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Posts from the ‘Leadership Development’ Category

Top 10 Competencies for Change Agents

One of the most important things about collaboration is finding like-minded people who can challenge you. One of my favorite bloggers is Gail Severini. She blogs about change management at Change Whisper. Check out her excellent post on the ten competencies of effective change agents.

Change Whisperer - Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

What competencies should leaders and agents excel at to be successful? Are you building a Community of Practice or Centre of Excellence?  What’s on your list?

Below is my top-ten list for change agents―with a bonus for change targets. A previous post provided my top ten list for change leaders.

Late addition: Some might ask why there is no mention of methodologies or tools here—to which I would like to quote my friend Tamara Moore “A fool with a tool is still a fool”.  Perhaps the two single most critical success factors in executing change are the quality of the sponsor and the agent.  So what makes for “quality”?

Change Agents

  1. Trustworthiness—As change agents, we need to earn the respect of leaders quickly so they will seriously consider our advice and factor it into their decisions. This is the foundation of a relationship of partnering that recognizes the value each brings to…

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How Much Change is Too Much Change?

There is a limit to how much people can change in a short period of time.  Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch discuss how the rational side of our brain can quickly become exhausted trying to keep the emotional side of our brain focused on the change.  Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling in their book The Four Disciplines of Execution call for leaders to be much more selective in the goals of any change initiative – focusing on one or two “wildly important goals.”  If change fatigue is a real problem in organizations, why are leaders often reluctant to recognize that going too far, too fast in a change effort is a great way to get no change at all?

Lack of a Change Methodology

While we often think that leaders should know how to initiate, lead, and sustain change in their organizations, the truth is that most do not know how to actually execute a change initiative – the mechanics elude them.  That fact does not mean leaders are incompetent or uncommitted.  It means that they don’t follow a proven change methodology because they don’t lead change initiatives frequently.  This can cause leaders to have unrealistic or naive expectations of what it actually takes to change both themselves and employees.  For example, I recently worked with a group of executives deeply engaged in and committed to an enterprise-wide change initiative.  Our discussion focused on the importance of communication in order to build awareness about the initiative among all employees.  I described how important it was to have between five and seven significant communications (e.g., events, one-on-ones, e-mails, etc.) before employees even understood what the initiative was supposed to accomplish.  The executives were shocked that it would require this many communications just to build awareness of what the initiative hoped to accomplish (not buy-in from their people, just awareness).  Most felt that one or two enterprise-wide communications would be enough.  Once we began to discuss the amount of e-mails and dialogues that occur in an employee’s daily interactions (lots) and the percentage of those communications focused on the initiative (just a little), they relented and committed to upping their own communication efforts around the change.  Change management and organizational development professionals can help leaders by ensuring that all initiatives are informed by a proven change methodology that keeps leaders focused on the mechanics of change necessary for successful execution.

Misunderstanding the Limits of Authority

McChesney, Covey, and Huling point out in their book that often executives mistake “stroke of pen” changes with “behavior-based” changes.  The former is all about simply having the authority to commit necessary resources.  (I like to call them “So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done” changes after the pharaoh in the movie the Ten Commandments.)  On the other hand, “behavior-based” changes are about getting people to commit to actually changing behaviors in their daily routines.  Frequently, leaders fail to accurately identify when a “stroke of pen” change becomes a “behavior-based” change.  An example of a “stroke of pen” change is when a Chief Sales Officer (CSO) decides to buy a new customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep track of important customer data.  The CSO is the highest authority in the sale force and responsible for it producing results.  The CSO puts the new CRM system in the budget, builds a business case for why the technology is important to the sales force’s ability to forecast accurately, and defends the decision politically with other executives.  The CSO needs planning, resources, and political savvy to purchase the CRM but it is well within his/her authority to do so.  An example of a “behavior-based” change is actually getting the sales force to put their customer data into the CRM system in a way that helps the CSO more effectively run the business.  For all the CSO’s authority, getting accurate data entry is unlikely to occur simply by mandating this behavior change.  After all, high performing sales professionals simply have to say to the CSO, “Would you rather me be out there selling to customers and making our numbers or sitting here filling out electronic paperwork?”  Most leaders fail to differentiate between “stroke of pen” and “behavior-based” changes.  As a result, these leaders treat “behavior-based” changes the same way they treat “stroke of pen” changes.  Worse, they then try to command behavior change, which will always fail to produce sustainable new behaviors.   Change management and organizational development professionals can help leaders by encouraging them to accurately identify when and what parts of an initiative are “stroke of pen” changes versus “behavior-based” changes.  Additionally, it is important to have frank discussions about the limits of personal authority when trying to achieve lasting behavior change.

