Course Launch!

After three years of blogging and over 30 years of leadership in various organizations, I’ve decided to offer some of what I’ve learned in an online course. You may have seen my Facebook video last week. If not, here’s a link to that.


I’ve learned a lot about leadership over the years. I’ve learned from mentors and from my experience with success and failure. It has been my privilege to serve clients in multiple industries including healthcare, airlines, sports and entertainment, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, education, and several non-profit organizations.

When I transitioned from full-time ministry to the business world almost 25 years ago, I wrote the following personal mission statement: “to build relationships within my sphere of influence through which I can help people discover and achieve their capacity for excellence.” That has been my purpose. Now I want to expand that sphere of influence by offering this online course.

I know that the skills contained in this course will help people lead better. Whether they are new in a leadership role or a CEO or business owner, these skills will make them better because they will help leaders connect with and engage their people. In fact, these skills are transferrable to all of life, not just business or non-profit leadership.

Here’s a link to my new web page. There you will find a link to the free webinar called “Engager Dynamics Bookends.” Take 40 minutes to view the webinar. It might just be the best time investment you make all month.

Connecting Requires Credibility

This morning I got up to do my regular weekday morning routine.  I made coffee, took the dog out, read for half an hour, then grabbed my laptop to start writing. I had plugged it in yesterday because the battery was low so I unplugged the charger from the laptop and pushed the button to turn it on … nothing. “What in the world,” I wondered. I looked at the charger and followed the cord to the wall socket. It was not plugged in at the wall.  No wonder. By all appearances my laptop should have been charged up and ready to go. But, the reality was there was no juice going to it to charge it up. There it is. The difference between appearances and reality is what we call credibility. When appearances and reality align there is credibility. When they are different there is a credibility gap. Connecting with people requires credibility. Here are several questions to help measure our credibility.

Have I connected with myself?

Integrity means, in its second definition, the state of being whole and undivided. It comes from the Latin word integer meaning “In tact.” The English word “Integer” means a whole number that is not a fraction. One way I think of integrity is being the same on the outside as you are on the inside. Whether you are or you’re not, people know it.

Have I made right my wrongs?

Imagine yourself talking to a group of people about the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Now imagine seeing, in the group, the face of a person you had wronged in some way and never corrected the wrong. That uncomfortable feeling is the gap between the words you are saying (appearance) and what you had done (reality). That feeling is your credibility gap. Often when we right our wrongs it not only repairs our credibility, it improves our credibility.

Am I accountable?

I like to ask the question, “What does accountability mean to you?” when I’m interviewing someone for a job. I am looking for people who answer that question first by talking about being accountable, not about how they hold others accountable. When you make a commitment you create hope. When you keep a commitment you create trust. Being accountable is how you create trust.

Do I lead like I live?

This is the outflow of integrity. If I’m the same on the inside as I am on the outside then I will lead like I live. I cannot give to others what I do not have.

Do I tell the truth?

This seems like a no-brainer. How can you have credibility if you lie? Notice, I did not ask, “Do I not lie?” I asked, “Do I tell the truth?” There is an ancient proverb that says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” I once attended a meeting of division presidents held by the company’s CEO. I was amazed as I watched everyone around the table nod at everything the CEO said like bobble-heads, except one guy. He spoke up and voiced disagreement when he didn’t like what he heard. Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that guy had become a close adviser to the CEO. Because he had credibility the others lacked. He told the truth.

Am I vulnerable?

This is just another way of telling the truth. Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, says, “We all know that perfection is a mask. So we don’t trust the people behind know-it-all masks. They’re not being honest with us. The people with whom we have deepest connection are those who acknowledge their weaknesses.”

Do I follow the “Golden Rule?”

This is not the version that says, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” This is the true version that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What would happen to families, to communities, to countries, to the world if everyone treated others the way they wanted to be treated? Imagine! The interesting thing about the Golden Rule is that it’s not something you wait for others to do.

