The Problems you Have Left

Some greatness from Seth Godin. The truth is, the easy problems are easily solved. If you’re reading this blog it’s because you like to solve the tough ones!

Takes 1 minute to read but says a mouthful!

The Problems you Have Left

 

 

We Screwed Up.

public relations disasters

When the pressure is on, how will you respond?

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” Tim Ferris

For those of you who may have seen the U.S. news in the past few days you probably heard of Georgia’s disastrous response to 2-3 inches (6.35cm) of snowfall that quickly turned to ice. Thousands of residents of the Atlanta metropolitan area attempted to leave work at the same time to go pick up children at school and outrace the ice.

The result?  Trucks, cars and buses collided, blocking roads and highways rendering them impassable. Over 994 accidents were reported in the first 12 hours of the storm and many more minor ones occurred throughout the night. Commutes of 3 miles (4.82 km) stretched to 5 hours and 25 mile (40.23km) commutes became 24 hour ordeals. A baby was born on a highway, hundreds had to abandon their cars and walk for miles to get home after they ran out of gasoline.

Next was the parade of government officials trying to explain the uncoordinated response and chaos. The styles ranged from smooth to horribly awkward, and they were mercilessly skewered on twitter and social media. Some were in the awkward position of being blamed for jobs they were not responsible for but as leaders, would be held accountable for anyway. Others were openly hostile. As time went on, some leaders clearly got “off” the public relations scripting they had been prepped with while others clung to it like a lifeline, long after it stopped making any sense. Leaders of nearby counties most likely breathed a sigh of relief when they realized that the Mayor of the City of Atlanta (a small fraction of the Atlanta metro area) would be taking the majority of the heat publicly for the disaster.

One of the hardest things to do in public is to admit you are wrong. With the advances in social media and technology, it’s entirely possible that you can claim you’ve fixed something only to have live pictures scrolling alongside you on screen proving the opposite.

How do YOU handle admitting to a mistake?

The Uncomfortable Conversations series on 52weekturnaround gives you the tools to have the difficult conversations that you encounter as a change agent. See the series here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Is this it? The Mid-level Manager’s Lament

 

getting out of business trap

Feeling boxed in? You can fix that.

I was talking last week with someone I met via an article I posted on LinkedIn. I liked him immediately. Why? He took a risk, contacting a total stranger to have a conversation about connections and change.  We talked for 30 minutes about how people get stuck mid-career, and why change projects can be instrumental in turning that “stuckness” around, either within the organization you work for or outside of it.

It’s easy to feel trapped mid-career. You’re good at what you do. You have a decent title. A good team, or maybe they’re only an okay team, but they don’t make you crazy. You make pretty good money. And you have kids, parents, spouses and others dependent on you staying that course and keeping that money coming in.  The “golden handcuff” syndrome.

You may try to move up through the ranks, but we all know the funnel narrows towards the top. The promotions don’t come as fast as they do when you’re good, and you’re younger.  And maybe when that opening at the top comes up, you don’t fit the management “flavor of the month” that year. They’re moving towards a more numeric based environment and your brand is the “people” guy. Or vice versa. Or maybe you’re not in the central core business, but you do a great job that lets everyone else get their stuff done. You’re the greatest at it, but they just don’t know what to do with you next because there’s not an obvious career path in the organization. And if they move you, your replacement may not be as easy to work with. So you clock in another year.

Problem is, your resume starts to look pretty stagnant after a while. But the kids need college tuition or your mother-in-law moves in because early Alzheimer’s disease is setting in. And the cuffs tighten. And if the company blew up tomorrow, where would you go?

You need to be an aspirin or a vitamin, not a cog in the machine.

That’s why I love projects. Projects help other see you in a new light, and expose you to new opportunities. I started working on the types of change management projects we talk about at www.52weekturnaround.com early in my career, using them as a way to meet people and learn new career skills that have allowed me to work in many wildly different fields. Lots of times I “made up” the project and assigned it to myself, just to get something started. Now people hand me projects and say, “Can you fix this?”

