Thursday, March 27, 2008

Change Management 11: Certain Misery or the Misery of Uncertainty

Change Management 11: Certain Misery or the Misery of Uncertainty

Small changes can lead to big changes. We don’t need a treatise on Chaos Theory to observe that changing systems are nonlinear. Each variable in the change environment exponentially affects the outcome. For example, a simple three-variable closed environment will yield 6 permutations, while 6 variables will yield 720 possible outcomes. In this field, sometimes it’s best not to count past three! It’s this unwieldy number of possible outcomes that leads us to the creative insight. The former Soviet Union went to great lengths to control this type of creative insight by controlling variables. Control was their thing, after all, and they suffocated from lack of creative adaptation to change. Today, countries and companies go to great lengths to foster the creativity inherent in change.

Embracing creativity is essentially the only way a business can adapt to the constantly changing business environment. Unfortunately, in the face of organizational change, many individuals, departments and corporate cultures still retreat into the unhealthy and limiting defense mechanism of over-control, even when it stifles the very process of creative adaptation. As a successful leader in change, you must be comfortable with a multitude of unknown variables and outcomes. If you are not, then you risk the misery of controlling an ever-increasing number of possible outcomes. Remember, only 6 variables produce 720 possible outcomes. This is a lot of plates to keep spinning-not to mention the no-confidence vote you’re giving your creative problem solvers. Creative team members just don’t react all that well to manipulation and stifling over-control.

The very first exercise the leader must undertake is a thorough inventory of his or her fears. Look at the worst case scenarios first. Once you have a good long list, brainstorm them with the team. If worst case scenario number one occurs, what are the creative recourses? If you let your team run free with ideas for an hour or so, you might be surprised at the far-reaching and pleasantly unexpected results. What you are doing here is fear (negative outcome) control. If you’re going to lead through a period of change, you must know thyself, and particularly your fears.

Predictability and ambiguity are two dynamic forces working in constant opposition. In an active change situation, predictability tends to contract while ambiguity expands. In dynamic situations, leaders can become fearful of an explosion of ambiguity (too many options). In attempting to control this, they inadvertently implode due to the repression of creativity (à la the Former Soviet Union). In the heat of battle it’s easy to forget that it's always much easier to tone down a overly creatively solution than to spruce up a dull one (known as the lipstick on a pig solution).

It’s not part of our macho, action hero culture to admit to fear and possible negative outcomes, but this is what must be done. Get the team together and get those fears on the flip chart and allow the creativity to flow. This exercise is an exceptionally powerful way to unify the team. What usually happens is that many of these fears are unfounded or easily solved by the collective open creativity of the team.

Ian Glickman, Ph.D.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Change Management 7: Three Techniques to Improve Communication, Empathy and Setting an Example.

Change Management 7

Three Techniques to Improve Communication, Empathy and Setting an Example.

Last year I was teaching my Organizational Dynamics class. It was a large class of adults with years of business experience. While discussing the verisimilitude of change management, the class listed thirty factors for effective change management. We took these thirty factors and did a lazy man’s Factor Analysis. A Factor Analysis is a statistical technique used to whittle many factors into a few core factors. It’s also so complex that it has unhinged even the most steadfast of researchers. We derived three core factors consisting of Communication, Empathy, and Self as Example. Not surprisingly, these are the same core factors the research literature described as being the most important.

Let's look at each factor and some specific techniques. First, communication sounds easy, but companies and even departments differ in important ways. It’s no fun when only half the people show up for your meeting-that’s a communication issue.

Let's say that you need to schedule a meeting for everyone regarding an important legal change that affects your business. What’s the most effective means of communication-email, phone, pager, text message, memo, or personal visit? Rank these communication channels from highest to lowest. If you can’t do this quickly, maybe you need to give this a bit more thought. In the various settings where I work, the effectiveness of these communication channels differs not only from department to department but from individual to individual.

Try this technique. The next time you walk down the hall, with each person you see, mentally say their best communication channel: Mr. email, Ms. phone call, Dr. personal chat. You’ll discover that it's not as easy as you think.

