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Author: Peter de Jager

Leadership Lessons: A 7 Phase Methodology – Phase 2 – Establish Rapport

 Editor’s note: We will be showcasing each phase of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Click here for phase 1 and check back every week to read the next phase.

As someone involved with ‘selling’ the change, remember the lesson from sales. People buy from people they like. Do they trust you? Change management is an exercise in diplomacy.

  • Don’t have all the answers.

Change ‘agents’ have a tendency to outline the entire change. They see the change as something they ‘own’ and must, therefore, dictate the exact ‘solution’. A system written with the users input will ALWAYS have a better chance of success than a solution foisted upon them by an isolated IS. The role of a ‘change agent’ is to make change possible, not to define the change to be adopted.

  • Support empowerment

Empowerment means giving the target audience the option to make decisions. The flip side is that you, the change agent, must give up the desire to make all the decisions. The more you leave in the hands of the target audience, the more you build their sense of ownership.

Related Article: Implementing Change – Phase 1 – Understand the Change

  • Don’t ask for ‘buy in

When you ask for ‘buy in’ you’ve already failed. It means you’re presenting them with both a need to change and the ‘solution.’ To be more precise, you are presenting them with your solution. You’ve invalidated any empowerment you may have created.

  • Seek out their ‘vision’

Again, this meets their need for ownership in the change. We resist change most when it leaves us powerless when we have no control over our future.

  • Identify influence leaders, early adapters, and resistors

Influence leaders are those whom others look to for guidance; they are not necessarily those early adapters that take to a new change first. Your time is best spent getting influencers to change, rather than catering to the early adapters or resistors. (Of course, sometimes you’ll be in a situation where the biggest resistor is also the biggest influencer.)

  • Change thinking: ‘Change Agent’ vs. ‘Inflictor of Change’

The term ‘change agent’ creates an image of a person on a mission. Another phrase more in keeping with the reality that change hurts is ‘change inflictor.’ It forces you to keep in mind your primary task is to disrupt the status quo. When you think like a ‘pain inflictor’ then you have one strong objective – reduce the pain. Consider your local dentist. His single goal is to minimize the pain experienced during a specific ‘change’. By showing concern for people’s reluctance to leave their status quo behind, you also reduce their resistance to the proposed change.

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission. 

Leadership Lessons: Implementing Change – A 7 Phase Methodology – Phase 1

Editor’s note: We will be showcasing each phase of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Check back every week to read the next phase.

How should we implement change? It’s a simple enough question, surely there’s a simple answer — especially since we get to do it so often. Every time we implement a new system or install a new process, we’re implementing change. Surely there are some things that work, and some things that fail? Surely we’re intelligent enough to sift out the good from the bad? Perhaps.

We have a problem. We need to understand the deep mystical secrets of change implementation.

We know some of these secrets involve the target audience;

  • Making it their change, not your change; providing support during transition;
  • Celebrating small successes etc

Sounds like motherhood and apple pie. Perhaps that’s why we ignore them so often. But Robert Fulghum was very successful with a simple little book entitled ‘All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten’. Perhaps we need to follow his advice and pay attention to the obvious and the simple.

Perhaps when it comes to Change, all we really need do is paraphrase Fulghum and state “All I really need to know about Change, I learned in my last failed implementation!” and add this commentary as a warning… “I ignore them at my own peril!”

When faced with Change, any Change, our immediate response is “How will it affect me?” Will it destroy a way of life, or just disrupt a sense of comfort? Will it threaten jobs, or will it just be perceived as threatening jobs? Does it matter if it is a perception rather than reality?

Everyone shares these simple, personal, self-preserving questions. Answer them and you’ve solved the problem of implementing Change. Ignore them and you guarantee yourself a difficult, if not impossible, transformation.

Related Article: Leadership Lessons: Change in Seven Questions

There are no silver bullets in change management. No guaranteed, money back solutions. Your change strategy will depend on the present situation, your history, the future you’re trying to create and how difficult you make the journey from here to there.

