When an Organizational Change becomes a “Movement”

In his widely acclaimed book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses the three-step process which historians and sociologists say enable small, social “habits” to become larger “movements”. Using the courageous stance by Rosa Parks in a crowded city bus and the ensuing, epochal rise of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama as his reference point, Duhigg cites the three steps as

1) The birth of a movement driven by the social habits of friendship and the strong ties among close acquaintances,

2) The growth of a movement caused by the habits of a community and the relationships that hold neighborhoods and clans together,

3) The endurance of a movement caused by leaders giving participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.*image001
While the impact of an organizational transformation, to be sure, carries far less weight than the legacy of the civil rights movement, the analogy serves to explore or reinforce related approaches that can be taken in business initiatives to drive stronger buy-in and adoption and more profitable economic results.

If we think of an organizational “movement” as a successful transition to a future state, we can examine the merit of each of the three steps cited above.

  1. The successful birth of a business transformation depends upon the passion of the sponsoring leader, the alignment within the core project team, the commitment of a network of change champions, and the degree to which organizational risks have been assessed at the front end of the initiative. These relationships and insights are what Duhigg describes as the “strong ties” that existed within Rosa Parks’ most immediate inner circle of friends and neighbors in the days and weeks following her arrest on the bus that evening in December 1955. That local energy enabled Montgomery and Rosa Parks to become a catalyst for a civil right crusade. Similarly, change leaders must create energy and momentum in the earliest stages of a new initiative to build a critical mass of focused support.
  1. How many new initiatives start strong and then sputter without the necessary scale to expand the flame? Successfully growing a movement requires what Duhigg refers to as “the power of weak ties”. In the case of the Montgomery bus boycott, such ties were reflected in the society-wide action driven more by a sense of obligation to the local community and to social peer pressure than, initially, to the cause itself. Parks’ closest friends began a level of outreach to neighborhoods and communities previously less inclined to act or march. As the number of touch points with more civic groups and local friends grew and the collective decision to boycott the local buses ensued, a movement had begun to grow.* Indeed, the buy-in that business leaders seek from less influential stakeholders often creates the verve we so badly need to drive a business initiative or program forward. The intent of leadership alignment and change agent networks is to extend out to segments of the workforce less connected to the project itself, but capable of bringing “the power of weak ties” into the nucleus of the project and further propelling the transformation forward.
  1. The endurance of a change initiative is critical to achieving the prescribed business case and is, arguably, the most challenging step of the process. Once the black community in Montgomery had become mobilized around a one-day bus boycott, a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. began to instill new habits onto the shoulders of the Montgomery community. These habits, or behaviors in business terms, set the stage for an ongoing, yearlong movement. While business leaders also recognize the importance of adoption and long-term cultural change, they too often turn the faucet down on role-based training, stakeholder communications, and leadership support in the later stages of an initiative. Regretfully, these are the activities and tools so critical to the rest of the journey. Whether caused by cost pressure, time constraints or leadership changes, the consequences can be painful. Old habits return, workarounds are created, conflict or confusion around new processes becomes more visible, and turnover of frustrated high performers can rise.

Statistics continue to show that the vast majority of business initiatives do not achieve ultimate success, as defined by the project’s business case for change and the behavioral and economic metrics defined around the program. While we as a nation continue to pursue the ultimate aspirations of the civil rights movement, its initial success can be viewed as a case study for business leaders driving a strategic agenda forward. The cumulative power of passionate sponsorship, engaged constituents and distributed capability can set the stage for long-term program success.

Lake Shore Associates is a woman-owned management consulting firm focused on driving change within organizations.

* The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg, published in 2014










Diversity and Inclusion 2.0

As we celebrate Black History Month and recognize the accomplishments associated with this annual observance, time should also be taken to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in the broader area of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) across our business landscape. We have a long way to go, but heightened respect and appreciation for differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education and religion have changed the talent practices of most businesses and redefined the profiles of leadership teams and executive boards. The value of embracing varied perspectives, work experiences, lifestyles and cultures has spurred new levels of innovation and competitive advantage. In its annual Predictions for 2016* research report, Bersin (Deloitte) discusses the rise of a new talent management maturity model that assigns varied levels of maturity based, among other factors, on the sophistication of a company’s efforts in designing and developing D&I solutions. Regretfully, most organizations (71%) are still managing the D&I discipline from a compliance perspective, as their solutions usually take the form of a “program” or, worse still, an “event”. But as some of the more mature organizations have demonstrated, there is an opportunity to take D&I to the next level … call it Diversity & Inclusion 2.0. These organizations view the D&I platform as a strategic imperative and one that is embedded into everything they do. The ultimate goal of their D&I strategy is to eventually not need one at all.

