What’s Your Plan?

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The end of the calendar year brings about performance reviews. Receiving feedback information in any form at any time is an opportunity for reflection, improvement, growth and expansion. When feedback is received, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of a report, debate how true shared comments may be, or immediately begin making excuses. Instead you might begin by dispassionately dividing comments into potential weaknesses and potential strengths. With the items in these two lists, there are a number of ways to move forward to create your own improvement plan for the next year.

Most would rather not focus on weaknesses, so let’s start with the strengths. If you are seen as “meeting expectations” for a skill that could take you to a new level, consider an Enhancement Plan for that skill by focusing your selection of future projects that require using that skill.

If you are rated “above average” on other skills, consider creating a Good to Great Plan by asking to work with someone considered an expert (even better than you) in that skill, take on new responsibilities that test the skill–or be an expert to others. As with all plans, build and share your plans with people who can help you—family, mentors, supervisors, peers, reports.

If you find a weakness that has stopped or may stop your progress, there are many ways to improve these skills. The traditional Individual Development Plan is not intended to move a weakness to a strength—only to reduce the harm done by the weakness. To develop any skill (strong or weak)

      • Set a goal (where do you want to be?)
      • Measure yourself against that goal (the feedback)
      • Know your motivation (a reason to change)
      • Seek out experiences that demand or test that skill (yes, use the skill to strengthen it)

A more sophisticated way to handle a weakness is a Work Around Plan in which you employ the strengths of colleagues to help you get the job done (Be sure to ask them). In contrast, the Substitution Plan employs your other strengths to compensate for weaknesses. (For example, writing memos rather than giving oral presentations.) The purpose is to get the job done effectively. These two plans should be short term and complemented with an Individual Development Plan to bring a career-limiting weakness up to par.  

When performance reviews are overall poor, you might consider a Redeployment Plan to help you apply your skills elsewhere. Or, if you want to keep trying in your current role, consider a full Rerailment Plan. For these plans, you should work closely with your HR representative and your supervisor.

The outcomes of performance reviews are often not clear cut. For example, you may learn that your perceived number one asset is actually seen by others as a detractor. In this case, you may be overusing this strength and should consider a Redirection Plan in which you learn to manage your superior skill in this area to make it easier for others to handle your strength. If you find that others are not aware of your self-perceived number one asset, perhaps you need a Marketing Plan that gives you the opportunity to prove your ability and close the perception gap. Similarly, if your skill set does not appear to match your role, a Skills Transfer Plan may be required to show your value in another area.

Perhaps from the feedback, you are surprised that others think so highly of you. In this case, a Confidence Building Plan requires assistance from mentors, supervisors or peers. For really confusing cases, you may need a Diagnostic Plan in which the plan is to collect more data.

There are many ways to respond to feedback, and many plans can apply to the same data set. Reviews provide professional and personal growth opportunities. Ignoring the feedback is a Capitulation Plan—in which you can plan to stay where you are.

Whatever you do, plan to do something with this opportunity.  

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Little Red Wagon

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The combination of “yes, and” is an awesome tip for creativity and problem-solving that originated with improvisational acting. In order to keep a storyline going, the actor must agree (yes) with the premise that is presented to them and then add to the storyline (and).

 

“The boy pulled a little red wagon with rocket engines attached to each side…”

“Yes, (usually silent) and in the little red wagon, was a dog wearing a helmet…”

 

Improvisational acting translates well to the workplace in the form of creative problem-solving in a group and active listening. Creative problem-solving means exploring an idea to its end without judgement. Active listening means hearing what the other person says and not choosing how to respond until after the other person has finished speaking.

In improvisational acting, the actor giving the prior statement sets the direction and the following actor must follow that lead in order for the storyline to be successful.

 

Imagine if the following actor was not actively listening…

“The boy pulled a little red wagon with …”

“broken wheels…”

That sure takes the story in a different direction.

 

Imagine if the following actor did not want to follow the creative direction set by the first actor:

“The boy pulled a little red wagon with rocket engines attached to each side…”

“No, let’s make it a bicycle…”

How does the next actor respond? How does this help the conversation move forward?

 

A common phrase in our daily conversation is “yes, but”:

“The boy pulled a little red wagon with rocket engines attached to each side…”

“But the rocket engines did not work…”

This might be true, but it probably doesn’t encourage the first actor that the second actor wants to follow the train of thought.