Do I deliver Results?

Am I a charger plugged into a device but not plugged into the wall or do I really bring the juice? People usually want to learn from someone who has something to show for their efforts. Here’s another way of looking at it. When we interview someone for a leadership position we ask them questions to determine whether or not they will be a good fit. We are better off asking questions about what they’ve done rather than what they would do. For example, “Could you tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer?” is a better question than, “What would you do if you discovered your customer was angry?” The reason it’s better is that it asks for results the candidate can point to as a way of demonstrating how they might bring the juice in the future.

No one wants to connect with a fake, a blow-hard, a know-it-all, or someone who appears hollow. These are all the opposite of credibility. Connection requires credibility. Credibility means “the quality of being trusted and believed in.” Let’s work toward being credible.

Connect On Common Ground

Last week we talked about the fact that connecting is more skill than natural talent. I shared with you 5 factors that will help you make connections with people.  The bottom line in each of those and any other connection factor is common ground. Finding common ground is what connects you with others. It’s usually pretty easy to spot what makes us all different from each other. But we connect when we find what we share in common.

In his book called Am I Making Myself Clear?  Terry Felber says that people have different representational systems based on the five senses that provide the primary basis for their thoughts and feelings. For example, if several people walked down the beach together, their recollections of the experience would be very different based on their representational system. One might remember how the sun felt on his skin and sand on his feet. Another might remember the look of the water and the vivid colors of the sunset. The third might be able to describe the sounds of the ocean and birds, and another, the smell of the salty air and the tanning lotion of nearby sunbathers. Each of us creates a framework for the way we process information. Felber says, “If you can learn to pinpoint how those around you experience the world, and really try to experience the same world they do, you’ll be amazed at how effective your communication will become.” That’s basically the same thing as saying find common ground.

Four Barriers to Finding Common Ground

What might prevent us from finding common ground with people? John Maxwell, in his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, identifies these four barriers to finding common ground:

Assumption– “I already know what others know, feel, and want.” “All miscommunications are a result of differing assumptions.” —Jerry Ballard.

Arrogance– “I don’t need to know what others know, feel, or want.” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed, “Nine-tenths of the serious controversies that arise in life result from misunderstanding, from one man not knowing the facts which to the other man seem important, or otherwise failing to appreciate his point of view.”

Indifference– “I don’t care to know what others know, feel, or want.” Comedian George Carlin joked, “Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it.”

Control– “I don’t want others to know what I know, feel, or think.”

Four Choices That Will Help You Find Common Ground

Be Present – Spend time with people. How will you ever get to know someone or find common ground if you don’t spend time together? Two subpoints to this one:

  • Be Present Informally – allow yourself to “waste time” with people. The time spent in casual or fun conversation and activity reveals more potential common ground than when it’s all about the work.
  • Be Present Mentally – Connection doesn’t happen by osmosis due to physical proximity alone. You have to get out of your own head (or device) and engage in the moment.

Listen – If you’re on the beach with someone, to use the example from Felber, listen to how they’re describing the experience. Are they seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling? Is that the same experience you’re having? If so, common ground! If not, could you adjust your way of experiencing it to see what it’s like to be them? You have to listen to the other person first in order to find common ground.

Ask Questions – This is another form of listening. In fact, in another post, I call this “listening with your mouth.” Asking questions shows the other person that you’re engaged in the conversation, that you’re interested in what they have to say (in other words, in them), and it helps you find out more about them by inviting them to expand on what they’re saying.

Be Humble – Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. That frees up your mind to think of others more. Humility begins with awareness. Who am I thinking about in this moment? What is my motive for this action? Then it involves a choice. What is the other person thinking about? What are they experiencing? When you make that choice enough times, it becomes a habit. When you habitually think of others first, it becomes your character, how others know you. I put Be Humble last on the list for emphasis because it is really the first step in connecting with people.