In its research Bersin discusses the development of an “inclusive talent system” by approximately 10% of companies at the highest maturity level. These leading organizations have differentiated themselves in the D&I arena by thoughtfully building the type of culture and processes that invite diversity and generate business value through diversity. This D&I 2.0 approach is more strategic and less programmatic. As we broaden our definition of diversity to include the variability of both people AND ideas, what are some of the actions we can take to further drive strategic diversity across the business? How can we build our own organizational “field of dreams” from which the broadest array of talent and ideas can contribute and innovate in a fast-changing economy?

We know that within the new world of training and development, for example, there is a growing passion around self-directed learning. This trend is shifting the balance between corporate learning that is more centralized and standardized and individual-based learning that allows employees to curate, recommend and arrange content that they find helpful. This latter, more recent, phenomenon recognizes the power of data and technology to access the right learning content at the right time and in the right format. As we define new means for self-directed learning, from mobile devices to podcasts to rotational assignments, we must build these channels and the learning experiences they create with an inclusive mindset that will engage and nurture the minds of a more diverse team.

The performance management process in most companies has floundered over time and struggles to address the needs of a more diverse and demanding workforce. Less mature organizations continue to steward an archaic process that is insensitive to basic needs and new desires such as a fulfilling and inspiring performance review process, investments in affinity groups and communities of practice for specific talent pools, and formal coaching programs. If we redesign performance management from an annual HR process into a more inclusive business system, we can explore and reinvent new approaches to goal-setting and career mapping, informal and formal relationships and performance discussions with the proper spirit and cadence, tailored coaching and mentoring platforms, user-friendly applications that personalize the performance management experience, and a communication strategy that addresses the needs of all populations and inspires the entire workforce.

Our traditional associations with leadership and succession continue to shift as we see an uptick in the importance of agility, collaboration and social advocacy, while the perceived value of hierarchy and tenure has plateaued or is perhaps trending down. With expanding spans of control and more cross-functional, global teams, today’s business leader is more commonly a team leader than a top-down executive. The D&I 2.0 strategy must define the competencies of a diverse leadership team, enable the accelerated promotion of qualified leadership candidates of any profile, and design a tailored, engaging approach to the continued development of such leaders. Replacement candidates for targeted leadership roles should be sourced with a broad brush and selected through a more scientific analysis of potential based on a broader suite of skills and experiences. The mission of a growing business cannot be compromised by artificial constraints placed on any members of a diverse candidate pool. Leading organizations are creating broader networks of relationships and inclusive environments in which to promote and nurture leaders, including the emergence of high performers who historically may have been more reluctant to take on a leadership role in a less inviting workplace.

Diversity & Inclusion has been and remains a critically important discipline driving business performance. While the first generation of initiatives in this area focused on the acknowledgement of and compliance with this issue, there is an opportunity now for D&I 2.0 to up the bar and drive tangible business results. If we can build a truly inclusive workplace that fully expands our view of talent and fully stretches our appreciation for ideas and perspectives, then perhaps our D&I strategy will, over time, simply be our … business strategy.


* Predictions for 2016
A Bold New World of Talent, Learning,
Leadership and HR Technology Ahead
Bersin by Deloitte

On Anxiety and Change Management

En route to my weekly Sunday morning soccer game, I listened to a fascinating interview on NPR with David Steindl-Rast, a brilliant, 89 year old Benedictine monk who co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies. He spoke beautifully about the epic, menacing forces around us, from global warming and environmental destruction to global violence, as legitimate, untouchable sources of anxiety. Steindl-Rast references the origin of the word “anxiety” to the life or death outcome of the birthing process. Sliding through that narrow canal is the first of many episodes of anxiety that we face in a chronically changing world. He emphasizes that we must acknowledge and avail ourselves to our anxiety over these forces, but we must not fear them. There is a great difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a healthy, reasonable response to phenomena in our world that should be trusted and embraced. Fear is the resistance against that anxiety. Sounding like a true change consultant, Steindl-Rast goes on to assert that being comfortable with anxiety should not paralyze us, but should create a heightened sense of curiosity, unleash creativity and open up new possibilities.