 

“No” and “yes, but” are useful for identifying the correct and accurate facts, or for narrowing down a creative problem-solving conversation. They are not phrases that encourage openness and exploration. “No” and “yes, but” words limit conversation–they do not invite open conversation. Open conversation is critical when a group is trying to be creative. The divergent phase is a broadening phase in which all ideas should be explored. If someone wants to come back and start the premise as a bicycle rather than a wagon, then indeed this should be done—but only after the little red wagon with rocket engines has been fully explored.

Let this note be the opening line. I would love to hear your “yes, and” responses.

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Goodhart’s Law

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Many organizations are choosing to do away with performance reviews because they are found to be ineffective. That they are done poorly by managers is one reason. Goodhart’s Law may be another.

This week I met with Jamil, a regional sales manager, to talk about measuring the impact of his training program that is focused on developing behaviors to support better sales. Surprisingly, Jamil did not believe that metrics were valuable. At first, I thought he believed the training program or people were so good they did not need to be measured. However, it became clear that Jamil was struggling with setting performance measures that actually got him what was wanted from the sales force.

I’ve said it myself. “What gets measured, gets done”. In other words, measuring a desired behavior tends to promote the desired behavior. However, there’s a dark side to this mantra. It’s possible that the measure actually becomes the target—and that’s all you get.  This is known as Goodhart’s Law:

“When a measure becomes the target, it ceases to be a good measure”.

Thanks to Jono Hey from Sketchplanations for this week’s inspiration.

For those who need jokes explained:

  • You are striving to achieve a difficult-to-define goal, G.
  • You formulate G* which is not G because it is more simple and more explicit than G. G* is a legitimately correlated indicator of G being achieved.
  • Your team is given the target G*.
  • As time goes on, every means of achieving G* is pursued because the system is set up so that a team member, the team, (and generally organizations) that aim at maximizing G* have a “competitive” advantage over those trying to juggle both G* and G. Competitive advantage because G* is the rewarded performance metric.
  • Eventually the correlation between G* and G completely breaks down.

You, like Jamil, might decide that measurement is hopeless.

Applied to this sales situation, for example, Jamil indicated that one desirable behavior is to make new account calls, and a common metric is to measure the number of calls made in a day This measure became the sole focus of the sales force and Jamil saw a drop in revenue generated. As a result of the focus on this one metric, there was likely little focus on taking the time to build rapport, for example, with the potential customer because the motivation was to get on to the next call—the number of calls is what is being measured.

On the opposite end of the sales continuum, Jamil could simply measure the number of units sold. If I were the customer, there’s no one I’d rather buy from than a sales person whose performance is measured by the number of units sold. These are the easiest with whom to negotiate as price is not the measure. “Well, I’ve got a deal for you”, they might say.

Few metrics are immune to Goodhart’s Law. A good indication is to ask if one can achieve the goal without actually adding any value to the system whatsoever. In that  case, the goal is susceptible. Pick any one of the performance metrics in your area, and see if it’s possible to score a perfect on G* and not move the needle on G.

Some will get frustrated when this happens and choose to do away with metrics altogether. Focusing solely on the “big G” goal. But that goal is really hard to define. It is hard to know if the behaviors being done day-to-day across an organization are actually moving you toward the goal (G) and how fast. Performance metrics are valuable leading indicators to tell us and others if we are headed in the right direction, giving us time to adjust as needed. Without them, the workplace can be chaotic with people moving in many directions and the managers spending a lot of time wondering if team members are actually making progress fast enough toward G and whether adjustments should be made.

There is no solution to Goodhart’s Law. How do we deal this?

For Jamil, the first was to recognize there is language to explain what he was feeling. This has been seen before. The second was to start recognizing that many organizations are more focused on G* than on G. Educational institutions and hospitals (think large, ambiguous goals with lots of behavioral measures) are classic places where Jamil found Goodhart’s Law in play.  But look at your own self, family, team and organization too. This awareness is powerful. Third for Jamil was acceptance.

We invoke following the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law when we feel someone has gamed the system. This too was Jamil’s attitude. In our first conversation, Jamil pined that his team should understand and follow the spirit of the performance goals, not the letter of the goals. This, however is a complex conversation that requires a lot of dialogue to understand the nuances and intentions, meaning, purpose and motivations. In a complex organization alignment at all of subtle points is near impossible. Groups who choose to have no performance review must follow this path.

