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.
I’m a beginner with plants. Having spent 2+ decades raising kids (and a business), I’ve decided to start slowly with the green stuff.
That’s why my best friend and I picked out this plant early last summer for my back deck.
They’re succulents, she told me. Therefore they won’t need much attention. Perfect, I thought. Bought and paid for!
For the first two months, all went smoothly with the succulents. Then a few weeks later, this happened:
Those tall protrusions that look like they desperately want to become flowers never really did. They only made the whole pot oddly asymmetrical and prone to blowing over in the wind.
But one thing they did produce: something that my beloved hummingbirds loved to feed on! Almost as much as the homemade nectar I keep stocked in the nearby feeders all summer long. (I like birds better than plants… and almost as much as my kids.)
And what does this have to do with change, you ask? I’ve concluded these 3 things from my summer with the succulents:
We simply don’t know what we don’t know. So why not stay open to possibilities?
You never really know what’s coming until it does. And even when it isn’t all that attractive, it can – and often does – pave the way for something new, exciting and better than was there before. (More weird succulent protrusions = fewer trips to buy sugar for the homemade nectar. Oh, and… will the little seeds from those un-flowers become next summer’s succulents? I believe they might.)
Relinquish control, especially regarding outcomes. The control thing was probably an illusion anyway. And oh, how much energy we waste on just the attempt to control.
That last point – the energy required to resist change? Stay tuned… it’s the topic of our next post.
What new door opened for you when you least expected it?
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.
These words, and others like them, have dominated news reports in the U.S. over the last few weeks. Just when we thought the country could not feel more divided than it was leading up to and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, recent events surrounding Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s hearings demonstrate that emotions – and strongly emotional responses – continue to escalate in nearly every forum from dinner tables to not-so-friendly conversations among friends to classrooms to workplaces. And with mid-term elections one month off, the tenor of public and private discourse is likely to become even more fraught.
These are risky times for leaders and managers committed to engaging workers in a shared strategy for their organizations. We know that among the most critical skills engaging leaders demonstrate is active listening. But how – and where – to draw the line between encouraging open dialogue and providing a cover for divisive behavior (especially covert, masked behavior) is a major challenge.
These three actions will help CEOs and senior leaders build trust and keep at-work relationships productive during volatile times.
Name the elephant in the room. Acknowledge that these are trying times for many, with extremely strong emotions having been stirred across the political and personal spectrum.
Establish clear expectations – and boundaries. Remind employees that diverse opinions and perspectives are critical to solving business problems and innovating new ideas, products and services. And on the flipside, personal opinions and perspectives on divisive issues simply do not belong in the workplace. Encourage workers who have personal concerns about workplace practices or actions to take them promptly and directly to a designated resource, such as their Human Resources professional or an Employee Assistance Program advocate.
Recommit to the dignity of every individual. This is one example of where “say-do” is sacrosanct. We often talk about respect in the workplace, and many companies include that word in their values statements. That’s good. Now scan the way you carry yourself, the way you interact with colleagues at all levels – the words you choose and your body language. Make sure that you are “doing” respect as much as you are talking about it. Whether or not they realize it, employees are watching you for cues about what is acceptable behavior. If you are a senior leader, you are used to living in a fishbowl. Recognize that this is truer now than ever.
For more on communicating during divisive times, check out this article, posted on Inauguration Day, 2017.
The roles of Corporate Communications and Human Resources are SHIFTING – and increasing visibility along with demand TO DELIVER for the business.
What is the difference? IMPACT is delivered and quantified. For example:
$14 million saved through engaged employees at the frontlines
$725 million in cost reduction through Human Resources process improvements
Three plants changeover systems at the same time, on the same day through clarity of personal expectations, defined roles and responsibilities, and active leadership
First, what is driving this demand for impact from Communications and HR and the need to shift? The lineup of drivers includes:
Digital and social media
Next, what do you do? Look at your world from a simple 20-60-20 perspective:
20 percent of activity – eliminate activity that is not measured or build processes and tools to shift implementation to other functions for self-service
60 percent is for excellence execution – keep those initiatives where measurement is currently used or can be implemented to illustrate that projects of Communications and HR are moving in the right direction, e.g. surveys, feedback
20 percent for impact – identify the one-to-three areas where you can have an impact for the business in terms that can be translated to financial gain, e.g. cost out, productivity improvements, customer fill rates
Third, where do you start?
Make a best friend in finance.
Be sure your team clearly understands what is important to the business. This means the approach needs to shift to excellent execution with an operations mindset for delivering impact.
