6 Steps To Effective Change Leadership

3256212725Leadership, at its most basic level, is about change.

Leaders create change, help others adapt to change, and affect the nature and type of change.   Think back through your experience – have you seen great leadership without change, or the possibility of change?  Situations without some kind of change usually involve degrading, diluting, and otherwise moving the wrong way.

Why is it then, that so many leaders resist change?  Change brings challenges, and so well-intentioned  people naturally want low-risk change – change that appears to be a clear win.  But here is the danger.  The lowest risk change also brings the lowest potential benefit.  In a business, a small tweak to the organization or a minor change to a product will not impact performance much.  A new package for a corn flakes box is not going to make corn flakes the new rage.  A new fender shape for a 15-year old car design does not make us rush out to buy it.

Recognize that resisting change, or only supporting low risk change, has a  significant cost of its own, the cost of missed opportunity.  A better course is to engage in change, help direct change – influence the direction of change actively to ensure maximum positive impact.

6 Steps for Effective Change Leadership:

1.  Get over it!  Change is going to happen.  Resist that emotional reaction, the frown, the negative body language the declares immediately you are not on board.  Actively seek to understand the positive.

2.  Develop your own plan for positive change.  Call it vision, strategic planning, program management  – whatever you want.  To lead effectively you need to have your a sense of where you want your team/organization/life to go.  This vision will drive the kind of change you create.  And, when change occurs, this vision will guide you in how to engage, how to respond – since times of change are always, always, opportunities. 

3. Communicate, communicate – then communicate some more.  Whether you are leading the change, or you are helping your team adapt to change, communication is your primary tool.  Explain the reason for the change, acknowledge  uncertainties, and ask for support and ideas for how to ensure the most positive outcome.  Make sure every person affected is part of this conversation.  This kind of communication is not a one-time thing – continue the dialogue.

4.  A Plan for Change, well, changes!  Be prepared to course correct.  Whatever you think is going to happen in a period of change, you are wrong.  Stay agile, be prepared to adjust your thoughts, messages, and actions.

5.  Help the team learn.  Even in the midst of change, as the team makes it through key milestones, wins, or even difficulties – get everyone together to discuss what has happened, strengths that need to be emphasized, and adjustments that need to be made.  My blog post concerning Team debriefs is worth another look – Here.

6.  When people turn negative or become discouraged – communicate even more.  Change can be harder for some than others.

We can all benefit from a more intentional focus on vision, action, and communication in times of change.  Amplify your leadership impact by taking advantage of the opportunity that change brings.


Related Content:

1.  How to Lead Change:  3 Simple Steps (www.forbes.com)

2.  Leadership Lessons:  5 Critical Requirements When Leading Change (www.lisapetrilli.com)



Values Alignment: What it is, Why it Matters, and 4 Steps to Get More of It!

53819053Modern leadership “jargon” includes this phrase, “Values Alignment.”  We all toss it around like 1) everyone knows what it means, and 2)  everyone knows how to achieve it.   In my experience, neither point is usually true.  So lets dive in…


What are values?  The Oxford dictionary  gives us,  “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life….”  That hits it about right.  Principles that represent the judgment about what is important – not just in a single context or situation, but in life overall.

A key distinction, is that we all have values that are not situational – and these deeper values drive us in a powerful way.  For example,  honesty is a core value for many.  One of the fundamental values I have is  that people deserve love and respect.  We all have a number of these core values.   Think on this a minute – can you state your core values?  Write them down!

Core or Not Core?   Core values are those values that you would give everything to protect.  It is not easy to boil your various beliefs and values down to the core.  As you come up with an idea, ask yourself if you could live without that value – if you can, it is not core.  For example, one of my not-core values is that time is valuable, so meetings should be effective.  But I would not fight to my last breath for an effective meeting!  So this is not a core value – other things are more important.

Values in Conflict

Major differences in core, fundamental values drive conflict.  It is inevitable.  The conflict might be “inner” – causing dissatisfaction, disengagement, and other things beginning with “dis-.”  In extreme cases it can be external – the newspapers are full of this kind of outward verbal or physical conflict.

