Monthly Archives: April 2014

The road to change

road trip

In honor of Willie Nelson’s 81st birthday today, here is a quote from the great song writer and troubadour. Not very helpful in leading change but worth a smile!

I believe that all roads lead to the same place – and that is wherever all roads lead to.

In contrast to Willie’s philosophy, I am actually planning a road trip for later in May to the West Point Academy in New York to attend the 2014 graduation of a cadet. We will cover over 2500 miles and the roads we choose and the decisions we make during the trip will be very important to the success of our journey!

Recent work in neuroscience and leadership by David Rock and Elliot Berkman suggests that setting goals is much more like planning for and going on a long road trip than a one-time activity. For goals to be effective and lead to change they need to engage two parts of our brain, why the goal is important and how it will be accomplished. Yet our brains are not capable of engaging both at the same time. This means that our goals need integrate both aspects and make it easy for people to move back and forth when they get stuck during change initiatives.

Berkman and Rock use the acronym AIM and the metaphor of a road trip to help leaders set effective goals for change in the workplace. They propose an integrative model of goals and goal pursuit consisting of:

  • Antecedents – the pre-trip planning. Make the goal memorable, motivating and social.
  • Integration – the “rubber hitting the road.” Your goals need to make it easy to shift between the why and the how. Focus on the mile by mile choices, trade-offs and decisions that need to be made during long trips. Provide insight on how to step back in the moment and stay focused on the long run. In other words, stay focused on the road ahead and not the potholes!
  • Maintenance – using cruise control to stay on track. Include goals that provide rewards and build habits so that the change becomes “hard-wired.”

When I return from West Point I will let you know how well we did with the integration and maintenance goal process. Hopefully my three travel companions and I will make it to the graduation safely, on-time and still speaking with each other!

Todd Thorsgaard



Avoid the tyranny of too many good ideas

“Try not to do too many things at once. Know what you want, the number one thing today and tomorrow. Persevere and get it done.”  –George Allen

strategy evaluationIn my work consulting with leadership teams in higher education over the last 25 years, it seems that one of the biggest challenges for leaders is to narrow down the myriad of good ideas that come out of a strategic planning session. It can be so tempting to bite off more than you can chew when setting strategy.

Leaders who attempt to accomplish more than is realistic with their existing workforce and resources, can become burned out from trying to accomplish it all.  I’ve also seen many employees become disheartened when plans don’t come to fruition because of overambitious planning.

So how can you avoid the tyranny of too many good ideas and focus on the best ones that will give you the greatest return on investment? To choose the best way forward, I’d recommend using some strategic evaluation methods to assist you in your decision making. Mindtools has some excellent resources, including information to help you conduct:

  • Risk Analysis
  • Impact Analysis
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Matrix Analysis

For information, see: and scroll down the page to Stage 3: Evaluating and Selecting Strategic Options

Have you ever experienced the problems associated with too many good ideas? How did you handle it?

Anita Rios

The 8th message

comm methods free to useLast Monday Anita reminded us of the importance of communicating a message “8 times and 8 ways.”  It is a communication truism that people need to hear a message multiple times before it sinks in.

There’s another reason why it’s important to plan eight ways to communicate about your change goals.  As leaders, it’s easy for us to send our messages to people using our preferred methods, and then think the job is done.  Identifying eight different ways to communicate can help us use vehicles that don’t come naturally.

I recently had the privilege of attending the inauguration of Connie Gores as the new president of Southwest Minnesota State University.  While chatting with one of the students I asked how the college had communicated about the search process.  The student said he felt well-informed about the process by following the search on Facebook.  He typically doesn’t use email and often doesn’t read messages from the university, but he is frequently on Facebook.  For him, that was the best way to communicate.

A few days later I was talking with an HR colleague who said that she has discovered that the best way to communicate with some of her campus leaders is to text them. That is the one method that will guarantee a quick response to important questions.

If I were communicating my strategic message using only a few ways, there’s a good chance Facebook or texting wouldn’t be top of mind as a professional tool.  I might stick to traditional strategies such as print and email. Developing a communication plan that includes at least eight ways to spread the message makes it more likely that I’d reach out to many different audiences using their preferred modes.

