Unleash the Power of Story in Building a Changing Organizational Culture
There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.
– Edith Wharton
In a changing world, leaders will need to help teams relearn the optimism advantage. This is not a call for motivational hype. Research suggests that flexible optimists persevere even in the presence of obstacles and negative outcomes. They perceive failures as temporary setbacks, rather than final verdicts. Victory comes most often to the steady and dependable. We value leaders who have an optimistic view of the future, but we don't like Pollyanna! Good leaders promote a healthy tension; they balance the hope of strategic success with a realistic assessment of the obstacles that must be overcome to reach it. Selling any change requires leaders who believe in their associates' abilities to accomplish their mission. Cultivate your strategic changes every day with a good dose of hope and optimism. You build hope by pointing to successes.
I'm often introduced as being "in charge of change." I'm not in charge of anything. My role is to create mirrors that show the whole what the parts are doing—through coffee talks and small meetings, through building a network, through bringing people together who have similar or complimentary ideas. You seek out the positive deviants and support them. You feed them; you give them resources and visibility.
– Barbara Waugh, Worldwide Personnel Manager, HP Labs
Having a compelling vision promotes strategic movement and change, but creating and sustaining the drive and the enthusiasm for the change journey takes work. The best change leaders pick early changes big enough to matter but small enough to win quickly. Part of energizing others is celebrating successes on the journey. Find the stories that capture and promote how the new culture is working. Remember, the difference between being enthusiastic and generating enthusiasm is whose ideas you get excited about. Don't push change; let your culture's successes pull change by attracting others to a better way of doing things. Be as excited about the ideas and work of your people as you are about your own. Capture hope and excellence where you find it, fan the sparks, and reflect the heat to the others who do not yet believe that change can work! Good stories are a rich reservoir of enthusiasm, feelings and wisdom.
Every person I work with knows something better than I. My job is to listen long enough to find it and use it.
– Jack Nichols
Take time to master questions that will surface best practices worth sharing: What has been working for you? What are you doing differently that is worth bragging about?
What new stories of your people overcoming obstacles to deliver strategic results capture what you are proud of as an organization?
Change Masters Are Listening Leaders Who Ask Smart Questions
Judge a man not by his answers, but by his questions.
Leaders have an obligation to ask the right questions on behalf of the organization. One of the advantages of age is that it finally dawns on you that questions are more important than answers. Questions either determine or lead to such things as quality, appropriateness, who should be involved, and what's right. The leader has a role in initiating, examining and testing questions.
– Max De Pre, The Art of Leadership
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
– Albert Einstein
Have you ever felt that no one listens to what you have to say? Don't worry, what you say as a leader may not be anywhere near as important as the questions you consistently ask. What you say is often for show; what you keep asking about is what you are really interested in. The first time you ask a new question, they know you have attended a training program. If you keep asking the same question, it drives their focus as they search for the answers to satisfy your interest. A true leader is a miner whose best tools are focused attention, targeted questions, and listening expertise. What's in it for you as a miner? Treasures. You get to unearth the nuggets of creative insight, information and best practices your people have to share.
When INTEL's former CEO Andy Grove visited a high school class that had tried running their class on INTEL values for a year, he did more listening than talking. When questioned about what they had asked the CEO, one youth replied, "Oh, he was so interested in us. He wanted to know what WE had learned that HE could use." No wonder Andy Grove was so effective as a leader.
You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
– Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian Nobel Prize Winner
I ... walk around and see my people, because just to walk around and dare to be strong, dare to give, is much more valuable than any decision I could make or any report I could read. What I give away then is mental health to the organization. The most unproductive time we have is when we sit at our desks. Because the only thing we do is read history: what has already happened, what we cannot do anything about. When we leave our offices and start to walk around and talk to people, that's when we make things happen. You give your thoughts; you get thoughts back; you draw conclusions; perhaps you even make decisions.
– Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS
The more you motivate people, the more they want to interact with you. I started Deli Days. ... They are held a few days each month. If you want to see me, you take a number from a ticket wheel outside my office. Above it is an electronic numbers board ("Now Serving"), which I control with a switch under my desk. The idea is that you take a number and wait until it pops up on the board. While you wait, you can continue working, without hovering outside my office waiting for an opportunity to dart in. Each person has five or six minutes to talk with me about anything he or she wants. I think the most important rule, regardless of where you work, is to be honest with the people who work for you. You can't come off like a guru who knows everything and doesn't have a single flaw. But you can be a manager who creates an environment in which new ideas are encouraged and rewarded.
– Katherine Hudson, Eastman Kodak
Don't wait until you feel like listening; build a winning listening habit. Many leaders don't take spontaneous time to listen. Instead, they schedule regular one-on-one conversations with all their key people. A weekly 15-minute walk can do wonders at focusing you and your people on the things that matter most. Be an equal opportunity listener by taking time for all levels, labels, ages, genders, and races. Once you are on your walk, here are some smart questions you might want to ask on a regular basis:
- What red flags do you see and what do you suggest we do about them?
- What are your three major goals for the week?
- What resources, information or support do you need to meet your goals?
- What are you doing differently?
- What's working for you?