Ah yes … you probably know where I am going with this. As a longtime practitioner of organizational change, I believe that Steindl-Rast poignantly captures the challenge of the 21st century professional in an ever-changing business environment. So how can we acknowledge and embrace the anxiety of ongoing change in our companies and broader ecosystem without channeling our response into fear?

As change leaders, we have an opportunity and an obligation to help our teams and our teammates minimize their fear of change. We can do this by relentlessly understanding and accurately communicating the business case for change. We can do this by having candid conversations with project sponsors about how peoples’ jobs will be impacted and how best to manage the transition of a department or function. We can do this by assessing the implications of a change to all stakeholders and then engaging those stakeholders in the design of our transition forward. Knowing more about the business case for change, the impacts to the company, the implications for peoples’ jobs, and the likely options ahead may never reduce anxiety, but it will certainly reduce fear. If we as change leaders can help give our people the courage to welcome and embrace anxiety and, over time, pave the way for that ultimate feeling of safety in an ever-changing business world, then we are truly providing the value that our role requires.

Celebrating the greatest talent pool – our United States Veterans

At a time long before organizations spoke of competency models and talent diversity and leadership pipelines, our military was building and executing talent strategies that established and sustained our great country as a beacon of light across the globe. Today we celebrate this “talent” and remind ourselves, as business leaders, of ways to apply what we have learned from them in today’s competitive environment … lessons about skills and values and diversity.

Those engaged in military service brought natural abilities with them, but with eyes wide open, they learned new skills that were applied immediately in military exercises or combat. My Dad, a WWII naval officer, was the official record-keeper for his ship, tracking the movement of resources into new roles, training activities, active leave, or completely new assignments. If you met a nice lady or a gentleman while the ship was docked for the weekend and were late returning to your post, you had a few words with my Dad!! He would later transfer those analytical and planning skills into his career as an IRS regional auditor and tax attorney. Companies should look at the military as a good example of how to incorporate skill development and action learning into their business. Emerging learning technologies, social media and gamification today present ways of learning and applying new skills that our military leaders would have eagerly embraced.

Business leaders talk about the importance of organizational culture, a breeding ground for the core values of an enterprise. As defined in the book Strategic Speed, an organization’s culture is “rooted in the values and assumptions that the organization’s founders embed in it from the beginning” and “one of the ways in which an organization preserves its identity and distinguishes itself from others”. Importantly, these values must be modeled by leadership and cascaded across the company, beginning with the recruiting process and continuing throughout their tenure. What better example can we find to demonstrate the development of cultural values than our military? Our forefathers embedded into our American culture the tenets of freedom and justice and bravery and respect, and our veterans celebrate today a holiday honoring their adherence to those values. What can organizations do in today’s business environment to create that level of engagement with a workforce that cuts across multiple generations? How can we better articulate, and then integrate, the values that define our business? These are the questions that, on a day like today, make you marvel at what our military has accomplished and what more companies “could” accomplish with focus and commitment.

Finally, we recognize the diversity of our veteran pool and the varied attitudes, backgrounds and perspectives that have contributed to the military goals of each campaign throughout our history. Diversity is a major driver of “agility”, defined as the distinct qualities that allow today’s organizations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision toward a common goal. In his critically acclaimed book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw reminds us so poignantly of the varied (and often unrecognized) contributions of American servicemen and servicewomen representing the full melting pot of our great nation. The opportunity for today’s business leaders is to look at their own pools of talent and challenge the extent to which sufficient levels of diversity and creative thinking are addressing the key strategies of the business. Just as military units adapt and change course to address new priorities, our businesses must be populated with the breadth of talent to tackle the challenges of the day.

Indeed, we can learn much from today’s honorees. They have earned a level of respect and admiration that is noteworthy and can serve as a reminder of the many ways our businesses can compete and thrive. To the veterans of America’s past and present conflicts, including my Dad, we thank you for your service.

God bless.

