Tag Archives: Change

Walking the slackline

Nimble, agile, focused, adaptable, relying on others, willing to take a risk, moving forward, and getting up after you fall. That is how I describe my slackliner friends. It is also describes a leader who is strategic and works as a partner.

During November we will be sharing stories, ideas and resources focused on being a strategic leader and partner. In a recent HBR article, Paul Schoemaker, Steve Krupp and Samatha Howland say that leaders can make the biggest difference for their people and their organizations when the work environment is most uncertain–if they are adaptive, strategic leaders. In their words, this means “Someone who is both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts.”

Certainly the higher education work environment is uncertain. The national and global economy is going through rapid changes and most leaders I talk with point out that their industry is in the midst of epic transformations. So, we all have a great opportunity to make a difference as leaders now. But it takes work and skill development to be strategic leader and partner.

Are you ready to try walking the slackline?

Todd Thorsgaard

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You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss and colleagues or stakeholders will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Don’t forget the endings!

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:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • 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.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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