To create real change, for yourself or for your company, you have to stick your neck out of your comfort zone. That doesn’t mean doing something wild, or illegal. It means strategically looking at where you are and where you might like to go. What skills do you want to learn? What area is growing in your industry? What other industries use similar skills that you already possess, and what would you need to learn about their world in order to switch industries? What is the one problem in your company that is making everyone crazy? Do you have an idea how to fix it? Who can you have a conversation with that might feel a bit uncomfortable but would help you stretch? Pick a strategic action, one that will solve a real problem or create real change. Avoid busywork.

Crazy things that have happened for me when I went out of my comfort zone strategically

  1. Got the head of a 14,000 person business line as a mentor. By purchasing a United Way benefit ticket. For $75.
  2. Wound up becoming a regular guest personality on a local television station for five years.
  3. Helped open an African American Research Library in Atlanta (if you’re wondering why this is unusual, go take another look at my photo, and couple it with the fact that I grew up in New York).
  4. Moved out of a government job in a public housing authority into the technology sector.
  5. Had an article published in a famous law journal, (I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV).
  6. Am presenting in Brussels (despite speaking no French and no Dutch) on Lean Startups. Want to come? Read about it here. My topic is Anarchy vs. The ACCO clip: Lean Startups in Government Agencies.

But here’s the thing. The wacky stuff doesn’t happen unless you’re prepared AND putting yourself out there. You have to be willing to go outside the box and share what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean pestering every senior person you meet with “Hi, I want to change jobs, will you mentor me and by the way, know of any job openings or how I can get out of this dead end gig?”  It means having something new and interesting to talk about, that makes you memorable, and allows you to engage with people outside your usual circle. What’s your elevator speech? Has it changed in the last 5 years? In each of the examples above, there’s a bit more to the story. I had been doing my homework, growing myself and working hard at it, that put me in front of the right person at the right time.

Want to start creating some change? Take a look at our resolutions for 2014. Talk to someone in another department at work that you NEVER interact with and find out what challenges they’re dealing with.  Take a look at the elephant in the room and see if you’re the person that can solve it for your company. Look at how other industries, similar to yours, have solved the same type of problems your industry is dealing with. Can you have a conversation with a stranger to find out how they did it and why it worked?

Come to Brussels and hear me speak (along with my co-presenter Carl Danneels who will give a great presentation on Lean Startups in the Corporate world). And share with me some of the wacky things that have happened when you stretched out of your comfort zone, so I can share them with our readers and they can get the courage to stretch.

It’s free

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

If you need help seeing your current organization with fresh eyes, get a copy of our free booklet, “Reading the Terrain” by filling out your contact info in the box on the right. “Reading the Terrain” is a field guide that asks you tons of questions about what’s going on in your business right now. By answering them, you’ll see where you can add value and where there are pain points.

We send out a newsletter of our most recent articles once a week and will only contact you if something really special comes up. And no, we won’t share your info with anyone.

 

Managing Great Expectations

failed projects, managing expectations

Sometimes there’s not much to celebrate!

Most change projects are wrapped in great expectations. They are designed to increase revenue, clients or efficiency, or stop the bleeding of expenses or resources. Not only are the projects expected to create change, but individual team members working on the project will usually have some career expectations tied to their participation, even if its just gaining notice for their work.

And yet, most projects don’t progress in a straight line. A+B+C does not always yield instant success. And sometimes what is created is an entirely different animal than the one you expected to create. The Lean Methodology is entirely based on this idea, that you will experiment, test with the public, and “pivot” your approach to design a product or project that meets the needs of the market. Groupon, the daily coupon site, started as an online activism platform called “The Point”, which was a failure and is now a publicly traded company which deals in discounted consumer goods and services.

Most projects in a corporate or government setting are not as easy to “pivot” based on the traditions, bureaucracies and politics involved, but its not unusual for a project to still become something very different from the original vision.

And some projects fail. Failures are sometimes hidden in a cloud of smoke, mirrors, shiny objects, beautiful press packages and discussions of the learning curve as a project quietly disappears. Others are very public disasters.

Pundits provide us with any number of pithy quotes to handle the great expectations of change, “Under promise and Over Deliver.” “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong” and “if you align your expectations with reality you will never be disappointed.” How you handle those expectations, both when things are going well, and when they are going very badly, is part of the skill you bring as a change leader.