Developing Leaders – Release Them

Could you imagine investing the money to buy a thoroughbred racehorse, investing the time and energy into training the racehorse but never letting them out of the gate, never letting them race? Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that? They wouldn’t. But, that’s what leaders sometimes do with the people they lead and are working to develop. They hesitate to let them race.

Last week I wrote that Experience is the 70% component of Leadership Development.  If you’ve got some thoroughbreds in your stable then take the following as advice from an article called, “The Process of Training a Racehorse for the Kentucky Derby.

“Besides conditioning and timing, it is important to get horses used to racing against each other. It is not uncommon for a farm to train their horses together on the track in the morning. This allows the horses to get used to getting bumped by other horses and the dirt flying up in their face, and allows them to learn to be guided to the rail by their jockey.

On Jan. 1, when horses turn three, they are eligible for the Kentucky Derby®. In order for an owner or trainer to get their horse admitted into the “Run for the Roses,” they must enter in a series of qualifying races called the Road to the Kentucky Derby®.

If the colt is then one of the top qualifiers in the series for the Kentucky Derby®, you’ll see them at the starting gate!”

Getting bumped by others, getting used to dirt flying up in their face, and learning to get to the rail is what experience is all about. It’s how leaders learn to win.

Why We Don’t

Some leaders hesitate to release their people into experience. What might cause such hesitation?

  • Lack of Time – leaders focus on getting things done and may not see time available to guide their protégés through the experience they need to grow. So shortsighted – investing the time now will save immeasurable time in the future.
  • “I do it best” – you may be more skilled at a certain task than the people you’re developing. However, if the task is not one you must do and your people can do it 80% as well as you, let them do it. It’s the only way they will get better.
  •  Past Failures – You’ve invested in someone before and they failed. No one I know likes the feelings associated with failure. But, like with anything else, we learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

How We Can

Here are some thoughts to help overcome the specific reasons we hesitate I just mentioned.

  • Use your Calendar – make coaching a recurring entry on your calendar. That is when you will invest focused time and effort into the people you are developing. This is a Covey quadrant 2 activity. It’s important but not urgent. these are often the things that we overlook but could bring the greatest return.
  • Set a Threshold – establish prerequisites for delegating certain tasks. What knowledge or skill must a person demonstrate before you will assign them certain tasks?
  • Use the “Scientific Method” – Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Now we have the electric lightbulb. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. When we fail, we should evaluate what went wrong, learn not to do that again, and construct another experiment using what we learned from the last one.

Racehorses have to race. You’ve walked them around the track and let them stand inside the starting gate (Exposure). You’ve provided them with proper nutrition, guided them in their gate, and taught them when to move to the rail (Education). Now you have to let them race. Release them to do their thing so they can gain the Experience that will make them a champion.

Developing Leaders – Experience

Several years ago the CEO of a large facilities services company, two other top executives of that company, and I did a sales presentation for a large potential client at their headquarters in Pittsburgh. On our way to the presentation, the CEO asked each member of the team, “How long have you been doing this kind of work?” He wanted to (and did) tell the client the number of combined years of industry experience our team represented. The client seemed impressed which pleased the CEO. Notice, that CEO didn’t ask about our education. He asked about experience.

Exposure to new things is valuable. It inspires the desire to learn. It’s worth 20% of an overall leadership development program. Education is necessary for instilling the knowledge and skills for leadership. It’s worth 10% of an overall leadership development program. The remaining 70% of an effective leadership development program should be devoted to experience, giving people real-life opportunities to use their new-found skills/knowledge.

“In the end, the only way for a person to learn leadership is to lead.” –John Maxwell (The Leader’s Greatest Return)

A Case In Point

In his book Bounce, Matthew Syed wrote about the power of practice over talent. He cited a study performed in 1991 by psychologist Anders Ericsson and two colleagues. they studied violinists at the Music Academy of West Berlin. They divided the boys and girls into three groups based on their perceived level of ability:

  • Students capable of careers as international star soloists
  • Students capable of careers in the world’s best orchestras
  • Students capable of careers teaching music

These ratings were based on the opinions of the school professors and the student’s performances in open competition.