Jamil has found that a “balanced scorecard” is a way to get closer to what he wants to develop great conversation. For example, on his balanced scorecard Jamil set one goal as the number of new business calls and another goal as the number of follow up calls with those clients; the number of units sold and profitability on those units. Think safety and speed. Think quantity and volume. These examples are in total opposition of one another. It is this paradox that creates conversation about setting realistic goals for each metric. More measures of this type give you a performance closer to “G”—closer to what you really desire; reduces potential for abuse, and a better understanding of the tradeoffs being made by focusing one goal over another.

Any measure is imperfect. Some are better than others. This is not a perfect for Jamil, but he has brought him team in to discuss the impossible scorecard he has created. The conversation will be rich.

Look around your own space for those G* metrics that can be gamed. How could you balance at that measure?

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Destination Known

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Imagine the calamity. The ship captain stands at the bow of his ship to make a grand proclamation. All ship-hands, from the cook to the deck scrubbers, riggers and oar-men, stand at attention. “I have good news, and I have bad news”. The crew listens intently. “The good news is that we are ahead of schedule to complete our trip. The bad news is that I am not sure where we are going”.

Can your team relate to this story? How does this happen? Did you (the captain) forget where you were headed? Did you forget to be clear before you left? Has your team (the individual crew members) done what they thought best based upon where they thought you were leading them?

Whether as the team-leader or the team member, we get caught up in our day-to-day activities of getting to our destination, choose to ride with the winds of fortune, or we hit a big storm, we can forget where we were originally headed. No matter the reason for not having a clear destination, the fault ultimately lays with the team leader. This lack of team leadership leads to wasteful activity and frustration on your part, on the part of your team–and your boss. You can avoid this by checking your course and checking often. Making sure daily activities are aligned with the team’s objectives is often referred to as alignment in which each team member knows how their individual activity supports the larger success of the team.

  • Begin by knowing the role of your team in the context of the larger team or division of which it is a part–that is, know how your success fuels success for the larger group of which you are a part.
  • Secondly, specifically identify the objectives of your team in that context. What are the deliverables of your team that support the larger purpose?
  • Know how your team will fulfill those objectives. Ideally, the strategy for fulfilling these objectives is created by all the team members (after all, you have them on your team for their expertise).
  • Even if you made a top down strategy decision, a measure of success is that each member of your team can articulate the team’s basic strategy for success, and they must be able to give the definition of success for that team in terms of deliverable objectives.

In order to align individual team members’ activities with the team’s objectives and strategy, some managers will go so far as make a list of team objectives on one side and a list of individual team member activities or projects on the other. (Or ask team members to do this.) If you (or they) are unable to draw a solid line between a project and an objective consider refocusing or eliminating that project. This kind of activity is an additional means to drive home the point that projects and their associated activities must be in support of a shared and pre-determined objective. Whenever an individual makes a choice of how to use their time or create a product, for example, they should be measuring how impactful that choice is toward meeting the objectives of their team. This is a powerful means by which to set priorities when our schedule is overloaded.

Even though they knew the message in the beginning, the crew must be constantly motivated by their captain with a reminder of the objectives and the definition of success. Additionally, given the rough seas of customer needs, reorganization, occasional threats of mutiny, and budgetary winds failing to fill the sails, we must also constantly revisit the original objectives and strategy in order to keep the team and individual activities aligned and within the context of their next higher level. While the ship does have a steering wheel, it is critical that the change of direction be purposeful and toward a destination known by all.

*For additional seafaring inspiration, see O Captain! My Captain! –by Walt Whitman, 1900 or Invictus–by William Ernest Henley, 1888

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Dependency

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Imagine the relationship that exists between you and your supervisor. Your supervisor depends upon you to deliver results, and then you depend upon your supervisor for direction or resources or to remove obstacles. Sometimes, you can feel overly dependent on your supervisor. At other times, you can feel a bit of resentment toward your supervisor. Both of these conditions over a long period of time can lead to an unhealthy relationship. Keeping a balance of mutual dependence requires work from both members of this relationship. This mutual dependence also exists between you and your direct reports, but for now let’s focus on your dependence as a report toward your supervisor.

It’s normal in the beginning of a relationship for us to be somewhat dependent on our supervisor who might be more experienced or knowledgeable. Deference may also be a sign of respect until we get to know one another. However, it is expected that we will eventually (probably sooner rather than later) think independently and to appropriately challenge team members and our supervisor. If we maintain a completely compliant stature, we are doing our boss and ourselves a disservice.