What are some of the other strategies you have found to deliver your message using the 8th way?

Dee Anne

It’s simple, really.

I have a clear vision for the summer: complete six triathlons. I have my training strategy designed. I have my weekly workouts and plans in place. It looks like I have put together a great overall change plan. I have a vision, I am motivated, and yet I am still struggling to get to the pool. My swims just don’t feel right and with all the conflicting priorities from my work schedule and familyTrain schedule it has become too easy to believe I am too busy to get to the pool. Moving from strategy to true engagement has been derailed.

Mark Effron, the author of One Page Talent Management, believes that leaders derail their people during change in a similar way by over-complicating the goals needed to accomplish the change strategy. We actually make it hard for our people to change instead of making it easier. Effron suggests that we use SIMple goals. Make them:

  • Specific – clear and short
  • Important – meaningful to the person and what is important to them
  • Measurable – observable, behavioral

This looks easy to do and makes sense but in our leadership roles we have so much extra background information and details pressing on us that we can inadvertently add them to our messages and the goals we set. Taking a step back, pausing, and asking yourself, “Am I making this goal SIMple?” will make it a much more powerful and effective goal.

Elbow higher than wrist, wrist higher than fingers. That SIMple goal from a blog I follow helped me get back in the pool this week. It is clear, crucial to my success, and easy to observe. What SIMple goal will move your change initiatives forward?

Todd Thorsgaard



Communicate, communicate, communicate!

“Strategic communication is at the core of effective leadership. Through a leader’s use of verbal and written symbols employees are motivated or deflated, informed or confused, productive or apathetic. A leader’s ability to carve off the verbal fat and get to the meat of an issue, idea or plan will find success at every turn.” –Reed Markham, Ph.D.

Communicating change strategy seems to be one of the biggest challenges leaders have. A colleague of mine fondly reminds me that in order to get important messages across to various stakeholders (students, employees, business and community leaders, etc.), it is vital to think about communicating “8 times and 8 ways.” Yes, in order for a message to hit its mark, it needs to be repeated at least 8 times using various methods like: town halls, open forums, established meetings, email messages, written letters, webinars, recorded videos, etc.

Creating a communication plan can help you identify key messages that help employees be motivated and productive rather than confused or apathetic. Here is a tool adapted from Dan Olson of the Star Collaborative, that I find particularly helpful when thinking about crafting your communication plan. (Click on the diagram below to enlarge the type.)

Communication framework

In addition, there are a myriad of resources available for communications planning on MindTools. This link is particularly helpful:

What communication planning tools have you found helpful in communicating change strategy?

Anita Rios

Orchestrate the strategy

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I am standing on a chair, surrounded by 200 strangers, all singing “Happy Birthday” to me at the top of their lungs! Not how I envisioned my day when I woke up on April 1st over 15 years ago. I was out of town at a leadership development conference. I did not know a soul, and as an introvert, that was fine with me. It was my birthday but I had no plans to celebrate until I returned home. Yet I ended up celebrating with a roomful!

How did it happen and how does this relate to strategy, you ask? A conductor is the answer to both. conductorI heard Robert Eichenger speak this week. Eichenger is co-founder of Lominger Consulting, vice chairman of the Korn/Ferry Institute on Leadership, and the co-creator of the Leadership Architect competency tool, and he believes that the first overall responsibility of a leader is to orchestrate a strategy for change. He uses orchestrate to clarify that leaders on their own don’t create or implement the strategy. They pull together the diverse talents on their team and draw out a strategy that leverages each person and delivers on the overall group or institution’s vision. Leaders are the conductors of strategy, not the creators.

It was also a conductor who orchestrated an unexpected birthday celebration for me and a leadership lesson for orchestrating a successful strategy for change. Benjamin Zander, world renowned conductor for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, was the morning keynote speaker at the conference I was attending many years ago. Zander believes that leaders can become transformative conductors and help teams reach new, unknown, levels of performance  if they follow three simple rules when orchestrating the strategy for change, outlined in a FastCompany interview.