What Ericsson discovered was that the biographies of the students in all three groups were remarkably similar. Most began practice at age eight, decided to become musicians right before they turned fifteen, and studied under about four teachers, and had on average studied 1.8 other instruments in addition to the violin. There was no remarkable difference in talent between them when they started. So, what was the difference? Practice time! By age twenty, the bottom group had practiced four thousand fewer hours than the middle group and the middle group had practiced two thousand fewer hours than the top group, which had practiced ten thousand hours. “There were no exceptions to this pattern,” said Syed of Ericsson’s findings. “Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

Helpful Experience

That story could be misleading. It’s not just the number of hours spent doing something that determines one’s level of expertise. The conclusion was that “purposeful practice made the difference. That sounds a lot like what Green Bay Packers legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice or purposeful practice is practice that is guided and coached. If I practice bad habits, they will become a permanent part of how I do things. But, if I practice under the coaching of an expert, they can guide me into getting better.

In the program I helped develop for the healthcare system, we made experience 70 percent of the overall approach. One example is leading a morning huddle. Many healthcare departments begin the day with a brief meeting called a huddle. Huddles usually consist of a standard agenda and last about 10 minutes. It takes some skill to lead a successful huddle.

Our approach was to have new managers sit in on a few huddles to observe and listen to the information and questions. Then we gave them a few lessons on public speaking. Finally, we had them lead huddles with a mentor in the room to provide feedback. The feedback often included the questions, “What went well?” and “What would you do differently next time?” After hearing the answers to those questions, the mentor would then offer their observations in support or redirection of the new manager’s own thoughts.

Repeating that experience several times led to the development of expert skills. The ultimate goal in all this is to develop people to the place where they can develop other people.

Developing Leaders – Education

At some point, there needs to be a classroom. Once you’ve ignited the desire to learn by providing people exposure to real-life situations they will be responsible for, you need to impart the knowledge and skills. Note: throughout the training process, you will engage the help of others. Providing exposure requires the involvement of others and so will education.

Several years ago, when I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to take a class from a man who was the top expert in his field. He was a prolific writer, fluent in 26 languages, he was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to be in his class. I learned from that class that having knowledge and knowing how to effectively impart that knowledge to others is two different things. I spent the class mostly confused. It was a huge disappointment.

Don’t be that teacher. If you’re not skilled at imparting knowledge or skills, enlist the help of those who are. Your organization may have a training department or access to online courses.  Use them. As the expert in your field, you can help develop the content but let those who are experts at education use their skills on your behalf. You’ll still get the connection credit from your trainee for making it all happen.

Education is about more than “instructing.” It’s about facilitating learning. True educators focus on making sure students learn.  People learn in different ways.

Learning Styles

Here are several examples of learning styles:

  1. Verbal – these people learn by using words
  2. Visual – these people learn by using pictures
  3. Musical/Auditory – these people learn by using sounds/rhythms
  4. Physical/Kinesthetic – these people learn by using their hands and body
  5. Logical/Mathematical – these people learn by using logic, reasoning, systems, and sequence
  6. Social – these people learn best in a group
  7. Solitary – these people learn best by themselves
  8. Combination – these people learn in a combination of two or more of these styles

Can you see how different instruction methods are necessary to help people with these learning styles learn?

Levels of Thinking

Another consideration is that people’s level of thinking about a subject will grow and mature. When I spent two years working in an education environment I was introduced to something called “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” It’s a way of understanding levels of thinking. Here it is from lowest to highest:

  1. Remembering – the ability to recall basic facts and basic concepts
  2. Understanding – the ability to explain ideas or concepts
  3. Applying –  the ability to use information in new situations
  4. Analyzing – the ability to draw connections among ideas
  5. Evaluating – the ability to justify a stand or decision
  6. Creating – the ability to produce new or original work

A Simple Outline

As you can see, the field of education is deep and complex. That’s why it’s a great idea to use the resources available to you. Tap into your training department if you have one. Use online tools or send people to classes. Chances are the education available through these resources has been put together with learning styles and levels of thinking in mind.

