Status-Quo – How to Keep it from Holding You Back
Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Status-Quo – How to Keep it from Holding You Back

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I’ve fought against those words for most of my career.  As leaders we often want to improve our teams and keep them from being held back by outdated practices. I know how it feels to come up against the resistance from others when we see better ways of accomplishing our mission. When we challenge the status-quo, it’s usually because we want to make things better for our team, not worse. If this is really our primary interest in making a change, then it’s helpful for us to understand what causes this resistance and makes the status-quo so powerful.

Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately  lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Questions for Challenging the Status-Quo

  • “What if?” helps us to think about outcomes that might be better than the current outcomes
  • “Why?” helps us to identify challenges we may face as we try to bring about change 
  • “Who? Where? When? How?” help us put together details that will make the change a reality

It’s possible to answer these questions and decide that no changes to the status-quo are necessary at this time. Also, we could decide that the solution will create so much dissatisfaction that an alternate solution might be better. Change for the sake of change has destroyed many teams even though the intentions behind it were initially very good.

The take-home lesson today is that even though change is difficult for many people, as leaders, we can’t be afraid to challenge long-held ideas or practices that no longer serve our mission. We must approach change in a thoughtful and empathetic way to get the improvement we are looking for.

Just like our homes can get cluttered as the year goes on, our teams can get cluttered with misplaced priorities, ineffective procedures and tasks that no longer serve a valuable purpose. While we should always be on the lookout for waste and activities that are no longer serving our purpose or helping us achieve our mission, planning a spring cleaning activity can help us get focused on making improvements without getting caught up in our normal day-to-day activities.

Spring Cleaning – Video Guide

Just like our homes can get cluttered as the year goes on, our teams can get cluttered with misplaced priorities, ineffective procedures and tasks that no longer serve a valuable purpose. While we should always be on the lookout for waste and activities that are no longer serving our purpose or helping us achieve our mission, planning a spring cleaning activity can help us get focused on making improvements without getting caught up in our normal day-to-day activities.

Depending on how long it has been since you last did a thorough assessment of the activities that your team does on a daily basis, you may find out that there are so many things to review that it makes sense to tackle the most important ones first and come back at a later time to address the others. If you’re wondering where to get started on reviewing a task, procedure or activity, here are a few questions you can ask yourself and your team to determine how to proceed:

Spring Cleaning Questions

  • Does anyone use the results of this task?
  • Does this activity take a large proportion of work time, but is used infrequently?
  • Does the information produced by this process give us insight about our mission or our team, or is it outdated?
  • Is there someone on another team or elsewhere in the organization that uses the outputs?

One of the most challenging parts of a spring cleaning activity is to determine what course of action to follow after we’ve done our assessment. In the video Jason talks about how to determine which tasks to keep, which ones to get rid of and some ways to approach improving on a process that you need to keep, but is inefficient or wasteful.

Photo Credit: By Papypierre1 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the reasons we become leaders is to influence others in a positive direction to make the world a better place, but we often underestimate our ability and feel that we are not important enough or experienced enough to have much sway over what others think. The reality is that we have an influence over those around us every day but just don't consciously think about it. Most people care about their organizations and are open about discussion and debate about how to best achieve the results we want. If each of us really thought about it we all have at least one or two areas where we have some extensive knowledge or perspective that we can use to help shape others opinions about how to move forward successfully. Being conscious of the influence we have on others and using it wisely to promote positive change is one of our most important responsibilities as leaders.

Influence – Video Guide

One of the reasons we become leaders is to influence others in a positive direction to make the world a better place, but we often underestimate our ability and feel that we are not important enough or experienced enough to have much sway over what others think. The reality is that we have an influence over those around us every day but just don’t consciously think about it. Most people care about their organizations and are open about discussion and debate about how to best achieve the results we want. If each of us really thought about it we all have at least one or two areas where we have some extensive knowledge or perspective that we can use to help shape others opinions about how to move forward successfully. Being conscious of the influence we have on others and using it wisely to promote positive change is one of our most important responsibilities as leaders.

Positive Ways to Influence Others

  1. Find the knowledge and expertise that you have that no one else has
  2. Figure out who the audience is or the group of people who this topic is important to and share your thoughts and ideas with them
  3. Tell your story – use real examples and experiences from your own life to emphasize the points you’re trying to make
  4. Pick your moments wisely – sharing  your thoughts and experiences at the appropriate moment is often more important than what you share

Setting ourselves up with a positive mindset about influence before we share is critical to getting our message across. Approaching conversations from the perspective of sharing and being open-minded is often received better than if we are seeking to portray ourselves as an expert or persuading others to get our own way.