  1. The conductor doesn’t make a sound. Focus on what you can do to help your team “sound better.”
  2. Everybody gets an A. Help your people operate from their talents, where they get A’s.
  3. Play the contribution game, not the success game. Transform the conversation and the strategy to focus on how each person can make a contribution.

In less than 10 minutes Zander had a sleepy group of strangers all singing, in harmony, with smiles on their faces and me standing on a chair. A magnificent performance that none of us knew we were capable of achieving. A successful change.

This isn’t a video of my birthday song but in this TEDTalk you can watch Zander help people realize their untapped love for new possibilities. As one of the comments states, “Be that guy!”

Todd Thorsgaard


Chunks – good for chocolate, and for goals too!

While it’s great to have an ambitious goal to aim for, if you spend too much time contemplating the huge distance between where you stand now and where you want to get to, there’s a pretty good risk that you’ll never get started on it.
–Hannah Martin and Kary Fisher

chunk brownies free to useThere’s nothing like biting into a nice gooey brownie and tasting a big chunk of chocolate! For me, that makes the treat even more enjoyable.

The idea of chunks is important in goal-setting too.  A nice “gooey” goal can be inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming if the task seems too big to accomplish. One way to be sure the goal is do-able is to chunk it into smaller pieces.

There is a great deal of online advice about chunking goals. It is an important consideration for everyone from book authors to project managers to working  mothers. Here are some helpful suggestions (check out the links below for even more advice).

  • Start with your end goal.  Focus on the big picture and identify the key things that need to happen.  Keep breaking these down into smaller sub-goals until you can create timelines and action steps. Pat Brans called these chunks “CRUMBBs” –  “Clearly Recognizable Units that are Meaningful Building Blocks” toward the overall goal.
  • Visualize the goals.  Draw a picture or a mind map of your goal and what you want to accomplish.  Allow yourself to be creative when thinking of options and looking for patterns.
  • Plan your strategy.  What do you need to learn in order to accomplish your goal?  What data do you need? Share your goal with trusted friends or colleagues – or with others who have successfully accomplished a similar goal – and gather advice about how to chunk it down.
  • Build a timeline and set milestones.  What needs to happen, in what order?  How much time will each step take? Are there any preliminary steps you need to take before getting started? Set achievable milestones, and don’t forget to reward yourself when you achieve them.
  • Focus on the next step.  Don’t become overwhelmed by huge goals that seem far away and intimidating. Think about what you have accomplished so far and what you can do next.

Creating smaller steps can help you remain confident about meeting your goal and prevent you from being overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Dive into that “gooey” goal and enjoy the chunks!

Dee Anne Bonebright

Read more:

Pat Brans, Pearson Que – Cutting a Monster Project Down to a Manageable Size

Lewis Howes, Forbes – Why Thinking Small is the Secret to Big Success

Hannah Martin and Kary Fisher, the Talented Ladies Club – How to Chunk Big Goals Down into Achievable Steps


Managing continuity and change

“If there is any one “secret” to an enduring great company, it is the ability to manage continuity and change—a discipline that must be consciously practiced, even by the most visionary of companies.” –Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

Sometimes in setting strategy for change efforts, it is easy to forget about what we need to do to actively manage continuity in our colleges and universities. In their classic 2004 publication of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras, identified great companies as those who had the ability to “preserve the core” by staying true to their core values and core purpose, and at the same time “stimulate progress” through cultural and operating practices and setting specific goals and strategies.

But how do we actively manage continuity, while leading change? Collins and Porras suggest that instead of asking ourselves “How should we change?,” we should be asking “What do we stand for and why do we exist?” and then feel free to change everything else.

035Last Friday, I was able to witness a university community that has clearly answered the question, “What do we stand for?” Throughout the inauguration ceremony for Dr. Connie Gores, the ninth president of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU), I heard story after story from alumni, students, faculty, and staff about the value and impact that SMSU has had on transforming lives. Born on the prairie, as a result of people who envisioned the possibilities of having a college in southwest Minnesota, SMSU has a clear identity and core purpose that was easily understood and communicated and provided a sense of pride for the community. In her inauguration speech, Dr. Gores honored the people and the accomplishments of the past by highlighting what SMSU is best known for and how it will continue to maintain continuity. At the same time, she positioned the institution for future progress through increased collaboration among institutions and partnerships with business, by focusing on possibilities. The inspirational theme for the inauguration: The People. The Prairie. The Possibilities., clearly captured this important balance of preserving the core and stimulating progress.