Unrealistic Mandates from Above

The third reason that leaders fail to recognize that going too far, too fast often results in no change is that they are often under unrealistic mandates themselves.  In this day and age, everyone answers to someone else.  A senior leader is frequently responsible to the CEO or to shareholders.  If the CEO or shareholders have inflated, unrealistic expectations about what it takes to execute change successfully, they are going to exert pressure for results faster than any leader can successfully deliver them.  Change management and organizational development professionals can help  leaders to build solid roadmaps for how change will cascade in an organization and coach leaders on presenting these plans to higher-ups.  Often reporting on progress on a change roadmap is sufficient to satisfy a CEO or shareholders (at least in the early stages).

Bottom Line:  Fewer goals increase the likelihood of successful change.  One to three behavior change goals is a good range.  Leaders who focus themselves and their teams on a small number of goals have a higher probability of getting better change results.

Conflict on Executive Teams: Catalyst or Catastrophe? – Part 2

Summer is over and it is time to get back to blogging about collaboration!

In my previous post, we explored how conflict on executive teams influence strategic decision making.  Because strategic decision making involves the re-allocation of significant, scarce resources.  As a result, whomever ends up with those resources has more power in the future.  This is one of the things that makes this type of decision making so fraught with potential emotional conflict as some managers see their power increase while others see their power fluctuate. In general, Allen C. Amason‘s research points to a strong need to increase cognitive conflict while simultaneously reducing emotional conflict during the strategic decision-making process.  Yet this begs the question, “how do you capture the benefits of cognitive conflict while managing the damaging effects of emotional conflict?”

Recall that most people, including senior executives, are not usually aware of when they move from cognitive to emotional conflict during the strategic decision-making process.  Appropriate interventions should help executives become more aware of when they transition from debating the issues to suspicion about one another executive’s motives.  Three possible interventions for raising awareness are listed below:

  • Cultural – Senior executives, especially those in the C-suite, including the CEO, need to reduce any “culture of blame” that may exist on their teams.  If teams are extremely focused on “who made a mistake,” a culture of blame exists.  Senior leadership needs to set the expectation that everyone will make mistakes in business.  Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process for managing a dynamic organization in a complex market environment.  Senior executives can set the right tone culturally be authentically stating that they are “not looking to blame anyone and simply want to learn from the past in order to make better decisions today.”  (Of course, they have to back these words up by not actually punishing those who make mistakes.)  Even more powerfully, senior executives, especially the CEO, should openly discuss when they make a mistake in managing their business and what they learned as a result.  This vulnerability signals to others that mistakes are not career ending.  This combination of stating that blame is bad and mistakes are a normal part of business, leads to better learning from those mistakes and MOST IMPORTANTLY it reduces the likelihood of a “witch hunt” mentality among executives.
  • Structural – Another intervention is to formalize the conflict by setting up a “Group A and Group B” or “Devil’s Advocate” scenario.  In such a situation, the executive team is divided into two smaller groups one advocating for a certain decision and other advocating against it.  Formalizing the conflict (and letting the other executives know that this is what is going on and why) increases objectivity and reduces emotional conflict.  First, the team members get to advocate for the side that they feel most strongly about.  Second, they have the support and solidarity of other team members, which makes them feel more secure.  Third, team members are less likely to suspect the personal motivations of a whole group of other executives than they are individuals who disagree with them.  By formalizing the conflict, the team is more likely to acknowledge differences in perspectives about the issues without overly personalizing those differences.
  • Personal – A third intervention is to increase personal awareness through self-reflection.  There are a host of psychometric assessments that evaluate individual’s conflict styles.  Asking team members to self-assess how they handle conflict, how constructively they engage in it, how often they let conflict become personal, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, how their peers view their behavior during conflict situations, can help to increase self-monitoring of constructive and destructive behaviors during strategic decision making.

All three interventions above can be used individually or in combination with one another.  In general, a combined approach is more powerful and may be necessary with executive teams that have a history of emotional conflict.

Bottom Line:  Senior managers, especially CEOs, cannot avoid conflict – it comes with the job description.  However, they can help their teams focus on conflict as a cognitive catalyst for making the best possible strategic decisions.  By increasing team members’ awareness of the difference between cognitive and emotional conflict through cultural, structural, and personal interventions, CEOs and other senior executives are more likely to avoid the negative impact that emotional conflict can have on their teams and themselves.

Conflict on Executive Teams: Catalyst or Catastrophe? – Part 1

An executive team’s strategic decisions have a significant impact on organizational performance.  Strategic decision making necessarily involves complex and ambiguous issues, significant shifts in resource allocation, and conflict.  An article by Allen C. Amason suggests that the type of conflict that emerges during strategic decision making influences both the quality of the group’s decision and the emotional relationships between executive team members.  As executive teammates engage in strategic decision making, the cognitive diversity of their perspectives (about the issue at hand, the changing business environment, and what their company “should be doing”) brings differences in basic assumptions into stark contract.  In turn, these disparate views create conflict.