What if you don’t have such resources, or, you want to build a strong connection by conducting the training yourself? Here’s a simple training outline that can help you cover most of the complexities.

  1. Tell Them – explain what you’re about to teach from beginning to end
  2. Show Them – demonstrate how it should be done
  3. With Them – lead them through the steps with both of you doing the same things at the same time
  4. Watch Them – observe them doing it independently while answering questions and offering coaching at the end
  5. Teach Back – you learn more about something when you have to teach it. Have your trainee teach you what they just learned

Last week we talked about the importance of Exposure. This week we’ve been talking about Education. Most leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the most important training tool. They seem to believe that if you get a diploma or certificate, then you should be ready to go. The truth is that Exposure should make up about 20% of the training experience. Education, while vitally important, should be only about 10% of the overall leadership development plan. Next week we’ll discuss the final component that should make up 70% of how you develop leaders.

Developing Leaders – Exposure

Last week I started a series on developing leaders. I wrote about a project I had worked on with a large healthcare system’s Northern California Region of 21 hospitals. We created a leadership development program for Environmental Services (EVS, the department responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the hospital to prevent the spread of disease) leaders across the region.  Where we started, and what I wrote about last week, was the question, “What knowledge and skills do advanced directors in that department need to have to be successful?”

After identifying the list of knowledge and skills we then asked the question, “How do we help people develop that knowledge and those skills?” The first thing most people think of when asked that question is training. What comes to mind first when we mention training is a classroom, in-person or virtual. But, that’s not where we started.

Forty years ago I read a book that still has an influence on my concepts of leadership development. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s description of that book:

“On March 14, 1948, Douglas Hyde handed in his resignation as the news editor of the London Daily Worker and wrote “the end” to twenty years of his life as a member of the Communist Party. In [his book], Dedication and Leadership, [Hyde] advances the theory that although the goals and aims of Communism are antithetical to human dignity and the rights of the individual, there is much to be learned from communist methods, cadres and psychological motivation. Hyde describes the Communist mechanics of instilling dedication, the first prerequisite for leadership.”

Start With Exposure

If you have children who are or have been in High School, or you remember your High School days, you may remember the question, “Why do I even have to learn this stuff? I’m never gonna use it.” You can fill in the blank with which subject may be referred to by the question. But, do you remember?

A state and/or local body decides what should be in a school’s curriculum for a set of reasons that make sense to them at the time. Students may have some electives within disciplines but largely their responsibility is to show up and learn.  When they don’t understand why they’re learning this or that, motivation to learn is often very low. Only the most internally dedicated students, usually those who see this course as a necessary step toward a larger goal, excel.

The Communist Party, according to Hyde, takes a different approach to teaching new recruits. To instill dedication in new members, one technique of “the party” is to put brand new members on a street corner to hand out party literature. With very little knowledge or experience, they field questions and often endure negative feedback from passers-by. This exposure to the real world creates within the new recruits a strong desire to learn. It gives them questions they want answers to so, by the time they get to a classroom, they are eager to soak up the instruction.

We took a similar approach with the healthcare system’s EVS leaders. We set up the program to begin with Exposure in order to create the desire to learn. In fact, our goal was to focus 20% of the program on exposure opportunities.

Some Examples

One of the competencies for these leaders was “Demonstrates Customer Focus.” In a hospital setting everyone who comes through the door, staff and members/guests, is an EVS customer. A service strategy to address the whole spectrum of customers is to concentrate on service delivered to each of the many departments.