Some projects will fail. Some will fail spectacularly. Others will have small pieces that work or sections that can be salvaged and repurposed but if you do this repeatedly, it’s important to understand that you will, indeed, fail at some point. And it won’t be fun. And sometimes a failure is just the jumping off place to a new adventure.

“Everything will be okay in the End, And if it’s not okay, it’s not the End.”

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Five Reasons Your Project isn’t Getting any Love

 

turning a deaf ear

You’ve gotten the sign off all the way up the executive ladder. Why is no one listening??

You’ve gotten the green light. The executive committee signed off. Everyone held hands, blessed the plan and said “Go Forth and create this change!” So why the heck isn’t anyone listening to anything you say?

They’re paid to resist.

Is their job function tied to the original structure? Would their skills or value as an employee be in jeopardy if your change plan works? If so, don’t expect them to be the first to jump onboard the change train.

They’re paid to resist (Part 2)

Does their compensation structure (particularly when commission or tier-based) reward them more significantly for other activities? If they can make 2-3 times the commission or fees based on doing what they’ve always done, and it will make up for any penalties or commissions lost by not doing what you want them to do, why would they choose to behave otherwise?

There are bigger issues at hand.

Is your company facing lawsuits, regulatory pressure, a revolution in the industry’s way of doing things or delivering product? If that’s going on, unless your project immediately and significantly contributes to solving that pain, it’s going to be the low man on the totem pole. Think about it, if you are in the horse and buggy business, and your business  is being threatened by the automobile, your project for more durable horse harnesses is not going to be a top priority.

You’re not making the benefits clear, or your benefits aren’t beneficial to them. 

Are you communicating the WHY of doing things in a new way?  And is that “why” compelling?  As we are taught in sales training, people spend too much time talking about features (how a product or service does something) vs. benefits (This product will help you do X in less time, and allow you to have greater revenue which will get you a great year end bonus). As a project leader, we spend much time dwelling on the features because you’re “building” the project. You have to sell the benefits to get people to cooperate.

You’re stretching them so far out of their comfort zone they’re afraid of looking stupid.

Never underestimate the discomfort factor.  Are you making them learn something they don’t think they’ll be good at? Are you having them interact with a new customer base or manufacturing process that they perceive will have a high risk of blow back on their career prospects if they fail?

They didn’t sign up for this: 

When you change how something is done, you may be forgetting that many of the people working in that industry consciously or subconsciously chose their profession in part because it didn’t focus on that skillset. A recent example is the number of doctors, nurses and medical professionals struggling with the fun of incorporating the required Electronic Health Records (EHR) protocols into their practices.  From the intricacies of having to chart patients via computer to the added issues of having to answer emails from patients on a 24/7 basis, this is a very new activity for many in the medical profession. While many are very computer proficient, it’s not exactly what they signed up for in a career, and much of that resistance comes with the package. “I can piece together the human body after multiple gunshot wounds and you think I should do what with this computer?!”

Many years ago I worked in a public library system, just as the DOS based internet was becoming a major research tool. We had several senior librarians, who were near retirement age, who opted for early retirement rather than have to master the rather difficult computer programming required to use the system. These were smart people who loved books, and chose their profession based on that, rather than computers. For many, at 57 or 58 years old, they just were unwilling to have to relearn their entire profession, and face the possibility of looking stupid in front of a teenager on a computer at the same time.

We’ve talked about resistance to change before, if you haven’t already done so, read What Dieter’s can teach us about Organizational Change and Change does not Occur in a Vacuum.

What other situations have you seen? Can you figure out why your team resisted? Share your successes and your mysteries in the comments below:

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Need help testing what you “know” to be true? Download our free Field Guide for understanding the organizational landscape before you begin creating change. “Reading the Terrain” gives you easy questions to ask yourself that will help you see your world with fresh eyes and broaden your perspective.  Sign up at the right to receive our newsletter and you’ll get a free link to download our guide. And no, we won’t bombard you with junk mail.

Why do Employees Resist Change, a simple graphic from Torben Rick

Courtesy of the always insightful Torben Rick, read more of his great stuff here!


Resistance to change in organizations - Torbenrick

Need more info on why Organizations resist change? Read What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

What are you NOT seeing? And what is it going to cost you?

