According to a recent Harris Poll, over 50% of people ages 18 to 34 believe they learn more from technology than people. While this may be a blinding flash of the obvious, what does this mean for business? Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that millennials now form the largest segment of the workforce. The real question now becomes, if the largest part of your workforce prefers technology over people, how can we build driving coalitions for change?
On one hand, culture appears to be too full of fluff for some leaders. Phrases like, “I’m not here to make friends, I have a business to run!” come to mind. On the other hand, phrases like “Our culture drives productivity, great customer service, and that grows profits.” might waft through the corporate rafters. So which is it? Is culture a hard or soft business element? In a word, yes. Culture is a two headed monster that dares you to wrestle with it…and wrestle with it you must.
Neglecting culture is like failing to feed a caged monster. One day, it will break loose and eat you alive and have your business for dessert. Culture has come to be defined as “The way we do things around here.” There is another saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” However, in the face of necessary business change, not making the changes won’t get you what you’ve always got, business will change, but for the worse. In other words, current operational processes, policies, and principles need to change in order to meet current market needs.
Many people will resist change to the nth degree. Others will not only embrace it, but cause it to happen just for the fun of it. Whatever your preference when it comes to change, change itself at least in the corporate world, is itself, changing.
Organizations in general are beginning to understand that change management needs to be a required core competency. Therefore, if you are one of those team members who doesn’t deal well with change, you will need to ramp up your ability to handle and implement change at a higher level of expediency.
The CEO’s Role: CEOs, specifically, are also beginning to recognize the importance of their role in change management. As an example, a recent client wanted to change the bank’s culture to a sales culture. After meeting with a member of the client’s team, and then checking back in a couple of weeks later, I was informed that the bank had decided to roll out this change initiative beginning with the tellers and the CSRs (customer service reps). What I wanted to do would have landed me in prison. Rather, I chose the more professional, but very direct route, of suggesting to the team member that would prove disastrous for the change initiative. You see, while the tellers and CSRs do have a lot of customer contact, they are not the place to initiate a culture change.
Some behavioral styles covet, chase, and create change. At the other end of the spectrum are those who appall, avoid, and avert change like the plague. In the middle are those who waver, wait, and watch change before getting on board. What does all this mean to an executive or manager tasked with making change happen?
The first group are your allies and can even help move change along. However, care must be taken that they do not create chaos, especially when change is not on the schedule. The middle group are employees whom you can expect the same from almost no matter what the change. They aren’t budging. This is not a group to spend a lot of time on trying to convince or bring on board. But they may need a change themselves – a change of team, department, or even employment. The last group will cost you time and resources.
There have been countless articles written on the importance of preparing for a merger or acquisition. There are models that can be utilized as guidelines for the integration of organizational cultures. How often is the information and even warnings heeded? Unfortunately more not than often. So what can be done after the merger for which there was insufficient or no preparation?
- First realize that it will not be easy and it will take time. Most humans do not embrace change. In fact, some behavioral styles will resent it, avoid it and even fight it making the job even more challenging. Having inadequate warning and time to adjust only makes matters worse. So bring your patience. Also, prepare to have your understanding stretched to the max. Think about it…how would you feel or handle it if your spouse said their mother is coming to live at your house next week giving you no time to prepare? I dare say, there would be some ensuing chaos.
- Help your managers handle employee bickering. Managers must avoid “getting hooked” into employee frays. Make sure that every leader conveys the proper chain-of-command for complaints. This is especially important for smaller organizations where employees have typically “gone to the top” person to vent. Now that the organization is larger, this is no longer feasible or practical with more people to manage.
- Offer training programs on respect, professional decorum, communication, and leadership. A merger requires both soft and technical skills for success.
- Provide managers with coaching tools. Understanding the right questions to ask an upset employee helps the employee to take ownership of his or her complaint. More often than not, the employee just wants someone to know he or she is upset. Helping employees to be more empowered in handling their own grievances saves time, reduces stress, and helps the employee develop both personally and professionally. Some workers carry their feelings on their sleeves or they may carry a chip on their shoulder. Providing training and coaching around this element of self-management can go a long way in reducing tension, disagreements, and stress.
- Personal Accountability. This self-management technique fits into the information above, but takes the idea to some specific actions. Several years ago, John Miller developed a program entitled “Personal Accountability and the QBQ.” The acronym “QBQ” stands for the Question Behind the Question. In other words, the idea is to help employees stop asking self-defeating or victim type questions and ask more powerful questions. Here are a few examples from John’s program:
An executive coaching client suggested that “everything in her company is in disarray and nothing is getting accomplished.” As I began questioning her, it was easy to understand why. Current projects for this organization include:
- Restructuring a large department while finding a new leader for it
- Opening two new branches in different towns.
- Acquiring another company
- A major remodeling project at headquarters
- Preparing for a major bi-annual meeting to be held in four months
- Putting together a succession plan in anticipation of the CEO’s retirement in a few years
Not only are there several major projects in the works, the CEO often loses track of what he has told his team, who is to do what, and how much progress has been accomplished on each project. In fact, on one of the new branch openings, three people had three different opening dates as their goal.
Last week, I wrote a blog about how change is changing. Recently Ron Ashkenas, author and internationally recognized consultant, wrote an article supporting the need for change to change. It’s no secret that many change initiatives meet with failure although the 70% failure rate has been brought under suspicion in a study by Mark Hughes, Professor at Brighton Business School. That is not to say that change is easy. Indeed, it is not and organizations and changing them is complex and difficult, and many efforts do meet with failure. There is an antidote that can, at the very least, alleviate many headaches of the change process.
Human Resources has a one word antidote that, while it can’t guarantee success, without it you are doomed to failure; that word is document, document, document. Change too has a word that while not guaranteeing success, can make all the difference in the world between success and failure; that word is prepare, prepare, prepare.
Once a decision has been made for the change in the form of growth, merger, or ownership, don’t try to hide the decision.
Change is rarely easy or welcomed in an organizational setting. However, there are ways to make change easier, go more smoothly, and be more effective. The reality is that there will always be hurdles in your tracks, challenges to overcome, and people who try to stop the change train no matter what the change may be. Change failure is high and placing the blame for this failure is, more times than not, given to one element. It doesn’t matter what change model you implement; the beginning of change is the best place to harness the steam of the change engine with one key source of power.
Consistency is a good thing. “Leadership paradoxes” prevent consistency. This is according to a white paper by I/O At Work . This white paper entitled “Leadership Research Trends & Insights” is chock full of interesting ideas and the latest research on leadership. In fact, some of it might make your head spin. I didn’t think that “paradoxes” is a word, but indeed it is. I visited a website about paradoxes by Encyclopedia Britannica and it just gave me a headache. Trying to lead during a paradox situation at work will no doubt give you a headache as well.
The white paper offers that leaders who can engage in big picture thinking seem to fare better during paradoxical times. This has to do with the ability to see different perspectives. In other words, the paper goes on, clinging to one philosophy or perspective if you will, just for the sake of chasing consistency never works.
Leading is difficult enough in the best of times. Leading in chaotic times challenges even the most seasoned leaders. Now with a new year on the way, it’s time for planning. Some typical planning organizations engage in during these times involve strategic planning, establishing goals, addressing talent requirements, budgeting, and analyzing a plethora of other business needs. The one thing we know leaders can’t plan for is the perfect business scenario. So how do leaders plan in and for chaos?