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Author: Peter de Jager

Leadership Lessons – Change in Seven Questions

What must we do to bring about a Change initiative as smoothly as possible? Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! 

How much, and for how long do we do this? Until we get sick and tired of the sound of our own voice – then we take a deep breath and a drink of water, and we start all over again.

Communication isn’t something that stops and starts; it’s a constant activity before, during and after any Change initiative.

This isn’t exactly news. We sort of get this. Ask any audience to tell you the secret to good Change and they will repeat back “Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate some more!” as if it was forcefully injected into their cerebellum. The problem arises when the questioning becomes a bit more detailed, “What exactly should we communicate?”

The response to that question is usually either a blank stare or the reasonable recitation of the reporter’s standby; Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. Not a bad start. If you’re writing a news article, then these are good solid questions. The Change Management problem requires all of those, and a few others besides. It’s not that the reporter’s questions are a poor tool; it’s just that they don’t address the peculiar psychology of the Change challenge.

For what it’s worth, here’s a carefully selected list of questions specific to Change Management. If we take the time to answer these, then we’ve covered the bulk of the key concerns of those facing the Change we’re contemplating.

1) Why?

This is the winner, the key question; it’s almost the only question worth discussing. If someone asks me to move from one side of the room to the other, or to stop using system ‘X’ instead of system ‘Y’, my response is always the same. “Why?” Understanding why a Change is necessary is the most important question we have about any Change. Without a good answer, we’re reluctant to do anything different.

There are lots of good answers to the “Why?” question. One good one is “Trust”. If I trust you and you ask me to do something, my trust in you might be sufficient to prompt me to Change. If that trust doesn’t exist? Then the reason for Change had better convince me, or I’m not moving from where I am.

2) WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)

The fly in the ointment for many organizations, “It’s not about you!” they cry as they bend over backward to avoid answering this question. Here’s the newsflash, as long as they are concerned about the WIIFM question, they don’t pay attention to any other information. More precisely, until that WIIFM question is answered, they can’t pay attention to anything else.

The best way to think of the WIIFM question is as a nasty, vicious guard dog, blocking the gate to our attention. Until that dog is thrown a bone, no information about the Change, sometimes not even the answers to the “Why?” question, is getting through to our reasoning process.
Even if we honestly have no information about the WIIFM question we must still acknowledge that the question exists and that as soon as we do have more information, we’ll get back to the audience.

3) Monday?

Assume, for the moment, we have returned from our strategic planning weekend with a wondrous, phenomenal vision of the future of our organization. Also assume, for the moment, that our ability to convince everyone that this is indeed the direction in which our organization should move, is up to the task. Assume that we’re silver tongued devils and get everyone on board, on the bus, bought in and generally all fired up. With me so far?

Now they have a question. What do we do differently, specifically and precisely on Monday (or next Friday…or next month… ) to start moving us towards the promised land of milk and ever flowing honey?

It’s a fair question. If we want people to Change, we must describe what they’re going to do differently in terms that everyone can understand. If we can’t, then we go back to the drawing board, our vision is flawed and unattainable.

4) Won’t?

What won’t Change? What will remain the same during this Change?

The problem here is that when we face a Change, all we see are the unknowns, we lose sight of the fact that only one ‘small’ part of our status quo is going to flux. That the rest of our surroundings will likely remain the same.

For example? When the accounting system is going to Change, we’re still going to report to the same boss, earn the same paycheque, receive the same benefits etc. In fact, most of our status quo will remain the same. This works for nearly all Change, the only time everything Changes is when we die, and then? It’s not our problem anymore. In nearly all other cases regardless of the size of the Change, nearly everything else remains the same.

5) Might?

What might go wrong during this Change? And what contingency plans have we put in place to mitigate those risks?

The worst thing we can do when heading into the uncertainty of Change is to insist that nothing can go wrong. That’s not only asking for the Gods to pay attention to us, but it also communicates to those around us that we haven’t really thought this through. Although if we’re looking for a sure-fire way to lose the trust of those who follow us, insisting, “Nothing will go wrong” is a wonderfully effective strategy.

6) Will?

What’s going to hurt?

Change hurts. That’s almost the ‘First Law of Change’. If we’re doing something significantly different, then we’re going to be at the bottom of the learning curve. Even if we pay close attention to training and support and fall back positions, we’re going to make mistakes, production will decline, and we’ll get things wrong. If we pretend that the Change will be painless, that it will be “transparent to the user”, then people will know we’re lying, or at least overly optimistic. 