Here are a couple questions to consider when actively managing both continuity and change. After clarifying your core values and purpose, ask your team:

  1. How do our operating practices align with and support our core values and purpose?
  2. What new methods, new strategies, new directions would propel us forward?

What have you done to actively manage both continuity and change in your institution?

Anita Rios

Taking the next step

The path to wisdom does indeed begin with a single step. Where people go wrong is in ignoring all the other thousands of steps that come after it. They take the single step of deciding to become one with the universe and for some reason forget to take the next logical step – of living for 70 years on a mountain and a daily bowl of rice and yak-butter tea – that would give it any kind of meaning.
— Terry Pratchett

You never know where leadership lessons are going to come from. I’ve been listening to an audiobook on the way to work, and this passage popped out at me. I’ve never tasted yak-butter tea, but I like the point that achieving our visions requires taking the next step to do things differently.  The actions are what gives meaning and reality to the vision. Here are a couple of examples from higher education:

1)  In Charting the Future, Chancellor Rosenstone articulated a compelling vision in which MnSCU “provides an opportunity for all Minnesotans to create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.”  In order to accomplish this, the report lays out the goals we need to meet.  That was an important first step. To move forward, the Chancellor has created implementation teams to focus on the action steps that we’ll need to take in order to reach those goals.

2) The American Association of Community Colleges has been working for several years to identify challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.  Their initial report, Reclaiming the American Dream, laid out a vision of institutional transformation.  Just this month, they published a follow-up report, Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future: An Implementation Guide, that breaks the vision down into goals and action steps.

As leaders, we can learn from these examples. Once people understand our vision, we need to broadly involve them in setting goals and associated action steps.  A tried and true method is to create SMART goals, ones that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-oriented
  • Set in a Time Frame

The Charting the Future implementation teams will identify SMART goals to help make the vision a reality.  AACC did the same thing in the two years between the first report and the implementation plan.  For example, their first recommendation is to “increase completion rates by 50% by 2020.”  The implementation guide includes specific action steps, a measurable target, examples of accomplishments that have already been achieved, and the results that could occur as the goal is implemented.  In addition, it includes a timeline with actions and milestones.

yak butter tea free to useTo paraphrase Terry Pratchett, without a compelling vision, people will not see the need to live on a mountain or drink yak-butter tea. At the same time, a high-level vision with no goals or action steps has little meaning.

Dee Anne Bonebright



Avoid a dead end strategy!

Bilingual-Caution-Dead-End-Sign-K-9245Do you remember the last time you and your family or friends drove to a city you had not visited before? You were probably excited to find new adventures or at least your hotel.  What if every street you turned down was a dead end? No way to get to your hotel, no new sites, no museums, no shops and no new adventures. Sounds frustrating, demoralizing and even likely to cause tension and conflict!

The same thing can happen when we use strategies that send our change efforts down dead end roads. Yet we often do this as leaders without being aware of it. One common strategy tool is SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).  A study by Harold E. Klein and Mark D’ Esposito published in 2008 suggests that SWOT analysis and planning actually brings change to a screeching halt at “mental dead ends.” The creativity and complexity involved in successful change requires a different type of strategy and thinking than SWOT analyses create. Their work, and other research in neurocognition and neuroleadership, indicates that we need to use strategy tools that evoke richer mental imagery, more expansive thinking, and fewer either-or choices than a traditional SWOT activity.

Last October Anita shared a strategy tool in her post, Let your vision SOAR, that we use in our work. The open-ended questions used in creating strategy with SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results) engage people and help them create rich mental images of future opportunities, aspirations and results. Using SOAR to develop your change strategy leverages how our brains actually work and can help you avoid dead ends in your change efforts.

Todd Thorsgaard