Change Change Management

Change Change Management

I have been thinking about change management and why it fails 50% of the time.


Imagine a yacht sailing around the world.  Whilst they may experience many days of great sailing the crew knows that there will be big storms and windless days to deal with.  However as a team they have the shared vision of the journey and destination.  They know there will be changes to the course but even during difficult times they will work hard to navigate a safe course.


This analogy isn’t much different to how a business should operate.  Leaders and employees alike should have a clear vision for the business.  They should also know that change will happen and sometimes the change will be harsh.  However if they all pull together during the tough times, they know they will continue to succeed.


But how many act like this?


In the face of tough conditions research has shown that, globally, many businesses are too slow to react to change or, worse, deny the need to do so.  The rate of change in businesses is only marginally faster than the rate of change in politics.  Social change is capable of faster change than businesses.  I guess you only need to look at technological disruption and how readily politics, business and society have adapted for a demonstration of this.


CEO’s and their senior leadership teams make decisions with all the best intentions but unfortunately they often result in little improvement.   The results can be soul destroying.  Many great companies, large and small, that have or had great products, great people, and the potential to do more, fall victim to a changing environment.  Kodak is a classic example when they failed to embrace the digital era.


Decisions on what information to take notice of, and what, if any, action to take, are commonly made by the senior ranks of a company.  Input from lower levels of the business is not often sought.  In fact employees at the lower levels of the business can be unaware that changes are afoot until a formal announcement is made.  It is often at the time of preparing the formal announcement that the change management processes are traditionally instigated.


Imagine what this would look like for our captain and the yacht.


A forecast comes in form the bureau of meteorology for severe stormy weather in the next 48 hours.  The captain, without speaking to any one, decides not to alter the course.  He puts together his change management plan and then announces it to the crew.


The crew become anxious about the captain’s decision and they start to fear for their safety.  They don’t believe that the captain made the right decision and come up with different ideas among themselves.  Motivation and energy decrease as the crew grapple with the captain’s decision.


At the height of the storm the captain issues a May Day however it is too late to save the yacht.  All the crew survive and are plucked out of the water by rescue services.


You could say that the change management process failed because the crew didn’t support the captain’s the decision and this is why the yacht sunk.  You might think that the crew’s anxiety caused fatal mistakes to be made which distracted them from doing what they were supposed to do.


However did the process have a chance?


The fate of the yacht wasn’t because the change management process was ineffective.  It was set in the decision of the captain.  By only harnessing one brain rather than the brains of many, the captain limited his ability to make the right decision.


What would have happened if the change management plan for this yacht started as soon as the forecast was issued?


Let’s look at how this might play out.


The captain receives the forecast and puts in place the change management plan.  He immediately calls a meeting with the crew. Whilst he may have some ideas on what actions to take, he seeks input from everyone before making a decision.  He asks a range of set questions such as do they stay the course, or sail north/ south/ east/west to avoid it?  What are the possible benefits and consequences of each suggestion?  What are the risks?  What would they need to do differently to implement?  No idea or option is judged and a decision is only made once all possible ideas have been put on the table for consideration.  They map out the new course and set up strategies to mitigate possible scenarios of problems.  They then put the plan in action.


Neuroscientists have found that when conversations encourage people to have input and share their ideas without judgement, it activates brain’s prefrontal cortex where creativity and forward planning occur.  Using this part of the brain enables people to see uncertainty and volatility as challenging rather than threatening  Apple is an example of an organisation that has a culture which encourages people to use their prefrontal cortex.  Employees don’t fear change, they create it.


Traditional change management processes tend to trigger people’s protective behaviours.  They feel threatened and fearful about their jobs, their colleagues, and the future of the business.  They can become anxious and withdrawn or aggressive and outspoken.  A lot of effort is needed to move these people into more positive thinking.


The benefit of starting the change management process before any decision is made is that it encourages the generation of ideas and concepts that may not have been thought of previously.  It creates a safe environment for all participants to be creative without fear of judgement.  It allows these ideas to be challenged and questioned without people feeling persecuted.  It allows the best solution to be discovered.


I feel that traditional change management processes are fraught with resistance and skepticism because they start too late. If everyone has been involved right from the start in the decision making process, the level of acceptance and support for the new direction is significantly increased.  The decisions are likely to be better and the success of the change higher.