7) Signposts?

Change doesn’t always happen quickly, sometimes it’s slow, almost glacial in nature – we need some way of measuring our progress towards a goal. Without feedback we lose both the motivation and the will to make sacrifices to move forward. The question on the table is, “How do we know we’re succeeding in our efforts?”

These aren’t the only questions we need to answer during a Change, but they’re crucial ones and if the answers aren’t forthcoming, neither will the Change. Stick them on the wall in front of you when crafting a Change message and ask, “Am I answering these? If not? Why Not?”

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission. 

Leadership Lessons – When Were you Last Engaged?

No. That isn’t a question about your personal life, it’s a question about your work life. Are you still engaged? Or has the passion for your work worn off? More to the point? Are our staff still engaged? Do they look forward to arriving at the office, or are they regularly having to buy new alarm clocks because the old ones don’t hold up to the Monday morning mauling to shut them up?

The issue of ’employee engagement’ has become a bit of a trend lately. Head to Google Trends ( and type in ‘Employee Engagement’ for a visual representation of that trend based on Google searches. (Compare it to how my specialty of ‘Change Management’ is trending. Oops. Do I need to change my topic?)

The first thing we need to do is define what we’re talking about. What is ‘Employee Engagement’ and then, why should we care about it.

Here’s a definition I use that’s in synch with what I’ve seen as common usage;
“ an employee who is engaged with their job feels a certain amount of ownership in the outcome of their actions, they care about their work, they show initiative when something needs doing, rather than waiting for someone to point them in the right direction”.

Why is it important? Consider yours truly, the writer of this column as an absurd example. I’m a one man company. I must be engaged in what I do, not necessarily all of what I do, but at the very least with the core of what I do, otherwise there are ugly consequences.

I could not care less about ‘accounting’, yet it must be done – so I outsource that administrivia, and several others, to someone else. Problem solved.
But, the core of what I do is ‘take the stage’. The instant that becomes a chore, something I do on autopilot because I have to? Then I am on the fast path to being an ex-speaker.

In a typical office, the consequences of lack of engagement are similar, but they are easier to hide, or at least to ignore. A single unengaged employee out of a staff of 5 or 10 might be regarded as not much of a problem, but if 50% of staff are unengaged, then productivity and quality begin a precipitous drop.
If all of our staff are disengaged from what they do, then who owns all that which needs doing? Who cares about the deliverable? Who takes the initiative? If ownership, caring, and initiative is all falling to a handful or even a single individual? Then we have a serious problem. Especially when increased ownership, caring and initiative without recognition and/or reward is a very good reason to stop caring… anyone for a good game of domino effects?

When employees become disengaged, then even day-to-day operations require conscious effort to drive them forward, an effort that might be better used thinking about tomorrow.
So why do we disengage? Here are five possible reasons – there are others.

  • Not enough feedback.

We’re simple creatures. We like to know how we’re doing. Without feedback? We have no clue if we’re going in the right direction. Feedback is food that feeds our motivation.

  • Lack of opportunity to grow

We also don’t like standing in the same place, at the very least most of us find that boring. Even if there are no new positions to move into, are there at least new things we could be doing?

  •  Lack of recognition

This boils down to a simple question? Do you care that I care? Not everyone is ‘self-motivated’, many us, make that nearly all of us, appreciate being appreciated.

Here’s a challenge. I dare you to do this. One Friday afternoon. Order in a few pizzas, some cans of pop, some dessert. Call everyone into your office and tell them, “I know you’ve all been working hard. I just wanted to say. “Thanks!” You don’t have to say anything else. Just ‘Thanks!’ This works even better if you’ve never done such a wild and crazy thing, especially if your organization has banned office celebrations. (This must be the case, because office parties have become a rare beastie.)

Let me know what happened. My e-mail is at the end of this collection of articles.

  •  Lack of Trust

I don’t think anyone needs to spend much time elaborating on this. Nobody cares to put extra effort into an organization they no longer Trust. On a scale of 1-10… how much Trust is there in your organization?

  • Stress-Burnout.

Things are tough all over and getting tougher. If you want to muse something over on your own? Go back to Google Trends and do a search on ‘Recession’…. compare that chart to the one you got when you searched on ‘Employee Engagement’.

