In episode #3, we acknowledged the creative power of asking “what if” instead of hunkering down in fight or flight every time change appears on the horizon. In this episode, we’ll develop a practice around questioning in order to create space for new possibilities.
It turns out our brains are far more elastic than we traditionally believed. Neuroscience researchers liken our gray matter to a fresh field of mud that gets worn down into a series of grooves, according to our habitual ways of thinking and acting. (Actually, I’ve never heard a neuroscientist say that our brains are like mud – I was visualizing the most recent Kentucky Derby mess when I wrote that!)
The point is: We can change the grooves if we want.
Consider the way train engineers use switches to move a train from one track to another. What if you could switch your thoughts over from the old, auto-pilot, how-am-I-going-to-pay-the-bills groove to a completely new and different circuit – one that’s far more liberating and empowering?
Creating these track “switches” could allow you to bypass the frenzy and / or paralysis of the survival instinct (fight or flight), which if you are seriously facing loss of life is handy, but otherwise is not that constructive. Instead, these “switches” can take you down a different path altogether –one that opens the way to possibilities you might never have imagined before.
Neuroscientists at Synaptic Potential call this our “change readiness neural quotient” – our neural capability to change. And the amazing thing is that like most capabilities, it can indeed be developed (or expanded).
To aid in building this new neural change muscle, I’d like to offer a practice that centers on asking yourself three sets of questions whenever you see change headed your way. These progressive questions are designed to unlock your natural resistance and unleash your personal power to respond and create in ways that serve your highest good.
Question Set #1:
Do I understand why this change is happening (after objectively considering all factors)?
Given more data points than I likely have, might I have arrived at the same (or similar) decision if I were in charge?
Regardless of my emotional response, will this change take place anyway?
At this point, you have ideally answered yes to all. And even if you don’t like what’s heading down the pike, your rational brain can accept the scenario as a foregone conclusion. If so, you are ready to move on.
Question set #2:
With this (rational) context in place, how do I feel in my gut about this change?
In addition to fears, concerns, trepidation… is there even a glimmer of curiosity? Relief? Excitement?
Can I feel a sense of possibility opening up… or even see a sliver of light filtering into the crack?
If you answered yes to the last two questions, you are like the train engineer, ready to literally flip the switch.
Question set #3:
In what ways might this new situation allow me to grow?
What latent skills or interests might I express or develop given this new scenario?
What have I always dreamed of doing (or doing differently) and how might this shift enable me to explore this?
If you’re able to contemplate these last questions, you are firmly in the creative “what might be” space, where etching new grooves is eminently possible.
In retrospect, I realize now that I’ve been following this process for years. And like everyone, I do sometimes get stuck in Question Set #1 (which is all about accepting that which we cannot control). It’s why I have carefully curated a short list of incredibly smart, diverse and provocative advisers I consult with from time to time – my truth tellers. They ask me tough questions and point out ways that I have dug in my heels in order to help me loosen myself from old grooves that were once constructive but no longer serve me well.
As I have become more adept at activating change in my own life, I find that Question Sets #2 and #3 come to me quite naturally. Have you ever cleared a room that was once full of a lot of clutter, only to feel so deeply the energy, spaciousness and clarity you didn’t know you craved?
This practice is a lot like that.
At On the Same Page, we would really like to hear how you actively bring change on board in your own life. Please do share your insights and experiences with us so we can all expand our ability to… well, expand!
Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.
Google “gratitude in business” and you’ll wind up with thousands of results. And not just because it’s November – a month in which the topic is top of mind for Americans preparing to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s because, as it turns out, gratitude is good for business. And that is because, as neuroscientists have discovered, gratitude actually changes our brains.
According to a Huffington Post round-up on gratitude and the brain, here are three of 10 ways gratitude affects our performance at work:
Gratitude improves social behaviors which makes it easier to network. Studies show that those who are 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital.
Gratitude stimulatesgoal achievement. In one study, participants instructed to keep a gratitude journal for two months reported more progress toward their goals.
