead-through. The leader must energize her team, presenting them with a compelling vision, working to make sure that the need for change is understood. Putting people first is addressed in the five imperatives for transforming organizations that Jim Hemerling addresses in his TED Talk.

Not every leader is prepared to be an outspoken catalyst for change. Being willing to lead change efforts, to embrace the necessity for change, and empathize with a team that is experiencing change are all key components modern leadership philosophy.

The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change. – Bill Clinton

Sometimes it is easy to create a compelling argument for the need for change. In healthcare, for example, access and affordability are two of the key ingredients to a successful and thriving organization. No one needs to be convinced that these two objectives are not being met universally. Nearly any business or clinical unit must experience well-planned change efforts in order to increase access and affordability. Documented and validated procedures that improve key areas are the results of these efforts.

In order to better understand the ways to plan and manage change, I chose to pursue my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with my continuing professional focus in healthcare administration. I’ve had the opportunity to lead regimented and experimental change processes across organizations and have noticed, both when I am a direct control and when I am acting in my role as a consultant, that a company culture that embraces change is one of the main differentiators that determine success in long-term and short-term change efforts. Organizations that embrace continuous change are more likely to adapt, willing to embrace a new vision, and eager to abandon less effective practices.

Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win. – Max McKeown

You don’t have to be wildly charismatic in order to effectively embrace and inculcate a change culture in your organization. Empathy and rationality are required, however.

Hop on that change train, then. It is pulling out of the station.

Why you need a leadership development program.

Leadership Development Training

 

I’ve been asked more than once why we chose this niche market for our consulting company.

Leadership training is one of our core competencies at Perficitis Consulting Group. As Dr. Vadell and I work on our book, developing our unique theory of leadership, we have been inspired to re-define the way that leadership training should be accomplished.

The first question is often tied to ROI for companies large and small: why pay for leadership development?

Starbucks is not an advertiser, people think we are a great marketing company but in fact we spend very little money on marketing and more money on training our people than advertising. – Howard Shultz, CEO, Starbucks

The answer seems obvious from our perspective: leaders make things better. They are motivated, have skills to influence change, and are strategic thinkers; leaders drive an organization to success. With the growing popularity of programs like six sigma, LEAN, PMP, etc. there is recognition of the need for training in the “project management” sphere.

Without denying the value that those programs provide an organization, one of the components they have in common is the “leadership” component of the trainings. Whether it is called “stakeholder influence,” “customer expectation management,” or any of the other various euphemisms for leading people, the “soft skills” involved in leadership are invaluable tools if you, as Starbucks and other leading companies, acknowledge that people are your greatest asset.

The ability to lead people, to influence them toward your strategic goals, is a skillset that is not easy to quantify in terms of ROI, whereas trainings that include a nod to leadership, but focus on project management/improvement typically have a lot of relevant literature and hard figures to justify their value.

Imagine you have a business unit:

  • Full of individuals who went through leadership training. They are intrinsically motivated and working to vertically align the company’s vision all the way from the C-Suite to where the rubber hits the road, or
  • A select few individuals with project management-focused training working with willing, but untrained employees to make specific improvements in the department.

Qualitatively speaking, the business unit that has received leadership training will be more likely to develop into a high performing team, working in solidarity, whereas the other will continue on in similar fashion, but will likely save some money along the way.

Food for thought; feel free to check out our offerings here.

Mentor the ambitious; don’t accept mediocrity

 

07.01.2012 - His Hand

There are strategies to deal with all kinds of employees: the ambitious, the unmotivated, the motivated, the over-sharer, the timid…the list goes on an on. In this scenario, you have two main types of employees, the ambitious and the lazy. For the sake of argument, let’s define ambitious as the type of employee who exerts him/herself every day, taking on extra responsibilities, but will keep an eye out for something better. We will define the lazy employee as the person who does the bare minimum required. S/he may not ever blip on the radar, but don’t expect anything of them.

