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Poor leadership = poor adaption to changes

Changes conjure up many feelings and emotions - excitement, anticipation and happiness, but change can often herald reservation, concern, even fear.

While many leaders extol the benefits of change, not everyone shares that enthusiasm.

A client outlined the challenge he saw in taking on his new role as CEO. This challenge revolved around the level of fear he sensed throughout his new organisation. Phrases like "I can see the fear in their eyes" and "deep reservations about the future ahead" were quoted. There will be many reasons for these behaviours a nd this leader faced them as his prime challenge. Without commitment to the journey of necessary change throughout the organisation, he was "on a hiding to nothing".

Poor leadership can give rise to fear. Leaders define, affect and influence the culture of an organisation way beyond their own imagination. Some have no idea of the level of influence their behaviour has on others, not only on their direct reports, but through them on the whole organisation.

Resistance to change can also be due to;

  • Vested interests and personal fiefdoms which work hard to prevent change.
  • Potential organisational blindness to how the outside world really works.
  • Or, team spirit lost in transition.

Every organisation must evolve, adapt and remain sensitive to changes in its industry and others which can undermine what was once a stable and sustainable market. Often leaders read the situation correctly, but then act to bring about change in a way that destroys the very foundations that brought success to the organisation and would have served it well into the future, if only channelled correctly.
So, back to my client. What could he have done? In this instance it was a case of acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of what has passed, how his predecessor in attempting to do the right thing – did wrong. Not wrong in realising that change was necessary, but rather in misunderstanding how to deliver change.

History plays a part in defining the behaviours of an organisation "the way we do things around here", and some recognised capability for change. The very success built into the DNA of the organisation that brought it to the current position, that same DNA would if handled correctly, deliver future success in the 'brave new world'. Listening to those who have seen the journey to this point and asking them the right questions such as "What have you learnt when facing this or that challenge in the past"? and "Which solutions worked, which didn't and why was this the case"? Getting under the skin of the what, why and how the organisation responds to the new, what constitutes the resilience amongst the teams and capability to adapt, change and renew - this is key.

Having listened, questioned and understood, it is as vital to acknowledge that history - the strength that has helped so far - and open the dialogue about what the future holds, what part each person thinks they can play and what do they see as the evolution necessary to meet the future.

None of this should detract from the crucial role any leader plays in doing his or her own strategic thinking, market analysis and all the other critical 'outward looking' actions.  The real talent comes in performing the merger of listening and acknowledging within, with diagnosing and refining the challenges and opportunities without. This results in change for good, lessening the fear.

Fundamental to overcoming resistance to change is the building of trust. We can help with this. Contact – peter.buckley@buckley-partnership.co.uk

'Jive Talking'

I remember when the Bee Gees released the song "Jive talkin'" in 1975. Oh those halcyon days as a teenager with no cares in the world, enjoying school (I actually really did!), and that enjoyment in life extended to most things including sports and playing football that summer in the streets of north London where I lived. Good times indeed. Truth is that at that time I didn't realise what the words really meant to the song, but sensed it was something about double talking and being misunderstood.

Anyway, it was only the other day while working with a client I asked a question to explore further with her why an excellent initiative to bring about innovative solutions to enhance business performance and productivity had floundered. It transpired she had taken the lead in offering to co-ordinate the work we had begun with her team and draw together their support – offered publicly at the time – to return to a final event and share the outcomes. Sadly she announced the initiative had not delivered as expected, although on the original day everyone was both enthused and enjoyed the work. Indeed, they came up with many robust ideas and potential ways of delivering the solutions, but when it came to working with her to bring them into practice she found everyone had a reason not to either reply, commit or even take their level of responsibility, declaring in most instances that they were either too busy or felt their personal priorities took precedence.
While this short synopsis spares any further details to save exposing anyone, it is fair to say these sorts of outcomes are not uncommon. Why do so many initiatives, plans and stated actions, whether around cost-savings, increased productivity or simply improved customer service, flounder?

What is it about making promises when the spirits are high only to back down, finding excuses or simply avoiding doing what we said we would do? It all sounds like "Jive talkin'" to me.
Truth is it doesn't have to be that way. By developing real trust within a team through open dialogue, conversations and discussions that really say what we think and think what we say, followed by doing what we say, consistently, things can be different, promises fulfilled and success achieved beyond the norm. All these simple, yet necessary actions will fundamentally serve as the true building blocks to sustainable trust in relationships, teams and organisations.

Have you had similar experiences? What worked and what actions complement the fundamental principle of trust?

Leading Change

As a leader, do you engage people at the level of spirit?

For this “Thought for Today” I felt a new approach was needed, so I have taken the liberty of providing you first with a short synopsis of a much wider and enjoyable article written by Sally Helgesen. The full article follows later.

