Monthly Archives: July 2014

Who’s on first?

abbott_and_costelloSad to say, many change initiatives start out with great ideas, energy and high engagement before they dissolve into confusion, frustration or apathy. In fact, I have been in change meetings that sounded like the classic bit by Abbott & Costello.

What I have discovered, as I am sure you have, is that bringing groups together from different divisions, functions and initiatives leads to conversations that are as fruitful as Abbott and Costello’s. Yet, the challenges we face in higher education, and most other fields these days, require collaboration and cross-initiative integration to find long-term success. When groups and individuals don’t understands each other, then no one knows who’s job it is to do what, who gets to decide and why, when we have decided, why we are even doing it, what we are actually doing, or just plain “who’s on first?”

As Scott Keller and Colin Price, from McKinsey & Company, describe in Beyond Performance, successful transformation requires clear structure and ownership. Helping your teams discuss and document accountability, decision-rights, and roles allows cross-functional teams to understand each other better and take action. A tool that can help provide that structure and ownership and develop the capacity for successful change is the RACI matrix.

For key tasks, actions, decisions and events that drive the change identify who is:

  • Responsible – makes recommendations, will be doing it, responsible for getting it done
  • Accountable – makes the decision, gives approval, has the authority
  • Consulted – subject-matter experts, crucial stakeholders with information needed before decision is made
  • Informed – stakeholders, groups, individuals who will be affected by the decision or need to be aware of the event

Consistent use of a tool like the RACI matrix will support the development of a powerful change engine that has the capacity to take action and drive success. HARMON KILLEBREWEveryone will know who is on first and why!

Todd Thorsgaard


Common pitfalls in leading change

pitfallIn their research on transformational change, Scott Keller and Colin Price, authors of Beyond Performance, have identified common pitfalls that organizations typically encounter on their change journey. Interestingly enough, these pitfalls are all paradoxes that people struggle with in organizational life.

For example, here are a few:

  1. Change vs. Continuity
  2. Planning vs. Piloting/Experimentation
  3. Standardization vs. Autonomous Practices
  4. Pressure for Progress vs. Discovery
  5. Independent Initiatives vs. Connected Initiatives

The key to managing any of these pitfalls is to see them not as EITHER/OR solutions, but to view them as BOTH/AND equations.  For instance:

  1. To manage change and continuity, ask:  What do we need to do to preserve the core of the excellent education we provide, but make room for leaps of innovation that will support student success?
  2. To manage planning and experimentation, ask: How do we balance our planning efforts with wise action that moves progress forward?
  3. To manage standardization and autonomy, ask: What processes would benefit from standardization across our campuses and where is it best to allow for autonomy among colleges and universities?

Well, you get the picture. But what if mere questioning doesn’t help get you unstuck when you are dealing with one of these common pitfalls? That’s when it’s helpful to do some deeper exploratory work.  Using a tool called a polarity map can be extraordinarily helpful to discover what what underlying values and mindsets are responsible for polarizing people in the organization. Most importantly, the process of polarity mapping can help you explore common ground and strategies for moving forward, so you can manage the dilemma effectively.

For resources on understanding polarities, see: Barry Johnson’s book on Polarity Management or a Managing Polarities seminar available through our Talent Management team at MnSCU.

Anita Rios



Skill-building: who has the time?

Computer keyboard with key LearnOur office recently completed the 2014 staff development survey.  As leaders we know that development is important and our employees need new skills and abilities to contribute to successful change. Yet the survey showed that many don’t feel they have the tools they need. Just slightly over half (59%) of the employees who responded to the survey agreed with the statement that “my workplace gives me the tools I need to be successful on the job.”

This highlights an opportunity for us as leaders. Are we aware of what our team members need in order to be successful?  How can we provide it? Most important, how can we help people build capacity to meet future needs while still addressing their current workload?

Two trends in the survey provided interesting clues. First, among employees who did not attend training, there was a substantial decrease in the number of employees agreeing that one reason was “timing conflicted with my work commitments.” As more development activities occur online, people may be finding it easier to work it into their schedules.

At the same time, the number of employees who said they didn’t attend training because the timing conflicted with personal commitments doubled over previous surveys.  As workload increases, employees may be less flexible with personal time such as lunch hours, work schedules, and vacation.

What does this mean for us? For one thing,  we need to remember  that skill building has a learning curve and requires practice. Our team members need dedicated work time to experiment with the skills and information they have learned.

What practices have you used to ensure that your employees have the tools and information they need to be successful on the job?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Summertime and the living is easy……

Do you know the next line? If so leave a comment and also share what you are doing to enjoy your summer.

Similar to many of my favorite podcasts, I am offering a “best-of” summer repeat post today. First a quick set-up for you.

In Anita’s last post she highlighted the importance of Building a Change Engine to ensure you have the capacity for a successful change. Improving decision-making capabilities is a crucial aspect of the change engine structure.  The quality of decisions during all phases of change impacts the success of any change initiative.

