My daughter’s dog, Lucy, frequently visits overnight. She’s enthusiastic and curious, and really fun to have around. But we often have this conversation in the mornings:
Lucy (while jumping all over me): It’s morning! The sun is up!! That means we can get up and do things!!!
Me (pulling blanket over my head): But the alarm didn’t go off yet. That means I can sleep 10 more minutes.
It seems like some people greet new beginnings with lots of exclamation points and are genuinely happy to jump in, while other people need to go more slowly. As leaders, we need to respond to both kinds of people.
That might mean having action steps ready for those who want to get started. We need to take advantage of the enthusiasm and channel it towards positive change. Or it might mean providing more information for people who want to consider things, and helping them adapt at their own pace.
Which sort of morning person are you when it comes to new beginnings at work? What has been useful when communicating with the other type?
Dee Anne Bonebright
It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.
William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book, (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.) counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.
Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!
It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:
- or many others
While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!
Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.
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.
- Ending, losing, and letting go
- Neutral zone
- 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
My daughter just started a new job and recently spent a full day in a new employee onboarding program. Since she knows what I do for a living, she called to tell me that I should have been there – so I could tape it and use it as an example of what not to do!
The arrival of a new employee is often one of the greatest missed leadership opportunities. During the period of transition, employees are wondering not just about the nuts and bolts of their jobs, but also about the organization. What kind of team have I joined? What is the culture? How can I fit in?
Last summer I introduced the 4 C’s model of onboarding. Based on work by the Society for Human Resource Management, it identifies four key focus areas:
- Compliance: the basic legal and policy requirements of their role.
- Clarification: the roles and expectations for the new positions.
- Culture: introduction to formal and informal organizational norms
- Connection: integrating new employees into the work group.
My daughter’s program focused on compliance. She learned about the laws and policies that govern her new work. She filled out the paperwork to be covered by benefits. But she didn’t hear from organizational leaders about their goals and priorities, and she didn’t have an opportunity to build a connection with the other new employees who were there. She walked away feeling like they had wasted her time on things she could have done from her own desk.
The organizational leaders missed the chance to meet with a group of eager new staff who wanted to hear what they had to say. Even a brief welcome and greeting could have made them feel like the organization was glad they were there and wanted them to succeed.
Many of our Minnesota State schools are examining their new employee programs and looking for new ways to build culture and connection. How can we as leaders make better use of this important transition?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person? Do you see great opportunities for making significant change in higher education over the next few years or does it feel like the decrease in funding and financial instability will rob us of our ability to educate our students?
However you answer it is clear that higher education leaders need to be stewards of diminishing resources while providing hope and opportunity to their communities and to our society. This demands that we identify the crucial and eliminate the unnecessary. Or as the old saying goes, “doing more with less.”
While this is a daunting task one concrete place to start is to think LEAN.
Lean thinking asks leaders to fully engage the people on their team and identify how and where they make the greatest contribution to student success and, as importantly, what obstacles or inefficiencies exist in their day-to-day work. It focuses on the work flows and work processes that support higher education and applies a rigorous examination of how valuable each step in the process is and what is getting in the way of your people and making it harder to do their jobs!
A colleague of mine, Theresa Waterbury, wrote a book titled, Educational Lean:Theory and Practice. It provides an introduction to lean thinking and hands-on examples of how to make changes in your workplace. A simple way to start thinking lean is to ask your team the following questions – do this both with your whole team and with individuals:
• What things keep you from doing your work?
• What is something you should not have to do?
• What would make your work easier?
• What would make your work more satisfying?
• What would improve the skills and capabilities of those who work for you?
• What would improve your work environment?
• What would make you more successful in your job?
We can’t magically change the national economy or print more money but leaders can help ensure that the work they are doing and the work of their team is focused and efficient by thinking lean.
For more information on Lean Thinking in Higher Education check out the following resources:
Constanta Maritime University Annals, Vol. 18, 2012.
“Did it work?” looks like a simple question to answer but when dealing with people and change there are no easy answers. In fact, there is usually more than one answer, and it takes a lot of work to unearth them!
Evaluating the overall results of your change effort starts with digging deep to identify and document what each stakeholder group finds important and learn their definition of success. For those of us in higher education success can be defined as increased enrollment, student learning, decreased student debt, program sustainability, fiscal viability, community engagement, graduation rate, student completion, faculty engagement, student engagement, and on and on.
Recently I discovered the work of an international group of experts in the field of evaluation. They can help you focus your evaluation and determine what is most important to all of your stakeholders. Managing the evaluation process provides a set of resources and tools you can use to involve and engage your stakeholders during your evaluation planning, implementation and communication. Stakeholder engagement helps you:
- provide credible and useful evaluation information
- collect high quality data
- understand and interpret evaluation data
- build knowledge about the value of evaluation
- facilitate the use and dissemination of your results
You can find more information on their website, Better Evaluation.
Engaging your stakeholders in your evaluation process clarifies what will count as success and helps you answer each stakeholder when they ask you, “did it work?”
Posted in Accountability, communication, Engagement, goals, higher education, stakeholders
Tagged accountability, change management, communication, evaluation, higher education, stakeholders
I got zapped a few weeks ago! I was facilitating a day long program and I had assurances that my participants could park in the adjoining lot and we would not be tagged. Look what we found on our cars at the end of the day. Oops, I guess the change in ticketing policy wasn’t backed up by a change in procedure for the parking attendant that was on duty that day. We all did what we thought we were supposed to do but we paid a price, literally!
A powerful way for leaders to evaluate whether a change effort has actually led to successful change is to examine your organizational policies and procedures. Have they been changed to aligned with the new normal? Do they reflect your new values and expected behaviors and reinforce desired performance? Or do they make it hard for your people to “do the right thing?”
The nuts and bolts of daily activity are guided by the formal infrastructure you create. Your policies, procedures, handbooks, training programs, recognition programs and other guidelines are concrete examples of your culture. While culture can be hard to measure, policies are “black and white” and provide a clear picture of success or failure.
Don’t ticket your people for doing the right thing!