Let's look at increasing empathy. Empathy is a complex concept that psychologists have spent a lot of time measuring and analyzing. It essentially means feeling what someone else is feeling, or at least understanding intellectually what they are feeling. Again, this sounds simple. It is rather simple but not easy. I probably don’t have to tell you how many times we are all astounded by someone’s insensitivity, not just toward us personally, perhaps, but toward us as employees or members of a particular department.
I know you don’t want to be like that, so here’s an excellent technique for developing empathy.

Pick out one or two people who are going through some organizational change. Now pretend you are in their shoes and answer the following questions.
1. Which professional skills will be changed? In other words, what am I losing professionally? For example, will I be doing less analysis and more client contact or visa-versa? How will I feel about that?
2. What contacts or personal support will I be losing and how do I feel about that?
3. In what way will I be more or less autonomous? This questions addresses responsibility gain or loss.

Changes in skills, associations, and responsibilities are the three domains that are most concerning for people during organizational change

Finally, how do you demonstrate your self-involvement in the change process? It’s tremendously helpful for those undergoing change to see those up the hierarchy addressing (and sometimes struggling with) these same challenges. It’s as simple as that.

A good technique is to list 3 ways that people will be able to see that you are actively involved in the change process. With each of these three, using your new empathy skills, list how they might perceive you as you set a positive example.

These techniques work and they’ll work for you. Try it, you’ll like it.

Ian

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Change Management 3: The Change Facilitator Leader

Organizational Change Management
“There are three types of people in this world, those who can count and those who cannot.”
If you’re in management long enough, you will eventually experience a significant change in your company. This is usually followed by an intense and often quite justified sense of betrayal by those most affected.
You may overhear the employees bemoan, “I can’t believe they’re doing this to us!” This is the time the leader has to become more than just the one giving orders. If this is your situation, you have to become a CFL (Change Facilitator Leader). Just having this attitude alone will give you a leg up on the other managers.
Naturally, you will want to pay special attention to the groups most affected by the change. Though that may seem obvious, it’s amazing how little it is done. Attention can be in the form of focus groups, brainstorming, or process sessions. Depending on the nature of the change, this could take several meetings. Do not underestimate the importance of these meetings, for several reasons: First, it allows the individual members of the group to feel less isolated. Second, you’ll be able to clarify exactly what the change is, who will be affected, and how the change will affect them, thus removing the negative influences of the rumor mill (which, as you probably know, will have filled in the details that you have not yet addressed). Finally, and most importantly, it will allow you to assess the individuals of your group in terms of Fast Movers, Slow Movers and No Movers. As the names suggest, the Fast Movers are already starting to come around, strategize, plan, and act. The Slow Movers are beginning to mobilize, or at least have come up with good questions and legitimate concerns to discuss. The No Movers are-well, not moving.
Step one: Forget about the Slow Movers and No Movers, at least initially. Your biggest priority is to focus on the Fast Movers. Get them on board ASAP by including them in the change process at all levels. Include them in meetings, delegate leadership roles to them, give them as much responsibility as they can handle, and have them report to you individually (or better, in teams) as much as is reasonable.
Step two: Now start converting the Slow Movers, either individually or in groups, playing subordinate roles to the key Fast Movers. This slow, methodical conversion is crucially important. In both physical systems (phase transitions) and social systems (tipping points), once a critical mass is reached, the whole system converts. For example, in physical systems, when one percent of normal disorderly light waves become orderly, this one percent converts the whole light system into a laser beam. This is you want from your group, isn’t it? A conversion from disorder to laser-like orderliness.
The quicker you get the Fast Movers off the dime, the sooner the whole process will become positively directed. Don’t make the rookie mistake of spending all your time dealing with the No Movers. That’s like explaining to the caboose where the train should go. Go directly to the engine, the Fast Movers. You will have facilitated and structured the change instead of ordering it; thus, you will gain more buy-in from everyone affected. The No Movers will eventually realize that, as they say in Texas, “It’s easier to ride a horse if you’re facing the direction the horse is moving in.”

Ian

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