Not all of the above are solved easily, some are, others are way beyond our scope and powers. The problem of employee disengagement is a real one. If allowed to grow (or encouraged to grow!) then sooner or later the organization is coasting (grinding?) to a halt. The first step in solving it is accepting that it is a problem… and with that? Here’s the closer;

Here’s a personal question.. What do you do on autopilot at work? What have you disengaged from? What have your staff disengaged from? What’s that costing your organization? Do you know? Do you care? (Careful with that last answer… it’s a doozie) 

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission.

Five Fiendish Flashes

Are you creative? More to the point, are you creative when you need creativity? Or like lightning in a summer storm, are your flashes of inspiration random and capricious? Ideally, our creativity should be something we can draw on whenever we need it. Most people are convinced this isn’t possible.

Before we try to fix a process, it’s necessary to understand the process. If you’ve ever managed a production line, then you’re well acquainted with the concept of a ‘bottleneck’. For those that haven’t, here’s the concept in a nutshell; Assume process ‘A’ creates ‘X’ items/hour for process ‘B’, which can only handle 5 items/hour. There is no point in speeding up process ‘A’ past 5 items/hour because they’d just start piling up, waiting for Process ‘B’ to finish. Process ‘B’ is the bottleneck.

With that example in mind, let’s examine this thing called ‘Creativity’. I’d like to suggest the problem is not a scarcity of ideas, but an overly effective set of stage ‘B’ bottlenecks, allowing very little to escape from our minds and into the light of day.

Proof of that statement isn’t difficult to come by, it’s as close as this evening’s dreams. All day we search for new ideas and come up dry… and yet the very instant we fall asleep and cease the mental struggle, our dreams are flooded with the fantastical. Our challenge is to find a way to tap into that Creativity with our eyes wide open.

Be conscious of your nose

Nope, not the nose in the middle of your face, but the ‘NO’s that arise every time you see, hear or read something different. As an example? Rather than numbering these points, I thought I’d use lightning strikes. Why? I honestly don’t know… the idea was there and I thought I’d act on it.

Now that I have used the strikes it makes some sense. To be ‘conscious’ means to be attentive to our surroundings, nothing catches our attention more quickly than the sudden flash of lightning. If you’re saying to yourself… ‘using flashes is silly/stupid/(insert your favourite derogatory adjective here)’ then you’re installing a very effective bottleneck.

Make your intuition visible

A very simple technique. Next time you cannot logically, rationally, choose between two alternatives A and B… Flip a coin… heads it’s A, tails it’s B… and then at the very instant you see the result… are you pleased or disappointed with the outcome?
By focusing our attention to that split second of discovery, we learn which choice we’d ‘prefer’… I’m not suggesting we follow that knowledge blindly… but at least we have additional information with which to decide.

Put ‘Freudian’ slips to good use

We make slips, mistakes and typos all the time. A simple method of forcing yourself to think along a different track is to ask the question, “What would I have meant, if I’d meant to say that?”
I awoke one morning and reached out to get a ‘tooth pick’… and the words that echoed in my mind was ‘Truth Pick’… What if ‘Truth Pick’ was what I had meant to say?…’ I came up with this… A Short, pointed commentary designed to extract the ‘Truth” from a quote… MW has recently re-published Truth Picks for our readers.

Look to the flipside

This is the old, yet still useful, chestnut of turning Lemons into Lemonade. It’s not really a bad strategy; it’s what’s used to keep bridges from falling down. Take the most powerful force working against you at the moment, gravity in the case of bridges, and get it working in your favour. Bridges don’t fall down, because we’ve learned to harness gravity and make it work for us to keep the bridge standing.
Admittedly the concept is simple enough, but making it happen takes determination and a significant amount of skill. But, when it works? Situations that once created problems – suddenly create profit.

Ask the child’s question… Why?

And keep asking it until there aren’t anymore answers. Of all the ‘Why?’ questions, the most powerful one you can bring to bear on your organization is “Why are we doing it this way?” Ask it until people run when you approach and scream at the sound of it, and then keep asking it. Unless there’s a good answer to that question, and “Because I said so!” is a terrible answer, then you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.

The amount of Creativity we can bring to bear on a task, is more a function of the courage to work with the ideas we have, than it is of coming up with new ideas. The bottleneck is idea acceptance, not idea generation.

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The Bare Bones of Change

Einstein is possibly the originator of the quote,“Everything should be made a simple as possible, but not simpler.” Whoever is due credit, this is a concise bit of wisdom. At the very least, it’s more polite than the more commonly used KISS version.

Before we get to the art of keeping things simple, it’s worth pointing out that we don’t really appreciate ‘simple’. Not just you, or I, but organizations in general seem allegoric to the notion that ‘less’ is often far more valuable than ‘more heaped upon more’.