Cloud-based talent management applications should be used to “brighten” the view of your workforce

The proliferation of cloud-based talent management software has never been greater and set the stage better for a true revolution in the way companies can drive sustainable, competitive advantage through their people. Basing these applications in the cloud provides cost advantages, greater flexibility, efficiency and agility than on-premise systems. But the effective execution of the cloud lies not simply in the utilization of limitless tools and templates now available in chosen system(s), but in the ability to exploit these applications to connect with our people in more meaningful, more human, more effective ways than ever before. As we look at a few examples, we can begin to understand both the risks and the possibilities with these applications and how the cloud can further brighten, not shade, the connection to our workforce.

Performance management has become, perhaps, as disillusioning as any existing talent related business process. Eyes roll and disengagement spikes as workers continue to experience an administrative, impersonal approach to their value as a performer. Cloud-based modules now provide a variety of new features, including more space to write comprehensive comments about performance and new timing functionality to auto-save performance comments. The risk, of course, is that the boundless comment field becomes a proxy for face-to-face formal and informal feedback, a practice that has regrettably become scarce and/or marginalized over time, especially in our “virtual” workplaces. Instead of summarizing and confirming what should be discussed verbally in a live setting, the template now threatens to replace whatever dialogue might have already existed. To mitigate this risk, leaders must utilize the new features to optimize the written mode of communication as a supplement to the verbal one already in place. The performer’s search for clarity can be gained, and long-term engagement sealed, through a multi-modal approach to open and honest performance feedback.

Talent profiles can now be defined and made visible in greater detail, incorporating more specific behavioral components associated with standard job competencies. Cloud-based applications have set a new standard around the granularity of our view of a given job. The resulting expectation is that the organization will be fully accountable to that standard across the entire talent system. If not, the profiles become “cloudy” and the workforce skeptical. Learning objectives for role-based curricula should align with the behaviors specifically outlined in the system. Performance must be fairly assessed against the sub-competencies so carefully defined in the profile. Applicant screening processes should leverage these detailed role profiles to drive superior candidate pools. Indeed, the opportunity for a truly systemic and integrated approach to the management of talent awaits the company ready to fully embrace the cloud.

There are now new performance subject areas within systems available for employees or managers to report more fluidly on development goals. Such reporting capabilities allow for a running commentary or “diary” of progress and constraints associated with predefined development objectives. Of course, sometimes the root cause of impeded progress or unbridled success is hidden or below the waterline, liberated only by an open dialogue about a project or goal. Valued self-reflection coming out of these applications can inform the peer discussions, team meetings and management conversations that follow. Organizations must not allow the application to define a development culture; rather, the emerging capabilities offered by cloud based technologies must support the culture and ensure that the processes these technologies automate are advancing, not replacing, the human dimension of talent management.

Talent leaders understand that with progress comes risk. If sophisticated talent applications monopolize the communication channels within our business, our workforce will be hidden from our view. On the other hand, if we leverage the capabilities of cloud technologies in the right way, the future of our business and the commitment of our people will never be brighter.

The Promise of Performance Management

The business process of performance management (PM) often seems like an isolated room within the “human capital” house (see figure below). The walls around the room appear opaque, with little visibility or clarity provided to a workforce that wants to understand what informs the performance management process and how the process aligns with other dimensions of one’s career.

HC House

Indeed, performance management continues to be one of the most disheartening and unfulfilling components of the people function. In a recent report from the Institute for Corporate Productivity, Performance Management: Still Waiting for Real Change, “seven out of ten respondents believed that their organization’s PM process is not managed well, and that it does not have a positive effect on performance”. Other findings find it highly administrative, archaic and outdated. According to Bersin by Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends, “performance management is being reinvented for a new, forward looking purpose: to serve as an efficient, focused business process that improves employee engagement and drives business results.” In the minority of organizations that get it right, performance management is a tremendous, value-rich component of the business and a catalyst for accelerated performance and growth. So how can we tear down the walls and connect this tremendously important discipline to the rest of the human capital framework?

Differentiating “performance”

One simple answer is to utilize the PM process to truly recognize superior performers. Rather than simply yielding to an annual, cascaded budgeting exercise that lands on a relatively meaningless and discouraging merit increase range of 2.4% to 3.0% for everyone, we can use thoughtful evaluations completed by conscientious managers. Those managers would assess performance against clear, strategically aligned goals and behavioral competency guideposts to create a wider dispersion among lower and higher performers (e.g. 0% to 5.0%). Similarly, we can annually examine and market test those pivotal or highly valued roles, as defined by our workforce planning process, and adjust salaries accordingly to better price those positions with more market or strategic value. Such a change will better integrate Performance Management with Engagement and Retention (see framework below) and establish more of a meritocracy-based culture. 