How would this work practically?  Here are 5 principles

  1. Firstly working with key representatives from across the business and all levels, the change management process would qualify and quantify a shared understanding of where the business stands today and what the future will look like.
  2. It would then seek the input of all participants of what is possible, building and feeding on ideas and suggestions put on the table.
  3. The decision to act would be created from a shared understanding on what needs to happen in order to create the new future
  4. The process moves to Identify opportunities and potential barriers and map out the process of change
  5. At the end of the process the facilitator seeks the commitments from participants on actions and responsibilities.


You can see that change management is now a process of engaging in the decision making.  Seeking the thoughts and opinions of many rather than a chosen few will ultimately result in better decisions.  It could also result in faster adaptation to the threats and opportunities the business faces.


I suggest that change management plans focus on engaging the positive parts of the brain and minimising the protective parts of the brain.  I advocate for changing change management for ground breaking results.


If you would like to talk more about this concept please contact me.

Vision and Values: The heart of business transformation

Vision and Values: The heart of business transformation

Whenever I commence a coaching assignment with a business client we start by working on creating the vision and values for the company.  It is common for my clients to initially see this process as a waste of time until they get to understand the power that these create.

Rather than be a soft feel-good activity, clearly articulating WHY the business exists, WHAT the future looks like for the company, and HOW you will get there, are the absolute foundations of any business large and small.  A good vision and values process will identify exactly these.

I have worked in a range of organisations over the years and I would say about half actually lived their vision and values.

What does it look like to work for a company that lives and breathes its vision and values?

It means that

  • Conversations regularly include references to the values
  • There is recognition in the salary reviews for employees who consistently demonstrate the values
  • Any disciplinary action specifically makes reference to the values.
  • Recruitment & selection decisions are clearly aligned to what the company needs in order to achieve the vision
  • Training and development planning have a direct link to the strategic vision
  • Vision and values are used in the decision making

There has been significant financial investment over the past two decades to create company vision and values statements that, I feel, have been lukewarm at best in their ability to engage and transform.

Some of the reasons could be that

  • The process of creating the vision and values has failed to engage employees and leaders
  • The belief that there is no “I” in Team causing individuals to have their voice taken away
  • The existence of “elephants in the room” preventing open and robust discussion
  • The assumption that everyone shares the same meaning of the terms used

When a company has a compelling vision and values set they have the power to bring out the very best behaviour and performance in the people.  They have the ability to increase profitability, brand awareness, and market share.

In 1994 Samsung CEO was unhappy with the company’s performance and quality of its products.  The CEO’s created a value proposition to its employees which was simply “change everything but your wife and children”.  These seven words breathed energy into the organisation.

By the new century Samsung products were perceived as high quality and so they were able to charge premium prices.  Their brand became well respected as the company transformed to be one of the top leaders in IT.

A compelling vision and values set can only come from honest conversation across a company.  It requires a significant commitment of senior leaders and employees to be open and engage in constructive discussion with candor.  Nothing can be left on the table; the process must allow the invisible to become visible.  If a company is in a difficult position financially, this type of process is the best process to utilise to transform the situation.

How does it work?

I mentioned before that a compelling vision and values contain the WHY, WHAT, & HOW.

WHY does the company exist?  This is the backbone for everything the company is about.  Is it because the company cares about a particular thing?  Does it have the expertise to improve something for someone?

WHAT does the company want to achieve in the future?  Does the company want to be known as the best in its field? Does it want to achieve a level of revenue / sales within a certain timeframe?  This is the vision or aspiration for the company and is used for all decision making and strategic planning.

HOW will the company achieve its vision?  What does the company commit to in order to achieve its vision?  These commitments become the values.  For values statement to mean something they need to be action orientated and tell the stakeholders what the company will never compromise on.  This is where the real power comes from.

If you were looking to create a new vision and values for your company or you believe it is time for them to be revised, I suggest that you look for consultants who can do the following

Provide an understanding how the brain works. 

Neuroscience has uncovered a lot in understanding the impact that conversation has on the brain.  For example research has found that

  • Trust is located in the executive brain or prefrontal cortex whereas distrust is located in the primitive brain.
  • In the absence of trust the primitive brain is activated and our responses are focused on protecting and defending.
  • In the face of something new, our default, unconscious response is to defend and protect.

