Tag Archives: Behavior

Strategies for Delivering Unpopular News

The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.” – Henry David Thoreau
Recent experiences of Republican congressional members returning to their home districts during recess to explain President Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act are instructive for the design of organizational change management (OCM) strategies.
How should you plan to communicate when the news will be unpopular?
We want to surface resistance, and we want to give voice to those closest to the work being affected. Evidence suggests that despite the additional time and cost, it makes sense to plan for small groups, or one-on-one meetings to deliver messages and get feedback from affected stakeholders.
I’ll never forget a meeting I attended many years ago where senior management assembled all the union machinists in an organization to update them on hazardous material safety. About ten minutes into the meeting one outspoken participant broke the ice with an accusation that leadership was concealing the true hazards of one of the materials that they routinely worked with. Within minutes, it became a shouting match, a mob mentality had taken over, meaningful communication stopped, and the meeting had to be abruptly ended. Eventually, one-on-one meetings were scheduled, not only to share the original information, but to repair the damage that occurred during the mob scene.
Excerpts from a recent New York Times editorial that highlights this issue in detail and references some of the research follows.

Can the G.O.P. Turn Back the Tide of Town Hall Anger?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “The Conduct of Life”: “Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.”
Thoreau and Emerson argued that crowds add up to something less than the sum of their parts. The principle behind this is called “deindividuation,” in which an individual’s social constraints are diminished and distorted by being part of a crowd that forms to express a particular point of view. The French psychologist Gustave Le Bon first explained this concept in his magisterial 1895 text “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.” Le Bon found that crowds were inherently “unanimous, emotional and intellectually weak.”
Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior. In one of my favorite studies, researchers set up a bowl of candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters, told them to take just one piece and then left them alone. Some of the children were in anonymous groups, others were by themselves. When kids were part of a group, 60 percent took more than one piece of candy. When they were by themselves but not asked their names, 20 percent cheated. But when they were alone and asked their names, only 10 percent took more than they were allotted.
Of course, it stands to reason that deindividuation could improve individuals instead of making them worse. We can all think of cases in which we have been swept up in a wave of kindness and compassion in a group, even in spite of our personal feelings. Group polarization, in which individuals are pushed emotionally in the general direction of the crowd, can be either positive or negative.

The common error is when leaders treat the whole group like one individual. Remember Le Bon’s theory that a crowd is stronger, angrier and less ideologically flexible than an individual. Getting irate or defensive will always be counterproductive. Similarly, it is mostly futile to try talking over a protest chant.
The opportunity is to “re-individuate” audience members — to treat people as individuals and not as part of a mass. This is done not by acknowledging questions shouted anonymously but by asking audience members to physically separate from the mass and identify themselves if they wish to speak. When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent.

A link to the entire article is below

 

Five Talent Management Lessons from a High School Music Program

The local music program in our High School is exceptionally good.  It is recognized as one of the best programs in the state of Wisconsin.  The wind symphony has traveled broadly and won regional, national and international competitions.

Every June for the last six years, as my kids made their way through the music program, I’d see another large group of extremely talented seniors graduate and leave the music program.  Every year my wife and I wondered aloud, “How will Mr. K [the music director] ever fill those shoes?  Next year’s wind symphony will never be as good as this year’s.”

And every following year at the senior honors concert in May, my wife and I say, “these kids are incredible; this might be the best wind symphony ever.”

This June after I watched my son’s last concert I had an “a-ha” moment…

Mr. K is a great band director not just because of his musical and teaching ability; he is a brilliant talent manager as well.  The more I thought about it, the clearer it became.  He MUST be exceptionally good at this in order to put a quality product out year after year.  It’s as critical to his success as his functional (musical & teaching) knowledge and skill.

I thought about it for a few days, and eventually had a conversation with Mr. K about this.  I came up with a few lessons that I believe everyone can understand:

Lesson 1: Have a sense of urgency

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”  – Gen. George C. Patton

Despite the long history of success, Mr. K knows,” All glory is fleeting.”  His continued success, his reputation, perhaps even his job depend on him keeping the pipeline full of talent.  This is not a nice-to-do, for him, this is a MUST do!

Realize that your continued success and perhaps your job depend on how well you manage talent.  All glory is fleeting.  Make talent management the priority it should be.