The bottom line is, there is nothing you can say to someone you’re about to layoff that will make them feel better. If you’re looking for such a solution, then you‘re looking for the Holy Grail, it doesn’t exist.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to get a target audience to accept a new way of doing things, a new system or a new set of standards, then there are partial solutions. Solutions that allow the target audience to gain some control over their destiny while implementing the necessary changes.

The following list of questions and suggestions are intended to entice you to think about the whole situation, past and present, not just the uncertain future you’re trying to build.

Phase I: Understand the Change

Before we implement change, it’s imperative we understand all the reasons for it. We must become experts in the change being proposed or reacted to, because people will look to us for answers. They might even look to us for guidance. At the very least “Is the change necessary?” will be asked by everyone impacted by it. It would be nice to have an answer.

  • What/Who is the Foreign Element?

The foreign element is the event, or person, which will disrupt the ‘way things were” otherwise known as the status quo. It’s dangerous to assume that the ‘foreign element’ is obvious to everyone. If the foreign element is misidentified, then the change will be more difficult to manage. This is sometimes another way of asking “What’s the real agenda?” If assumptions are made about why this change is being made, and these assumptions are wrong, it is likely the type of change implemented will not address either the real issue or that hidden reason for the change.

  • What happens if we don’t change?

What are the consequences if nothing changes? How certain are we that these consequences will take place? If the target audience does not believe the consequences will occur, or if the consequences have no noticeable positive or negative impact on them, they will not be motivated to move forward. People need to understand the real necessity for the change. Most people, when they understand the need to change is real, are unlikely, for reasons of self-preservation, to resist the change as strongly as those who believe the change is unnecessary.

  • Who is affected by the change?

Closely tied to the question of consequences. Will *I* be affected? If I’m not affected? Why should I change? It’s possible, and it happens often, that one way to reject change is to live under the belief that it doesn’t affect me personally. Identifying the ‘target audience’ is crucial to any change project.

  • When will the change take place?

The more imminent the change, the more people can relate and respond to it. Sometimes the only way to get people to accept that a change is ‘real’ is to attach a firm date for implementation. We’re all busy, our plates are filled with projects and important to-do items. If a change doesn’t have a deadline, if a priority has not been assigned, if budgets are nonexistent, then the change itself doesn’t really exist and it will be ignored. Distant change is less ‘real’ than imminent change.

  • Why now?

What forces this change upon us at this point in time. Why not next year? Why not last year? What makes it important that we act now? What is it about this foreign element that causes it to affect us today? If this change was really important, why didn’t we address it sooner? All of these questions, if answered properly, provide justification for the change. They legitimize it. If the answers aren’t readily available, you’re communicating to the target audience that this change is arbitrary.

  • How will the change affect us? Today? Tomorrow? In the long run?

This is another key question. Another version is “What’s in it for me?”

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission

Leadership Lessons: Poor Managers Thwart Good Organizations

Over my career, I enjoyed full-time employment with eight different organizations, and with the exception of the last one, in each case I joined a good organization and then ultimately quit a poor manager. The last one is the notable exception because that’s when I quit to start my own organization and no manager, good, great or brilliant could have kept me on the payroll. 

Over the years, as I’ve listened to friends and associates relate their work experiences and soaked up a myriad of stories from the workplace, I’ve come to the conclusion that my “joining and quitting” behaviour wasn’t that unusual. We join organizations and we quit managers. This isn’t an idle observation; it’s an incredibly costly one. How much of our turnover is due, not to official management philosophy, but instead to either ignorance of that philosophy or simply due to a single manager’s inability to manage?

If we take the time to carefully examine how people become managers, this isn’t that surprising. We promote ‘doers’ to supervisory positions and rarely make any effort to train them how to ‘supervise’ rather than just ‘do’. Perhaps more to the point, when we first become managers, we’re typically oblivious to the fact that ‘management’ is a fundamentally different task compared to anything we’ve done in the past. This can lead to incidents worthy of the most amusing TV sitcoms.

