Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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The DOs and DON’T’s of Dealing With Ongoing Turbulence

Categories: Cutting to the Chase

In this series, I am talking about how to respond to a client who wants you to give him or her a straightforward, broad perspective of what an organization will have to do to fully realize the goals of a large change initiative. In my last post, I shared some suggestions for answering the question, “What is a realistic set of expectations I should have about embarking on this change?” In this post and the next, I’ll share my answer to the second question:

“Can you give me some general DOs and DON’Ts that will likely apply to what we’re facing?”

I find that clients tend to ask this sort of question when facing an unending barrage of transitions…when disruptive change becomes their norm rather than a periodic occurrence. This is a person who wants to ready himself or herself for an era of change, not simply a change event.

What follows is a list of some of the issues I raise when executives ask how they can best withstand the pressures of ongoing change.  A reminder: As was the case when answering the first question, these are not all the items that could be discussed, nor is it necessary to use all of the ones I’ve included with any one client. Think of this as a menu of opinions to choose from in order to select the right ones to fit the circumstances at hand.  

Additionally, any inventory of Dos and Don’ts comes with hazards. In this case, if we’re not careful, these two Ds come dangerously close to sounding like rules. Unyielding formulas and prescriptions are counter-productive during significant turmoil, so it’s important to help the client use items from this list prudently. This applies to any single item or the entire list.

The dynamics of human transition don’t lend themselves to anything rigid, including advice about how to maneuver the uncertainties of change. Instead of rules, what people need during relentless transition are generalized patterns from which they can draw guidance. Patterns with related principles for navigating them provide ample structure but still leave plenty of interpretative room to accommodate the realities of shifting landscapes. It’s in a client’s best interest to see the DOs and DON’Ts listed below as lessons learned from those who have gone before and use them as a source of influence, not as directives to be strictly followed. 

The DOs of Dealing With Ongoing Turbulence (What to Start or Enhance)

  1. Be honest with yourself and your employees regarding the increasing turmoil that lays ahead…work will likely become more multifaceted and challenging in the future, not less.
  2. Think of things that appear stable as really being composed of rhythms or fluctuations—waves of movement that form predictable patterns.
  3. Take some of the mystery out of change by learning to understand its patterns and dynamics.
  4. Pay as much attention to “how you learn” as “what you know.”
  5. Invest as much in “who you are” as you do in “what you do.”
  6. Develop your “tolerance-for-ambiguity muscle.” (It can never be too strong.)
  7. Operate on the basis that anything that looks like “the answer” will be more expensive and less durable than it first appears.
  8. Look for paradoxes within what first looks like contradictions.
  9. Slow down (do things right the first time) in order to move faster through change.
  10. Use the core values that are most precious to you as your primary internal reference point for making key decisions.
  11. Ensure that your contribution each day is greater than the resources you consume.
  12. Rely more on courage and discipline than tools and techniques.
  13. Treat all feedback as your ally, particularly that which you least want to believe is true.
  14. Be in service to something larger than your own self-interest.
  15. Be truthful—with yourself about yourself, with yourself about others, with others about themselves, and with others about you.
  16. Spend as much time considering whether people can absorb a change as you do determining if it’s the right thing to do and whether you can afford it.
  17. Learn to distinguish between the last remnants of an outdated point of view and the new threads of an emerging perspective. (They both reside within uncertainty and often look the same.)
  18. Trust that the best way to impact others is to work on yourself first.
  19. Don’t just build a new solution; help people see the old solutions as obsolete.
  20. Get a grip. You can pay for getting what you want, or pay for not having what you want—either way, you get an invoice.
  21. Trust relationships (partnerships, teams, constituencies, communities, etc.) more than hierarchy.
  22. Rely on discovery and extraction as much as invention and formulation to find your answers.
  23. Foster an environment where things can emerge on their own instead of constantly needing direction.
  24. Have confidence that whatever happens is in everyone’s best interest, even when the results are far different—and may appear less beneficial—than you anticipated.
  25. When facing key junctures, ask this question: “What is our end-game and is this action/decision the best way to get there?”
  26. Protect the integrity of your commitments by not over-extending yourself. (For every substantive “yes,” there should be more than one “no.”)
  27. Nurture the “anchors” in your life—family/friends, personal/spiritual development, physical fitness, etc. (They provide the stable foundation from which to venture into uncertainty.)
  28. See yourself as not only a sponsor for specific endeavors but also as a strategic architect for the organization’s overall nimbleness.
  29. Operate on the basis that the organization’s capacity to absorb change is a limited and highly valued strategic asset that must be protected for initiatives with the highest priority.
  30. Face the reality that paradigms aren’t replaced by consensus. (It takes strong, tenacious sponsors willing to make some very unpopular decisions on occasion.)
  31. Learn to distinguish problems (those situations that can be resolved if you are willing to do what is necessary for them to disappear) from dilemmas (those situations that must be either endured or managed because they are inherent in a situation).
  32. Measure yourself by how many people are succeeding in unfamiliar circumstances, instead of by how many of them are comfortable with what is happening.
  33. Surround yourself with strong, emotionally mature people with an influential presence who are honest, dedicated to providing value, clear about their life’s purpose, and direct and explicit in their actions and communications.