With that in mind, we had new EVS leaders attend the management huddles/meetings of some of the departments they serve. When an EVS manager is present in a meeting of the Surgery department, for example, the opportunity is rarely missed to bring up questions or concerns about between case cleaning, terminal cleaning (at the end of the day, not after someone dies) , or the sterile core, or bio-hazardous waste removal. The new EVS leader may not have the answers to those questions but, s/he  certainly has the motivation to find them. That exposure generates a desire to learn.

Even if those questions don’t come up, the new leaders are exposed to the meeting agenda letting them know what’s important to that department.

We also had them attend various committee meetings. One important committee, of which EVS is always a member, is the Infection Prevention and Control Committee. In those meetings, data and trend analysis about specific types of infections is discussed as well as strategies for preventing them in the future. This committee also reviews and approves procedures and products related to infection prevention including EVS procedures. What a great opportunity to instill a desire to learn about something that may not have been interesting to that new leader without exposure to the committee.

Exposure creates the desire to learn and grow. What are some things you could expose new leaders to in your organization?

Developing Leaders – What Do They Need?

Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a team tasked with developing a leadership training program for the Northern California region of a large healthcare system. This particular project was focused on developing leaders within the Environmental Services departments across 21 hospitals in the region. We were to standardize a plan that would allow people to grow through three levels of leadership (supervisor, manager, director) and transfer seamlessly from one hospital to another. We started from scratch.

We decided to follow the advice of Stephen Covey and “Begin with the end in mind.” Our approach was to begin by identifying the knowledge and skills required of an advanced director asking “What does that leader look like?” Then we worked backward, peeling away one level of advanced competency after another until we arrived at the base requirement for a first-time supervisor. Our team identified 78 specific skills. We categorized them under a list of 14 competencies that reflected the organization’s 9 Core “Total Performance Behaviors.”  This ensured that the program aligned with the organization’s method of evaluating leadership performance.

We then worked on three levels of development for each of the three positions. Whether a person was a supervisor, a manager, or a director, we developed training that focused on

  1. “Foundations” – the basics for that position
  2. “Full Success” – what a proficient person at that level would look like
  3. “Next Level Prep” – which was getting them ready for promotion

Here’s an example

One of the core behaviors this organization wanted to see in their leaders was that they  “Champion Innovation and Change.” Below are the competencies and skills at each developmental level that we identified.

  1. Core Total Performance Behavior – “Champions Innovation and Change”
    1.  Competency 1 – “Models Change Leadership”
      1. Skill 1 – Understands the business need for change. Facilitates the adoption of change through engagement and role-modeling
        1. Foundations
          1. Communicates the case for change to staff
          2. Develops basic change plans to accelerate staff engagement and adoption.
        2. Full Success
          1. Produces comprehensive change plans that include; stakeholder management, plans for engaging staff, plans for early wins, and strategies for building momentum and post-implementation sustainability
          2. Generates buy-in with staff, celebrates their willingness to change, and acknowledges them for great work
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Provides Change Leadership on behalf of the Manager for Service Area wide change initiatives
          2. Implements sustainable changes within the department that become best practices
      2. Skill 2 – Provides Change Leadership for special projects involving labor and management (re-bid / re-balance, new space opening, re-organizing workflows, fixing problems, etc)
        1. Foundations
          1. Knows who to enlist to support the change (staff, HR, Labor Leaders, Department Managers, etc.)
          2. Articulates basic actions needed to move forward with a change
        2. Full Success
          1. Articulates changes that need to happen, and works with stakeholders to determine impacts to the stakeholders and strategies/tactics needed to enlist support (Staff, HR, Labor Leaders, Department Managers etc)
          2. Develops basic project plan and schedule to achieve change
          3. Has delivered special projects
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Develops and negotiates clear roles for all leaders and support functions involved in the change
          2. Creates comprehensive project, risk, and change management plans for special projects.
          3. Has delivered complex special projects
    2. Competency 2 – “Encourages Participation in Change and Innovation”
      1. Skill – Encourages staff to offer ideas about better ways of accomplishing work
        1. Foundations
          1. Creates opportunities and makes time for staff participation and ideas in decision-making about work.
          2. Encourages staff to test new ideas
        2. Full Success
          1. Leverages tests of change and analyzes failures to build sustainable solutions.
          2. Uses both success and failure of tested ideas as learning opportunities for the staff
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Maintains a portfolio of improvements and tests of change planned or underway
          2. Acknowledges improvement ideas offered by staff that have been converted into practice.