Many many moons ago, (yikes… about 325 moons ago to be precise) I was promoted from an analyst position to a supervisory role, for the next 2-3 years I stumbled along the rocky road to management, inflicting pain and anguish on myself, my staff and my clients. Why? Because I really had no clue what it meant to be a ‘manager’ of people.

As a manager, my department was responsible for an awful lot of work. Even though I had six people reporting to me, I operated under my old belief that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. Have you ever seen someone trying to do the work of six people? People would see me barreling down the corridors of the organization and dive out of the way, for fear of being run over. The “do it myself” philosophy is a successful strategy for a hands-on problem solver, but for a manager? It was a disaster. A manager must learn to delegate, and it’s not something that’s intuitive.

By doing the work myself, I was communicating very strongly that I didn’t value my staff – people quit managers for that reason.

Once I grasped I had to rely on other people, I started to give them assignments, but I didn’t trust them. It was my department, I was responsible for getting the work done correctly, so I micromanaged them. This is a euphemism for what I really did. I perched on their shoulders looking at their work. I constantly kibitzed. I reached for the keyboard. I interrupted. I intruded. All with the best of intentions. What it took me a long time to learn on my own, was that what a good manager must do, is give up control, in order to allow their people to work. Yes, as a manager I was responsible for the work, but that did not mean I had to have full control from minute to minute. As a worker that makes no sense, as a manager it’s our new reality.

By micromanaging I was communicating very clearly that I didn’t trust my staff – people quit managers for that reason.

Even with the rudiments of delegating under my belt – I was a very busy person. There was lots for a manager to do. People to see, reports to write, information to gather etc. etc. That didn’t leave much time for inconsequential meetings with my staff and certainly no time for one on one meetings. I prioritized what I thought was the important stuff, and left no time for my staff. I was a manager in absentia. I didn’t realize that until I made the time to know more about my people, that I’d never be able to create a team, instill loyalty or give my ‘human resources’ a sense of purpose.

By not making time for my staff I was communicating very loudly that I wasn’t interested in their well-being and growth – people quit managers for that reason.

Those are just three mistakes made by a somewhat reasonably intelligent person thrust into a management role without training. There were other mistakes I made, and some that I intuitively avoided. I never chastised an employee in front of others – but I’ve seen new (and sadly older) managers do that. I never broke a promise to an employee, but I did inadvertently play favourites. I gave the most interest assignments to the most capable – without realizing that that created resentment amongst other staff members – and without realizing that interesting assignments are the best training tools at my disposal and the very best way to motivate people to excel and to build loyalty.

It requires no mean intent to be a bad manager; all that’s required is ready made ignorance. The cure is a minimal continual dose of management training provided before, during and after the transition to managing people. People quit bad managers. Regardless of how good the organization, no matter the public image, it’s the person we report to who has the greatest contribution on our daily work experience. Bad managers drive out good employees. 

By the same token, a good manager, one who treats their employees fairly, honestly and with integrity will retain staff in all but the most tyrannical of organizations. Even though Gandhi wasn’t a traditional manager he had it right, “Be the change you want to see in your organization” – even if his ‘organization’ was the entire world. His wisdom still rings true, for better or worse it is individuals who create the world/organizations we live in.

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission

Leadership Lessons: No Holy Grails, Silver Bullets, or Panaceas

We’re addicted to the search for THE answer to our problems. Good answers aren’t good enough. We want THE answer that will solve a particular problem in every situation. A suite of solutions that can solve the problem most of the time is judged as grossly inadequate.

To make things worse? THE answer must be easy to implement. If it takes effort, deep thought, or lots of work? Then it can’t ‘by definition’, be THE answer.
The problem arises when someone, especially an expert, responds to our query for THE answer, with the disconcerting, “No such thing exists!”. This isn’t acceptable. They’re the expert, they should know THE answer. Especially if we’re paying them to solve our problems. (Can you spot the irony of our response? If they’re the ‘expert’? Maybe they know whereof they speak?)