Expressing gratitude in the workplace helps leaders create connections (between actions and outcomes, effort and performance) and build relationships (among team members and with others more far-flung in the organization).
Like working any muscle, with repeated practice, the behavior becomes more natural. Here are three ways to make the most out of the gratitude you offer every day – in person, by phone or via a hand-written note:
Be specific about what you’re thankful for, e.g. “Thank you for taking the recent uptick in cost of quality so seriously, and for the focused analysis you provided in your process review.”
Explainwhat you liked or the next steps, e.g. “I learned two things from the perspective you provided and believe we can make significant progress in reducing defects.”
Continue to build the relationship, e.g. “I’ll take this work forward to the Quality Council and let you know what next steps we put in place.”
Research shows that those who practice gratitude every day live longer, sleep better, experience increased productivity and live happier lives.
We could all use more gratitude in our lives, and especially in the workplace. My challenge to you… smile more and thank someone today.
Here’s a look at what some of our team members are thankful for:
Assuming the business acumen and operational knowledge foundation has been formed, the skills most critical to being an effective leader have to do with relating to people.
This means turning your organization’s strategy into a story that inspires employees to action. It means taking time to get feedback from employees at all levels, truly listening to what is said and taking action so that people know you heard them.
Here are four ways you can be a more effective and powerful leader today:
Superior leaders lead through effective communication. The “secret sauce” is engaging hearts and minds to inspire action.
Did you know that many of the so-called “rational” decisions we make – and the way we behave – are governed by our emotions, and that our emotions have projective power over our thoughts? Emotions act as filters to form our desires, furnish our capacities, and to a large extent, rule our immediate thoughts. As we encounter fresh situations, become faced with novel problems or grapple with new ideas, our emotional response to each of these sets in motion the initial allocation of our mental resources. In essence, our first “read” of a new situation is always centered in our emotions, feelings and attitudes. As such, our emotions are laying the groundwork for the thinking that is to come.
Creating a powerful connection and compelling your stakeholders to take action requires engaging both the head and the heart – the mind and emotions. And for employees, engaging heads and hearts delivers higher levels of business impact faster. Here are four tips for more effective employee engagement:
1. Tell your story. Explain your organization’s vision and strategy to inspire and motivate. How? Simplify the strategy or vision in a way that resonates with employees (is personal and meaningful).
2. Set expectations. Employees want and need to know, clearly and specifically, what is expected of them. This includes both job tasks and organizational culture behaviors.
3. Actively listen. Everyone wants to be heard. Show your leaders, peers and employees that what they have to say is important by really listening. Put down your phone, turn to face whoever is speaking, avoid distractions and summarize what is said to you. Remember to take action after the conversation is over, if necessary. Actively listening shows respect and builds trust.
4. Communicate effectively. Provide the tools and coaching to help leaders and managers effectively communicate, fostering more productive and engaging relationships within their teams.
People notice visible signs before you “officially” tell them anything. These signs constitute anything out of the ordinary, everyday experience, including:
Frequent closed-door meetings in an environment where doors are almost always open
Unannounced visits by executives who spend the day in meetings with onsite leaders
Unannounced visits by guests who appear to be closely examining people, processes and activities
Posters or advertisements for anything that hasn’t been announced to the workforce
Changes to the perks — free breakfast or lunch that’s no longer free, or when the kitchen isn’t stocked for a while
Questions that go unanswered or projects that are postponed without explanation
As humans, we naturally look for pattern changes. When something changes and we’re not sure why, we make up our own reason. Here’s an actual example:
There was a For Sale sign on a fence facing the highway of near a manufacturing plant.
Employees driving to work passed the sign, then exited the highway, parked their cars and walked into the building entrance.
That’s when they saw the Now Hiring sign.
What do you suppose they were they thinking?
The reality was that the company had some land it wasn’t using adjacent to the manufacturing plant. So it decided to sell the land. At the same time, it happened to be hiring to expand its workforce.
Rather than communicate these two issues to the workforce so they could feel good about what was happening, they put up the signs and didn’t anticipate the resulting confusion.