Here’s Why

No matter what you want to create or develop, it begins with a clear picture of the finished product in your mind. Whether you’re baking a cake, building a skyscraper, or developing a leader, you start by knowing what the finished product will look like.

That finished product, especially in the case of a leader, will reflect what your organization needs from them. What do you need them to do for you? Once you know that, then you develop the picture of what they need to have and be able to do in order to deliver what you need.

The next several posts will be on the topic of developing leaders. I started where we should start in that process, identifying what they need in order to deliver what your organization needs from someone in that role. Whether or not you’re currently looking for a new leader (hint: you should always be looking for new leaders), I encourage you to invest the time and energy into creating a “what they need” list. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the one we created for that healthcare system, but put some thought into it. It will pay huge dividends.

Leading Change – Part 4

Over the last few posts I’ve written about what causes people to fear change and how to address those fears in a way that helps them buy into you as a leader. Now the question is how do you make change happen? When you recognize the need for change and are aware of the fears that cause people to resist change, what steps can you take to implement the change?

For this I’m borrowing an outline from a very helpful book called, How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results in the Positive, Principled Way, by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. Here are the steps:

F.O.R.M. The Change

The letters in this acrostic represent four questions. Is the change, first, Frameable? Does it fit within the Vision, Mission, and Values of the organization? How can you formulate and focus the change in a way that makes organizational sense? Why is this change happening?

The “O” asks,  “Is this change Obtainable with the current resources?” That’s not necessarily a Go-No Go question. It’s simply necessary to understand what steps may be needed to obtain additional human or other resources to implement the change.

The “R” asks if the change is Repeatable.  In other words, is it stated simply enough to be easily communicated among the people involved. A 1,500-page dissertation may provide a detailed plan to implement a change, but no one will be talking about that over lunch. A short, easy-to-remember statement, like “Four new products by Q4” can easily spread among people.

Finally, is the change Measurable? What ratios will change, or what will you count, to see how the change is progressing? How will you know if the change has been effective?

Communicate the Change

Poor communication is one of the most common complaints in organizations. If communication is important during normal operations, how much more important is it during change? The single most important thing people need to understand in order to get behind a change is, “Why?” When people really understand why a change is happening and buy into it, the rest is downhill. When you combine “why” with the empathy I wrote about last week it becomes a powerful motivator.

You also need to make the “what” clear. Your slogan needs to be understood before it will be repeatable. You don’t have to read the entire dissertation to everyone, but make sure everyone knows enough detail to make sense of what’s happening. Include the “how” and any clarifications around “who” and “where”, be sure to cover all that in your communication. Finally, “By When.” Setting a deadline makes the change more concrete and sets a tone for urgency.

Another important thing to communicate during change is the resources available to people to help them manage the change both professionally and personally. You may have teams of experts, either internal or consultants, available to help people professionally. You may also have an Employee Assistance Program available to help them manage stress. Be sure to communicate this as well as the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why.

Align The Change

Check in with people to see how well aligned they are with the change. Alignment is different from “complyment.” When people comply, they may be doing it because you said so or because there is no alternative. When people align, they get behind the change with a positive attitude about the future.

Ask your people to rate their level of alignment on a scale of 1 – 10. If they say they’re less than 10, take some time to explore what’s keeping them from aligning. Is it a fear you can help them face, or do they need more clarification about the why? This is the opportunity to demonstrate your empathy with them and build their buy-in to you.

