Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why should I change if the boss doesn't?

A colleague of mine works for a training company that offers time management solutions. I wrote about her several years ago and, even though she's risen up the ranks, I can't believe it but she still has the same problem - this time with her CEO.

My colleague's company offers software solutions and trains employees to manage their time more effectively to improve productivity and performance. It's amazing how popular these courses are even though they've been around for decades.

So, can you imagine how my colleague felt when her boss, now the CEO, said he just didn't have time to meet with her to go through her performance review and career development plan! She felt like she was in a time warp!

Common reasons for failure

Our conversation set me thinking about why so many change efforts still stall or lose momentum. One of the most common reasons remains congruency or consistency (or lack of it) by the so called leaders.

For example, let's say you decide that to increase your competitiveness in a cut-throat market, your organization's culture is holding you back.

Despite the kick in the guts created by the global financial crisis, the culture remains inward looking and process driven.

To survive, the company must become outward looking and customer focused across all its operations and not just at the customer interface.

So the company embarks on the change process. It restructures; it retrains staff and starts on a culture change program.

Yet despite the clear reasons why the culture must change and past behaviors and responses examined, many members of senior management continue to resort to short term expediency of cutting costs rather spending time on a careful well conceived approach to obtain and deliver the necessary strategic outcomes. 

They haven't learned to manage The Almond Effect® yet!

So the company starts a cost cutting exercise. Senior management even visits the front line to drive the cost-cutting message in person.

What's the result?

However staff are confused by the mixed messages; the company remains inward looking, there is still no focus on the customer. Nothing seems to have changed over a decade.

Leaders should set the pace

During times of change and pressure, people always look to their leaders to set the pace and show the way.

Psychologically we are designed to respond positively or at least neutrally, to consistency. When things don't turn out the way we expect based on our brain's hard-wired patterns, that's when The Almond Effect® can happen.

Comedians play on this and make us laugh by delivering a line we can't predict. You can't see it coming. But in a comic situation, you know it's safe and not a threat.

Inconsistency is acceptable in some situations but what most people want in the workplace is to know what's coming next and to be able to rely on their leaders. People believe what they see, not what is said. They want leaders they can trust.

I have never met an employee yet who says, "I love the way I don't know how the boss is going to react. It's great that it is never the same."

If you can remember back many years, just consider your reaction and the reaction of the American people to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky debacle. It's still talked about.

Most people did not care too much about the fact that the then President had an affair. What started to shift opinions were his inconsistent statements. That inconsistency, not the affair, almost cost him the Presidency and most certainly impacted on the level of trust in him by the American people.

Beware the silent saboteur

If leaders "don't practice what they preach" or "walk their talk", their people don't trust them. When that happens, people become cynical, unresponsive to change and at worst become 'silent saboteurs'.

We know there is a problem and the change isn't going according to plan but we just can't seem to put our finger on it.

A major challenge for leaders of change is they must have the resilience, tenacity and clarity of vision to shake off the old and focus on the new. In complex and difficult change situations, it's easy to fall back into the old ways of doing things when the going gets tough.

What can management do?

So what does a CEO and the management team need to do to change the culture and bring about any changes in attitude or behaviors to a new way of doing business?

Try this list for to start with:

Get out there and communicate:

  • The business reasons for change - why change is necessary. This is one of the top reasons why people don't get on board - they have no convincing answer to the question: Why should I change
  • Create urgency- show the extreme pressure to change coming from outside the organization 
  • Validate the way the organization has been to date and their role in it
  • Describe the new vision and scope - what will it be like after change - define it from perspective of the listener
  • Identify what is not changing
  • Explain the change process - the initiatives and timelines
  • Let them know what changes can be expected and when
  • Describe the problems they might experience
  • Explain the impact of not changing
  • Don't blame the past or people
  • Answer the WIFM question and "How will this affect me? ‘What am I expected to do?'

And ensure that all your influencers at whatever level act consistently and congruently with all the change messages that are being sent. If they do not, move them out of your company or to a position of no influence, direct or indirect.

Can you step up?

This is a big job, not for the feint hearted. But for leaders who realise that this is the most important role of the leader, your reward will be to join the small and exclusive list of leaders who have successfully taken their organizations to the next level.

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