Don’t think you and your team are any exception.  Don’t think you can somehow manage or finesse your way through major core value disagreements.  Core values are those things someone would protect at all costs.  No cleverness can make up for opposing core values.

Values Alignment

“Values Alignment” is not just an absence of value conflict.  There isn’t much inspiration or energy in a “sort-of aligned” state.  Close alignment on core values, however,  binds your team into a tribe, builds energy for the important work ahead.  Think of it as value “resonance,” similar to when a sound wave causes the structural parts of an object to vibrate together, in sync, in alignment.

For you to have values alignment, the work and mission of the group needs to be based on a significant set of shared values.   And the other core values, those that are not shared, should not be in opposition.  This might sound like a tough standard, but keep in mind that differences in non-core values will occur in a diverse team – it is the solid, aligned core that keeps things together.

What actions create “alignment ?”  Values alignment occurs when folks with a set of shared core values know what they are, discuss these core values, and share how to apply them and make them relevant in life and work.  Did you write down you core values earlier?   If not – take a moment to do so, at least to hit the high points.  This list will be refined over time as you come to understand what core/fundamental really means.

4 Steps to Better Values Alignment

1.  Write Down Your Core Values.  Simple, but not commonly done.  As a leader, it can help to actually post your core values as an ever-present communication of what you stand for.  It will be a powerful reference point and anchor for your teams.  Regardless of your role, writing down core values is important to achieve alignment so you actually, uh, know what you are aligning!

2.  Talk about you core values.  I know you saw this one coming…don’t shy away from mentioning your core values as  you make decisions, celebrate victories, or discuss problems.  When they are relevant, talk about values.  Just like you would other important factors in your work or life.

3.  Know the core values of the people in your business and life.    Core values will differ among people, but there needs to be overlap, and a lack of opposition of core values.  Ask the people in your world (peers, supervisor, team members) about their values.  Look for fundamental, core values.  Understand where they are coming from.  Identify and talk about overlap, shared values.  This is essential for recruiting talent – do not bring anyone onto your team until you have  a good read on their core values.  Don’t even think about it.

4.  Address values opposition and conflict.  This is the difficult part.  Some folks in your organization may have core values which conflict with those of you, your team, and/or your organization.  But first – take a careful look at where the values difference is.  If it is outside the core, then there is likely a shared core value that can be leveraged to resolve the conflict.  That disagreement over whether to recognize individual merit or team contribution can be resolved by starting at shared core values such as caring for people – and work up from there.

But…if you find that someone in your team or organization has deeply held values that conflict with the organization/teams’ core values, then that person – for their own happiness and that of the team – needs to join a team or organization more in keeping with their core beliefs.

Take the issue of Values Alignment seriously.  It will be a source of energy, inspiration, and common mission for your team.

Servant Leadership 101: One Powerful Habit Effective Servant Leaders Share

8417804534Have you  witnessed  how  much time really effective leaders spend building relationships?  It is a continuous effort, a constant part of what they do – asking questions, listening, trying to understand what people are thinking, looking into what is happening from the perspective of others.

Leaders with the most inspired, engaged, and effective organizations  spend most of their time building relationships with and among people.  They naturally break down barriers and connect silos (see my post about silos here).

What is really going on here?  Every conversation, every new link made, every experience shared, every new person engaged builds the health of the network.  What network, you say?  The communication and relationship links across functional borders, across physical and geographic separation.   There is nothing profound about saying that people who are great “connectors” make it tons easier to get things done.  Great leaders within complex organizations intentionally and actively build links and connections – targeting the connections that most powerfully affect the way work is done, the quality of the work experience, the effectiveness by which the team accomplishes the mission.

I have often used the word “enabling” and “catalyst” to describe the impact of a servant leader.  How is such impact achieved?  By acting to enhance the way the human networks in their world work.