What visible signs could your team be misinterpreting right now?
This is especially important when your team, function, business unit or organization is going through any kind of change. As you think through your change management plan, think about what visible signs your employees will see throughout the process. Are you timing your communication to align with visible signs? When leaders and managers tell employees what’s happening before they start to see the signs, they build trust, credibility and confidence.
Taking on a new executive leadership role can be challenging. Whether you’re new to the organization or the position, it’s important to build trusting relationships from the start. These five keys will help you engage your team and employees, and set the stage for success. For more information about leadership communication, check out my article in AMA Quarterly.
We see in many companies evidence of change fatigue – both in individuals and across entire organizations. As many people are now fond of saying, change is the new constant. Leaders need to understand and embrace an approach to managing through change that sustains their people and their company.
The On the Same Page team has helped companies through hundreds of mergers, acquisitions and transformations. From this experience, we’ve developed these 10 tips to help leaders navigate change. For more information about employee engagement during times of change, email me at email@example.com.
One of the most practical, highest return on investment activities is communicating to engage. A Dale Carnegie infographic on employee engagement states that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%. The infographic goes on to list tips for employee engagement and each tip is directly related to leader and manager communication.
“People leave managers, not companies,” writes authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The best leaders understand that engaging people’s hearts and minds is the only way to compel them to action. Your employees – and your customers – will thank you for it. Here are four tips to help you engage your employees through more meaningful communication. For more information on Communicating to Engage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Functional experts are often promoted into bigger and bigger roles without preparation for the adjustments they need to make to truly lead. Essential to bridging the gap from technician to leader is building and sharing a vision that stirs employees’ passion and creativity.
Top leaders align their vision around the organization’s strategy. They:
Develop a story that engages employees in the organization’s strategy, inspiring and motivating their teams and employees to action.
Improve relationships with boards, shareholders, partners, their team and critical stakeholders by providing a vision that’s simple, clear and memorable.
Simplify the link from their vision and the organization’s strategy to the impact on customers, clients or products.
Bridge that gap from functional expert to visionary leader and succeed in your new role. For more information on storytelling or employee engagement, email me at email@example.com.
Beth Swanson and I teamed up to write a piece called, “What to Do If Your CEO Suddenly Dies” – featured in Ragan’s PR Daily. Generated by the sudden death of SurveryMonkey’s CEO, this is a timely and sensitive article on what to do in the aftermath of a leader’s death. While it is unpleasant to think of this happening in anyone’s organization, it is necessary to plan for when in business.
This article includes a six-point plan to enable you to lead with confidence and composure during a difficult time. While it is unpleasant to think of this happening in any organization, it is necessary to plan for in business. Below is a preview of the plan. For more information, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I went to my traditional internist the other day to talk about some nutritional guidance I received from an “alternative” practitioner. With a not so subtle scowl on her face, the traditional doc said: “First do no harm.” While I was disappointed in her ability to think creatively about my health, it occurred to me that this abstraction of the Hippocratic oath could double as a guiding principle for employee communication.
These are, as the Chinese proverb goes, interesting times…particularly when it comes to engaging employees. We are seeing more and more companies pulling all kinds of levers to drive cost out of their operations while simultaneously pursuing strategies designed to produce growth. Buried deeply within these organizations, it can sometimes feel to employees like their company is schizophrenic. Squeeze out cost while investing in growth? How in the world do we contract and expand at the same time?
And yet, this is exactly what the majority of CEOs are seeking. According to the 2013 US CEO Survey: Creating Value in Uncertain Times by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “CEOs are seeking more from operational leaders than holding the line on costs. They’re also being asked to create value and contribute to growth.” With about two-thirds of those surveyed expecting some level of strategic change and changes to the organizational structure in the next 12 months (see Figure 1), now is the time to think seriously about how to engage employees in what seems at face value to be conflicting priorities.
Communicate openly – employees deserve it…and they can handle it
Messages about cost out and growth may seem contradictory. They’re really not – if the company and its leaders are extremely clear in communicating the direction and they see the link in freeing up resources from one area in the company in order to fund growth initiatives in others.
