Archive for April, 2014

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Something’s wrong. Maybe the data is telling you. Maybe your gut is telling you. Either way, you know you’re on the wrong path. It’s not that you’ve even failed yet. It’s just not going to work and you know it.

And you’re the one who insisted you take the path. You were so sure. It’s OK. No one’s perfect. But you know this isn’t working.

Now what?  Obviously, you need to steer the team to a new course. So buck up and own up.

What are your options for doing that? Here are two.

Be the Expert

You would do this when you feel the team still needs stronger direction or illustration of how to change course. In this case you would work to present the case for why.  That means digging into the data or your guts and finding the root cause for your discomfort.  Illuminating the obstacle or the dead end that you see.

You may also need to propose the alternative path. Again this will require you to have done your homework on what a better path is and the rationale for taking it. You could also present multiple options.

The key here is knowing where the team is developmentally and psychologically. Will they accept your leading them?

Be the Guide

In being the guide you almost follow the same steps above in that you still need to make your case for changing course. You even need to explore what alternatives you would take.

But as the guide you make your case for change but you don’t tell them the alternatives. You go through some exercise to help them choose an alternative. You’re still the guide so you make sure they don’t get off track. You make sure the goal is still intact.

It’s a good opportunity for the team to learn and gain experience.

The key here is knowing where the team is developmentally and psychologically as well. Are they ready to do some heavy lifting? If so, this is the way to go.

Of course, I am sure there are other options out there to communicate a need for changing course. The key is to understand where your team is developmentally, psychologically and even emotionally.

Turn the wheel and off you go.

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prohibition_poster3Change and politics don’t mix. They don’t mix in government and they don’t mix in business. We don’t like to talk about politics. It’s taboo. Oh well, here we go anyway.

You see sometimes politics like change. If it sees advantage in it. Sometime politics dislike change. If it sees it as threatening to the status quo. And of course politics are fickle. Change that was good may abruptly become bad. Or the other way around. Makes you skittish to deal with it. You lose trust. Losing trust is bad.

I talk about politics as some abstract concept, which it is, but on practical level it is about leaders and managers. And leaders and managers are people. People whose behavior can be changed.

Politics happen for all kinds of reasons. The ones I see as most destructive to change are leaders jumping ion the latest management craze or jumping on the band wagon of the latest and hottest manager. I don’t know that either of these is avoidable and necessarily all bad.

The problem is that existing  improvement initiatives get the heave ho. Creating an environment of starts and stops. Attempts at improvements become out of joint, as Shakespeare might say.

I guess you might say we need to get used to it. This is after all a sort of ongoing change that we should know how to handle. But I’d rather not get used to it. To me these stops and starts caused by politics are juts chaos. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can change it.

I wrote about managing managers a bit ago in this blog: Change Managing the Management:  It was about educating managers about how change works. This is piece of the puzzle.

It’s not the whole puzzle. The other piece in the puzzle is awareness. Awareness of the ramifications and repercussions of swaying with the political winds.

We sometimes think everyone is in tune with all the ramifications of choices.  Unfortunately, they’re not. And the more they’re not in tune the more the term “unintended consequences” comes up. It’s not good when that term comes up.

Yes, there are certainly times in any situation that you can get bit by unintended consequences bug. But you’d much rather be bit by the unintended consequences complexity bug than by the unintended consequences clueless bug.

How do you teach someone to be more aware? That’s a tough one.

You could be blunt and say ” Hey, let’s not be that guy.” That might work. Make sure to know your audience on that one.

You can certainly start with education and communication like I mention in Change Managing the Management. This is always a good path to enlightenment.

But I like metaphors or analogies to spread complex ideas.

A good analogy for unintended consequences is Prohibition.  Prohibition is a good metaphor because it was clearly political. It had good intentions. And it snapped into place in the snap of a finger.

Unintended consequence heaven. That’s what it was. And it’s a good example because some were good and many were bad.

Increases in alcohol poisoning, DUI arrests, prison inmates, organized crime and so. Lot’s of fascinating stories out there on this.

Here’s a nice infographgic:  America’s Hangover: Prohibitions Unintended Consequences

 

Change One Person at a Time

light2We like to talk about process change. We like to talk about cultural change. About organizational change. We like to talk about big picture change.

But change is fundamentally about people changing. In fact it is about one person changing at a time. Because change is, at the end of the day, well, personal.

And we don’t like to change. It’s hard. It’s hard even for those who embrace change.

We know that to help change along we need to talk about the benefits. We need to talk about how the need for change isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just a need, a constant need. We know about good goals and good communication.

But what about me? This is about my personal relationship with change not some need or goal or mission statement. It’s about me. The individual.

I always like to tell people that you change the world one interaction at a time, one choice at a time. You hold the door for someone carrying a bag. You smile at a stranger. You buy local. One interaction at a time.

It’s the same for business change. You change the organization one person at a time. One interaction with that person at a time.

It’s like being a guidance counselor. You talk to individuals about their needs, about how they react to change. Each person’s relationship with change will be different. Some will be nervous. Some will be afraid. Some will be resistant. Some will be bitter. Some will be cynical. Some will be all for it.

Find out. Find out for each person. What are their concerns. What are their needs.

Their needs may have nothing specific to do with the given project. Assuage their fears. Help them understand process. Get them engaged and remove the unknown. Or other behavioral options that might be called for.

Bring them enlightenment.  Don’t be the light. Give them the light.

Help the person with change and you help everyone and everything. And yes, it takes time. It’s time well spent.  Teach people to change and they will change the world.

RedAlert1Failure. It will happen. You don’t know when and you don’t know where. But it will happen.

It’ll be annoying and it’ll come at the worst possible moment. It’ll be unwelcome and it’ll be unexpected.

That’s OK. It happens to everyone. It needs to happen. It means you are pushing boundaries. Looking to make real change. It’s these failures and adversities that test and develop your leadership skills. It’s not whether you fail.  It’s how you react when you do. In this care it is not only about how you react but how the whole team reacts.

I’m not going to talk about how to avoid failures and do a better job. Initiatives can fail for so many reasons. Most of my posts talk about how to do it right. This is about how to succeed at failing.

It’s like being a boy scout. Be prepared.

Deal with the psychology. Prep the team. Make sure to let them know that sometimes things fail. I know it can be tricky to talk about failure with a new team that is already skeptical. The downside of not taking about it is when you fail and the skeptics get to say, “Ha, I told you so.” You need to talk about it. It just doesn’t have to be the first thing out of your mouth. Sometime after you have covered the basic concepts and goals and tactics is a good time. Instill confidence, then instill reality.

Communicate the reaction plan. Some variation of PDCA (Plan Do Check Adjust).  Avoid the message that this is our Code Red Disaster Plan. Convey the message that this is our process regardless of the degree of success or the degree of failure. If necessary, you can emphasize the Adjust part.  Progress is a continuum of adjustments, not an end point. Adjusting to failure is a part of normal operating procedure.

Focus on the education. Reacting to failure is a learning process. This is how we learn. This is how we get better. Let them know that you’ll find the right tool to react to the situation at the time. Since we don’t know how it might fail, we don’t know what tool we’ll use. That’s OK. We’ll find the right tool then. If we don’t understand the tool, we’ll figure it out. One more learning experience.

You could get clichéd and say failures are opportunities. I wouldn’t, but you could.