Monthly Archives: December 2014

What do (did) we face in 2014?

Best of 2014, first published on January 29, 2014.
Happy New Year’s Eve! Before you set your resolutions and goals for 2015 take time to look back, reflect and learn from what happened in 2014. How did you react to change, what worked well, what didn’t work as well? What do you want to continue to do in 2015? What do you want to do differently? Through reflection leaders can grow and not just repeat experiences — Todd Thorsgaard

Successful leaders are vigilant and pay attention to factors, large and small, that will have an impact on their people and themselves. It is almost impossible to not be awafuture signsre of the key issues that exist in higher education that will be driving change over the next year. Yet as leaders it is also important to be continually scanning the entire environment and using that information to help you lead your people during change.

In conjunction with leadership consultant Sarah Bridges, we have created a Situational Awareness Worksheet that can be used to help you conduct an “environmental scan” to identify external factors that will need to be a part of your overall change leadership strategy. One factor when leading change is an awareness of the workplace culture. Each institution and each work team has its own culture but a recent article from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists provides a Top 10 List Workplace Trends for 2014 that can be used as a starting point when you scan your environment.

Trend #6, Integrating Technology into the Workplace, is one that will be very important in my work leading change over the next year. I have discovered that new technology often feels like a threat and that reaction can derail change efforts. What I view as a tech enhancement and a positive change is viewed as a condemnation of past practice and stops collaboration and change! Including that knowledge into the change plan ensures that it is not overlooked and the concerns addresses.

What trends will be most important for you as you lead change in 2014?

Todd Thorsgaard

Culture comes last

Best of 2014, first published on October 13, 2014
Oftentimes we get so hung up about the ways that our workplace culture needs to change in order for transformation to occur that it can feel immobilizing. At those times, I find it helpful to remind myself that culture comes last, not first.
–Anita Rios

Transformational change by its very nature requires culture change.  In fact, most of us have heard the phrase: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Right? In other words, we can have the most logical, well-thought-out change strategy, but unless the culture (i.e., underlying norms and values) shifts in an organization to support a new way of operating and working together, the change will fail.

Popular wisdom often focuses on shifting culture first in an organization, but according to change guru and author John Kotter, “In a change effort, culture comes last, not first.”  He says that culture truly changes only when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed over time.

sysyphusTrying to shift the norms and values before creating the new way of operating does not work. In fact, it will result in useless efforts and unending frustration. It can often feel like Sisyphus, from Greek mythology, who was sentenced to endlessly roll an enormous boulder up a steep hill only to watch it roll back down again.

So how can leaders avoid unending frustration and implement strategies that reinforce the new way of operating over time? Here are a few concrete ideas that Kotter shares from his book, The Heart of Change:

  • Use new employee orientation to show what the organization really cares about (values)
  • Promote people who act according to the new norms into influential and visible positions
  • Tell vivid stories over and over about the new organization, what it does and why it succeeds

Kotter adds that “you can create new behaviors that reflect a desired culture. But those behaviors will not become norms, will not take hold, until the very end of the process.”

For me, understanding this fundamental aspect of organizational change that culture comes last, not first, is rather freeing. It helps me focus on what is doable to sustain change, rather than feeling immobilized by thinking that I have to implement culture change first. What do you think?

Anita Rios


Holding groups accountable

Best of 2014, first published on June 6, 2014
At the end of the year, we often take time to thank our colleagues for the good work we’ve done together.  This post gives tips for thanking groups as well as individuals.

–Dee Anne Bonebright

teamwork1 free to useWhen leaders think about building accountability and commitment, many common strategies are focused on individuals.  With so much of our work focused on collaboration, how can we reward teams?

A recent blog by the Harvard Business Review provided some good suggestions.

  1. Make sure the team knows what you expect, and then check in regularly.  Acknowledge good work, celebrate milestones, and provide timely feedback on problems.
  2. Be creative with non-monetary rewards.  A pizza lunch can be fun, but many teams would rather have a chance to present their report to a senior leader.
  3. Talk in terms of teamwork.  Modeling collaborative behavior will reinforce the importance you place on the team’s efforts.
  4. Emphasize team accomplishments.  Where appropriate, consider doing a formal team evaluation and/or including team performance in individual evaluations.

Even more than in the past, our success going forward will depend on successfully building commitment for groups of people to work together collaboratively toward a common goal.  How might you need to adjust your leadership strategies to build group accountability and commitment as well as that of individual team members?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Not again!

Best of 2014, first published on February 19, 2014.
Yes, every year the holiday season sneaks up on me and I scramble to pack in all the fun, festivities and craziness before the year ends! In a similar manner, the transformational changes you are leading in higher education also will continue to reappear. Not because something is wrong but because leaders face adaptive, complex and ever-changing changes!  — Todd Thorsgaard


How often does this thought run through your mind, “I thought that last change had solved our problem, I can’t believe I have to deal with it again!” Ryan-Gander-Oh-No-Not-Aga-005

It seems like many of the changes that vex leaders are related to recurring issues that keep popping up, again and again. Does that mean we are making mistakes in our change leadership? Have the wrong solution or the wrong people on the team? I believe not! A more accurate assessment of your current state may be that you are dealing with an adaptive challenge.

Adaptive problems require a longer term change strategy to ensure success than technical problems do, as described by Dr. Ronald Heifetz in the following video. Heifitz, the founder of the Center for Public Leadership and a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Affairs, describes the differences between adaptive challenges and so-called technical problems and highlights adaptive challenges as requiring a “sustained period of disequilibrium.” The nature of adaptive challenges means that any resulting changes will evolve and shift over time and not be able to be implemented and done with. Your change management efforts will need to support “a productive zone of disturbance and discomfort” over a long period of time  Dr. Ronald Heifetz video

Learning to recognize the differences between adaptive challenges and technical problems will help you as you assess your current state and develop your change strategy. It may also help you feel less stressed as “problems” resurface, like the critters in “whack a mole!” whack a mole

Todd Thorsgaard

What stories are you telling?