Your life may be easier with the flies-beneath-the-radar employee, but is that the type of organization you want to have? Mediocrity is the standard in that scenario.

Your life may be complicated by the ambitious employee because s/he will ask you questions, expect mentoring, and push you to make decisions that will make your business better.

I would suggest that a major failing of our larger and more stagnant businesses is that they do not have systems in place to reward high achievers. In point of fact, it has been my experience that it is more likely to have ‘award and recognition’ programs than it is to have effective processes in place to either 1. encourage better performance or 2. discourage mediocre performance.

It is relatively easy to discourage poor performance in most companies. Perhaps based on the difficulty in identifying mediocre performers, perhaps based on the difficulty in time management (spending 90% of your time on 10% of your employees), but the mediocre seem to slip through the cracks.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Regarding those ambitious, high-performers: MENTOR them. Speak to them honestly about their desires. Find meaningful projects for them to accomplish. Don’t just heap responsibilities on them that others could (and likely should) be doing. These are the value-added individuals that will make your organization thrive.

It is up to you, Leader. Decide what kind of organization you would choose to build, then hire, mentor, promote, fire, punish, as appropriate.

 

Coping as a young leader

Business Baby Pointing

I’m sure many of you have experienced it; the feeling that you are being scrutinized and perhaps looked down upon based on your age. I’ve been leading outstanding individual contributors and have managed supervisors for most of my professional career and, more often than not, my subordinates and peers have been older than me.

I love working with experienced individuals. Experience teaches invaluable lessons about your function, your industry, and helps employees mature as people. I also like working with “newbies.” The potential that new employees bring to the table, coupled with their willingness to be molded and their initial optimism is a powerful combination. Working for older people is, by and large, normal. Most bosses are older than their employees. When you are a fast burner, however, you might encounter resistance where a more “experienced” person wouldn’t.

I’ve been fairly lucky, since separating from active duty military service, to supervise some excellent technicians, work with educated and considerate peers, and work for mature, understanding bosses. This has not always been the case.

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example…” -1 Timothy 4:12 (KJV)

When I encountered (what I considered) age-based discrimination, I was not shy about saying something about it. This was often received with surprise and disbelief and was often a mistake. The negative reaction by my peers and supervisors might be at least partially explained by the fact that “the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal law prohibiting age discrimination applies only to people age 40 and older” in a statement captured in this article. It is rare for anyone to consider a younger person to be considered in an age-related discriminatory situation.

Though not necessarily easy to capture in statistics, my personal experience has been that when a well-spoken, politically astute, educated younger manager appears on the scene in a workplace, there is a certain level of unease in the “older” and “more experienced” crowd. In more hierarchical organizations, my experience has been that the effect can be amplified.

That begs the question: What is a young, ambitious leader to do? I advocate an approach that emphasizes humility and competence. Getting upset or calling attention to unfairness can lead to the perception of a lack of self-confidence in the person making complaints….whereas…working hard, meeting goals, and treating everyone around you with respect, while holding yourself to high standards of personal and professional conduct allows you to be an example, as Paul points out in 1st Timothy; to earn the acceptance and respect that all people desire (see Maslow’s hierarchy).

photo by: the UMF

Change is a constant: be flexible!

Keep Calm

In project management they are referred to as cross-cutting skills; skills that apply to a whole process. A successful business career often involves significant changes in location, position, and duties. The rapidity of those transitions can be staggering if you focus on the changes as discrete events, requiring painful effort each time. The skill to maintain your calm; to remain optimistic in the face of stressful change is a cross-cutting skill.

 

“Change *is* nature, Dad. The part that *we* can influence. And it starts when we decide” –Remy (Ratatouille)

For those lucky enough not to experience this paradigm and still lead a happy “successful” business life or those who are content with stagnant growth, you may stop reading here. For the rest of us, think about your life. All those decisions, the opportunities, the setbacks; rather than focusing on what you would or wouldn’t change, focus on the journey. You’ve done great to get where you are! Regret is poisonous and yet difficult to dismiss as there are often so many paths that could have been taken.