The belief that your supervisor is all-knowing, wise and infallible is wrong. The belief that your supervisor does not need to hear your opinion is wrong. When you are over-dependent on your supervisor, you are preventing the team from reaching their maximum potential and you are limiting your own potential.

You were hired to contribute. If you see a wrong decision, you are obliged to speak up. It is the exception, not the rule, that a supervisor will not hear out an alternative opinion. In fact, most supervisors will welcome input to help with their decision-making. If you have an unrealistic view of the capacity of your supervisor to make perfect decisions, you will be highly disappointed when they do not. If you chose not to contribute to that decision, this emotion would be inappropriate, but that is how you will feel. This kind of unreal expectation leads to disappointment, frustration, and even anger—by both you and your supervisor.

Over-dependency also puts unreal expectations on your supervisor to watch over your career by providing regular feedback, developmental opportunities, protection from other teams or team members, and promotion when the time comes. These are not solely up to you, but they are surely not solely up to your supervisor. If you expect this and it doesn’t happen—well– see above.

On the opposite end of the dependency continuum is counter-dependency. Counter-dependency is a feeling of not needing the supervisor at all. Often counter-dependency is a reaction to feeling constrained by the decisions or opinions of our supervisor. The instinctive response to these limitations can be to resent the boss’ authority and rebel against decisions. As a result of this resentment, we might start view our boss as authoritarian, escalate conflict beyond what is appropriate and position the boss as the organizational enemy—someone who as a result of their role alone is a hindrance to progress, an obstacle to worked around or to at best, be tolerated. If we act on this attitude, the boss does become the enemy and sensing the latent hostility the boss loses trust and gives up helping—seemingly corroborating our negative attitude. Interestingly, perhaps in an effort to not be “like our boss” or from the protective stance, those of us showing counter-dependence tend to be loyal and protective supervisors of their own teams.

Based on our past experiences (usually with past supervisors) we all walk into supervisor-subordinate relationships with a tendency toward over-dependence or toward counter-dependence. Awareness of these extremes and the range between them can be useful for knowing where our predispositions fall and subsequently, their implications on our attitude and behavior toward our boss. If you believe that you have tendencies for counter-dependency it’s probably possible to predict your reactions and overreactions to your boss, their decisions and opinions. If you have tendencies toward over-dependence you might examine the extent to which over-compliance or lack of willingness to confront differences might be making you, your boss and your team less effective.

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Slow Down to Reduce Bias

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It is a competitive advantage to recognize, value and leverage the diversity and differences that exist within an organization. Greater inclusion in the workplace has been shown to drive higher engagement levels and performance which in turn always support business goals. 

Unfortunately, differences are not always embraced. Managers often lead through the lens of several types of unconscious bias. An unconscious bias relates to the attitudes, beliefs and opinions about people that operate outside our awareness, yet they have a significant impact in determining our judgement and our behavior towards others. Biases are formed through culture, personality, and individual and work experiences. While a bias is not necessarily a problem, it can become one if it prevents a leader from behaving in an impartial way. 

Here are four types of commonly occurring biases that can have a significant impact on achieving business goals:

  Definition      Example    
Homophily  ‘Love of the same’ – the tendency to associated with people like us.   “Tom is likely to be great for the role; he went to the same university I did.”
In-group vs.

Out-group

People who share our particular qualities are included in the ‘In’ group = US Those who do not share the same qualities form part of the ‘Out’ group = THEM We need to feel part of a group, and we treat those in it more favorably than those who are not. Mark and Dave play golf with Fred, the CEO. They also have been awarded the most prestigious accounts lately and have had opportunity to present to the Board. Sam can’t play golf and while he is at the same managerial level, he hasn’t been afforded the same opportunities.
Stereotype  Stereotypes are over-simplified opinions that do not account for individual differences. There’s no point promoting women as they will all just leave and have kids anyway. Men are better at negotiating tough deals. Gen Y employees are demanding and feel entitled to promotions without working for them.
Confirmation The tendency to search for or interpret information and behaviors in a way that confirms what we already believe.  “Jack’s only been here 6 months and he already wants a pay rise. I told you all Gen Y employees just feel they deserve everything right away.”