It’s both easy and embarrassing to be able to point my finger at everyone in this discussion, including myself, you, and the grump sitting down the hall. We all seem to have this annoying tendency to believe that someone must have THE answer, and for reasons we don’t understand, they are keeping their wisdom from the world in general and us in particular.
This crystallized for me after a presentation on ‘Dealing with Difficult People’, this time I was not the presenter, but I was an active spectator. An audience member asked what to do when they have to deal with someone who is impervious to all of the identified techniques. The speaker reiterated all of the various things we can do to affect someone’s behaviour, or to find common ground and the response was, “Yes! Yes! I know all that, and I do all that! But this person is still a problem. None of this works. What else can I do?”
The speaker replied honestly, “Sometimes nothing is going to work to fix a people problem, when the person at the core of the problem, is determined not to be fixed. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to arrive at what we want.” This answer was unacceptable to the audience member, and I’ll admit, as a self-professed problem solver, this answer also rubs me the wrong way. Yet, I have been asked similar questions with respect to Change Management, and my ‘expert’ response is exactly the same, “Sometimes there is nothing we can do to arrive at what we want.”

An example of such a Change Management question? “How can we get people to go along with this Change, even though it’s not in their best interest – and there’s nothing we can do to make it be in their best interest?” An example of such a situation? Laying off 300 people. Short of giving all of them a full salary until their retirement there’s not much we can do to make them like this turn of events. There’s no ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ because the problem isn’t where we think it is. (more on this below)
All of these objections to searching for THE answer does not mean we should not constantly be looking for BETTER answers. There’s nothing wrong with searching for better solutions to replace solutions already in use. In some circles that’s called Kaizen, Japanese for the ‘continual improvement of processes’. Being satisfied with any one solution is the first step towards stagnation, but the notion that there exists a perfect solution to any problem, one that we never need look at again, is the final step towards madness, or at least a waste of good resources.

A simple technique to continually improve a process is to examine constantly how other organizations are doing what we’re doing. Chances are better than good that they’re not doing it the way we are, and equally good that either our choice of action or their choice of action – is better. If we examine ten other organizations, it’s very likely that one of them is doing it better than we are – we can then, if we wish, decide to improve our process accordingly.
Incrementally better solutions are always within our grasp. One of the problems with this notion that perfect solutions exist, is that we ignore readily accessible, though less perfect solutions while searching for THE answer. When dealing with difficult people speak softly, make no sudden moves, don’t argue, don’t interrupt, etc. These are all good techniques, worth practicing, even though they’re not perfect.

Part of the Silver Bullet issue, this search for the perfect solution, is how we’re perceiving what is going on. It’s not so much that there’s ‘no silver bullet’ to fix the problem, it’s that there isn’t really a problem – except in our perception and expectations. In our Change Management layoff example, there’s nothing fundamentally ‘wrong’ with how people react to being laid off, or any other Change for that matter. If there’s anything wrong, it’s that we think there’s a way to make them feel different about losing their job.

Likewise with the original, “Dealing with Difficult People” situation, it’s the entirely possible that the person who’s being difficult has all the right in the world to be difficult. Consider the following; If you were working for Gaddafi, would you be a ‘difficult’ employee? Would you have a right to be? What could he do to make you more submissive/compliant? I hope your answer was ‘Nothing!’.

Many of the quests for Holy Grails, Silver Bullets, and Panaceas originate in unrealistic expectations. There is no way to make everyone like us (what gives us the notion they should?), there’s no way to calm someone down who’s angry about abysmally poor service (should they enjoy poor service?), there’s no way to get someone to embrace a Change that’s not to their benefit (being laid off isn’t something we’d choose to have happen). Sometimes THE answer is to change our perceptions. Nothing more. Nothing less.

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission.

Leadership Lessons – Problems! Glorious Problems!