Create a high trust environment

The development of trust has be the first part of the process.  Without trust there is limited opportunity for creativity and thinking about future possibilities.  Trust works to open up the parts of the brain where creativity, innovation and relationship building occur.  These close down in the absence of trust causing people to fear threatened and insecure or unsafe.

Consultants who can create a high trust environment for people to feel that they can contribute without judgement will deliver a significantly better outcome than consultants who don’t.

Create a shared understanding. 

All too often we assume everyone thinks like us.  For a company to create a compelling vision and values, all employees, leaders and departments must share a common meaning of the words and statements used.  A failure to focus on this during the process will lead to lower engagement and acceptance levels.

If you were to select a consultancy that was able to provide these in their vision and values workshops you can be assured that the resulting statements for your company will be compelling and energising.  You will quickly see the changes in the organisation having rolled out your new vision and values.  You will want to engage with them.

Conversational Intelligence and the art of Priming

I attended a conference last week.  That isn’t noteworthy in itself except for the big learning I got from it.


You see I experienced first hand the value of priming.


So what is Priming?


It is a technique that is used heavily in Conversational Intelligence ® that is proven to increase the levels of trust with and between people.  When we prime people we open them up to higher order thinking, sharing what’s on their mind and curious to understand other perspectives.  It is a fantastic technique to use when you have to deal with an unpleasant situation.


The priming that I was subjected to was not intentional; in fact I see it as accidental.  It happened as a result of a meeting the state presidents attended the day before the conference.  We got to know each other and spent an afternoon sharing, suggesting, challenging and understanding.  I left feeling that I belonged to the team.


How often when you attend conferences do you know many people there?  Do you find it hard sometimes to find people who you connect with and share your point of view?  How does this impact what you absorb from the presentations?


As a result of the presidents meeting I had a very positive outlook on the 2 day conference.  We found ourselves touching base regularly during the conference and we talked at length about the topics.  We didn’t have to spend time getting to know each other because we had already established the team.  Instead our time was spent discussing the concepts and contexts and gaining a deeper meaning.  I felt involved, respected and trusted.


Priming, as a technique, is about engaging people’s higher order thinking.  It does this by down regulating their fears and uncertainties about the situation.  Only when this happens can people move into higher brain thinking.  This is because fear and uncertainly release cortisol which would otherwise shut down these parts of the brain.  Priming helps move people out of their default protective behaviour patterns that create distrust and insecurity.


How can this be achieved?


Supposing you need to speak to your team about a new cost cutting requirement sweeping the organisation.  These discussions are never easy and you know that it will result in them becoming upset &/or insecure about their jobs.  Teams become demotivated, their performance drops and bickering increases.


Priming offers a different outcome.


The intention of priming is for you to gain an understanding of what your team members are thinking about the situation, what their top concerns are, and what they need out of the meeting.  Your role in priming is to ask questions, clarify points and to listen without judging.  This works by settling their anxieties, giving them a space to open up and be understood.  We feel better when we have had a chance to share what is on our minds but we can only do this when we feel safe.  Therefore it is critical not to judge, crticise or defend your opinion.  Your goal is to reduce their anxiety and cortisol.  Conversational Intelligence ® is focused on brain activity and learning how to manage your own and that of others.


Now when you have the team meeting, your team will be ready to tackle the issues rather than become inwardly focused and operating out of their primitive brain.  To maintain the energy you continue to ask questions and listen without judgement allowing the team to digest the requirements and talk.  You will find the team more engaged as a result.


The key to all the suggested techniques that I offer is to experiment, fail, reflect, tweak, and experiment again to find a way that works for you.  Unfortunately there are no magic spells or quick fixes to this technique or any others in the Conversational Intelligence ® portfolio.  Practice will make improvement and you will see the benefits from the changes that take place.


If you would like more information on how to use the priming technique, please connect with me.

Relationship development: one question at a time.

As a leader focused on improving your skills in relationship development, I would like you to do one thing this week.


I want you to only open your mouth to ask a question.


Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it is much harder than you think.


Why would a leader only ask questions?  How could that possibly be an effective leadership style that helps develop relationships?


It is still common today that people are promoted into leadership roles based on their technical ability, their understanding of the business and / or their demonstration to the leaders above that they have the potential.


So when these leaders begin to communicate with their teams and their peers, they like to tell people what they know.  There’s plenty of talk going on but who is really listening?  Relationship development is a skill and it has communication as its foundation. Good communication starts with listening genuinely to the other person.


A good listener opens their eyes, ears, and mind, and they close their mouth.  If you are busy talking and telling others what they need to do, how to do it, and why they should do it, then you aren’t listening.  The person is likely to respond with feelings of frustration, disappointment, and confusion.  Not a good basis to develop trusting relationships.


When people come to you as a leader, they want to listened to.  They want to feel that you respect them and understand them.   This is where my request for you comes in.  You will have to hold off telling them what you think they need to know.


So next week when someone comes to speak to you about a problem, concern, or your advice on something ask them questions instead and see what happens.  Here’s some great questions to consider using


  • What have you done so far?
  • What do you believe is a likely cause?
  • What do you believe will work?
  • What do you need?
  • What is holding you back?
  • How can you find out?
  • What is your gut feeling on this?
  • What is stopping you taking action?
  • If you weren’t scared, what would you do?
  • What are you willing to do / stop doing, in order to improve this situation?
  • How can you learn what you need to know about this?


Notice that there are no questions starting with “why”.  This is deliberate.  Many questions starting with a “why” will be perceived as judging, condoning, or questioning the person’s own views and that’s not good.


You may not intend for this to occur but our minds are really sensitive to “why” questions and react quickly.   You need to keep the discussion open and trusting in order for the magic to happen.  So learn to reframe your “why” questions to “what” or “how” questions because these won’t be perceived in a negative manner and causing the conversation to close down.


Asking questions rather than giving answers allows the person to think deeply and discover knowledge and solutions they may not have previously considered.  It shows that you are listening and you are open to their input.  Don’t forget to probe and to paraphrase to ensure that you understand the meaning.   You will be surprised with how different the interaction will feel for you both. This is a great skill all leaders should master.


Try using it with a sales call, a formal one to one, or in a meeting.  There are so many areas where good questioning will radically change the nature of the conversation


See how you go.  I would love to hear about your conversations and what changed.




Time Management and Neuroscience

Over the next few months I will be presenting a series of free webinars, each topic being relevant to developing leaders to successfully navigate the ever increasing complexity and uncertainty of business.


The next webinar will be on time management and in particular how your mindset can have a significant impact on how effectively you spend your time.


Without a doubt leaders have a tough role to do.  They have the responsibility of leading themselves and others to achieve KPI’s within a competitive market with the changing demands of employees and customers alike.  Any wonder their time management tends to suffer.


How well do you manage time?  This is a really important question to ask yourself.  Over the next three blogs I will break this question into three areas.  The first area I want to explore is your outlook or attitude towards your work.


Do you see the demands placed on you in your job as a challenge; something that stimulates and energises?  Or do you see it with a sense of foreboding and threatening?  If you perceive your workload with a motivating mindset it is likely that your productivity is high.  You won’t mind working additional hours to get the work done as you find your role intrinsically rewarding.  You may suffer setbacks however you are able to bounce back from these.


When you feel a sense of foreboding however your productivity and motivation reduces.  You procrastinate, put off activities and feel stress when you consider them.  You start to forget things, make mistakes and potentially snap.   Each additional demand creates a greater sense of unease.  You start to shut down and withdraw causing relationships and your mental health to suffer. Many leaders suffer some level of the negative effects of stress and the good news is that it can be changed without having to leave your job.


Whether you have a positive or negative attitude is dependent on the part of the brain being activated.  When you have a positive attitude or outlook your prefrontal cortex is being activated.  This area is responsible for decision making, relationship building and idea generation.  It is the part of the brain that is most needed to tackle today’s busy world.


A negative attitude however activates your old brain: your cerebellum and brain stem.  This part of the brain is responsible for the heart rate, temperature regulation.  It also fires up the body to prepare for attack: your fight, flight, freeze response.  Regardless of which response you take in this state you will suffer poor decision making, become compulsive in your actions, and socially close down.  What was once an effective response to real life dangers in past millennia, this response is far from useful today, given most situations are not life threatening.


How is it that some people thrive in chaotic environments and other’s fold?


Neuroscience is discovering not only the neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for how you feel about your workload they are also starting to understand why you do and how you can change.


