I recently had a conversation with a colleague working on a major transformation for a well-known Fortune 50. She told me that she was expressly told to only plan for work up through the launch of the change. This is a big mistake; let me explain.
After I built and moved into my new home years ago, the builder presented me with a certificate explaining that the construction carried with it a five-year guarantee. They would take care of anything that went wrong with the house. Period. For the first few weeks I found a few minor issues. One door wasn’t closing correctly, and the builder promptly came out to repair it. Another time while I was away for the weekend, my son decided to enjoy an afternoon on the back porch and grilled up a juicy T-bone steak. He forgot to move the grill away from the house and voila, we had about 20 square feet of melted siding. My builder replaced the siding at no charge.
When you make an investment in a transformation, it’s likely that you will spend much more than I did building this house. Yet many project managers consider their work done when the transformation is launched. Who is going to be around to make sure the change is institutionalized? How do you ensure that people permanently adopt the change and alter the way they need to work? How will you know that you are receiving the greatest value for your investment? Depending on the nature of the transformation, there are numerous ways you can ensure the systematic adoption of the change.
1. Change people’s measures to include metrics about the use of new behaviors, processes, or systems.
2. Put change agents in place at various levels in the organization to answer questions and help resolve issues.
3. Ensure your leaders are asking questions about issues and results long after launch. Be sure they are equipped with resources to address these challenges.
Putting these features in place will help you achieve the value you had planned, and in many cases, will drive even greater value. This greater value results from you paying more attention to the change far beyond that initial launch, and your employees finding ways to implement improvements beyond those originally planned.
In a recent post, I told you about my vision for building a house. Next comes the construction. My builder told me that the typical house takes 160 days to complete – from groundbreaking to moving day. He then warned me that because the house was 700 feet off the main road, construction would take longer. Just how much longer, he would not commit.
I determined to reduce construction time. My plan was to stay engaged with the general contractor and treat the subcontractors like royalty. During construction, I went out to the house nearly every day. Often it was after work to evaluate progress and report findings to the general contractor. Normally the reports were positive. Occasionally there were small issues for him to address. One time there were electrical outlets in the wrong place; he fixed it. Once I found a wall six feet from where it was planned. The general contractor made it right and thanked me for identifying the issue so quickly.
At times, I would go to the site early in the morning before work, or during my lunch break. During these times, I took coffee, water, donuts, cookies or pizza for the subcontractors. Later, I learned that these gestures created a sense of purpose and appreciation among the subcontractors. They wanted to help people build their dreams. They wanted to do good work and they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger than 8 – 10 hours of labor a day. I also discovered later that this worked to my advantage as many extras were added – at no cost.
There are two major lessons here. First, the sponsor of the project must be actively engaged in monitoring and guiding progress. Can you imagine the costs and delays if I hadn’t found the misplaced wall as early as I did? The second lesson is to engage and inspire your employees during change. I used donuts and coffee to share my passion for building the house in the woods, and in turn, the subcontractors felt like they were part of something bigger.
You might say, “Well, Steve, this is a nice story, but so what? You expended a lot of time and energy to supervise the construction, a job you delegated to the general contractor. But what were the real benefits?” We moved into the house in 140 days, the house met specifications, and the project came in under budget. How many of your projects achieve these kinds of results?
Call to Action: When you consider your next change initiative, as a sponsor, plan time in your calendar to stay engaged with the project. Think about more than just attending the regular status meetings to stay informed. Instead, make a difference. Talk to the employees doing the work. Ask the project manager informally about progress. Schedule lunches or other events during the project and not just to celebrate the end of the project.
Last week I attended a panel discussion featuring Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary for President-Elect Donald Trump. I anticipated some protesters and was not surprised when I saw 3-4 people in front of the auditorium passing out anti-Trump material. Neither was I surprised when two minutes into the program, a man in the audience started shouting about the evils of the new administration. He was asked to hold his “questions” until later in the program. He didn’t, and was swiftly removed. It seems that opportunities for improved communication abound on all sides.
I was reminded of corporate transformations I was involved with early in my career. There were well-meaning leaders who were challenged in communicating their change message. I recall one leader, particularly frustrated with the feedback he received, saying, “Gosh, I told them once, didn’t they get it?”
Employees need to hear a message seven to 10 times before they fully understand the change and its impact. The messaging must be received in a variety of ways, from a variety of sources. When employees don’t comprehend the message, what do you do? Do you dismiss them (and their concerns), or do you listen with intent and then ensure their concerns are addressed?
Here are a few communication tips to consider when driving your next transformation:
1. Be sure the purpose of the change is clear – and that it speaks to how behaviors will need to change.
2. Galvanize your leadership team to the purpose and the intent, and ensure they are ready to speak with their organizations.