Photo Credit: By West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It's still pretty early in the year and while everyone on the team is focused on upcoming goals and improvements, it's a good time to consider starting new initiatives that improve out team's ability to complete their mission or make their lives easier. As we all know, change is hard for most human beings to embrace so it's important that we are clear with ourselves about the purpose for the change as well as what any of the benefits and impacts may be before we implement.

Starting New Initiatives – Video Guide

It’s still pretty early in the year and while everyone on the team is focused on upcoming goals and improvements, it’s a good time to consider starting new initiatives that improve our team’s ability to complete their mission or make their lives easier. As we all know, change is hard for most human beings to embrace so it’s important that we are clear with ourselves about the purpose for the change as well as what any of the benefits and impacts may be before we implement.

Tips for Starting New Initiatives

As stated above, it’s critical that we have a very clear picture in our own mind of why we want to bring about change and what the potential benefits are. Before starting new initiatives we should also do some research to see who might be impacted by the change and how, whether they are members of our own team or someone else in our organization. Clarity in these areas helps us minimize impacts and maximize benefits, which will help others embrace the change more easily.

Once we have an initial plan, it’s helpful to “shop it around” to key stakeholders and other people we trust and respect to get their feedback on it before we try to implement change. Getting some fresh eyes on the plan can show us how we might be affecting others in a way that we didn’t originally intend. Many initiatives are started with good intentions,  but the get derailed because the unintended consequences to others create resistance. Some careful forethought and prior coordination can go a long way towards getting others on board with the new initiative.

When starting new initiatives there are some key ideas to keep in mind as we enter the execution phase. Clearly communicating the new expectations to the team and other key stakeholders is a good place to start. Holding everyone accountable for the new role is critical to the success of any new initiative. Giving credit and recognition to the team for making a difficult change let’s the team know they’re appreciated and helps them share in the newly acquired benefits.

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment – Here’s How!

Every boss claims they want innovation, but many don’t live up to the words they preach. For some it may be an aversion to risk, for others it may be out of their comfort zone to make improvements when the status quo is already working. How can we continue to innovate and improve our products and team members’ professional lives when faced with stagnation or resistance? How do we help improve the organization while still being good followers to senior leadership that is reluctant to innovate?

Small Changes/Small Victories

The most effective thing we can do is make small improvements that are within our own authority. Listen to your own team and see what suggestions they have that sound like they will make even minor improvements to effectiveness, productivity or communication. If it’s within your own purview to make the change on your team, go ahead and do it. Set a short fixed timeframe (a week, a month, 3 months) to evaluate it and the next leader in your chain know that you’re doing a trial evaluation of the initiative and you’ll let them know the results when it’s over. If it turns out to be unsuccessful, return to the old way of doing things and call it a learning experience. If it does work, share your results with your peers and other team leads.

Choose your opportunities wisely

There may be times when very senior leaders put out a call for innovative ideas or ask informally how you think the organization should be improved. These can be great opportunities if handled properly, but dangerous traps if they aren’t. Don’t leave your boss out in the cold when these situations arise. By pulling your boss in you can show that you have fresh ideas for the company but also show him and his superiors that you are looking out for all of them and trying to find ways to solve their problems. It can be as simple as telling that senior leader, “I have this great idea about X and my boss and I will get on your calendar to come fill you in on the details when you are available.”

Show the impact!

Showing tangible improvements is the best way to make sure your innovative ideas get adopted across the organization. If you can show a reduced cost, shorter time, or higher performance as a result of your initiative you’ll have strong evidence that you and your team have the organization’s best interest in mind. Being able to use metrics and data helps make your case, but be sure that you’re using the right metrics to show cause and effect. Many people lose credibility by trying to force data to fit their conclusions or apply metrics they don’t really understand to the situation. One of the best questions you can ask yourself before adopting an innovative idea is “How will I know this is successful and how can I measure it?”

These are ways I’ve seen innovation be successfully implemented from the bottom up, but the results may vary in your organization. If you think that these steps might work for you, but you want to talk through your strategy and the personalities involved with someone before taking the big step, feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to discuss and see if we can set you and your boss up for success!

 

Photo Credit: Alexander Blum (www.alexanderblum.de) [Attribution], <a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStau.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Letting Followers Innovate

Every now and then a member of our team will come to us with an idea of a new process, method or procedure to implement that they feel will get the job done better, or will be easier, or, in the best of cases, both. As leaders we often feel an internal conflict in this situation. We want to foster innovation, but also are concern the risks and resistance that come along with change. My advice is to encourage your team to innovate, with some actively engaged leadership on your part.