For example a negative outlook triggers stress responses which releases neurotransmitters and hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is an important hormone and works with adrenaline to prepare the body to fight or flee from danger.  Together they increases blood pressure, increase glucose availability and shut down processes not needed.   In times gone by the threatening situation was short lived and the body resumed normal levels of functioning.  In today’s world we often remain in a stressed state for long periods of time meaning that cortisol is constantly being released and impacting our functioning and our mind.


Recent research has uncovered the impact of cortisol on the executive brain or pre frontal cortex.  This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, learning, decision making, trust, and creating relationships etc.  When it is flooded with cortisol, these functions are significantly affected resulting in poor decision making, an inability to learn and socially withdrawing.  Outwardly you might be moody and make rash decisions without input from others.  Your leadership style would be one of “tell, sell, yell” where your idea is the only right one.  You would show distrust and be described as controlling and micromanaging.


In a leadership role, your competence and capability can be hampered by remaining in a stressful state. Lets look at this in more detail.


Today’s business world is more complex and uncertain.  This means that solutions to problems that worked in the past may not work today.  You are unlikely to have the answer and so you need to input of others in order to find a suitable way forward whether it is a new product, process or strategic direction.  You need to be open and interested in other people’s ideas and opinions rather than rely solely on your own.


Your employees have different demands today and are motivated not by money alone.  In fact some of the top ranking things that employees want in their job are challenge and opportunity.  As a leader you have a responsibility to involve them more, develop them and allow them to work autonomously.  You need to work with others rather than on them.  You need to trust and respect their contributions and recognise their efforts in order to have them perform and achieve.


Which leads us to the third important responsibility which is to lead your team to achieving the KPI’s.  There could be specific projects to complete, changes to be implemented, technology to be introduced.  Each will have a set criteria and as a leader you are accountable for executing on these.  You need to be comfortable with a level of risk as the challenge will be to improve and invent.  Setting a compelling vision despite the future not being clear requires insight and foresight both of which are found in the prefrontal cortex.


Now if you were highly stressed what impact would your cortisol levels be having on your ability to lead effectively?  Chances are it will be significant in being able to perform all these things.


So what can you do to improve you attitude towards your workload?  Simply put, its about changing your perception towards your workload.  Finding the passion and the reason you do what you do is a good place to start.  The reasons for this is that you need to start generating levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin.


Oxytocin is nick named the cuddle hormone.  It is the chemical associated with bonding, being social and forming friendships.  The need for this hormone can be traced back to prehistoric times.  Back then the earlier human species found that they could only survive by forming social groups.  Hunting and gathering activities were carried out in groups as was defending territory. Collectively the human species invented and adapted to cope with their environment by solving problems and surviving as a unit.


The good thing about oxytocin for leaders is that your body loves it and seeks it almost like a drug.  So the more you produce the more good you do.  Lets get back to the chemistry set.


Oxytocin has been found to be responsible for more than just bonding.  Its effect on the prefrontal cortex is to keep the mind open for learning, fact finding and investigation.  Oxytocin allows not only the ability to relate to others but also to share and provide input then come up with a way forward that is well considered.  The decision may require a level of risk which is accepted so that mistakes can be made and learnt from.  You can see the value of oxytocin in our modern workplaces.  I consider it to be our collaboration hormone.


Changing the way we think and operate in a stressful situation really does come down to chemistry.  Changing how you perceive a situation from a threat to a challenge will change the levels of chemicals such as cortisol and oxytocin.


By becoming aware of this you will start to see which hormone is having a greater effect by how you act.  If you feel yourself closing down and isolated chances are the balance of cortisol and oxytocin aren’t right.  If you find yourself comfortable in reaching out for support and feedback you are triggering oxytocin levels.  People who are quick to judge or control others allow too much cortisol to be released.


So how can you change your attitude and how can this help with time management?


There are an abundance of training programs and software applications designed to help managers manage their time better. Unfortunately they don’t hit the core issue and therefore their success may be limited.


What is needed firstly is for a leader to work on changing their attitude or outlook about their work.  Only when they have created a more positive attitude to their work will they be successful in improving their time management in a sustained and beneficial way.  The benefits being intrinsic satisfaction, higher team cohesiveness, and more fun.


Whilst relationship building and bonding sound airy fairy to many leaders, the importance of this in the work place really does makes sense.  We have survived as a species as a result of collaboration and joint decision making through forming social groups. Why would it be considered any less relevant in today’s business world?

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