Category Archives: change and transition

Should leaders set the vision?

Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.

That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success?  Well, not always.

We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.

Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.

This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:

Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.

We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.

The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen?  Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Welcome aboard!

Welcome to Uncertainty

Congratulations! You just hired a new leader. Helping them succeed is a crucial, and often overlooked, transition. The new leader is ready to show their stuff, you are excited about the grand ideas you shared during the search process, your colleagues are expecting results, and their new team is full of experienced workers. What could go wrong?

Actually quite a bit. As leadership transition expert Michael Watkins says in his book, Your Next Move “Transitions into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.”

The book does a great job describing the different types of transitions the new leader will experience. Regardless of their specific transition you can take the following five actions to give them the best chance of succeeding in their new role.

  1. Deliver transition support just-in-time – Strategically identify what information and resources are needed immediately and what can wait. No one can digest everything on the first day! Your new leader needs time to assimilate information.
  2. Leverage the time before they start – Provide access to meetings, people, information, budgets, and yourself before their first official day. Check in and answer questions they have before they are swamped with first-day paperwork and work demands.
  3. Create action-forcing events to guide the transition – Don’t rely on random circumstances during the first few weeks. Instead use your influence and experience to create a learning environment for your new leader. Set up meetings, invite him or her to your meetings, delegate certain tasks to them, add them to different groups, and actively debrief with them to strengthen their understanding and competence.
  4. Provide focused resources that support their transition – A new leader needs a different type of support than an experienced leader. Resources, information and contacts must address culture, basic information, unstated rules, “land mines” to avoid, and other topics above and beyond project or work issues.
  5. Clarify roles – Take the time to clearly identify who is responsible for what. Start with your role, their role, and the roles of other leaders on your team. Then move on to the roles and responsibilities of leaders in other departments and divisions.

You can’t guarantee the success of a new leader but you can give them the best possibility to succeed with your actions.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Communicating about change

We all know that leaders need to communicate about change, and there’s an overwhelming amount of advice about how to do that. It can be hard to figure out how to create the strongest messages.

Make Change Work, by Randy Pennington is a guidebook for communicating about change. It provides five practical questions to help craft your change messages. Pennington says people want to know:

  1. What is changing and what will the new way look like?
  2. What does it mean for what I do on a daily basis?
  3. Will this make a difference?
  4. How will success be measured?
  5. What is the leadership support for this change?

In a review of Pennington’s book, Carol Kinsey Gorman made an important observation: it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. Answering these questions is critical, and it’s equally important to deliver the message in a consistent way. Whether we’re presenting to a large group or discussing change one-on-one, our body language speaks as much as our words. Do our actions convey that we really support the change? Do people believe that our feelings match our words?

I once had a leader that was great at this. She identified a few key points about the change and delivered them consistently, regardless of the situation. Her words and actions were aligned. Because of this, people trusted her information and valued her assessment of issues related to the change. She was able to be a strong advocate for the change effort.

What is one thing you could do this month to strengthen your change communication?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

 

 

Building your team in flight

When you start a new job there are two transitions in play.  As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.

Writer Carolyn O’Hara share six tips for new leaders in her article, What New Team Leaders Should Do First.

  1. Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
  2. Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
  3. Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
  4. Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
  6. Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.

Enjoy the video!

Todd Thorsgaard

Let’s talk about that

It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.  – Celeste Headlee

 

An important leadership skill in transitions–and every other time–is to be able to talk to people. To talk about their concerns, about how the change might impact them, about your views of the change, about their views of the change; to have an effective conversation that promotes collaboration.

Radio host Celeste Headlee did a TED talk about 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. Americans are more divided in their opinions now than they have ever been, and leaders need to bridge the gap in order to help people work together to implement change. Here are her 10 tips:

  1. Don’t multitask. Be fully present to the conversation.
  2. Don’t pontificate. As Headlee says, if you want to state your opinion without pushback, write a blog.  <grin>
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow. Stay focused on what the other person is saying and see where it might lead.
  5. If you don’t know, say so.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If the person is telling a story, don’t hijack it by telling about yours.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the details.
  9. Listen to the other person.
  10. Be brief.

This sounds like a very useful list, but it can be overwhelming to do all of it at once. Headlee notes that focusing on one item and getting better at it would help us have better conversations. Where might you get started?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Putting out the welcome mat

Sometimes,  a work group or project we manage is facing change and we are leading the transition. More often, the change is happening somewhere else and we need to support it. This is especially true with leadership transitions. What role do we have when there is change in the organization’s leadership? How can we put out the welcome mat and help the new leader be successful?

The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) created a blog post and podcast with some useful tips for preparing organizations for new leadership. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Clearly identify what is worth maintaining. What programs, relationships, and business practices are critical to accomplishing core goals?  How can we help shepherd them through the transition? What will the new leader need to know?
  • Communicate throughout the organization. Develop a formal transition plan with specific communication strategies to ensure regular, open, two-way communication. People will tell you if you’re communicating too much. In my experience, that hardly ever happens!
  • Build a strong leadership team. When a leadership team is working well together, with clear goals, transparent decision-making, and trust among the members, it is easier to welcome in new members.
  • Complete major projects. It can be tempting to put things on hold until the new leader arrives. It’s more effective to identify critical tasks or projects and make sure there is a plan to keep them on track. As the article commented, finishing things up is a gift to successors.
  • Provide orientation and training for the new leaders. When a new leader arrives, provide both formal and informal orientation. This can include the core processes of the organization, resources for getting things done, and standard practices. They’ll also need to understand the organization’s history. Where possible, provide a transition time so the new person can learn directly from the outgoing leader.
  • Help the new leader build networks. In addition to figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it, a new leader needs to learn who can help. Providing formal opportunities to build connections should be part of the transition plan.

Are you anticipating leadership changes in the near future? What can you do now to ensure things go smoothly?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Leading transitions

William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a leadership classic. Todd talked about the highlights in this post from a couple of years ago. As you may recall, Bridges proposed that every transition has three stages, each of which requires particular leadership actions.

  1. Ending, losing, and letting go
  2. Neutral zone
  3. New beginning

The Change Factory group created a useful set of checklists for leaders at each stage. It includes questions such as:

  • Am I giving people accurate information, again and again?
  • Have I said thank you to everyone who contributed in the past?
  • Have I made sure that realistic feedback is flowing upward?
  • Am I pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty?
  • Am I being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes?

As you can see, these questions require some thought and reflection. When we’re in the middle of major change (which might feel like most of the time), it can be hard to take the time to reflect and plan. The checklists can provide useful reminders. For those who want extra discipline, they are a great starting point for writing in a leadership journal.

Think of a major transition you’re experiencing. Which stage do you think you’re in? Is there a question from the checklist that was particularly useful?

Dee Anne Bonebright