Synopsis:

  • The reality is that meaningful, lasting change occurs only when a critical mass of people throughout an enterprise — not all of them, but a sufficient number — begin to approach their work and commitments in a whole new way.
  • Sustained transformation requires transformed people.
  • Leaders can instigate change effort, only to find their efforts stymied by entrenched interests or silos at senior levels.
  • Example of Pope Francis who approaches the difficult-to-reconcile tasks of re-engaging a broad spectrum of grassroots believers at the level of spirit and imagination while also seeking to curb the power of an entrenched bureaucracy that views itself as the true arbiter of church culture.

Leadership
How do you engage people in meaniful, lasting change?

First, a leader needs to create opportunities to build and connect with alternate constituencies in meaningful yet powerful symbolic ways in order to counterbalance vested interests nearer to hand.

Second, rather than telling others that they need to change their ways, a leader seeking transformation must instead personally model a radically open style of leadership that sets the tone for what he or she wants to see happen.

“Transformed people transform people”. St. Francis

Organisations can only be transformed when the people who comprise them are transformed, and people are changed by individuals who engage them at the level of spirit.

Papal Pull: by Sally Helgesen, Strategy & Business June 2015

“Only people of the spirit change things. The rest of us just rearrange them.”

The insightful quote wasn’t uttered by a religious figure, or by a touchy-feely New Age philosopher. Rather, it came from one of the most wilful and domineering figures ever to strut across the human stage: Napoleon.

The conqueror of Europe, whose dominion did indeed prove short-lived, was sufficiently clear-eyed to recognize the transitory nature of his military and political triumphs. But leaders today are often less astute. Although transformation has become a kind of Holy Grail in many organizations, it’s often viewed as an engineering or structural challenge that can be executed from the top: Get all the design elements right, and transformation is sure to follow.

The reality is that meaningful, lasting change occurs only when a critical mass of people throughout an enterprise — not all of them, but a sufficient number — begin to approach their work and commitments in a whole new way. Sustained transformation requires transformed people, as Lou Gerstner recognized when he noted that a reborn IBM could not be run by “the guys in white shirts” who had long defined the company’s culture. Gerstner, who ran Big Blue from 1993 to 2002, began the necessary work of supporting and engaging different people and the same people in different ways. By doing so, he was able to transform IBM from a complacent manufacturer of computer hardware into a more nimble and profitable provider of computing solutions, including services.

Such engagement does not happen by fiat, by a leader decreeing it must be so, although we continue to see leaders who stubbornly go down this path. My own favorite example, is former Hewlett Packard CEO Leo Apotheker’s sudden August 2011 announcement that the entire company — all 300,000-plus people — would on one specified day in September abandon their traditional business model, seize new terrain, and alter their modus operandi. Apotheker’s own tenure lasted about three weeks after this grandiose “Day One” declaration, which sowed confusion and despair in the ranks. The annals of business failure are littered with similar disasters. In the real world, people don’t change because the CEO tells them they must do so overnight.

Sometimes leaders do try to broadly engage people in a change effort, only to find their efforts stymied by entrenched interests or silos at senior levels. One classic example from business history was New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc., (NUMMI) an ill-fated partnership struck in 1984 between General Motors and Toyota. Based in Fremont, California, NUMMI was an effort to help frontline GM workers and supervisors learn the principles of lean manufacturing and the legendary Toyota production system (TPS) first-hand. Though the venture proved transformative for individual participants and resulted in vastly improved quality for the vehicles coming off the assembly line, GM didn’t change much as an organization as a result. The reason? Positional leaders outside the plant saw NUMMI’s innovation as a threat to their way of doing business. The Fremont plant was ultimately shut down in 2010, a year after GM filed for bankruptcy. (In a wonderfully ironic footnote, the old NUMMI site is today owned and operated by Tesla Motors.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how transformations succeed and fail as I follow the fascinating efforts of Pope Francis to reinvigorate one of the few 2,000-year-old institutions on earth. The Catholic Church as an organization has provided the very prototype of top-down hierarchy since the early Middle Ages, so opening it up structurally is a particularly daunting task. What’s remarkable is the agility with which this Pope, who assumed his post in 2013 after the unprecedented resignation of a long-time Vatican power player who had become paralyzed in his role, approaches the difficult-to-reconcile tasks of re-engaging a broad spectrum of grassroots believers at the level of spirit and imagination while also seeking to curb the power of an entrenched bureaucracy that views itself as the true arbiter of church culture.

In moving on both fronts simultaneously, the Pope reveals his understanding of the two-step methodology required if sustained transformation is to flourish. First, a leader needs to create opportunities to build and connect with alternate constituencies in meaningful yet powerful symbolic ways in order to counterbalance vested interests nearer to hand. This approach was most vividly demonstrated in Francis’s drive to canonize Oscar Romero, the murdered bishop of El Salvador; the move had been blocked by the Roman Curia, the administrative arm of the Vatican, for 35 years. Soon after his installation, Pope Francis — the first South American to lead the church — embraced the effort, creating a groundswell of support across Latin America that included peasant villages, political allies, and advocates of liberation theology who had been marginalized or even banished from the church. In doing so, the Pope created a counterweight to those curial princes in Rome who had viewed the effort as a threat to their personal fiefs and positional power. In May, Romero was beatified — the penultimate step to formal sainthood.