Lesson 2: Know your team’s current strengths

Mr. K knows what the strengths of each musical unit is and who the top talent is.  He understands what they bring to the whole, i.e., the pieces that the wind symphony would not be able to play without them.  For example, a piece with a challenging percussion part that they would not attempt unless the talent was there to execute.

Do you know who your top talent is?  I.e., who are the key players who enable you to fulfill your mission?  Try to imagine what would be different if they were not there.  How would this change your team’s ability to deliver?

Lesson 3: Know your future talent needs

Mr. K is always looking 2 and 3 years ahead considering who will play which instruments when his top talent moves on.  He knows now that he will lose an English horn player in two years and is grooming 2-3 people to fill that slot.

Are you thinking that your top talent will stay with you forever?  Imagine that they will leave in a year?  How would that impact your ability to deliver?  Who will step into their places? What are you doing about it?

Lesson 4: Know your talent pipeline

Mr. K does not wait to assess incoming freshmen when they arrive at the high school.  He works closely with the music faculty in the whole district, looking into talent at the middle school and even at the elementary schools.  He is not only tracking musical ability, but attitude – dedication, flexibility and motivation.

Do you know where your talent comes from?  Where will it come from?  Are you talking to other managers in your own organization about growth opportunities for your people?  Are you partnered with human resources?  I’ll bet the better managers in your organization have an eye on your talent.  I’ll bet outside recruiters in the area do too.  It’s time to get in the game.

Lesson 5: Nurture your talent

Mr. K sets the bar high. He’s very demanding.  It takes an adjustment that some kids can’t make.  But he is also completely dedicated to their success and demonstrates every day that he cares deeply about his students.

Do you know what makes someone on your team succeed and others fall short?  Do you set high expectations, and enable your team to achieve them?  Do you show your team that you genuinely care about their success?

Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric used to say that he allocated a third of his time to developing talent.  To many, that seems like an unrealistically high percentage of his time, but that’s what people who are serious about talent management really do.   They pass the calendar audit – they actually spend the time on the things that they say are important to them.

Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 2

This is another true life personal experience straight from the Org Change trenches.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or know others who have.   Part one of this story is about an experience in my personal life.  Click here to go back and read Managing Transitions:  Real-Life Examples – Part 1.   It may also be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

Scan to QR flat

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Transition

Virtually every large organization is using technology to manage their HR processes.  The recruiting function in most large organizations utilizes an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to post job openings, manage applications, and manage the interview/selection process.  This story has been edited to reflect only the issues surrounding one set of functionality; campus recruiting.  Obviously there was much more involved in this project.

A recent client did a significant amount of college recruiting.  The campus recruiters would collect resumes at college career fairs.  They would then go back to their office and manually create a candidate record in their home-brew ATS, then scan and attach the pdf of the resume to the new candidate record.  This was a labor-intensive process that was prone to errors.   Many recruiters opted to not use the ATS at all, preferring to keep a spreadsheet and paper records.   Leadership was frustrated because essential business metrics were difficult or impossible to gather.  Needless to say, this process was painful for everyone involved.  It had to change.  Even so, the recruiters were not enthusiastic about changing the way they did things and were reluctant to provide support for the project.

When the project team talked to the college recruiters about their requirements for a new system, they said, “We need the ability to scan resumes and get them into the ATS faster.”  This is typical of what Business Analysts (BA) hear on IT projects; I want the new system to do what I do now – just better.  A good BA can translate that into real requirements, and that is what was done on this project.  Most ATS’ these days don’t have any capability to manage paper documents at all; they rely on the applicant to submit a resume electronically, so finding an ATS that could “scan faster” was not going to happen.  However, many state-of-the-art ATS’ have other capabilities designed to address this specific need.

A group was selected to pilot the new system, based on their expressed willingness to be “guinea pigs” and the support of their leadership.  When the recruiters got there first overview of the new system they were flabbergasted, “Are you kidding me?  There is no way interface to the scanner?  I hate this!  It will never work for us.”  Fortunately the team had done its homework and anticipated this reaction, and had planned to walk them through the solution.

For each new campus recruiting event, the recruiter creates an event in the ATS.  This in turn, creates an on-line” Event Portal” linked to the ATS, with a form to capture candidate information.  It also generates a unique QR code for the event.  The recruiter then embeds the QR code in all the collateral that they create for the campus event.   At the event, the candidate scans the QR code with their smart phone and is then directed to the Event Portal.  Here they fill out a simple form that creates their record in the ATS, emails the recruiter their contact info, and emails them a link to upload their resume.

Once the recruiter pilot group understood how this system worked, how easy it was, and how much effort it saved them, they became raging advocates – they would’ve harmed us if we tried to switch them back to the old system.  Together we developed very effective, efficient training for the larger deployment.  Best of all, positive buzz about the new system spread fast, ahead of our formal communication plan, and soon campus recruiters across the enterprise were clamoring for the new system.

This story is typical of corporate IT application deployment projects.  The technical aspects of the deployment are relatively straightforward, but the impact on the end-user is transformational – it fundamentally changes the way they do their jobs. (See: Types of Org Change)

Four Phases of Change

It starts with denial; “We don’t need to change.  We know this process is bad but we know how to do it.”  The initial emotional /gut reaction is resistance; “This doesn’t work the way our old system did, it will never work.”  In a scenario like this, the key to achieving the desired business impact is by getting the adoption rate to 100%.  If the impacted population doesn’t experience success and feel the benefit of the new system quickly, their frustration can drive them back to their manual processes or to work-arounds.

A good Org Change consultant does their homework; anticipates the resistance, understands the source of it, and has an executable plan to address it.  This is where we earn our pay!  Identify a pilot group of early adopters and lead them by the hand into the Exploration phase.  Their real-life experience is then used to develop and/or refine the training materials that will be used to roll-out the system to the balance of the organization.  Their success stories become the core of your communications.

It is worth noting, that it is critical that someone knowledgable of orgnaizational behavior and change management is involved early in a project to identify transformational changes.  Too frequently I see teams assume that the technical deployment is simple so the impact on the end-user must be minimal.

Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 1

This is a true life personal experience.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or knows others who have.   While this story is about an experience in my personal life, it is absolutely representative of what people go through during organizational change.  I’ll follow-up this story with another real-life story from a corporate setting.  For reference, it may be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

The Blackberry to Android Transition

BB to Android flat

I had a Blackberry for a long time.  It was a corporate issue standard Blackberry with the hard QWERTY keyboard and the small screen.  Over the years I had become intimately familiar with all its capabilities and its quirks.  I knew that my phone functionality was hopelessly outdated, and that RIM, the maker of Blackberry, was in trouble and that they are probably going to be extinct soon.  I didn’t care.  I was going to use my Blackberry till the bitter end.  I was solidly in my comfort zone and solidly in denial – afraid to “let go” as long as I didn’t have to.

Have-to arrived sooner than I anticipated.  The USB connector that is used to charge the battery became intermittent and the phone had to be replaced or I risked losing everything.  I opted to go with a state-of-the-art Android-based phone.

One of the features I utilized on the Blackberry was the speed dial function.  My wife’s name is Wendy.  I setup the W key as a speed dial to call her cell phone.  I could do this by touch without looking – absolutely safely – anytime, anywhere, and did it often while driving.

Not long after the transition to the Android phone, I needed to call my wife from the road.  I instinctively reached for the W key but only got glass.  I pulled off the road.  I had to get my reading glasses out and scroll through menus to place a call to my wife.  This was clearly going to be a problem, but I wanted this new phone to work.  That night I tried to create a speed dial key with no success.   I eventually resorted to asking my 18 yr. old daughter to make a speed dial key for me.  To my astonishment she had no success either.  I was extremely frustrated at this point.  I hated the new phone it – I was sure it would never work.  I wanted to go back to the old way. I was ready to go to the phone store and exchange this modern marvel for a tried-and-true Blackberry and ride RIM into the sunset.

A few days later I was complaining about my new phone experience to a colleague.  She asked if I had a headset for the phone and that I should get it and plug it in.  Once attached, she directed me to “press the button.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I turns out that a small bump on the headphone wire that I thought was the microphone, was actually a button.  So I pressed the button.   I heard a computer generated voice ask me to, “Say a command.”  After a few moments of confusion and discussion with my colleague I finally commanded, “Call Wendy.”  Within a few second my wife’s cell phone was ringing.  After explaining to Wendy that I really didn’t need to talk to her about anything, I thanked my colleague.  …And I started thinking completely differently about my new phone.  Cut to the end – I now love my phone and wonder how I could have ever considered going back to a Blackberry.

I went through the four classic phases of personal change.

Four Phases of Change

I started off in Denial.  Despite compelling logic and clear technological advantages, I was not going to change.  I only changed when forced to by an external cause beyond my control.

Once I had made the superficial technical change, the real changes began.  I was stuck in Bridges’ Neutral Zone, vacillating between Resistance and Exploration in the Four Phase model.  I was futilely trying to make the new phone work the way my old phone did.  It wasn’t until a “change agent” held my hand and showed me a solution to my personal source of frustration that I moved permanently from Resistance to Exploration.

Once I began exploring all the other features of the new phone I was hooked – I was committed to the new way of doing things.  I have no desire to return to the old way and have become a vocal advocate for the new way.

This was a major “a-ha” moment for me.  I saw that there were many important lessons here for every organizational change practitioner.  To paraphrase Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, “Although we are all interested in large scale change, we have to change one mind at a time.”

  1. The technical change itself is frequently simple, and seems trivial.  If you don’t drill down to the “how will you actually use this device” level – you can never understand the sources of frustration and the opportunities from the end-user’s perspective.
  2. It is impossible to anticipate all the ways that technology or process changes will impact end-users in the “future state.”  Pilot implementations are essential to understand how they will actually do things, and to develop meaningful training that will hit the mark
  3. A knowledgeable change agent, ready and able to address the needs of the impacted population is essential.

The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.

Summary

Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

Great Quotes – Organizational Change and Leadership

I’ve accumulated a pretty good collection of quotes over the years.  I’ll be adding to these regularly.  Feel free to send me some of your favorites.

Organizational Change

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki (U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1999-2003)

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” –  W. Edwards Deming

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action
rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.  And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” – Peter Drucker

Leadership

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer

“When we do what we have to do we are compliant.  When we do what we choose to do we are committed.” – Marshall Goldsmith

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal” – Henry Ford

Innovation

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself”  – Soren Kierkegaard

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” – Albert Einstein

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination” – Albert Einstein

“Failure is the foundation of success; success is the lurking place of failure” – Lao Tzu

Change Management and the Healthcare Debate

October 14, 2012

Electronic Medical Records

Where is Organizational Change Management when you need it?  Check out this article in the NY Times Science section on October 12, 2012.  Here’s a taste:

“Some doctors complain that the electronic systems are clunky and time-consuming, designed more for bureaucrats than physicians.”

Like many of the systems and processes that we work on/with, the adoption of electronic medical records in healthcare will bring revolutionary changes.  Eventually they will be for the better.  It seems that the road is a little bumpy as of this writing.   Let me see… Complex systems, tight budgets, big egos, entrenched cultures.  What a surprise.  Read more at the link below.

The Ups and Downs of Electronic Medical Records

August 19, 2009

There are great lessons for every leader in the ongoing healthcare debate regarding the handling of strategic change initiatives that your political slant has no bearing on.    Leaders, whether Obama or you, must keep in mind that humans are genetically “hardwired” for certain behavior.  Three such hardwired behaviors are on vivid display in the healthcare hysterics:

1.  Humans are hardwired to be “Loss Averse.”  This has been demonstrated in countless university psych classes.   True to form, we see people far more concerned about what they might lose, rather than what they might gain as an individual, family, community or society.    Leaders must remember that employees will not ask, “what’s in it for me?” they will instinctively ask, “what might I lose?”  and they must be prepared to address this concern

2. Humans are hardwired to trust “Emotional instincts before reason.”  How else can you explain the currency that the patently absurd “death panel” story gained?  Leaders must plan to plant a positive emotional connection to any change initiative.  If inaction/lack of communication allows fear to take hold, there will be an uphill battle to gain the hearts/minds.

3. Humans are hardwired to seek and share information in order to build alliances (a.k.a. Gossip).   No matter how hard anyone tries, they cannot shut down the “rumor mill.”   What stories will be told at the water cooler or over lunch?   Will they be the stories you want to be told?

For more details on hardwired behavior, read, “How Hardwired is Human Behavior?” by Nigel Nicholson in July 1998 Harvard Business Review.