Inspect the Change

Build into your change management plan scheduled inspection points along the way. These are opportunities for you to check progress to see if things are on track. If they are, you have an opportunity to celebrate and congratulate. That’s always fun and motivating.

On the other hand, course correction is par for the course in most situations. Did you know that an airplane with a well-laid flight plan is off course over 90% of the time? Weather conditions, turbulence, and other factors cause it to get off track. However, the pilot receives continuous feedback and makes adjustments to get the plane back on the flight plan. Course correction provides learning opportunities and can build resilience among your team.

I wrote last week that creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0.  If you seek to understand the fears and other factors that cause people to resist change, work to help gain buy-in, FORM, Communicate, Align, and Inspect your change, you will be far more successful at passing the test by creating that positive change.

Leading Change – Part 3

Creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. To create change you need buy-in.  “Buy-in” is a phrase that comes from the stock market. It means to purchase shares of a company by which you are not employed. So, you are willing to invest your hard-earned money to bet on the success of a company over which you have no control. You must certainly believe in the prospects of that company if you’re willing to do that. That’s how the phrase came to mean “agreement to support a decision or direction.” Creating change requires that key people buy-in to what you’re proposing with your change idea.

Here’s another interesting point from John Maxwell, “People buy into the leader, then the vision.” That’s what he calls “The Law of Buy-In” from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  If people believe in you, they are more likely to believe in the change you’re trying to create.

How do you get people to buy into you? One way is to demonstrate that you understand their fears associated with change. In my last two posts, I described four fears associated with change.

1. Fear of Awkwardness
2. Fear of Leaving Comfort Behind
3. Fear of Ridicule
4. Fear of Isolation

What are some things a leader can do to demonstrate sensitivity to these fears when introducing change?

Have a Good Reason

People want to understand the “Why?” We can see that from the title of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  Why are you considering this change? Change for change’s sake is not a good idea unless everyone is already bought into the idea and there is usually a creativity reason behind that.

The reason may be as urgent as a “burning platform,” which means the consequences of maintaining the status quo are so dire that change must be embraced. Or, the reason may be far less urgent but equally as important, like a huge opportunity that will bring growth and expansion to your organization.  In either case, people are much more likely to embrace the change when they understand why you are proposing it.

Review the Past

My family has moved several times. We’ve lived in 9 states and one foreign country (so far). Our youngest daughter, Janessa, builds strong friendships with a few people and has had a hard time leaving them when we’ve moved.

Each time we face a new neighborhood and school, she is afraid of not having any friends. We have encouraged her by asking her about the friends she just left behind. “Do you remember when we moved there,” we ask, “do you remember when you first met that friend? You didn’t even know they existed before that day, and now they’re such a good friend.” That will happen again. You will meet new friends and they will become close, too.

Reviewing the past can help face the future. Whether your team or organization has had a history of success to point to, or there has been failure,  the experience of the past can embolden people to face change. Pointing to the past tells people they can do it again. They can experience success or survive failure and be stronger for it, again.

Acknowledge the Pain

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck studied mindset in education. She has found there is a difference between the outcomes of students who have a “fixed mindset” and those who have a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset believes that things like talent and intelligence are fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that through dedication and work, these abilities can be developed and strengthened.

One key is to focus not on how “smart” a child is, but on the effort they put into a certain project. Effort more than outcome encourages growth. “Smart” is fixed, effort can be endless.  That’s why Dweck encourages focusing on effort, to encourage a growth mindset.

The point for our purpose is that when encouraging a growth mindset, we acknowledge that things will be difficult, but we never forecast failure. We say,  “this is going to be a challenge, but I know you/we can do it.” Acknowledging the pain demonstrates your credibility which gives people reason to believe in you. It also lets them know you believe in them.

These three things; having a good reason, reviewing the past, and acknowledging the pain will help alleviate the fears associated with change and set you up well for taking the next steps which we’ll talk about next week.