Professor Amason differentiates between two aspects of conflict, each of which is described below:

  • Cognitive Conflict – Disharmony caused by differences in task-orientation and judgements about the best way to achieve a common objective.  Generally, cognitive conflict is functional because it helps to highlight significant differences between executives’ perceptions of what should be accomplished and how to proceed.  By rationalizing these different perceptions, the executive team is more likely to develop a high quality decision because no single teammate can think of everything important to achieving the common objective.
  • Affective Conflict – Disharmony caused by differences in personal compatibility and perceptions of personal motives.  Generally, affective conflict is dysfunctional because it makes executives defensive, encourages withholding of information or true commitment, and, worst of all, prevents teammates from collaborating.  Bad feelings from the strategic decision-making process persist and tend to spill over into other work interactions.

During strategic decision making, initial cognitive conflict develops and inadvertently triggers affective conflict.  Most often , this shift from focusing on how to best achieve an objective to focusing on personal compatibility is so subtle that most people don’t notice it.  As a result cognitive conflict and affective conflict become entwined in the team’s deliberations.  Unfortunately, as affective conflict increases the probability of arriving at a quality decision and maintaining good relationships among teammates decreases.

Bottom Line:  During strategic decision making, encourage cognitive conflict and reduce affective conflict to arrive at the highest quality decision and maintain the emotional relationships between teammates so they can continue to collaborate successfully in the future.  The old adage, “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” is a great way to sum up this research.

Consensus Leadership vs. Collaborative Leadership

Many people intuitively understand the difference between command-and-control leadership and collaborative leadership.  However, the differences between consensus leadership and collaborative leadership are much more nuanced – yet these differences have important implications.   Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review contrast some of these key differences.

Consensus leadership is characterized by the following:

  • Tends to occur in small team settings or matrix organizations
  • Designated members have the relevant information that the group needs
  • All members of the group have equal authority

In general, consensus leadership does not work well when speed is important.  It is most appropriate for decision that require widespread “buy-in” to successfully implement and can be made over a long decision cycle.

In contrast, collaborative leadership is characterized by the following:

  • Tends to occur in dispersed and cross-functional networks
  • All member of that network have potentially relevant information that the group needs
  • Designated leaders have authority to make decisions

In general, collaborative leadership does not work well when situations require reliability and certainty.  It is most appropriate when confronted by ill-defined problems that require creativity.

The biggest practical difference between consensus leadership and collaborative leadership is decision-making authority.  In consensus leadership, decision-making authority is dispersed among all group members.  In collaborative leadership, authority still resides with those leaders accountable for the results of the collaboration.  In my own experience with product development, consensus leadership significantly extends the time necessary to create new products.  In contrast, collaborative leadership, with a leader or leaders who have clear decision rights, ensures that decisions get made after enough debate has occurred and creates a sense of progress in the development process.

Bottom Line:  In the fast-paced and constantly changing world we live and work in, collaborative leadership provides the constructive conflict, buy-in, and progress that are necessary to succeed.  On the other hand, consensus leadership seems to be a recipe for “kicking the can down the road” especially when confronted with business choices involving hard trade-offs and short decision-making cycles.

Are You a Collaborative Leader?

This is the central question tackled by Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review.  The two conducted a study of high-performing CEOs and found the following common characteristics of collaborative leaders:

  • Act as Connectors – Collaborative leaders both bring dispersed individuals together within an organization and bring outsiders into increased contact with the organization.  Both this internally stirring together of talent and bringing in disruptive perspectives from outside the organization help to find opportunities that did not exist in the course of everyone following their daily standard operating procedures.
  • Form Heterogeneous Teams – Since individuals have a natural tendency to gravitate to other individuals that are similar, collaboration between “like” individuals is not as fruitful as collaboration between “dissimilar” individuals.  Significant differences between team members is a necessary pre-condition to innovative change.  Collaboration in heterogeneous teams feels uncomfortable and puts everyone in the stretch zone.  However, this level of discomfort is necessary for innovation to flourish.
  • Create Incentives – If people are only evaluated on their individual performance and contributions, then individual results count more than joint results.  Since collaboration has costs associated with it (the discomfort mentioned above being one of them), leaders need to lower the barriers to necessary collaboration by rewarding team performance and results as much as they do individuals.  Interestingly, the authors imply that the higher up the organization the greater the incentives necessary to drive collaboration.
  • Define Clear Decision Rights – Collaboration by its very nature requires a great deal of dialogue, debate, and conflict.  However, after a certain point, all collaborative endeavors need someone to halt debate, make a decision, and have the team move forward based on that decision.  In order for collaboration to work, authority to make and be held accountable for decisions must exist.

I would add a fifth trait implicit in the article.   A collaborative leader deeply appreciates complexity but it not paralyzed by it.  As “differences in convictions, cultural values, and operating norms” multiple, complexity increases.  So to does the need for leaders who is can convene groups with all these deep differences and still help them to successfully work together for a particular goal.