Imagine the improvement in influence and effect you would have if you constantly focused on improving the way the people in your life connect, share, and bond.  For many, it would be a transformative change.  Every moment spent in that state would build the effectiveness of others.

Try it out.  Go beyond the surface level and find out what is going on in the world of folks you meet and know.  Look to make a connection, to offer to help.

I have been inspired recently by Steve Beecham, a master networker and motivational speaker.  Take a look at Steve Beecham’s Bassackwards Business:  The Power of Helping Without Hustling.  His website is http://www.bassackwardbusiness.com.

And let me know what you think.

Related Content:

1.  What Are the Most Important Things Great Leaders Do? (psychologytoday.com)

2.  How Leaders Create and Use Networks (hbr.org)

3.  Six Rules of Leadership Networking (leading effectively.com)

Hire Talent, not Experience! (and 5 Simple Steps to Find the Talent You Need)

3427501183Recruiting is a pain.  It is hard to get right, and so painful and damaging to get wrong.

We make it so much harder on ourselves when we focus on experience.  Here is my controversial statement for today:  experience is no indication of ability or success.  Makes sense, right?  I might have cooked a lasagna, but it doesn’t mean it is any good.  I might have drawn a picture, but it could be awful.  And the harder the task, the less likely that experience alone is any indication of success. So, of all the folks who have done a job like the one you want done, most have not been very good at it.

Then why do we only look for folks who have done the job before that we want done now?  Is it that we just don’t have the patience, process, or ability to train someone to do the work?  Admittedly, if I can find a talented person who has also done the job before, then we have the best of both worlds.  Just realize you may not have that option.

The best Manufacturing Engineer I ever hired spent the first part of his career as a cook.  The best Project Manager I have ever worked with had spent most of her career as a Manufacturing Engineering.  The best Operations Manager I knew spent the last 5 years as a naval officer.  You can see, though, that in each of these examples the earlier work developed or built upon a talent that mattered to their next role.  As a cook, the engineer learned how to simplify complex tasks, to break things down, and to add some creativity into his work.   As a Manufacturing Engineer, the future PM learned to understand tasks, priorities, and milestones as they flowed in the real world.  And she did so with attention to detail and discipline that the best PMs would recognize.

So, stop scanning resumes for a narrow set of experiences.  You are wasting your time.  Instead….

1.  Identify the talents, the basic attitudes and attributes, of the very best people doing that job.  Now you have a target that matters!

2.  To find folks like this, think of jobs where such people thrive.  That might be a job like the one you are looking to fill, but there are certainly others as well.   Now you can look at someone’s resume and consider experience from the talent-centered point of view.

3.  By all means, if there is some critical knowledge or experience you must have, identify it.  But don’t go overboard.  Talented people learn quickly and adapt.

4.  Signs of great talent often include:  a positive, energetic attitude;  curiosity and a passion for learning;  a solid record of doing important things in their chosen field.

5.  Absolutely must avoid:  any kind of negativity or negative attitude; a tendency to attribute their problems to the fault of others; a solo player – great teams are held together by relationships, no hermits welcome.

Now go forth, and build that great team!


Related Content:

1.  How Great Manager Define Talent (businessjournal.gallup.com)

2.  Your Best Employee May not Have Industry Experience, ( blog.thealternativeboard.com)

Loving the Innovation but Hating the Innovator (Our Innovation Management is Backwards)

5409707708Almost of all of us, and all of our organizations, want innovation – to introduce new and significant things into the world.  Sometimes we are seeking ground-breaking, business transforming products.  Sometimes we  just want a compelling idea or two that can take us to the next level.

But too often we want to change the world without really having to deal with the messy internal dynamics needed to foster, feed, and ultimately bring innovation to the world.

In my earlier blog post, 5 Ways You Might be Killing Innovation, I mentioned that strong cultures kill innovation, to the extent those cultures reject different, new things – things that are, well, counter-cultural.  Despite the obviousness of this, when we decide we want innovation, we do not attack the issue at its root – the way our change-averse cultures disengage innovators and, critically, the creative side of just about everyone.  This is why this topic very much belongs in a Servant Leadership blog – because to get this right, we need to serve the innovators, and the creative part of everyone in the organization.