Source: http://www.fastlead.com.au/

Each individual; each situation is unique. However, our brains are not wired to think of people or situations as individually unique. It is stated that at any moment we are being hit with some 11 million pieces of information. Our mind can only process 40 pieces at a time. Our brains are just not wired to automatically detect and respond to the many aspects that make each person and situation different. The source of our thinking speed is the that our brains automatically sort and group the incoming data. (For example, read about typoglycemia and try it for yourself.) When we approach a new situation, our brain uses past experiences to make assumptions and does so very fast—without (conscious) thinking. This is the source of unconscious bias. Of course, these assumed correlations (in contrast to causations) are usually wrong. But we do it anyway.  

Toward our limited capacity, and to simplify communication, we openly create these categorizations about generations, about cultures, leaders, where you grew up, and we do it about gender. Intellectually, we know these generalizations are about as wrong as they are right. The differences of communication style, negotiation and persuasion skills and relationship building are as much the same in any two groups as they are different. Yet our generalizations persist.

The key to keeping balance between our limited brain capacity and the truth is for each of us to admit we have and then challenge our unconscious biases.  

Unconscious bias does not apply only to women and to men. It’s too easy to dismiss gender issues by bringing up other generalizations about race, culture or education, to name a few. And you would be right. We need to pay attention to those unconscious biases too. But the lessons learned from current conversations on gender bias might give us insight to working better on our own unconscious bias in this space and other places where we differ from our work colleagues.

Until we get build or evolve better mental processes, we need to consciously challenge our unconscious biases. One business case for paying more attention to gender bias is that a full half of our workforce is—that is, could be women, but it is not. And no matter the type of unconscious bias, we leaders are missing something that could improve our business outcomes.

From my viewpoint, there are many examples of women proactively working to improve/adjust skills to better relate to male colleagues. (Can you read all of those generalizations?) Men are doing the same, and I recommend, “One: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality”, by Julie Kratz.

How do we work through unconscious bias? By doing just that–let more sentences end with question marks. Yes, slow down our brain and take in more and better data by actually asking questions to get new and probably more correct information about the other person.  Toward gender bias, I again cite Julie Kratz:

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A Mental Vacation

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One outcome of getting away—taking a vacation—is to realize there is more than one way to do things.

A friend of mine just came back from volunteer service in Kenya. This was how he chose to use 2 weeks of his three weeks of allocated vacation. His task in Kenya was to help install a water pump and water-holding tank. As my friend described his experience and the lifestyle and culture of the village where he volunteered, he also reflected on our own lifestyle and culture.

This kind of experience can be transformative. The transformation begins when we the experience jars us out of our unconscious and makes us aware of our ourselves in our daily life. It’s what we choose to do with that awareness that maximizes the value of the experience.

In my friend’s situation, the lifestyle of the Kenyan village was so different, it was easy to be jarred out of his unconsciousness, and due to the stark contrast, develop a greater appreciation of how good life has been for him. In this case, I think there will be a change in how much my friend appreciates water and he’ll choose to use less of it as a result.

It does not have to be such an extreme experience to have this kind of learning. Visiting another country, another part of our own country, another city or meeting new people in town can be an opportunity to realize there is more than one way to live life & more than one way to do things. Some of these experiences, not all, will impact us and change our behaviors—even in small ways.

Can we get this kind of transformative experience without going away? Literally, yes. Figuratively, no. We need to get out of ourselves in order to look inside.

How do we do that? What if we chose to take a mental vacation—a vacation in which our body does not leave, but our mind travels? In this way we gain the benefit of perspective, but don’t have to go away. At work this could be as simple as getting to know the people another department at work, what they do and how they do it; talking with peers who do the same job as you–just differently. Or it might just be in the meeting in which someone brings up a new idea and you choose to mentally “visit” their way of seeing the world.

This small vacation might be the beginning of a transformation.

Like an exotic vacation, this mental vacation is voluntary. There is no harm in visiting, and you can always come back. This form of staycation is a time out from our way of living and doing. Relax and enjoy.  It is an opportunity to see another way of living and doing.

 

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Activity is Not the Same as Action

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The words “activity” and “action” are often used interchangeably.  However, when it comes to workplace productivity and meeting our personal and professional goals, they should not be confused.  Examine the definitions of these words.

ac-tiv-ity:  1.  The quality or state of being active.  2.  Energetic movement.  3.  Natural or normal function.  4.  A pursuit in which a person is active.  5.  A state of motion.  Synonyms:  exercise, motion, functioning, operating, busy.

ac-tion:  1.  The bringing about of an alteration.  2.  A manner or method of performing an act of will.  3.  Behavior producing a result or outcome.  4.  A physical change, as in position, mass, or energy.   5.  A manifestation of intention.  Synonyms: achievement, deed, performance.