Recognizing “potential”

Many organizations have moved away from forced rankings and, instead, have shifted to talent reviews. In this setting, leaders from all functions meet to identify those 20-25% of the workers, across the entire business, which have earned performance-based, discretionary bonuses. Why not use that same process to document and engage those individuals who have demonstrated the “potential” to move into new or emerging roles across the company? Then you can supplement annual review discussions with meaningful dialogue about career aspirations and alternative career ladders. Whether you call this exercise succession management or career planning, the benefit to the employee is that the evaluation is about performance AND about the performer. This extended focus on “potential” better links Performance Management to Succession Management and increases the possibility that valued members of your team will more actively and creatively consider career journeys they can have inside the company.



Bridging performance gaps with learning experiences

Regretfully, there is very little correlation between the performance gap(s) of an individual contributor in one year and the learning path that is designed for that individual in the coming year. The emergence of new learning technologies, social learning, and other modes of development have enabled talent to access more creative avenues for bridging performance gaps, yet this areas remains an underutilized strategy. Exploiting such options will better link Performance Management to Learning and Development and empower our workers to utilize training in its most optimal context – immediate, tied to a specific learning gap, and learner driven.

Articulating your performance culture

How consistent is the employee value proposition you present to a recruiting candidate with the actual Performance Management experience the person witnesses as a new hire? So often candidates are brought into an organization with a misunderstood picture of their earning potential or short-term promotion and leadership opportunities. The first performance review process feels disconnected from the unlimited possibilities shared only months earlier, and the employee is left feeling disillusioned and burned. Clearly discussing the organization’s approach to Performance Management will better link this importance discipline to Talent Acquisition by managing expectations and reducing unwanted attrition.

A company’s Performance Management process is not an uninvited houseguest, left to revel in paper forms and impersonal compliance-based assessments; rather, it is an essential part of the HR family with a rich source of date about how, why, and when employees perform their job. Such insight can fuel the engine of a well functioning talent management practice.

It only takes one bad apple. Or any fruit, for that matter.

Most employers spend countless hours and resources working hard to engage with employees, motivating them to produce at higher levels and actively pursue their career goals. Companies are well aware that a disengaged, disgruntled employee can affect productivity and overall morale. As the old adage says (and research certainly confirms), one bad apple can often spoil the bunch. But what if the unmotivated resource is NOT an employee at all, but instead a contractor or a formal volunteer or a temp or even a robot. In other words, what if the bad apple is not an apple at all, but a banana. What THEN is the risk?

Compelling research* recently completed in a joint study by ERE Media and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) points to the fact that organizations across the board invest considerably less effort in the motivation and engagement of their non-full time workers than they do in their full-time workforce. In one statistic, “while 51% of organizations make a very big or big effort to motivate and/or engage workers, levels of engagement for non-employees are much lower, varying from a high of 16% for business partners to 4% for online freelancers. “ These numbers do begin to improve a little bit with very large companies (50,000+ employees), companies that are facing severe productivity challenges, and companies trying to better manage a global workforce. The difference, however, is still compelling.

Risks associated with such a limited commitment to a clearly growing segment of the total workforce are significant. While most customers never really know for sure whether an individual representing a company is a full time employee, that individual does carry the reputation and the brand image of the organization in his/her hand. And since the percentage of non-full time employees in companies (e.g. partners, contractors, temps, formal volunteers, robots, outsourced services, franchisees) has grown to 16% as the median, and north of 40% in many organizations, we can begin to appreciate the collective risk of so many neglected workers, whatever their profile.

A few years ago, Lighthouse Consulting wrote a white paper about the need to engage alternative segments of the workforce in different ways, based on the unique profile and drivers associated with each segment. That article, entitled Engagement Agility, is accessible in the Thought Leadership section of this website.