At MnSCU we are focused on providing an opportunity for all Minnesotans to create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities through our Charting the Future work. Leaders, faculty, staff, implementation team members, and stakeholders will all need to make many on-going decisions during the next few years. As in any organization working on transformational change, we will be searching for new ideas, exploring alternatives and examining current policies, procedures and processes and deciding what is the best mix for a successful future. Change demands making hard choices among many options.

Last December I wrote about a conversation McKinsey & Company had with Chip Heath that focused on how to increase the effectiveness of decision-making in organizations and individuals and make better decisions. Here is a link to that blog which includes some practical ideas for developing decision-making capacity in your organization – It’s a WRAP!

I hope you find this “repeat” blog valuable. In case you couldn’t answer my opening question, here is a hint. fish-graphics-catfish-931568

We would love to hear what you are doing to enjoy your summer.

Todd Thorsgaard

Build a change engine!

imagesCAPIQJI9Research has shown that 70% of all change efforts fail. So faced with that daunting statistic, what can leaders do to ensure that their change effort is successful? According to a 2010 transformational change survey conducted by McKinsey and Company, organizations that implemented successful change efforts had three elements in common.

1) STRUCTURE: The change effort was organized into a clear structure with easily understandable parts

2) OWNERSHIP: Roles and responsibilities were clear and people felt accountable for delivering results

3) EVALUATION: Clear metrics and milestones were set to ensure that progress and impact were rigorously tracked.

Put together, these three elements form an engine for change that supports and drives progress.  In applying these three elements to your change efforts, it can be helpful ask the following questions:


  1. Are the phases of this change effort easy to understand?
  2. What might I need to do to communicate the structure more clearly?
  3. What is confusing to people?
  4. How can it be simplified so that it is easy to understand?


  1. Do people and teams involved in implementing the change understand their roles?
  2. What is their decision-making authority?
  3. What is their span of control?
  4. How are people and teams being held accountable?
  5. How is this being communicated?


  1. What will success look like?
  2. What metrics have been set? Are they easy to measure? Or are they ambiguous?
  3. What milestones are in place?
  4. Are there incentives and rewards paired with the metrics and milestones?

In your experience, have you found that building in structure, ownership, and evaluation elements have supported your change efforts?

Anita Rios




The many shades of gray

shades of gray“Tolerance of ambiguity” is appearing more and more often in leadership competencies and interview questions for leaders at all levels in higher education.  Many of of us are used to regarding decision-making as a black and white, EITHER/OR process.  We are now realizing the importance of the gray space of BOTH/AND that lies in the middle of most critical decisions.

How can we help ourselves and our team members get used to working in ambiguity?  Can we move beyond tolerance to even enjoying it?

In this blog on dealing with ambiguity, Colin Shaw proposed ten steps to help. His focus was the business world, but the concepts apply in higher ed as well.

  1. Suppress your urge to control things.
  2. Learn to act without the complete big picture.
  3. Accept that some of your decisions will be wrong.
  4. Develop flexibility.
  5. Learn to deal with uncertainty.
  6. Realize there is no defined “big plan” to work from.
  7. Be confident.
  8. Listen to your voice.
  9. Listen to advice from others.
  10. Learn to deal with stress.

For me, suppressing the urge to control things and find the “right” answer has been a leadership challenge.  As Shaw says, sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision at all.  There have been times when I needed to make the best choice I could based on the information I had, and then move confidently forward.

Having a supportive leader was important in my process of learning to deal with ambiguity.  What can you do to help yourself and your team members successfully navigate an ambiguous world?

Dee Anne Bonebright



Who’s the decider?

pointing in different directionsChange is easy when everyone has the exact same vision and ideas. Ok, now that you have finished chuckling at the absurdity of that comment, let’s talk about reality. Scott Keller and Colin Price, consultants at McKinsey & Company and authors of Beyond Performancedescribe a common pitfall most organizations face during large change initiatives – “Apparent consensus fades when challenged.” Or, how I often hear it in my work, “that’s not what I thought we agreed to do.”

Who can make a decision and when a decision has been made are questions that need to be answered if an organization wants to successfully implement a change and keep it going. When the answers are murky or accountabilities are unclear confusion reigns and energy is sapped.

As George Bush so aptly highlighted in the title to my blog today, most of us want to be the decider or believe we should be the decider. This human tendency needs to be addressed by leaders during change efforts. In our Art of Supervision leadership program we identify six separate decision-making styles and work with leaders to highlight the importance of clearly identifying which style they are using and why. The same styles can be used by leaders of change and implementation teams. The six styles include:

  1. Executive decision – a single senior leader makes the decision on their own.
  2. Consultative decision – a single leader makes the decision after gathering input from others.
  3. Expert decision – decision-making accountability is designated to a subject-matter expert.
  4. Majority decision – the decision is made by the group based on a majority rules criteria.
  5. Participative decision – the decision is made by a subgroup that has been assigned the responsibility for the final decision.
  6. Consensus decision – the decision is made only after everyone involved agrees to the decision and commits to supporting it.