C. K. Chesterton penned a quote that I’m especially fond of, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.” It’s one that constantly reminds me that there is always, without fail, an opportunity lying around somewhere. I just need to find a way to find it. 

That wasn’t a typo, I meant to type ‘opportunity’, I didn’t forget that this discussion was about ‘problems’. A problem is an opportunity disguised as a thorn in your assumptions. Fix the problem and you’ve moved yourself forward in some manner, large or small.

Because of how I earn my living, I get lots of feedback – more than a person normally gets in other lines of work – file folders filled to overflowing with feedback. The good feedback is great, I love it (great reading when I’m down in the dumps), it’s what keeps me motivated to keep going.  But it’s the negative feedback when people point out a problem, that’s the true treasure. Becoming aware of new problems, if we have the motivation to respond to them, is what motivates us not only to keep going but to start going in a new and improved direction. Problems are always doors to something better. 

Organizations don’t like problems. We shy away from them; we shoot messengers who bring them to us, we surround ourselves with 800lb gorilla problems no-one dares talk about.  We have terms describing cultural approaches to problems – ‘wilful ignorance’ comes to mind- and we have to legislate whistleblower laws to protect those who make problems public. Organizations let problems fester until there is no other option but to lance them like boils. 

When I originally wrote this article, Wikileaks announced that in January 2011 it would release documents disclosing a pile of ‘problems’ in a major US bank. Of course, every ‘major’ bank worried that their ‘problems’ would see the light of day and scrambled to either hide these problems more deeply or hopefully fix the problems as soon as possible. 

The irony is that whatever organization got their knuckles soundly rapped by Wikileaks… all of the organizations knew of these issues before Wikileaks, before someone else decided to take action. Organizations ignore problems that obviously need fixing until they are forced to act.

Not all problems fall into the category that Wikileaks exposes. Most of the organizational problems that readers of this article might encounter are more mundane, with less serious consequences. More in the line of  “our projects are always delivered late; it takes an inordinate amount of time to get things approved; our meetings are a waste of time; our customer service needs improvement etc.” 

Even these can become so much a part of the work environment that we become blind to them, hence my fondness of Chesterton’s quote. We are typically blind to most of the problems around us. We need some way to heighten our awareness of the invisible problems so that we can then, if we choose, correct them. If only we could place a bounty on problems, and in so doing, get everyone looking high and low for them! 

Many organizations have some type of suggestion program where they always encourage, and then sometimes reward, employees for bringing new ideas, usually in the form of ‘solutions’, to management’s attention. It’s a step in the right direction of constant improvement, but this strategy contains a hidden flaw. It usually, not always, requires that an individual identifies a problem and then comes up with a viable solution – often on their own. That’s a lot of work for someone who’s already overworked in these tough economic times. 

Here’s another idea – instead of requiring a solution – how about just identifying a prominent problem? The individual tagging the problem doesn’t have to solve it, just recognize that it’s worthy of solution. The problem is then passed along to a group of people who love solving problems, people like myself who see all problems as a personal challenge, even as an affront to our sense of order in the universe.

The challenge is still the fact that many problems just hide deep inside the “we’ve always done it that way!” bushes. It takes either a new set of eyes to see these opportunities, or a quickly annoying habit of constantly, incessantly, persistently asking “Why?” about every business process until inefficiencies (if they exist) are exposed. 

Borrowing a new set of eyes isn’t too difficult to arrange. Just make it part of the organizational culture to have people from one department work in other departments for short periods of time and report back what they see. The hurdle is for everyone to grasp that the observations, while they will sound like criticisms, are intended – from the very outset – as a way to get better at whatever it is we do for a living. 

As to the Why? Why? Why? Why? Why strategy? That requires someone with a peculiar personality. They must have both an analytical mind and a very very good sense of humour. The Why? Why? Why? Why? Why approach – especially about things that everyone takes for granted, takes some getting used to – a sense of humour can take the edge off just a little bit. 

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission