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Getting comfortable with change

Jul 17th

It’s no surprise that organisations which can change are the most successful. So why are we so scared of change ourselves? This issue also includes: what’s your point?; 4 steps from blame to learning; and don’t be a ‘de-mentor’.

Editor’s view

Getting comfortable with change

It’s no surprise that organisations which can change are the most successful. But why are so many of us scared of change – and not only of the destination, but of the whole journey itself?

“Life is all about becoming more comfortable with change”. Profound words from my mentor, and personal development expert. Echoes of zen: ‘ You’ll never step in the same river twice’, and the flow of resistance and letting go as life moves unstoppably on, will be familiar to anyone who has taken a moment to look. Increasingly, successful organisations are also those which can change, adopt new practices and adapt quickly to the environment around them. Or rather, as I like to think about it, successful organisations are those where their people can do these things.

This is nothing new – theories of change, and motivation during times of change, populate leadership sections of bookshops. John Kotter’s 8 step-change model is perhaps the most widely known, and immensely applicable in many organisations as a checklist for change interventions. But what of personal motivation and why are many of us scared of change, not just of the destination but of the journey itself?

Common concerns people have:

  • We don’t know if we will achieve it, or even what ‘it’ is
  • We are not in control of what’s happening to us
  • We are not sure if we can trust our leaders to get us there
  • We don’t know what’s in it for us

So, to embrace change, in organisations, (and elsewhere) people need some information, some involvement, some trust and, importantly, a healthy dollop of motivation.

Daniel Pink, in his new book, Drive outlines how our motivations have changed. He describes how Motivation 1.0, ‘Survival’ (we work so we can eat, food is enough reward) is largely a thing of the past. Motivation 2.0, the ‘carrot and stick’ method, based on extrinsic factors, e.g. money, can only encourage us so much. Pink argues Motivation 3.0 is all about ‘intrinsic factors’ – people need autonomy, mastery and purpose. In a nutshell, we’ll give more if we have choice about how things change, if we have the opportunity to develop and if we think we’re making a difference. Support and encouragement are key (see ‘mentoring’ Q&A). We can’t be ordered to step in to the flowing river, but if we’re confident swimmers, with a goal, we might choose to dive in.

In the news

What’s your point?

What if your colleagues read your work in the same way that they read a newspaper? – flicking through the headlines, ignoring great swathes. Are you giving them the right headlines?

How do you read a newspaper? Flick through for headlines that catch your eye? Read what you usually read and ignore the rest? How long do you give it? How quickly do you form opinions on the content?

If we read our annual strategy document, or our team’s research or a colleague’s email in the same way most of us read a newspaper, we don’t allow ourselves very long to get the point. If the writer has not spent time crafting a ‘headline’ we may miss the point, or give the document no attention at all. How often, as a reader, do we wade through piles of slides only to be left unsure about what the one message is and what now needs to be done?

In business, communication is what makes things happen. Whether explaining, sharing, debating or making decisions, what and how we communicate turns thoughts into actions. Communicating concisely and with impact is a skill – one that can be learned – and one that could save individuals and organisations time, money and a lot of misunderstandings.

When you next sit down to write something at work, an email or presentation, think to yourself: ‘What is the real question I am answering?’ ‘What is the answer?’. If you can’t say the answer in one sentence, you need time to think. Get out paper and a pencil and try summarising your thoughts verbally in 30 seconds or talk it through with a colleague. Don’t expect the first draft to be perfect. When you are asked a question in a meeting – for all those extroverts out there – try not verbalising every thought. Give yourself a moment, think of the headline, and deliver it succinctly. That’ll get people’s attention.

Tip of the month

4 steps from blame to learning

A strong learning culture is increasingly important to all organisations. Find out how you can turn mistakes, not to mention ideas, into real organisational learning in 4 steps.

A strong learning culture is increasingly important to all organisations. If something changes, (think iPad) or something goes wrong (think BP), adapting is what helps organisations survive.

So how do you turn mistakes or ideas into real organisational learning?

  1. Understand your current culture: Leaders may think they are encouraging learning, but get a group of individuals in a room, from different levels, and ask them how it really is. Good questions might be: “What do you do if you have a good idea?”, “What stops you reporting things that go wrong?” “What usually happens when you suggest something to your manager?”
  2. Communicate with your people: Demonstrate you have listened by sharing findings on current culture with all your employees. Listen to reactions. Agree, as a leadership team, what an ideal learning culture would look like, and share this with the organisation. Keep the dialogue open with surveys, work groups, and encouraging all managers to ask more questions.
  3. Remove the blame: In a recent survey for an engineering company, many employees confessed they did not report unsafe situations since they did not want to get the blame. State clearly the need for honest reporting, encourage openness by trying something different (confidential reporting boxes worked here) and spend less time on assigning blame and more on developing learning.
  4. Praise, praise, praise: Good ideas often stay in people’s heads because they believe they may not be welcomed. Say “Thank you” publicly to ideas from employees, share widely and celebrate learning.

Your questions answered

I’m a leader who has recently become a mentor to three ‘high potentials’- what are the do’s and don’ts?

With mentoring, as with leadership generally, it is the small behavioural things that make the difference. All too often, the impression you give may not be the one you intend; instead of encouraging your ‘mentees’, you may dampen their enthusiasm, or even ‘suck the life out of them’ – more like Azkabanian ‘de-mentors’!

Don’t be a ‘de-mentor’:

  • Show you value them: “You’re important – but not as much as this email, phone call or repeated rescheduling of our meetings”, doesn’t cut it
  • Don’t overdo it: Too frequent messages of: “How are you getting on? How can I help?” could be translated as “I don’t trust you – you can’t do it on your own”
  • Avoid saying ‘should’: Aside from asserting your opinion, (“You really should X, Y, Z…”) it may be one that doesn’t match your mentees. This simple word turns whatever follows into a chore, rather than an appealing idea. Language matters – try asking a question instead.
  • Do what you say: Any advice becomes meaningless if your mentees can see you don’t follow it yourself. Share your own goals, enthusiasm and vulnerabilities.

This article is filed under: , executive coaching, leadership, organisation, organisation design, organisational culture, people, strategic change management, strategic communication

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