Take a look at ANY of your existing ‘Policy and Guidelines’ for any area of responsibility in your organization; Security, HR, Press contacts, Safety etc. Note how many items of compliance are listed.

Now scurry over to the internet and search for “WHO Safe Surgery Checklist” – This Checklist is used in an increasing number of hospitals around the world. It contains a mere 22 questions, or ‘points of verification’ for the surgical teams. It is designed to be as ‘simple as possible, but not simpler’ – it has reduced deaths due to errors by 47%, reduced post operative complications by 36% and reduced returns to the operating table by 25%.

Now for a difficult question. How successful are the Safety Policy and Guidelines used in your organization at reducing accidents?

Fact. We are far more likely to adhere to a handful of carefully chosen safety guidelines, that we are to read the Policy and Guideline Manuals used in most organization. Simple trumps complex.

If there’s some truth in Einstein’s statement, then it is worthwhile to seek opportunities to deploy the concept. The question is where? Where’s the point of leverage in all organizations for examining something to uncover the simple? Might I suggest that the area of Change Management is ripe for some simplification?

Change is commonly described as, ‘complicated’ (to put it mildly). Given how often Change initiatives fail? There must be some truth in that assessment . Yet? Even if this is true, there must be some simple truths about Change that hold true from one situation to the next. Simple observations that help us get better at managing Change.

0.0 Change is when we go from A to B

It doesn’t get simpler than this.

1.0 It requires effort to go from A to B

This is also obvious. It doesn’t matter if we’re moving from one side of the room to the other, or relocating from one building to another, learning a new language, assimilating a new process, or working under a new manager.
It takes effort/attention/time/resources to go from A to B

1.1 Therefore we require a reason to move from A to B

We don’t like expending effort without a good reason to do so.

1.2 The greater the difference between A and B, the more effort we need to expend, and therefore the more reason we need to move.

So far? These are so obvious that they really do seem to be ‘too simple’, yet it’s surprising how many organizations implement Change and operate under the belief that people can Change ‘effortlessly’ or that they require no reason to Change.

2.0 Involvement and Autonomy increases our willingness to Change.

The more control we have during a Change, the more we’re willing to invest
the effort to achieve the desired result. Eg. We do acquire new skills, get
married, have kids, move house, learn new languages.

3.0 Dictated Change descreases both Involvement and Autonomy.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve performed a small survey in more than 40
countries – asking people to describe a failed Change and what they think was
the #1 reason for that failure. Consistently they respond, “dictated change.”

4.0 Feedback strengthens Sustainability.

If the effort we’re making to Change isn’t resulting in something positive?
Why should we continue expending the effort? The longer the Change, the more
effort we must invest to arrive at the goal, the more important feedback becomes
if our goal is to keep moving forward.

5.0 Clarity of goals decreases the perceived risk of Change.

When we come to an intersection and don’t know for certain which path to take,
it’s stressful to choose a path at random. The more we know about where
the Change is supposed to take us, the more we’re likely to keep moving. In
most organizations if you ask people, “ Why they are ‘re-organizing’?”, most
of them have no clue. Is it any wonder that most reorganizations are abject failures?

6.0 Planning reduces obstacles, efforts and risk.

Changing from A to B is always ‘difficult’, but we do seem to go out of our way to
make it even more difficult. Planning can start small – “We know it will require
effort to move from A to B – how can we reduce the amount of effort?” Training?
Education? Demonstrations? Lessons learned from others who have already
travelled this path?

7.0 Using ‘Force’ to move people from A to B – introduces long lasting complications.

Force is a double edged blade. When we contradict someone, they push back
and we have unintentionally increased resistance (see 2.0 and 3.0 above). If
we use a lot of force? “Change or lose your Job” – then resistance to the
Change will cease in the short term, but resurface once the threat loses

8.0 Ingroup ideas trump Outgroup ideas.

The ‘not invented here’ objection isn’t a trivial response to Change, it’s a core
concept if we want to bring about large scale, dramatic Change. We are all
more willing to embrace an idea if it’s our personal idea. We’re also more
inclined to embrace an idea if it’s from someone in our community, and far less
likely to embrace an idea from some smart alec, know it all, outsider.

Change is complicated – but at the heart of the complexity are some simple concepts. If we understand what they are, we might be able to work our way towards reducing the complexity and reaping benefits similar to what hospitals are receiving in the most complicated of processes – brain surgery.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.