A common objection to the argument for funding engagement initiatives for non-employees relates to the traditionally lower ROI recognized by these segments of the workforce. But wouldn’t funding these initiatives create a more loyal part timer less likely to move on and more committed and dedicated to the job? Additionally, if the proportion of the workforce commanded by these segments continues to increase, wouldn’t the risk of disregarding these contributors become collectively higher and, arguably, begin to erode the ROI and perhaps the retention of the employees with whom these people work on teams and on projects? Finally, why would any company that has strategically chosen to deploy these resources want to make a relatively low ROI any lower? In contrast, the opportunity now exists for companies to differentiate their value population by rethinking the ROI of a flexible workforce and building added value by optimizing their productive output.

This noteworthy research on Total Talent Management (TTM) should light a fire on the agenda of all Talent Leaders who are looking to build a fully engaged workforce capable of driving a collective culture of productivity and innovation. As the workforces of all companies across all sectors become increasingly heterogeneous in nature, Talent Leaders must actively seek their discretionary effort and loyalty in ways that resemble the investments in their more traditional employee base.

* Total Talent Management: Towards an Integrated Strategy for the Employed and Non-Employed Workforce. May 7, 2015

Resistance to change is not a ground rule … It is an investigation.

Business journals are filled with studies that stress the importance of change management to the success of a large business initiative. We read of the “valley of despair”, the “marathon effect” and the “situational” nature of change as characteristics of an organization in transition requiring focus and care. The point is driven home that a large-scale change effort must include the involvement of leaders, a broad suite of communications to multiple stakeholders, and a detailed analysis of how one’s job will change over time.

Despite this clarity of purpose related to organizational change, I contend that the most challenging component of a large business initiative to scope is the change management work stream. While so many of the activities associated with change management are predictable, these standard tasks comprise at most 70% of the overall work effort. The balance of the work is the tougher and, perhaps, more important part of the change leader’s role. This additional 30% is the detective work that determines where and why resistance occurs in small or large pockets of the business. Resistance is like a chameleon – it takes many different forms, some more discreet than others. It can be as bold as a leader who vocally challenges the legitimacy of an initiative in an executive meeting, as subtle as that same leader “choosing” not to incorporate initiative updates into the agenda, or as challenging as fighting your way through an “opt out” culture where if people don’t want to change…they don’t…and there’s no accountability. If we can successfully uncover the more implicit types of resistance, then we can clarify misconceptions, offer proof or a business case when we face objections from skeptics, and bring perspective and empathy to those situations where the concerns are real and valid.

In one client situation involving the adoption of a sophisticated forecasting tool, my team recognized the unexpected need for heightened support and training of an anxious forecasting team on data analytics and statistical models in order to utilize the tool’s functionality. In another situation involving a change to the sales process at a uniform rental company, we learned that resistant sales personnel needed some interim assistance from a newly created sales analyst role in order to more easily manage the transition to a highly automated future state. Neither of these scenarios were anticipated at the time the initial work plan was developed.

What are some of the ways change leaders can effectively and respectfully investigate resistance in the business? How can we break down those barriers that might mask the issues that really matter? Some ideas are proposed below:

  • Face to face leadership communication:In addition to the status calls and project communications already in place, the change leader must find time to speak to individual leaders who hold positional and cultural power. Ask about the project and their view of the progress, the organization’s buy-in to the effort, and what they feel their role should be.
  • Change agents or champions: Change agents are typically highly respected peer members of a functional team that will be impacted by a pending change. These individuals can become a valuable two-way communication channel between the project team and the impacted users. They are often best able to discern where legitimate, unspoken pockets of resistance occur and distinguish those from dysfunctional, unhealthy reactions in the business.
  • Empathy-based Inquiry: The Change leader has a responsibility to ask the questions which the impacted workforce will not think to ask, due primarily to the empathetic lens through which he/she views the project. For example, if a sales process get re-engineered to accommodate a new CRM tool, the change leader must ask how the sales team can be expected to hit certain goals (e.g. meetings per day), given heightened documentation requirements.
  • Intuition and Pattern Recognition: A change leader, whether internal to the business or external to the company, must instinctively be on the lookout for recognizable patterns from prior projects or other industries. These indicators enable the leader to suggest and test potential sources of resistance that are not yet explicit. If a finance manager in an automotive company reacts to a new budgeting process in a specific way, it is not unlikely that someone in that same role at a pharmaceutical company won’t have similar concerns. These possibilities must be mentally captured and documented for the team’s collective consideration.

While the change leader is not typically wearing a trench coat and a hat characteristic of modern day detectives, high performing change management teams are actively investigating the less obvious sources of resistance to business initiatives. They do this by listening and learning, asking and empathizing, connecting and engaging, so that proposed changes in the business can be openly discussed with the right people and with the right concerns at hand.

(this article was reposted from the website of Blossom Growth Partners (www.blossomgrowth.com))

Effective Listening: How Experience and Technology (ET) can make us listen like aliens in the workplace.

The first communications course I took as a new sales hire for a forest products company introduced the skill of effective listening. I remember learning that good communicators listen for facts, feelings and emphasis. The facts represent the content, the data, the information. The feelings capture the way the message is transmitted … the tone and volume of the voice and the facial expression. Finally, emphasis defines where the passion lies, as depicted by energy, posture, eye contact and inflection. I learned that effective salespeople and, several years later, effective consultants, must actively listen for all three.

Effective listening is arguably the most difficult communication skill, as compared to presenting or questioning or negotiating. Two of the barriers that impede our use of this skill are the experience we have gained and the technologies we use in our professional journeys. Rather than tools that advance our listening competence, they have become obstacles. Our growth and fulfillment in the workplace depends upon our recognition of these challenges and our commitment to addressing them.

How can years of experience impede your ability to listen? Certainly, over each of our “storied” careers, we have built up biases around how we interpret the world and how we respond to varied points of view, word choices, expressions and presentation styles. These biases are limited and only marginally impactful in the early years of our career. Biases become more substantial and less flexible, however, as we mature and continue to use them to rationalize the judgments we make. Similarly, and somewhat related, are the “verbal patterns” of thinking that build up in our mind and, regrettably, become the organizing framework (and sometimes the receptacle) for much of what we hear every day. How often do we mentally finish and ultimately judge someone’s comments regarding a recommendation or a point of view because it begins to sound exactly like what so many others believe? As professionals and as continuous learners, we must resist any attempt to profile incoming ideas. Certainly, our experience can advance the conversation and build on new insights. But we must listen with the assumption that any idea, from top to bottom, reflects fresh thinking and unique perspective so that we can incorporate our experience in the most optimal way and collaboratively create new insight. By exercising patience, putting aside our biases and listening carefully with no assumed verbal pattern in mind, we can relish the merit of new ideas and the feelings behind them.

And what about technology? How in the world can digital technology and hand-held devices impede our listening skills? Well, for starters, let’s go back to our opening comment about listening for facts, feelings and emphasis. While smartphones and tablets, Twitter and Facebook, and dozens of business applications (e.g. travel sites, uber) have dramatically revolutionized our business day experience in so many positive ways, technology has had a catastrophic effect on the listening process of business leaders, many of whom once prided themselves on being engaged listeners. Contemporary listeners often do not “hear” the specific content in the message, because they are actively and often discreetly multi-tasking. Their ears are trying to catch the message, while their eyes are tracking texts or apps on their phone. Many listeners have no clue how a communicator feels about the message being conveyed, because there was probably limited eye contact, and the listener had only enough bandwidth to capture the words, not the feelings, much less the emotions, behind the message. So often the story behind the communication is abandoned, and the verbage sits on its own island, void of the empathy and context upon which it depends.

As if poor listening “costs” related to existing biases and our on-line mentality aren’t high enough, imagine the additional switching costs incurred when we attempt to go back and forth between these elements. Have you ever tried listening to a complicated business situation, then looked down at a long-awaited text or email, and then attempted to reconnect to the story with the SAME level of empathy and insight? These transitions carry an economic burden and, of course, bear a personal cost on the team members who look to our leadership.

While this article sheds light on societal norms widely known, it hopefully presents a candid view of two very real, yet very manageable, barriers in our professional communication. I

own a huge yellow lab whose name is Bubba, and when I ask Bubba if he wants to go to the park, I am met with a reaction that demonstrates the truest form of effective listening. His head jerks up, and he stares at me with complete engagement, eyes bulging out of their sockets and staring at me like lasers. I have his complete attention. Bubba has a great deal of experience with this oft-repeated question, but his reaction is always enthusiastic and reflects no internal bias … and he never finishes my sentence. There is no multi-tasking or technology, because Bubba turns off his smartphone when I speak to him. Now while we may all be a little too busy to always “listen like a lab”, are we giving those who speak to us our complete attention? I do think we have room in our day to listen respectfully and wholeheartedly to what our colleagues are saying to us. No one will perfect this skill, but pursuing excellence will help us each learn and grow. Over time, we can begin to listen less like an alien, and more like a human.