The most successful leaders practice three simple and fundamental principles when it comes to engaging their employees around these priorities:
Communicate openly and clearly about the company’s strategy.
Share the rationale for change.
Keep the customer front and center.
While these practices are always important, the complex and sometimes confusing dynamics operating within most organizations today make them downright indispensable. We find that while employees may not agree with all of a company’s decisions, particularly the ones that have a negative impact on them and their co-workers, they’re far more likely to respect their leaders and do what is asked if they understand the basis for the actions. Leaders often forget that employees are adults who in many cases run their own households. They understand the basics of revenues and expenses, and most are actively involved in addressing their own life challenges while balancing their household budgets.
Don Devine, formerly CEO of American Standard Brands (ASS) and now President of Custom Building Products, is a role model in this regard. While leading ASB through two acquisitions and a double merger, Devine was laser-sharp in his focus on a short set of clear messages, and passionate about educating the workforce about the financial basics – what it was going to take to turn the business around.
More leaders could take a page out of Devine’s book. The 2009 / 2010 Communication ROI Study report by Towers Watson found that while companies designated as highly effective communicators do a much better job of using communication to effectively connect with the workforce than the low-effectiveness companies, “there is room for improvement by all participants in communicating more effectively.” Figure 2 reveals just how much room there is, from explaining the basics to keeping the customer front and center.
Cost-cutting used to be a cyclical activity, with many organizational communicators we know in the habit of pulling out their “belt-tightening” messages every year at the start of the fourth quarter. However, these measures, which at one time seemed to be a quick fix to a moment in time, may be here for good. According to PriceWaterhouseCooper’s2013 US CEO Survey, 81 percent of participants implemented cost-cutting measures last year. In 2013, 71 percent are planning to do so. “In an environment of pricing pressure and slow demand growth, every element of direct and SG&A expense is getting a fresh look…CEOs seek opportunities for competitive advantage in their operating models to offer customers more and to do so at a lower cost.”
Remember – it’s about the people
It’s important to remember that behind all of the strategies, priorities and objectives are the people. And people are both emotional and rational, meaning they adapt to change at different rates of speed and in different ways. Particularly during periods where there is great ambiguity – before all of the questions have been answered – some may act out of fear or insecurity. Great leaders and managers understand this and work hard to be clear, consistent, respectful and compassionate in their words and actions. Larry Bossidy (former Chairman and CEO, Honeywell and best-selling author) said it best: “At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
Earlier this week, Huffington Post reported that Yahoo has instituted the “stack-ranking” system of evaluating employees. The approach involves ranking employees of a department or team against each other on a bell curve, with the result that someone – or several someones – end up on the bottom of the curve. Those employees are typically fired or penalized in some way.
As the article points out, the system of stack ranking, or as some companies call it, forced ranking (which is really more accurate), has been around since Jack Welch popularized it at GE. And it has been controversial ever since.
The issue is very simple: You get what you measure. And in the case of forced ranking, you get how you measure. If the metric is about comparing the performance of individuals against each other, you’re going to get competition, secrecy, silos, and likely an environment and culture that becomes increasingly tense and risk averse.
This is the polar opposite of what we’re seeing smart companies doing today. Companies are facing tough external challenges, among them:
Rising competition from agile, global, lower cost competitors
Increasing pressure on profit margins
An urgent need to keep up with (or lead) the innovation race
Changing business models and customer buying habits.
The best companies are responding to these challenges by tearing down walls to create community and enable collaboration, thereby driving:
Faster, better innovation,
Deeper customer insights and intimacy, and
Better financial results.
Companies that create this kind of community also give rise to employee ambassadors, people who are passionate about the companies they work for, which in turn helps recruit great people, build a strong culture and deliver competitive advantage.
Companies searching for ways to stand out and thrive in a challenging environment would do well to ask themselves: Create community and collaboration or promote competition? My vote is to collaborate internally so we can compete externally.