So here is where our Innovation Management is backwards: 1)  it focuses on the end results – “We need more innovation!” –  first without looking at it from the source – the  innovators’  point of view and experiences within our culture, and 2) we are not thinking about how every person in our organization has creative potential – we are looking to the R&D/Engineering guys, or maybe the Marketing folks.

Too often, the demand to innovate comes from the very same leaders who see the counter-cultural innovators as a threat to cultural stability and consistency.   In other words, we love the innovation but Hate the Innovator!

Be brutally honest with yourself – do you see the innovators marginalized and talked about with frowns or rolling eyes?  I have seen this so many times I have lost count.

So, the  groundbreaking (even innovative!) approach to foster innovation is to

  • focus on your people – look deeply at the signals, incentives, and experiences they are having in your culture.  Encourage and incentivize crazy, creative ideas.
  • Ask them what they need, what they recommend to boost creative output.  Seek out a list of the obstacles to innovation from their point of view.
  •  Involve your most innovative people in forming the steps you are going to take as a leader.

Formulate actions that change the conditions at the root, where the innovator lives.

In short, love the innovators!

Mistakes Leaders Make: Silo Building (and 4 Ways to Tear them Down)

178796318We have all heard the advice to reach outside of our functional silo, to play for the big team, to build cross-functional relationships.

Yet we build silos as fast as we can make them, and we then wonder why people have trouble working together,  leveraging each others’ talents.

Why We Build Silos

Silos form from honest enough intentions:  folks with similar experiences, qualifications, and expertise naturally come together to share experiences, to solve problems, to learn from each other.  We want that, we encourage that.  We colocate  people with the same functional expertise.  We form Engineering Departments and Marketing Departments and Sales Teams and wrap processes around these functions to preserve lessons learned and improve performance.  These  teams develop their own culture, play a role in the hiring of new team members, develop each other.  All good stuff.

Much has been written about how people  form tribes in the workplace.  Tribes certainly form across functional groups, but this desire to associate informally helps drive the building of silos.

We think of the “silo mentality” as some kind of active attempt to form and push an isolated, distorted view.  But the reality is that this isolated mentality is the natural result of our team structure:   our formation of these functional groups comes at a cost – an insular view of things, a group think full of one point of view and devoid for the most part of the influences of the views of folks from other tribes/functional groups/silos.

Or, at least, that is the picture if we don’t bridge the silos and lower the barriers.

What We Can Do About It

So, whether you want/encourage  it or not, informal and formal silos abound.  Yet a healthy flow of views and information and relationships can occur between and among these silos – the walls can virtually fall away – when leadership takes a few simple steps:

1.  Strong cross-functional teams, co-located and led by an empowered cross-functional leader.  To bridge silos you have to well, build a bridge.  Not only organize project teams cross-functionally (as many of us do in Matrix organizations) but also co-locate teams together.  This is actually somewhat rare in my experience that the Marketing and R&D and Advanced Manufacturing and Quality people on a team sit together.  But it works really, really well.  And don’t bother to appoint a cross-functional leader, such as a Project Manager, unless that person has lots of  leeway to make decisions and  authority with the team.

2.  Time and relationships.  Members of a tribe hang out with each other.  To break down silos, folks from different silos need to spend time together, and that will require  encouragement, even some ice-breaking activities.  Team-building exercises may be a bit corny, but some pizzas as part of a regular routine can go a long way.

3.  Formal incentives.  Recognizing teams and individuals who reach across silos is critical.  You will get the things you incentivize/recognize/reward.  And folks can’t emulate behavior that don’t know anything about.

4.  Lead by Example.  If you want cross-silo relationships, you have to reach out to leaders in other functions, spend time with other teams, build cross-silo relationships yourself.  You have to be, as they say, congruent to what you are preaching – and perfectly so.