Igniting Your Company’s Culture: From Vacuum to Boardroom

Really important work is completed at companies big and small to make explicit what is already in the hearts and minds of their people – the cultural values of the enterprise. Yet for so many companies, these principles live as a framed document created at one moment in time and never generating the kind of business impact considered so promising at their inception.

How do we take a corporate culture from a “vacuum” within which many might think it now lives and into a “boardroom” where the underlying values can come alive and thrive? This is a legitimate question on several fronts. First, the integrity of a culture and its associated values are only as strong as one’s ability to apply the culture on the job and in the market. Second, there is a precious time investment associated with the articulation of a culture/values/desired behaviors, whether tacitly or analytically defined. A lack of discipline and leadership to execute these behaviors within the business would seem to be unacceptable. Finally, there is a negative impact on the human reaction to a culture that is sedentary and dated. Such an impact can harm recruiting efforts, competitive differentiation in the market, and organizational morale.

So what types of cultural bridges or tactics can bring our culture and human capital values to life and serve a productive role for the business?

Years ago I worked with a financial services company that had a small, but growing, multi-family lending division. Despite the positive momentum of its strong brand, low transaction fees, and a strong sales team, this bank faced strong headwinds related to its success in creating a positive “customer experience”. Specifically, formal customer feedback called out the insufficient way in which the sales team Communicated with borrowers during the lending process, the Accuracy of the information borrowers received (e.g. interest rates), the Reliability of the data and documentation deadlines posted, and the overall Ease of doing business (e.g. efficiency, steps in the process). We called this unfortunate acronym C-A-R-E. We then leveraged the bank’s core values to articulate a new sales culture built around an improved CARE sales process with a commitment to dramatically elevating the customer experience. The charismatic President of this division was at the forefront of this initiative, advocating the importance of becoming a CARE sales manager.

This is just one example of a competitive lever, in the form of a performance gap, which served as a landing ground for the bank’s existing corporate values. Certainly, any particular lever will draw out some values more than others. But if these values are the right ones for this culture, what better template for a solution can you find than the collectively defined and communicated tenets of the business. Below are three ways to bring your own values strategically alive.

  • Mobilize the culture and corporate values around priorities or opportunities within the business. A SWOT Analysis provides one natural framework here. Perhaps there is a weakness or threat that must be strategically addressed, such as the lending organization’s service issues discussed above. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple after his long hiatus, the company’s culture of “innovation” that had been so vibrant during the production of the Macintosh but somewhat lost after his departure, became immediately activated upon his return to drive the development of the iMac and decades of future products. Alternatively, there might be a Strength or Opportunity for growth. Certainly, when Timberland expanded from a boot company to an outdoor apparel company, its values adapted to a broader vision that included wool socks, flannel shirts and winter sports. New acquisitions might also present revenue channels long considered prohibitive. In such a case, the values can be applied to these newly defined opportunities or, as is often the case, the new or interim leadership team actually rolls out a fresh set of values for NewCo.
  • Design learning initiatives that train the talent of the company on ways to apply the culture to changes in the business. Recognizing the speed of change, well-designed training programs help reconcile leadership’s understanding of key initiatives and ensure alignment with the culture. Many companies invest heavily in new hire orientation programs that include a detailed discussion of the values of the company. When such a program is successfully delivered, all team members (e.g. call center manager, accounts payable clerk, sales director, logistics supervisor), with equal clarity, can discuss what a value like “collaboration” or “risk-taking” means to the way they do their job.
  • Incorporate the corporate values into core processes of the business as a way to “live” the culture, walk the talk and, of course, generate superior business performance. If “safety” or “candor” or “fun” is indeed an element of the collective culture, then why not incorporate the performance of the value into the ratings of leaders who must be the champions of an emerging culture. If “self-discipline” is a stated value, shouldn’t we ensure that self-discipline is hard-wired into the way we forecast and schedule customer orders, the way we pay vendors and the way we provide career opportunities for our people?

No one gets too excited seeing a laminated set of corporate values on the wall, with the possible exception of those who spent a ton of time and drank a lot of coffee building them out. The leadership opportunity here rests on mobilizing our people to apply these values and use the collective culture as a business tool to drive economic value.