Second, rather than telling others that they need to change their ways, a leader seeking transformation must instead personally model a radically open style of leadership that sets the tone for what he or she wants to see happen. In this spirit, the Pope remained in his modest Jesuit rooming house during his transition instead of moving into the palatial apartment prepared for him. He insisted on personally paying the fee at the desk upon leaving instead of having a retainer take care of it. He wore simple white robes and a skullcap at his investiture instead of the elaborate brocaded cape expected, and he rejected the scarlet slippers that had become a papal trademark. And most famously, he washed the feet of prisoners, including women and Muslims, at his first Holy Thursday service.

By acting as a simple, even humble priest from Day One of his papacy, the Pope demonstrated his understanding of the basic insight of the saint whose name he took upon investiture: transformed people transform people. This is a truth leaders miss when they imagine their positional power alone can compel lasting change. Organiz ations can only be transformed when the people who comprise them are transformed, and people are changed by individuals who engage them at the level of spirit.

This particular transformation effort isn’t finished, of course, and the forces of resistance can be wily and patient. As one senior curial official recently confided to long-term Vatican correspondent John Allen, “Bergoglio [Pope Francis] won’t be here forever, but we will.” That’s an extraordinarily bald and confident statement of faith on the irresistible nature of positional and bureaucratic power in an institution whose purpose, as Francis reminds us, is supposed to be pastoral. But if Napoleon is proved right yet again, the triumph of inertia is likely to be brief.

It's probably no news to most people who work that poor leaders produce disgruntled, unengaged employees. Our research also shows convincingly that great leaders do the opposite — that is, that they produce highly committed, engaged, and productive employees.

And the difference is cavernous — in a study of 160,576 employees working for 30,661 leaders at hundreds of companies around the world, we found average commitment scores in the bottom quarter for those unfortunate enough to work for the worst leaders (those leaders who had been rated in the bottom 10th percentile by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports on 360 assessments of their leadership abilities). By contrast, average commitment scores for those fortunate enough to work for the best leaders (those rated in the 90th percentile) soared to the top 20th percentile. More simply put, the people working for the really bad leaders were more unhappy than three quarters of the group; the ones working for the really excellent leaders were more committed than eight out of ten of their counterparts.

What exactly fosters this engagement? During our time in the training and development industry we've observed two common — and very different — approaches. On the one hand are leaders we call "drivers"; on the other, those we call "enhancers."

Drivers are very good at establishing high standards of excellence, getting people to stretch for goals that go beyond what they originally thought possible, keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives, doing everything possible to achieve those goals, and continually improving.

Enhancers, by contrast, are very good at staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, acting as role models, giving honest feedback in a helpful way, developing people, and maintaining trust.

Which approach works best? When we asked people in an informal survey which was most likely to increase engagement, the vast majority opted for the enhancer approach. In fact, most leaders we've coached have told us that they believe the way to increase employee commitment was to be the "nice guy or gal."

But the numbers tell a more complicated story. In our survey, we asked the employees not only about their level of engagement but also explicitly, on a scale of one to five, to what degree they felt their leaders fit our profiles for enhances and drivers. We judged those leaders "effective" as enhancers or drivers who scored in the 75th percentile (that is, higher than three out of four of their peers) on those questions.

Putting the two sets of data together, what we found was this: Only 8.9% of employees working for leaders they judged effective at driving but not at enhancing also rated themselves in the 10% in terms of engagement. That wasn't very surprising to many people who assume that most employees don't respond well to pushy or demanding leaders. But those working for those they judged as effective enhancers were even less engaged (well, slightly less). Only 6.7% of those scored in the top 10% in their levels of engagement.

Essentially, our analysis suggests, that neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement. In fact, fully 68% of the employees working for leaders they rated as both effective enhancers and drivers scored in the top 10% on overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization.

Clearly, we were asking the wrong question, when we set out to determine which approach was best. Leaders need to think in terms of "and" not "or." Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people.

In our view, the lesson then is that those of you who consider yourself to be drivers should not be afraid to be the "nice guy." And all of you aspiring nice guys should not view that as incompatable with setting demanding goals. The two approaches are like the oars of a boat. Both need to be used with equal force to maximize the engagement of direct reports.

A good one for those who think it one way or the other – the best know when to apply the 'right' approach!

Motivating People: Getting beyond money.

Dewhurst, Guthridge and Mohr (2009) present ways to motivate employees without financial incentives, shifting from reward to recognition. How do we motivate without the financial incentives we used to? 

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