3. Plan to present yourself at least three different ways to energize your entire organization about the change.
4. Feedback is essential – and using it is even more important. Be sure you have a mechanism in place to receive and process feedback.
When you do these things, you will have a better chance of engaging more employees faster, and thus will likely drive greater value. You will also minimize the probability that anyone in the “audience” will shout you down.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
In his February, 2016, article titled, “Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less,” Manish Chopra describes his use of meditation to manage the demands on his leadership role. Even though I don’t run a large corporation, my work with my C-level clients and their organizations can be all consuming. There needs to be a mechanism to step away, breathe, and think about the bigger picture. In Mr. Chopra’s case it’s meditation. I have tried it and it works. I recommend the same for you.
All change projects require a clear vision of the change, and how it will impact employees.
Many years ago, I built a house. I found a vacant lot densely covered with pine trees. It was steep and north facing – not an ideal site in Michigan. Some thought I was crazy for selecting such a site, but I had a vision. I sketched plans and staked out the corners of the house which was about 700 feet from the road. I took my Dad back to see the site and showed him my sketches. He said, “You have quite a vision!”
This is where change starts. The leader must have a vision. She needs to be able to articulate it clearly and show people the way. The sketch was my vision for the finished house. The stakes represented how the vision would come to life, and the foot trail, which later became a 700-foot-long driveway, was how people would come to see the vision as it materialized and eventually became my home.
Call to action: It’s relatively easy for a leader to develop her vision for change. It’s more difficult to share that vision in a way that moves the organization to successful implementation. When you start your next major change project, share your vision so that the organization understands it, is prepared for the impact, and will help you achieve it.
My wife and I spent last weekend at our little farm in Michigan.
We were enjoying the first snow of the season when all of a sudden the lights went out. My son, who lives nearby, suffered from the same outage. He reported with amusement that our grandson Austin wandered through their house flipping light switches. Each time, my son gently reminded him that flipping the light switches was pointless. Austin was handling change like so many of us. It’s difficult to start a new routine, and when we do, it’s good to have someone help us.
Just like Austin, your employees need help galvanizing your transformation. They need new skills, gentle reminders, and accountability. Here are a few tips to help galvanize your transformation. 1. Prepare employees. Validate that you have the right education and training for employees to acquire the new skills required. 2. Change the measures. Identify 2-3 critical metrics that assess transformation progress. Hold people accountable to achieve these metrics. 3. Identify change agents. Equip a few employees throughout your organization to help reinforce actions required to sustain the change.
As I consult with executives regarding change, they often focus much of the effort on the work leading up to the change but don’t put adequate attention on activities required to sustain the change. When insufficient effort is applied to the former, these change projects risk success. Don’t let yours be one of them.
10 tips to ensure a successful change project: 1. Know who is impacted, the degree of the impact, and the benefits and risks. 2. Have a risk mitigation plan. 3. Identify a project sponsor who manages risk and communicates. 4. Generate excitement and enthusiasm. 5. Engage those impacted. 6. Communicate a clear vision. 7. Start these first six steps immediately. 8. Define and communicate job changes. 9. Receive feedback and incorporate it into your plans. 10. Plan training to transfer skills to employees.
Holiday time is uponus. We look forward to spending time with loved-ones. Usually. Some advice I once received applies to this time of year, and to leadership in general. Rather than engage in a debate with loved ones, or worse yet, an argument, take the time to listen. Really listen.
When you are sitting across the table from one another, it might be easy to engage in an argument about the 2016 presidential election, or a myriad of other topics. Every one of us has a point of view and sometimes we want to share. But what’s the point? Are yo trying to convince another person of your perspective, or are you truly intereste in learning a different perspective? Regardless of the topic, it’s often better to listen than it is to be heard.
Earlier in my career when I led large teams, I learned quickly that the best way to increase an employee’s involvement was to listen to their ideas and help them figure out the best way to implement them. We can’t implement every great idea, but we can listen authentically and empathetically. Even if the idea is not implemented, they will have been heard. This helps build relationships and your credibility as a leader.
This is especially critical when leading change. Be humble enough to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Be inclusive enough to have your people help affect the change. Ask for ideas to make a smoother transition. Coach them to help you lead the organization through the change.
This holiday season, take the time to listen. Don’t try to change other people’s perspectives. Use it as an opportunity to learn. You might just be the better for it.
When I was a small boy, my Chicago based parents bought a 30-acre farm about 2 hours away. Fifty years ago today, we spent our first Thanksgiving on the farm. We had a meal of reduced rations since we had no appliances or furniture. It was quite an adventure for me exploring our new farm.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for growing up in different settings – urban, suburban and rural. Today I am sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal with my extended family. How will you express your gratitude today?