We are not going to stop building functional and expertise-based teams – but we have really work at avoiding the formation of thick, impenetrable silo walls.

Related Content:

1.  A deeper look at organizational silos:  Break out of the Silo Mentality (www.asaecenter.org)

2.  Some good stuff on the consequence of silos in the world of software development:  Breaking Down Silos, Part I (uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com)

5 Ways You Might be Killing Innovation

5451831228Innovators – truly ground-breaking, revolutionary thinkers – are not like you and I.

I know I am generalizing terribly, but bear with me.

Those who discover something truly new, invent something that is a leap beyond the state-of-the-art, defy conventional thinking – these rare and inspirational figures do not normally just confine their creativity and unconventional approach to one narrow area of their lives.

Think about a great innovator you know.  Is  this person comfortable in a conventional corporate setting, dressed in conventional business casual clothes, following company rules and norms?  Or does this person – uniquely able to move beyond the constraints that bind most of our thinking – march to their own drummer across many areas of life?

And here is my point for today – how does your organization, and your leadership, treat those who consistently buck the norms, defy the conventions?  My guess is that something like “organ rejection” occurs over time, and they leave, are forced out, or get tired of the fight and conform.  It is just very hard for a culture to accept counter-culture elements.  The danger is not only does a strong set of cultural norms alienate the most innovative people, but it likely reduces the level of creativity and innovation in everyone to some extent.  

Here are 5 things you might be doing that kill innovation throughout your organization and culture:

1.  The leader as cultural guardian:  You might feel your role is partly to establish and preserve culture, and so you police the conversations and decisions for counter-culture elements.  Your team knows that in certain situations there is a certain way of thinking that is “right,” and they better give the “right answer” or expect consequences.   This approach has advantages, and may lead to a strong team dynamic, but it is toxic to innovation over time.

2. No constraints, no specifics, just think big:   In this style of leadership, management lets the innovators do what they do best and any specific constraint is seen as  “limiting innovation.” This is similar to “The Cowboy” from Scott Anthony’s HBR blog post on Innovation Assassins.  But this is not how productive creativity really works:  creative minds are inspired by a particular difficult/interesting problem or challenge – it is the constraints that make it interesting, that make it difficult, that direct the energy of the innovators.  It is much better to set a goal, to set constraints (such as time, or cost, or function) as needed such that the innovative solution is actually useful to the business.

3.  Turkey shoots abound.  If you find that brainstorming and problem-solving meetings feel like bird-hunting, with a bunch of hunters shooting at a poor bird at the white board, you are going to force all the innovation underground.  Or maybe folks will be innovating how to avoid your meeting!  Not only should all criticism be constructive, but a more innovation-friendly approach is to encourage commentators to speak up only with critical information, and to  first say what is strong/good about an idea.  Detailed evaluation of  ideas is often handled best after multiple ideas are placed on the table and mulled-over together.

4.  Innovation is the job of R&D (Engineering).  We need innovation in almost every area of the business, from Sales to Supply Chain to Finance to Food Service.  Encouragement of unique approaches to problems, to unconventional ways of thinking about things should be a common theme with every team.  This is not so easy for some departments who traditionally have not been encouraged to innovate.  Whatever area of the business you lead, formally or from within the team, can benefit from incentives and rewards for innovative thinking, creative ideas, unconventional approaches.

5.  Innovators are appointed.  Innovation and innovators emerge from a special combination of interesting problems, challenging constraints, and conditions that feed and favor risk-taking.  Absolutely recruit great talent with a history of innovation.  But put tons of energy into creating an environment that rewards thoughtful risk-taking, avoids “turkey shoots,” and recognizing creative ideas ( and uses them in the business).  You will be excited by the innovators who emerge and the impact they have.

There are many good posts and features on building innovation.  A particularly interesting one highlight thin importance of culture is Nick Jankel-Elliot’s Top Tips for Building an Innovation Culture.