 

people with blinders on

Are you stuck in your confirmation bias?

Years ago I would periodically attend senior staff level meetings for my boss when he was out of town. This would happen only a few times a year, but inevitably, my boss would be surprised at the insights I would give him from the meeting. Not the notes on what was said, but my take on the changes in the internal politics. Just by observing the meeting I could tell which departments were in favor, which were jockeying for position and which had fallen out of favor.  Often before he had even noticed.

Why?

When we’re in the middle of something on a constant basis we don’t always catch the subtle signs of impending change.  The details of our day to day existence distract us so we don’t step back and take a look at the big picture, and even when we think we do, we look at it through a filter of what we think is happening. We look for things that will reaffirm what we believe to be true and ignore those that invalidate our truths, there’s even a term for it, “confirmation bias”.

Test yourself today.  Are your assumptions about what’s working (or not working) true? Answer these questions off the top of your head… then go run some tests to verify.

Your revenue generators:

  • Who are your key clients?Are they the same people as previous years?  
  • Any changes in buying patterns? Do you know why? Would they cite the same reason?
  • What about payment patterns? Anyone now a slow payer that wasn’t?

Your Customers or End Users:

  • What questions are your customers asking?
  • Do they indicate movement towards a new product line, a new technology or a new need?  
  • Are they finding you the same way they used to? (Think of the days of yellow pages vs. internet, vs. mobile technology). Can they find you using the method they’re using?
  • If you have a physical location does it show up on Google maps?
  • Does the name of your company, department or group actually indicate what you do or sell now?

Your Team:

  • Morale up or down? Why? 
  • Are you attracting better talent to join your team than the talent you’re losing to competitors?
  • Is your team all from the same background? Schools, geography, ethnicity, gender, age, economic background? Any chance that’s hurting you?  
  • How long have they been in the same roles? Is there an incentive for them to move out if they can’t move up? What will you lose if they move out?

External factors and competition:

  • Is your competitor’s market share shrinking or growing?
  • Is the overall market for what you offer shrinking or growing?  
  • If the market is shrinking, what’s taking the place of what you are offering? Is there a new technology or is someone else promising a “magic bullet” solution to your customer’s needs? What’s attractive about that “magic bullet?”

Find any surprises?  We’re so busy trying to “make it all work” that tectonic shifts can be taking place beneath

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

our feet without our noticing. Consider today a starting point, a new commitment to seeing the whole playing field.  For even more things to take a look at, download a copy of our free field guide, Reading the Terrain, by subscribing at with your email address. It will help you look at your playing field with fresh eyes.

Have you ever missed a key change in your industry? How did you catch up? What opened your eyes? Discuss in our comments section.

 

What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change:

hit with the boomerang

Is your organization “boomeranging” right back to where it started?

Any dieter will gladly tell you about the body’s “set points.” For those of you who have been spared the joys of lifelong dieting, a quick synopsis is that our bodies have a “set point” a body weight or status that it will try to return to, despite behavioral changes. It is basically a “comfort zone” that uses the body’s tendency towards homeostasis to drive itself towards a certain functioning model. Think of it as a rubber band that has been stretched, snapping back into its original shape.

The question is; do businesses have a set point? Is there a “comfort zone” business model that most businesses, despite the outward flurry of change activities or new mission statements, will attempt to return to time and again?

Years ago I worked with a non-profit who had built itself around a key volunteer activity. Long after that activity ceased to return results as it had in the past, it was kept, a “sacred cow” due to the history of the organization. Which is fine if it is a conscious choice, but rather than acknowledge that the time had passed and keep the activity as a “nice to have” rather than a key income driver, endless attempts were made over and over again to revitalize that activity to bring it back to the center of the revenue plan.

Another example is an individual employee.  When they first start their employment they may learn a particular task they had not known how to do before. Or they are given the responsibility for a section of the P&L, a marketing activity, or a key account.  Ten years later, they will still have a particular bias towards that activity or account. This can be a great thing, where the depth of knowledge around the topic can be beneficial, or a blind spot, when they give undue weight to that item at the expense of the big picture.