Activity does not imply anything about results or outcomes.  Activity is merely a “state of motion” and being “busy”.  Action, in contrast, is a “behavior producing a result or outcome”.  An action is an “intentional” behavior to bring about a specific “performance”.  

Do we spend more time on activity or on action?  

There are times when I always seem to be sorting papers, filing forms, making phone calls or answering email.  These periods cause frustration, because even though I am busy, in the end, I don’t feel any more productive—that is, no closer to meeting my performance goals.  

Examine the following models to see which better fits your time allocation.

In the activity model, we invest little time imagining or inventing the future or focusing on the intended results.  Our attention, rather, is placed on identifying their immediate problems.  We invest by far the greatest amount of time working on solutions to the immediate (and usually easier to solve) problems or needs.  This results in a future driven by activity or re-activity and moves us no closer to our goals.

In the action model, our attention is placed upon a vision for future outcomes, which in turn determines our needs, and results in actions that must be taken to move us closer to our goals.  Further, within the action model, we may apply the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of productivity comes from 20% of your actions.  Making good action choices can move us much closer to our much quicker.

These thoughts are not limited to the workplace.   Consider how you spend your time at home.  Are you meeting your personal goals with your lifestyle and family, or are you just busy?

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Political Competence

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Leading change through other people can be a long and complicated process. For your benefit, I’ve tried to take one model for leading change and make it short, at least. This is a pretty dense summary of how to practice political competence. This phrase may turn some people off, but it is the correct word for getting to know how to influence other people by meeting them where they are rather than asking them to meet you where they are. Bite a piece of this essay off for a closer examination of your own process for leading change through others.   

A key leadership competency is the ability to take ideas and translate them into action. To do this, a leader needs political competence.  Knowing how to bring others along with you (especially when you do not have authority) is how real change gets made.  Outlined below are steps* you might consider in your strategy to lead your next idea from thought to reality.

Know your approach.  Are you a planner or an improviser?  When you consider a change, do you think each step that need to take place before reaching your goal; consider the past as a direct indicator of future performance; that the answer can be found in the data?  Or, assuming that the future is unpredictable, do you wait to see what will happen with this decision before you move on to make the next decision?

Know your strategy. Is your method to work around the edges of the defined problem by making small but necessary changes, or is your method a major shift in the way of thinking for your group?  Depending upon the problem to be solved (and the individual) solutions can have “tinkering goals” or solutions can have “overhauling goals”.

Know your style.  Combining approach and strategy, there are four leadership styles. (See Figure)  The resistance brought about by change is not whether or not  a change should happen, but the resistance is actually to the approach to the change and the scale of the change.

Know your stakeholders.  Take serious time to list everyone who has an interest in, an opinion about or influence over the change that you want to make.  Think upward, think downward and think of your colleagues in other departments.  Think outside the organization.

Know your stakeholders’ style.  Considering their past initiatives, do your stakeholders tend to be planners or improvisers; tinkerers or overhaulers?  Stakeholders with the same style as you tend to be allies in change.  Those in an opposite quadrant are the most likely resistors.  Those who share goals, but have different approaches are more likely allies, and those who share approaches but have different goals are more likely to be resistors.  

Build a coalition.  Start with those who share your style, but be careful to not be accused of creating a cult or fall into ‘group thinking’.  Then find interest groups who share your goals, but don’t get accused of grandstanding.  Find leaders with similar approaches, but don’t get accused of conspiracy.  Use a balance of all three strategies to diversify your base and reduce the resistance.

Justify your actions. There are several possible methods to engage potential allies.  “Rational” (logical) methods are those that rely on upon numbers–usually $ or data to make a case.  The “mimicking” strategy takes the fewest resources to promote and to understand.  The motivation is that “everyone is doing it”.  “Regulation” strategy blames others who are the forcing change.  While it might be true, this strategy has limits.  Similar, , the “expectations” strategy considers the stakeholder norms and standards and the need to comply.    