Determine together where the team can define and deliver impact! A sense of collaboration working across functions is an interesting byproduct and builds more impact… followed by more impact!
Summit & Salute is one of two national events where the WBENC network comes together to create and develop dynamic relationships while also taking time to celebrate the successes of our Women’s Business Enterprise Stars and America’s Top Corporations. The Summit engages participants in a two day program focused on the future of various industries, business networking and development opportunities. The Salute! Dinner is a festive evening that highlights our 2016 America’s Top Corporations for Women’s Business Enterprises.
On the Same Page is proud to be certified as a Woman-Owned Business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and honored to support our clients’ commitments to maintain a culture of diversity – inside their organizations and with their external partners.
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.
Communicate openly – employees deserve it…and they can handle it. The most successful leaders practice three simple and fundamental principles when it comes to engaging their employees around these priorities.
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.
Companies that rank high for employee engagement are more profitable, more productive, have better customer ratings and fewer safety incidents (Gallup).
Here are five tips to help fire up employees engagement.
Before you take any of these steps, consider this a building exercise. In other words, these steps should be taken sequentially and over the course of a year or so, with each step building on the progress and momentum created by the ones before. This will protect from immediate rejection (too many new practices to absorb at once) and lead to a sustainable culture change.
1. Connect with employees. This starts with telling the story – this is the big picture vision of where the organization is going and why this particular company is uniquely able to get there. In addition, leaders should explain the roadmap – the plan for achieving their vision, including what it means for employees and their jobs. Establish an open communication environment by inviting, acknowledging and responding to employee questions, concerns and ideas. Importantly, leaders must keep the dialogue – and their visibility – going so that it becomes “the way we do business around here.”
2. Establish expectations. Set the workforce up for success by establishing behavioral expectations for managers and employees and providing the necessary resources and recognition to win. Objectives should include general business metrics (e.g., gross margin, productivity) as well as those reflecting key drivers of success, such as customer service levels and loyalty and recordable safety cases. Training in communicating and engaging employees can be provided to managers who wield the most influence over employees’ behavior.
3. Develop a Customer First mentality.Introduce the customer as the company’s “raison d’etre” (reason for being) by bringing them – and their ideas – into the company. Invite groups of employees to observe focus groups of customers and competitors’ customers discussing the pros and cons of the organization’s products or services. Hold follow-up meetings with the same employees to hear their reactions and brainstorm how the company can incorporate some of the new ideas. Ask these employees to go back into the workforce to assemble teams and see which team can come up with the most suggestions. Celebrate all of the suggestions by inviting all employees to a “Customer First” party.
4. Share best practices. Establish a mentoring program, matching high performers with those who are not as high performing (but don’t bill it this way publicly!). Ask the partners to identify and focus on two things that each partner can work on to improve, and ask them to commit to specific actions and monitor progress.
5. Make it personal. Engage employees in building a winning team by holding a “What’s the coolest part of working for ABC organization” contest. Submissions should be posted in a highly visible, high traffic area, such as the employee entrance or break room and employees can vote for winners in categories such as Most Creative, Most Practical, Most Customer Focused.
After a failed first attempt, #Starbucks#CEO Howard Schultz’s second departure announcement went much smoother. In a post for The CEO Magazine blog, I share why effective communication during a transition means more confidence from your stakeholders.
Here’s a preview of the post. (Visit the full blog post here.)
The steps necessary to mount a successful transition depend on whether the new leader comes from inside or outside of the organization. In both cases, investing time to understand and build on the relationships of the business is crucial.
Here are five keys to success for any new CEO:
Carefully respond to and set expectations.
Connect with employees.
Identify and exploit quick wins.
Get to know the influencers.
In dire situations where market share is evaporating or where a company is losing money, a new CEO especially must act quickly.
Reorganizations? Transformations? Is your company planning change in 2017? In the latest issue of AMA Quarterly, I share tips on how to make change easier and more successful for all parties involved.
Here’s a preview. (You can read the full article here on pages six and seven.)
As companies work their way through change initiatives, reorganizations, and more, employees and leaders are reporting increased levels of change fatigue. How can we make change easier? A plethora of research exists to tell us what makes change initiatives successful—and certainly success is one way to alleviate the stress that comes with change.
So whether your organization plans to revamp processes or people roles or launch a large-scale transformation, it will help to keep the proven lessons and practices of successful change initiatives in mind. Here’s what some of the research shows:
Understand that openness and honesty about all aspects of the change build trust in leaders and organizations.
Walk the talk by role modeling desired behaviors.
Prepare for the many emotions and reactions expressed during layoffs.