- Not everything is worth doing. What's worth abandoning in light of what must get done?
- What strategic changes are best worth our time right now?
- What training do you feel you need to meet your goals?
- What three "Keepers" did you pick up from that article/book/training that we all could learn from?
What questions define your leadership?
Focus on Resource Management—How to Be Tight, Loose and Flexible
Nothing inspires genius like a tight budget.
– CA State Finance Department Sign
Cost containment and the improved prioritization and resource allocation that it requires is one of the primary focus areas for change leaders in any organization. It's no longer feast or famine; deliver results and control costs no matter what time of year it is. Like every successful organization, leaders must manage the tension between controlling costs and investing the resources needed to invent the future. No organization can afford to waste scarce resources nor can they afford to starve needed change. Cost containment will continue to be with us; the competitive challenges you face will ensure that. At the same time, employees are getting tired of hearing more with less! Far too many associates feel they are working harder than ever before and do not have the resources they need to meet the strategic business goals and change challenges they now face.
In difficult times, the most common mistake is a kind of corporate egalitarianism. Companies take 10% away from everybody, instead of separating out what's core. They need to determine what's critical and invest in that, even if it means taking 20% away from something else. There's too much democracy, because nobody wants to make anybody unhappy.
– Tom Rohrs, Senior VP of Global Operations for Applied Materials Inc.
Tom Peters has always found ways to get under the skin of comfortable executives. One consistent theme has been an attack on the cost-control preoccupation of many executives: "Getting lean and mean is no small thing, but lean and mean is not a business strategy." Great leaders build a tight-loose structure. They use tight control where necessary and loose control where they could give people autonomy to make a difference where it counts for the organization.
We have a strong focus on trying to spend money on things that matter to our customers and not spend money on us. Our wealth vanishes the instant we stop doing a good job for our customers, and that's real.
– Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com
The first change policy as to be organized abandonment. The change leader puts every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, every customer, and every end use on trial for its life. And the change leader does this on a regular schedule. The question it has to ask is "If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we know now, go into it?" If the answer is no, the reaction must not be "Let's make another study." The reaction must be "What do we do now?"
– Peter Drucker
Never settle for uniform funding or across-the-board budget cuts! Let your people compete for and justify the investment of resources. Focusing your resources and capital investments need not mean layoffs. Increase the budgets and move staff to your well-positioned projects. Cut or eliminate budgets and retool staff in those areas that are no longer necessary. If your organization and your people keep learning and adjusting to changing realities and customer needs, no one need be a victim of strategic change.
Lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.
– Sign used by Peter Ueberroth during the 1984 Olympics
Be ready to make priority resource management decisions quickly. Demand a call for "no surprises" and put a premium on early problem solving. Drive your change goals with clear deadlines and high expectations, but communicate a willingness to help by moving resources when needed. When inadequate resources exist and significant work is not being done, encourage your people to be professional pests in communicating their needs up the organization. Work together to find the best way to use your limited organizational resources. The old message was always more with less. Your winning message must be—Do the right less with more. Focus your resources where they count most. If it isn't worth doing, don't waste any resources. Be focused, be responsive, and keep everyone working smart on real priorities that are worth doing.
Empowerment is not real unless it is sandwiched between mission and measure.
– D. Quinn Mills
There is no contradiction between creativity and executing. Indeed, the most innovative companies tend to be the most disciplined when it comes to making their numbers. They seamlessly combine cutting-edge strategies with real-time information. Fast companies understand that what gets measured really does get attention—so they pay attention to what they measure.
– Bill Mayer, Fast Company
Update and align your measurement, information and reward systems to support empowerment and strategic results. People crave critical information in the midst of change. If you don't provide information, they will make up their own and rumors will increase. Use your line supervisors to keep your teams informed. Treat timely feedback and meaningful measurements as your friends and let your people get to know your friends. Important measurements and financial controls are liberating. They let your people focus on the winning activities that make a difference to their change mission and to the organization's bottom line results. They help them make timely course-corrections when their performance is off the mark. Your people will win games for you when they have a reliable way to keep score. Organizations without performance measures are like pilots who are trying to fly through a storm without instruments. Good measurements keep everyone honest and prevent problems and opportunities from being swept under the rug of corporate face-saving. Measure and display only what is meaningful. Bureaucratic overkill is frustrating; don't let measurement overkill demoralize your people. Finally, culture change lives or dies on dollar signs. Make sure your reward system supports strategic change.
The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measures anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
– George Bernard Shaw
I can't stand this proliferation of paperwork. It's useless to fight the forms. You've got to kill the people producing them.
– Vladimir Kabaidze, Moscow
Where do you need to be tighter with controls? Where do you need to invest more to deliver on strategic opportunities? What measurement on your scorecard is critical in supporting and rewarding strategic change?
Dr. Terry Paulson is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, national columnist and author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Your Actions into Results. Learn more at www.optimismadvantage.com.
For practical help with your change program, check out our resource kit, Managing Change in the Workplace. This comprehensive guide is intended for everyone expected to lead, manage and implement change. Visit the Managing Change in the Workplace information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using this practical change management guide and workbook today.