Gather buy-in.  Engaging potential resistors requires greater persuasive techniques.  Informal persuasion allows you to probe individuals to determine what motivations may move them to your side before introducing your own.  Formal negotiations require you to openly request their support.  A platform of one or few motivations results in a narrow coalition.  Broader coalitions are built on multiple motivations and on strategy, but run greater risk of rejection.  

Lead Now you have followers–you are the leader.  A leader must continue to solidify the coalition, working out differences between themselves and team members and between team members, while continuing to increase the coalition.  This happens until a tipping point is reached in which your idea becomes the “new norm”.

Political competence begins with an awareness of the processes by which you influence others to adopt your ideas.  Political competence does not require a position title.  The most important component of political competence is credibility which, among other needs, requires personal integrity.  

*Steps adapted from Get Them on Your Side, Dr. Samuel Bacharach, Platinum Press, 2005

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Culture is Like Air

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When Sataya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft in 2014 one of his first actions was to have the top executives read the book, “Nonviolent Communication” (Marshall Rosenberg, 2003). This was Nadella’s first move to change the culture at Microsoft.

Culture is kind of like air. It’s there. We just don’t think about it 99% of the time. Only when the air quality (or quantity) changes do we take note.

The previous culture at Microsoft was one of “showing how smart you were”, according to Brad Smith, the president at Microsoft. “…that meant trying to discern the answers before the meeting began and then being tested on whether your answers were right.” This kind of collaboration tends to be one that promotes conflict and defensiveness.  In many work places, and I assume Microsoft, these behaviors are acceptable because it is done in the name of good things– doing your best, quality and perfection.  

Culture tends to be everywhere—like air, for example–even in the smallest places that we wouldn’t expect it to pervade—we can find it. It takes significant work hard to get the air out of things.  What happens when a culture pervades every aspect of an organization–when the culture becomes air-based? Is there really only one way to do things? If we are unaware of the way we do things, then yes, there tends to be only one way that things get done.  How do we get the culture out of places it doesn’t work?  

The new culture that Nadella wanted and has built is one of empathy. Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to better understand their point of view.  Empathy builds better harmony in the workplace, but it seems to have also helped Microsoft get a better handle on consumer needs and desires—all the way through the organization.   

We tend to not pay attention to the culture when it is working for us. The abundance and kind of air are working for us at the moment so we really don’t pay much attention. We tend to assume it will always be there, and that our way of doing is the only way to operate. Then the water rises.

In the case of Microsoft, Nadella, was put at the head of an organization that at the time was well-known as a “hive of corporate infighting” and “fading toward irrelevance”. In the three and half years since Nadella began as CEO, Microsoft has generated more than $250 billion in market value, putting them in the top brackets with Amazon and Facebook. This success is credited to a culture of “learn-it-all” curiosity as opposed to the old culture of “know-it-all”.  

When we recognize the way things get done—that is, our culture– then we can choose to continue doing it that way or we can choose to do something different. There’s air and there’s water. There’s the way we do things, and there are other ways.  

My guess is that the “know-it-all” culture had pervaded every aspect of the organization, not just meetings with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (former CEOs). Because this approach was as pervasive as air, I imagine that at no level in the organizations were there meetings for example, in which potential new ideas were bounced around because no one was willing to get roasted because they did not have every answer worked out before they presented. Bouncing around ideas is just “not what we do around here”. In the “learn-it-all” culture, there would be opportunity for exploratory creativity and innovation and products that better meet consumer demand.

While Nadella’s empathy culture is a dramatic shift, he is willing to admit that it is not the only way to do things. Toward that end, Nadella has asked Bill Gates, who has stayed as an advisor, to increase the time he devotes to giving technical feedback to product teams.

This move by Nadella, I believe, epitomizes the power of knowing your culture. As a result of knowing his culture, Nadella is able to manage the  culture. By knowing what the culture is—specifically how we typically behave—make decisions, communicate, reward, discuss new ideas, find new employees, etc.—only then are we able to choose whether or not it is the right behavior for the situation.  

Overall, Nadella, wanted a different kind of behavior, but he recognized the value in sometimes not doing it in the same way when the conditions called for a different kind of behavior.

Every company has a culture. Every team within that company has a culture. Highly influenced by the company, but still unique to the history and members of the team.  As a manager, you can take the time to describe your culture, to recognize it. Decide with purpose if the behaviors that make up your culture are the right behaviors or not the right behaviors for the given situation or perhaps at all.

The information on Microsoft was drawn from an article in “Fast Company” October 2017, pp 51-58, 98-99.  

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