Best of 2014, first published on October 20, 2014.
Over the year, we’ve discussed how important it is for leaders to create an emotional connection with their followers through effective storytelling.  Stories engage people’s hearts and can mobilize them to support change efforts, where pure logic falls short. — Anita Rios

“Stories are the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolkit.” – Howard Gardner

This month we have been discussing ways of reinforcing the new normal after implementing a change. One important method is to focus on the stories you are telling about your organization, its values, and the new way of doing things.

According to Howard Gardner, when you tell a story, you are appealing to multiple intelligences to open up more parts of the brain, that allow people to better absorb information and retain it. You are also creating a pathway for people to connect emotionally with your organization and feel a part of the change. But if you’re not a natural storyteller, how do you get started?

  • First think about what you want to communicate.
  • Then, think about what you want your listeners to do as a result.
  • Then, work backward from that.

Sounds easy. Right?….. Wrong. Good storytelling is hard work, but can be a strategic activity for a leader and well worth the effort. It may help to begin collecting stories about what early successes have occurred with the change. Begin sharing those stories and highlight how the change has impacted students, employees, your institution, the larger society, and you.

grad manHere’s a story I’d like to share with you. I have worked in higher education for more than 28 years now and I stay in higher education, because I believe in its ability to transform lives. A couple of years ago, I met a student at one of our community colleges who was absolutely inspirational. He had attended his local college during his last two years of high school and was graduating from high school with his A.A. degree. At the ripe age of  18, he was able to enroll in a university as a junior, with two years of college completed and paid for. He told me how he enjoyed college, the campus environment and his professors who took time to mentor him. He shared how college had transformed his life, giving him options for his future. Yes, he was motivated, and an exemplary student, but without our community college in his rural area, he would have been marking time in his local high school. Providing post-secondary options for high school students is one of the ways my organization provides value to our students, our state, and our society.

People look for meaning in their work. Stories can inspire and engage people in the new way of doing things. And the sharing of stories can create collective meaning in an organization.

What stories are you telling?

Anita Rios

Painter’s tape for change initiatives

Best of 2014, first published on September 26, 2014
This was one of my favorite learning moments from last year. I’ve told the story in several courses and everyone can relate.  FYI – the walls did get painted eventually!

–Dee Anne Bonebright

My daugpainter tape 1hter recently purchased her first house with her new husband. The two of them were very excited to get in there and start updating things, particularly the wall paint.  They agonized over samples, settled on a scheme, and arrived in the garage with a dozen cans of paint.

Then they spent the next week not painting.  As much as they were eager to start using the new brushes and rollers, there were a lot of steps that had to be done first. The walls had to be scrubbed and the edges had to be taped. Nails had to be removed and holes filled in. Outlet covers needed to be removed. It took a long time before any walls actually changed color.

Leading change initiatives can be like that.  We’ve identified a clear goal, obtained the needed resources, and are ready to see things happen.  The project team is anxious to start checking outcomes off the list. All that stuff about building the team, communicating with stakeholders, and assessing the change climate can feel very time-consuming and frustrating.

painter tape 2However, any experienced leader can tell you that without the proper preparation, the change initiative won’t be successful.  Just like painting the wall, if it’s not prepped properly, the new paint won’t stick. Scrubbing and taping is a lot of work up front, but it makes the overall process much easier. It’s a great feeling to finally remove the tape and see the new, fresh walls – drip free and ready to go.

One of the best tools for the preparation process is a project charter. While a charter is essential for any large change project, it can also be useful for smaller efforts. Creating the charter forces a leader to think through the goals, timelines, and assumptions for the change initiative. It also helps to identify the key stakeholders and what their roles should be.

There are many online resources for creating charters. Here are a couple of places to start:

– Bright Hub project management. What is a project charter?

– MindTools. Project charters

How have project charters helped with your change initiatives?

— Dee Anne Bonebright

Code blue – save that change!

Best of 2014, first published on June 11, 2014
Leadership provides many opportunities to serve our students and the people on your team. It also requires much from you, particularly when there is conflict or concerns about needed changes. Inspirational leaders find a way to “go first” and demonstrate with their own actions what must be done. Even when it is hard.  –Todd Thorsgaard

aedEach morning I notice the AED defibrillator when I exit the stairwell on my way to my office. If I am running late I may be slightly out of breath from running up the stairs but I have never needed the defibrillator, thank goodness! Yet, I am glad that the leaders in our organization don’t just talk about healthy employees but take accountability and are committed to the health of their people. They purchased and put AED devices on each floor and provided training on how to use them. I am trained and it is a good feeling to know that we have resources available and I know what to do in the event of a health emergency.

Change leaders have a similar responsibility to align their own behaviors and take accountability for their role in building accountability for change in the overall institution. The Implementation Institute uses the acronym CPR to help leaders build accountability for actual behavior change and execution in change initiatives.

C – Communicate: Clearly define, articulate and share the specific behaviors, performance and actions that are a part of the change.

P – Practice: Clearly determine what behaviors you need to personally demonstrate to show your commitment to the change. “Practice what you preach”

R– Reinforce: Create an infrastructure, policies and practices that reinforce the desired behaviors, successful and initially unsuccessful attempts at the new behaviors, and other activities that support the change.

Leaders who understand the importance of change CPR and actively communicate, practice and reinforce the desired behaviors necessary for a change to succeed will build accountability and commitment through their higher education institutions or any type of organization.

Todd Thorsgaard