In my next post, I will address the “Don’ts” of dealing with ongoing turbulence.

Go to the beginning of the series.

Posted on: May 29, 2012 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cutting to the Chase

Categories: Cutting to the Chase

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”    —Sandra Carey

“Let’s Cut to the Chase”

What if a senior-level client called you into her office; closed the door and said something like this:

As you know, we are about to kick off an extremely challenging and risky enterprise-wide initiative. The organization’s future is riding on it. This one can’t fall short of the intended outcomes or there will be implications none of us want to deal with.

Because it’s so important that we get this right, I would like you to be my lead change agent. Before we get started, though, I want you to do something for me. I need an unvarnished, bottom-line picture of what we’ll have to contend with to fully realize this project.

Let me save both of us some time here. I don’t want a lot of change management mumbo-jumbo about how each situation is different and it’s important not to prejudice your opinion with foregone conclusions. I know you haven’t had time to dive into the particulars but that’s just the point. I’m not asking you to second-guess all the gory details. I want a broad perspective, a more generalized view of what it takes to pull something like this off.

After you’ve had time to do some front-end work, you can come back with a diagnosis of our implementation risk and a mitigation plan. For now, I want the council of your wisdom, not a precise analysis.

I get that you don’t want to apply untested assumptions about our situation or engage in prefabricated solutions. I appreciate your professionalism in that regard…I really do. Nonetheless, at this point, what I need is an order-of-magnitude view of what we are about to launch.

So, I have two questions:

1. In general, what expectations should I have about embarking on a change intended to transform our business?

2. This won’t be the last major change we face. In fact, the next few years are going to be extremely hectic for us. Can you give me some general DOs and DON’Ts that will likely apply to what we’ll face?

Give it to me straight, what has your experience taught you that I should be prepared for?

How would you respond to these questions? I suspect some of you have dealt with similar inquiries from leaders wanting to brace themselves for the change journey. I have, and in this and the next two posts, I’ll share some of my thoughts and impressions.

Question 1: In general, what should I expect when embarking on a change intended to transform our business?

Below, I’ve listed some key assumptions about the change process when the intent is to achieve a dramatic leap forward. This is not an inclusive list, but it reflects the kinds of things I tend to emphasize when leaders want to know what the journey will require of them.

I don’t use all of what is listed here when talking about assumptions. For a given client, I’ll select items that appear to carry the greatest relevance for what they face. What executives need is enough specifics so they can get an accurate picture of what is to come and make an informed decision about their readiness (and that of their organizations) to pursue the road to major change.

Assumptions about Successfully Orchestrating Significant Change

Table for post 1

These are some of the assumptions I like to discuss when clients want to set their expectations for an impending project. What assumptions do you raise with clients?

In the next two posts, I will address the second question: Can you give me some general DOs and DON’Ts that apply to what we’ll face?

Links to additional terms used in the table: ambiguity will rule the day, art as science, become stuckcommitted leaders, critical few initiatives, culture, different viewpoints, dysfunction, empowered, leaders settle for far lesslearn from their mistakes, mindset shifts, patterns Resilience, resisters, resistance, resources, slowed progress, Sponsoring fundamental change, Sponsors, success, Too much change tools, transform themselves, uncomfortable during much of the transition period, well-grounded and pliable, when the endeavor warrants it, WHY, will not remain intact against the reality of implementation,

Posted on: May 29, 2012 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Stop that! It's silly."

- Graham Chapman, Monty Python's Flying Circus