For every “we tried that back in 2005” that a change agent gets (complete with the implied “and it didn’t work you imbecile”), it is worth considering that the audience is trying hard to return to a model or activity that is in their set point.  No one could possibly sell 200 widgets a day until someone does.  The problem is, once someone sells 200 widgets, it puts everyone who can’t sell 200 widgets on notice and possibly, makes them obsolete.  This is when you’ll see the accusations of “cheating” or “undue advantage”. Sometimes they’re right.   Sometimes they’re 100% right.   And other times, they’re just headed back for the comfort zone.

Have you noticed a “return to set point” in your attempts at organizational change?

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Turnaround Rule #10.5 Know When to Go.

 

Know when to exit a turnaround situation

The dirty secret of completing a turnaround is knowing when to leave.

One of the dirty little secrets of being a change agent is that sometimes it’s time to go once your best work is done.  It’s good to go out on top.  The part no one talks about is that sometimes you have to create such a shakeup, there will be those with their knives out waiting for your first misstep the second your triumph becomes public.

Classic example.  I was a senior director at a large government services agency where the entire management team had been brought in to create an amazing turnaround. The executive director had taken on a complex, politically fraught (and, given the environment, often life-threatening) job, and executed an amazing turnaround. She was feted first in the industrial journals, then more publicly. The majority of the turnaround took three years culminating in national recognition. The agency, previously rated at a 33, was given a perfect 100 score by its regulator. There was talk of a Cabinet appointment. The director demurred, feeling there was more work to do.

A few more years went by. A different political party took office for the next 8 years. No more Cabinet appointment-speak…but still some acclaim. And slowly but surely, those whose apple cart she had upset were waiting with knives drawn.  Suddenly there were whispers about her salary, two of her contract arrangements, and talk of having her removed. By the time the next “friendly” national  administration was in place, the damage was done.

Was she perfect? No. As a matter of fact, I didn’t care for one of those contracts and felt a better deal could be negotiated locally.  But she took one of the single most daunting tasks of cleaning up a notoriously corrupt agency and turned it around.  In record time.  Which everyone conveniently forgot about 8 years later.  They forgot what it was like when the post office decided not to deliver to one of the facilities because the hail of bullets were so bad. That area that now hosts national golf tournaments, a model community and a fantastic magnet school.

Go out on top. Go out when the work is 99% done. There is nothing over 100%, no awards that equal A+++. If you’re good at this, you need to move on to the next challenge.  I am in no way advocating a “band aid” cure as a permanent fix but get out while the next opportunities are flying in the door. Otherwise you’ll forever be talking about your triumphs in past tense, because once you have everything thriving, the world collectively forgets what it took to get there all too quickly.

Have you ever overstayed after a project was done? Share in the comments box!

Did you miss rules 1-10? Get them here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Rule # 9: Change Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

Shadows of change

Great Strategists understand they operate in the shadows of the history that came before.

Seth Godin said this so much more eloquently than I can; he calls it “The People Who Came Before You.”  When you begin to share your strategic plan with your team or your organization, you are standing in the shadow of all the ghosts who enacted change, or attempted to, with the same group. You are standing in the shadow of their experiences in other workplaces, at home and in past relationships.

If cost reduction strategies have always started with massive layoffs in the past, regardless of your words, the team will only hear “layoffs.”  If revenue growth meant giant sales goals that bore no relationship to reality, your “increase sales with our new strategy” will be reinterpreted as “We’re going to get some new scripting to take to the field and then they’ll raise our goal numbers.” Did the last strategic planning session feature a boring four day retreat followed by a zippy new mission statement and a binder that was shelved for all eternity the day after the retreat? Well, your call for a new focus on strategic planning will likely be met with some new mission statement suggestions and a request to vet the hotel location so everyone can set their tee times up front.

Ghosts take a heavy toll on team progress, especially when they are confronting change. Respect that the people you are asking to make that leap are carrying the baggage of many past adventures, the good, the bad, the awful and hopefully, the fantastic.  Having the right team in place before your unleash your plan is an important step. Asking that team about what has happened in the past, will help you unroll your plan to the larger audience in a way that can help people trust you enough to make the leap.

Want to get all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Click HERE

What Baggage have you had to address when rolling out new plans? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Think you covered all of that and your project still isn’t getting any love? Try here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.

© Jeanne Goldie 2015