Each style has its advantages and disadvantages and there is no one right style of decision making, The important capacity for successful change is to purposely choose a style and clearly communicate which style is being used in which activities.


Don’t let this be the lasting image of your important change effort.

Todd Thorsgaard



Aligning change efforts

gears free to useAs Anita pointed out last time, building the capacity for change requires knowing an organization’s skill sets and training needs.  That’s one critical piece of a larger puzzle – understanding how the various parts of an organization are interdependent and how they will be impacted by a change effort.

McKinsey has developed a model to help leaders think about the interconnecting impact of organizational change.  Their “Seven-S Model” is described on MindTools at this link. It includes seven interdependent factors that need to be considered when engaging in change efforts.

“Hard” Elements

  • Strategy:  What is our vision?  How was it developed? Who was involved?
  • Structure:  How is our work getting done?  Does the current organizational chart support the collaborative relationships we need?  How does information flow?
  • Systems/Processes:  What financial, IT, HR, and communications systems are needed to support the work? Are key processes working effectively?

“Soft” Elements

  • Style/Culture:  How participative is our current leadership style? Do employees and units tend to be collaborative or competitive? How do decisions get made?
  • Staff:  Do people understand their own roles and responsibilities and each other’s? How diverse is our work team?
  • Skills:  What competencies are needed to do the work?  Do we have the skills and specializations we need?
  • Shared values:  What are our core values? How strongly are they shared?  What evidence exists of the values (stories, symbols, behaviors, etc.)

Once you have an understanding of the current state of these seven elements, you can then start thinking about how they might need to change in order to support the new goals and strategy.

As you can see, large-scale change is complex and messy.  Asking strategic questions such as those proposed in the Seven-S model is one way to help keep track of the moving parts.

Dee Anne Bonebright




Building skills for managing change

building blocksWhile diversity may trump ability, as Todd pointed out in his last blog post, it is not enough. Successful change in organizations also requires new behaviors, new mind-sets, new skills and new abilities. They are one of the key building blocks that sustainable change efforts are built upon. But what can leaders do to ensure that not only they are equipped with the skills for managing change, but their employees are as well?

As you may know, I’m a big fan of MindTools, which has a free change management skill self-assessment. The assessment helps you evaluate your own change management skill set in the following four key areas:

  1. Understanding change
  2. Planning change
  3. Managing resistance to change
  4. Implementing change

I’d encourage you to try it at MindTools

For building employee skill sets, it can be helpful to identify the skills needed for a particular change effort by conducting a training needs assessment.  In our MnSCU system, building skill capability has been placed front and center with our massive Charting the Future effort. The senior leadership team has supported identifying skill gaps and delivering training that meets the needs of various implementation teams.

Here are a few key questions that our leaders have asked to ensure the success of Charting the Future and build capability among the teams driving change for the MnSCU system:

  • What are the primary skill and ability gaps among the teams?
  • Given our system capacity, how can we best deliver skill building?
  • Do we have the content within our organization to address these capability building needs?
  • How can we best draw upon our current capacity to deliver needed training?

Thinking about a change that you are in the midst of, what capability building needs do you see? And how can you mobilize resources to address those needs?

Anita Rios


Diversity trumps ability

diffjacketScott Page makes this claim in his book, The DifferenceSpecifically, he demonstrates that if organizations want to develop the capacity required to solve the challenging problems faced during transformational change efforts, leaders need to build and support diverse teams and develop diverse perspectives within individuals.

While his book is a challenging read with many fascinating ideas I want to share just a few concepts that can help leaders build the infrastructure and develop people with the capacity to successfully create and sustain transformational change.

Page’s theory and research focuses on a concept titled cognitive diversity, or the differing perspectives, heuristics, predictive models and interpretations that individuals in an organization bring with them as they solve problems. This diversity is shown to facilitate better solutions and outcomes when groups need to solve complex problems, even though it can also lead to conflict or initial resistance.

Specific project management and change infrastructure tactics include:

  • Seek out and include people with diverse experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and credentials on project teams
  • Expose individuals to new experiences and opportunities to develop multiple perspectives
  • Encourage fun and unusual ideas
  • Add external perspectives to your teams for true diversity
  • Develop interdisciplinary teams

Teams and individuals with diverse perspectives need support from sponsors and leaders to take risks and experiment. Initial ideas may not be predictable or familiar to decision-makers but with support they will lead to better solutions.

Encouraging curiosity and demonstrating a sense of wonder when new perspectives are shared will set the stage for solving the complex problems we face today.

Todd Thorsgaard