“Always in motion is the future” –Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back)

How do you embrace change? Have faith in yourself. Reflect on your priorities and decisions: make sure they are aligned. Look forward to opportunities with a positive mental attitude (thanks, Jack Welch). Take joy in the moment while living your life in the present (thanks, Yoda). Always keep in mind that there are things we can control and things we can’t, but we always have freedom of choice-how to respond in a given situation (thanks, Viktor Frankl).

photo by: thebarrowboy

Praise Motivates

Jeff Gives a Thumbs Up!There are a lot of funny looks directed at me when I smile and cheer during staff meetings.

My friends and fellow Area Managers have been working hard on a strategic initiatives this past quarter and when the great results are mentioned there is too often a funereal silence in the room, more twiddling of thumbs and checking of email; business as usual for our high-achieving department. I am an introvert, but I’m not shy. That was burned out of me years ago in the course of my officership and time spent performing in professional choirs, but it is sometimes difficult to break the ominous silence…even for me.

It seemed a shame that with so much good news, there were so few smiles.

I firmly believe that a person is more motivated when they receive positive feedback based not only on routine performance, but on extraordinary achievements; not just with the same award that Joe Schmoe did for tying his shoe right last quarter, but with meaningful recognition. Some people are confused by the “meaningful” part of “meaningful recognition,” thinking that it must mean either money or time off (i.e. tangibles). Studies have consistently shown that verbal praise is especially useful to stimulate and maintain intrinsic motivation, especially when it is provided in a public and/or spontaneous setting (Cameron, Pierce, Banko, & Gear, 2005; Deci, 1972; Yukl, 1999).

 

Catch someone in the act. Even a small good behavior, when recognized, can have a huge impact on their future performance

–Poore

 

References:

Cameron, J., Pierce, D.W., Banko, K.M., & Gear, A. (2005). Achievement-based rewards and intrinsic motivation: A test of cognitive mediators. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(4), 641-655.

Deci, E.L. (1972). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic reinforcement, and inequity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 113-120.

Poore, J. (2012, October). The STAR leader’s role in creating exceptional experiences. Speech presented at Kaiser Permanente STAR Leader Forum, San Jose, CA.

Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10, 285–305.

 

photo by: Infusionsoft

MAKE time to improve yourself

stress

In the course of my professional and personal life, I have experienced very little time to sit back and reflect, to take the time to read professional literature and apply those principles in a low-stress environment.  For most leaders, this is true more often than not; especially in our data-driven, technologically advanced workplaces. Managers today are required to know more, do more, and to interact more meaningfully and often with their employees.

Most of the significant things done in the world were done by persons who were either too busy or too sick! There are few ideal and leisurely settings for the disciplines of growth. – Robert Thornton Henderson

Taking time to read leadership books and blogs, to connect with other managers, to spend that extra few minutes a day on encouraging your employees using the techniques you have learned; these are more valuable pursuits than they seem in and of themselves.

When applied in the workplace, you will find that improving yourself pays dividends out of proportion to the effort it takes.

photo by: bottled_void

Leadership can be hard. It WILL be harder if you whine about it.

Colin Powell

I am an avid proponent of optimism in the workplace, and in life, as a matter of fact. Colin Powell said it best: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” A force multiplier is an element added to a situation that increases the effectiveness by a measure greater than the element itself.

Dale Carnegie wrote my personal favorite personal/professional book: “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In it, he talks about a dog, the animal that is always happy to see you, who has a perpetual smile, who wags his tail and makes the world a happier place. Though taking lessons from a pet might seem like an oversimplification, try it out sometime and measure the results in the number of positive interactions you have in your office.

When you greet someone with a smile, they will probably smile back. Smiles are infectious, so are frowns. What legacy do you want to leave in your workplace?

photo by: Tom Raftery