At On the Same Page, we help clients explore and deliver improved performance through employee engagement and communication. Never is this process more crucial than when an organization is in the midst of change.
For many U.S. voters, today (Inauguration Day) is a day of reckoning. Depending on your perspective, it’s the day you’ve been longing for or the day you’ve been dreading. If there is one thing to be learned from this past U.S. Presidential election, it is this: As a society, we haven’t been listening. And, as a result, we also haven’t been heard.
Business leaders have noted that election results have fragmented their companies. PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi said that her employees were “crying.” Some CEOs have even encouraged such division; GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney said Trump supporters weren’t welcome in his company. Now that the outcome is a done deal, what can CEOs and other business leaders do to heal such divisions and move their companies forward?
When people are denied a voice, for whatever reason, they begin to feel marginalized. That feeling of being unseen and taken for irrelevant, can build in intensity, and over time, lead to hostility or worse. PepsiCo’s Nooyi said that the real issues that face us as a country “such as technological unemployment, global trade, immigration” were not addressed in the lead-up to the election. Instead, the focus was personal and emotional.
Lacking dialogue about meaningful, substantive topics that affect us all has created a deep divisiveness that is not surprisingly finding its way into companies and other organizations. Unmitigated, leaders risk this deeply personal and vindictive energy overtaking the corporate narrative. In that kind of environment, divisions run even deeper and lead to employees becoming disengaged with their company’s purpose, strategy and outcomes. That’s not good for their customers, their shareholders, or our economy.
The most important lesson we can take from the surprising outcome of this election is that open, civil and thoughtful consideration of divergent perspectives is the glue that binds any society – be it a country or a company. And that presents a spectacular and critical opportunity for today’s business leaders.
Strategy #1: Dust off some fundamental communication skills
The road to healing requires leaders to practice four skills as part of their everyday interactions with colleagues:
Active listening: Make a choice to listen for understanding rather than simply listening to hear. This means clearing your mind of your own thoughts, preconceived ideas and agendas in order to thoroughly consider what is being shared.
Model constructive dialogue: Repeat key ideas that you are hearing in your own words to confirm alignment and ask probing questions to dig for deeper understanding. Adopt the mindset that you are studying for an exam rather than ramping up for a debate.
Provide context: When sharing your thoughts, decisions or direction for the business, frame the issue thoughtfully. Many leaders forget that employees have not been immersed in analyzing an issue as thoroughly or for as long as they have and jump straight to the punchline. This robs the workforce of the opportunity to make the mental journey with you, arriving comfortably (or at least rationally) where you have.
Create forums for open, hierarchy-free dialogue: Activate a mix of contemporary, digital platforms and traditional, in-person ones so that employees across the demographic and preference spectrum have opportunities to participate. Participate regularly in these forums, and clearly share with direct reports your expectation that they do so as well.
Strategy #2: Check your ego
Participating in the respectful exchange of views and ideas is one of the most humbling activities a leader will undertake. To be genuine, you must relieve yourself of the notion that you have all the answers. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?
Forty percent of executives say they spend between half a day and one full day every week managing communication that has no value.
The reduction in workforce productivity caused by email and information overload has become a well-documented fact at many organizations. When it comes to the sheer number and quality of emails sent and received, the cost to employee productivity and engagement can be staggering, including an inability to make decisions, process information and prioritize tasks.
In 2017, tame your inbox, so you can spend more time being productive and building the relationships that really matter. Here are six tips to help you:
When crisis strikes, leadership turns to Legal, Communication and Human Resources professionals for guidance. Invest time now in planning how you manage a crisis. You hope you never need the plan, but if you do, it’s too late to initiate the process once something catastrophic happens. Rapid response is critical in times of business crisis.
Here are the guiding principles, the DOs and DON’Ts of effective crisis management:
1. All responses should start with a focus on safety (employee, customer, community, environmental).
2. Cooperate with authorities and emergency personnel.
3. Plan to do more that what is needed in order to build back goodwill with employees, customers, partners, vendors, other stakeholders and the community.
4. Communicate quickly:
Be open and honest about what is happening or has happened.
Remain calm. Don’t retaliate. Don’t react to abrasive remarks.
Focus on safety and protecting the rights of employees (for privacy) and the company (legal rights).
Avoid waiting until you have all of the information to communicate. Say what you know now or today. Do not speculate, guess about what happened or offer your opinions.
Everybody makes mistakes. But having a solid plan in place to address the negative whiplash or complaints in a timely and transparent manner will not only help preserve your company’s reputation, but confirm yet again that you are a business that cares about its customers and willing to go an extra mile to make them happy and live up to your reputation.