It can be difficult to determine sometimes if there really is a benefit to be gained by implementing a follower’s suggestions or if they are merely whining about the status quo. A simple way that I have found to find the answer is to allow the follower to implement the change, but to make them take the lead for implementing it, i.e. you will let them make their change, but they have to do all the research on how to make it happen, assess the potential benefits and risks, come up with the plan to train the rest of the team on how to implement the change, and measure how successful the change has been.  Followers who are enthusiastic about the change will embrace the opportunity presented to them and the whiners will simply allow the status quo to continue.

As the boss, you’ll still need to provide them with appropriate guidance and direction as they develop their plan. You should let them know up front what you consider a successful outcome would be as well as any risks that you believe are unacceptable to assume in this endeavor. You should be clear if there are other processes or procedures that are off-limits to change as they consider their path forward.

Set a definite time and date that they need to come back to you to review their progress and decide if you will go forward with their initiative.  Give them a list of items they must address in that review to get your go-ahead.

Once you’re ready to let them implement, don’t immediate throw out the old way of doing things in favor of this one. If possible, run parallel processes and compare the results of the two ways of doing things. This will definitely be a little more work, but may be worth it to be able to compare your results. If parallel efforts aren’t possible, set a clear trial period, such as a month or 90 days to assess the results. Make sure the person proposing the initiative determines how to measure if the new method is successful and that you approve of the assessment.

If, after the trial period, the new way is clearly superior, or easier to accomplish, or has some other benefits, adopt the new method. If the new method was not successful, perform an honest assessment with the proposer of where it fell short, what lessons learned came of it, and if addressing those issues could result in a successful outcome. If the answer is yes, let them go back, make the adjustments, re-propose and try again.

What are other ways you’ve fostered innovation on your team while still managing risk?

Be Braver than the Bureaucracy!

Sometimes as a leader you come into an organization or team that has already been established for a long period of time and you see a need to make some changes in order to better achieve your strategic objectives. Often these teams have their own processes and personalities that may or may not be responsible for (or a detriment to) the success of the team. Depending on how large your team is and where you fit in the larger organization, you may find that making a meaningful change to the way the team operates is a Herculean task when you face the legions of people in the bureaucracy who will resist change. This will require patience, tenacity and an ability to be braver than bureaucracy!

Some tips to help you fight bureaucratic inertia if you need to make some changes:

Don’t implement change simply for the sake of change. Have a rationale for why the change is important. Is the team failing at an important goal? Have the strategic objectives or mission of the organization changed over time, but the processes haven’t adapted to the new roles?

Determine if the current processes are meeting your strategic objectives.  If they seem to be adequate but could use some improvement, solicit help from your team members. Describe the results you want and see if the team can optimize the processes on their own. If the current way of doing things is failing miserably, you may have to throw it all out and implement a new method.

Recognize that there may be some emotional attachment to the current processes. You could be “upsetting the apple cart” for someone. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the changes you believe are necessary, but understand you’ll have some smoothing to do until the team fully embraces the new way of business. If major change eliminates a task that a team member was passionate about, find a new role for them and emphasize the importance of that role to the big picture.

Expect resistance. There will be some who are really entrenched! They’ll try to wait you out, go around you or even go over your head to prevent your changes from being implemented. Building a good relationship with your functional counterparts and your own boss while providing a rational basis for the change you want to achieve in terms of meeting the strategic goals of the organization is a good way to get your colleagues and superiors to re-direct the subversive types back to you so you can deal with their concerns.

Take baby steps. Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Making a small change and letting people get used to it can help silence the naysayers when they see it really isn’t that bad. If you’re not in a crisis and have the time, a series of small steps may get you there faster than one big step.

Figure out how you will measure if the change you make is having a positive effect. There might be a lot of people waiting for your initiative to fail so they can say I told you so. Show how the incremental changes you have made are making incremental improvements towards meeting not just your team’s objectives, but the overall strategic objectives of the organization.

Progress can’t occur without change. Most people realize this but are still reluctant to embrace change because uncertainty can be scary. There will be some who will put roadblocks in your path and try to undermine you (possibly even members of your own team) to avoid dealing with that uncertainty. Sometimes it may feel easier to give up on change to avoid fighting the battles, but you have to be brave! Use your leadership skills to communicate with your team and understand their apprehension. Show them how you’ll face the uncertainty together as all work towards success!