Leadership

Leadership Lessons from EACUBO NY Spring 2014 — Dancing Guy, Followers, and Decision-Making

Howard Teibel at The New School

I am honored to have been speaker at the EACUBO New York City Spring 2014 WorkshopThe New School is a beautiful facility, and served as a terrific location for creative thinking and discussion. 

As a refresher, our time together was focused in two areas: effective decision-making, and leadership. If these concepts were presented as a Venn Diagram, you’d be looking at a circle — or pretty close to it. 

You see, making decisions effectively is inherently a product of leadership. It is the mark of someone who has exercised the critical muscle of influence, whatever their role in the organization may be. Just because you don’t have managerdean, or vice president before your name does not mean you don’t have influence in the organization.

Consider our discussions of the “Dancing Guy.” In just three minutes, we witnessed a lone, shirtless dancer in a field transform into a movement of a hundred or more. How did he do it? As entrepreneur and narrator Derek Sivers frames it, dancing guy was a Lone Nut, committing his passion all alone to something he believes is truly great

But even more importantly, he had the benefit of help from his first follower, that special believer who had the courage to commit his own influence to a cause he believed it. That courage transformed the Lone Nut into a leader that others could follow without fear. 

Now that you’ve had a few weeks to settle back into your work, I ask you to think about these two take-aways, and evaluate how you are applying them each day. 

  1. Do you understand the scope of your own influence? Take the time to reflect on your own work and expertise. Are you regularly considered the Lone Nut? Or are you brave enough to be the First Follower? Where will your own influence lend support to truly important — great — projects in your institution?
  2. Bring a group together, and deconstruct a project. If you haven’t had the opportunity to apply the decision-making model to a current project, do it soon! Condition yourself to approach new challenges using the model and watch how effectively you are able to generate new ideas and overcome past logjam.

Leadership is a powerful and mysterious role, but it doesn’t come courtesy of a title. We are all capable of becoming leaders, of driving change in our organizations. It’s your job to develop an eye for opportunities to lead change as the Lone Nut, or to apply your own influence artfully and effectively as the First Follower. Keep your eyes peeled — these opportunities are everywhere!

Leaders are those who empower others.
— Bill Gates
Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.
— Warren Bennis
Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.
— John Maxwell

Gearing up for the NAEP Leadership Forum

In the morning, I’ll be leading the Leadership Forum annual meeting for the National Association of Education Procurement. It’s a beautiful evening here in Louisville, Kentucky, and judging by the members I’ve already met, tomorrow promises to be an engaging and productive day.

We’ll be taking on some pretty important issues in today’s session around leadership and strategy. How do you cultivate an environment that is open and encouraging of change? What is your role as a leader in supporting your people through periods of terrific complexity? Becoming an influential leader is very much a personal journey, but the result serves as a foundation for teams that understand — and are excited to build on — the shared strategy of the team, department, or institution.

Speaking of strategy, we’ll be digging in to the strategic planning process, too. When execution suffers, it can often be traced back to holes in the strategic plan. Whether you inherited a plan from a prior leader, or never finished the process in the first place, developing and refining the strategic plan is critical to getting back on track.

We’ll ask some important questions of each other today, questions that get to the heart of the business model we serve. When we’re finished, you’ll have a roadmap for developing your teams around a strategy that you own, for your people, driving toward the shared success of the institution.

This is some of the most fun work I do, engaging high performing teams and helping them to see what’s possible in their work. Get ready for some new skills, new frameworks, and great fun today!

Reflections: Berkshire Properties

I’ve just completed a wonderful stay with the team at Berkshire Properties in sunny Palm Coast, Florida. While it’s always a treat to work with teams interested in becoming better agents of change, there is something truly special about working with a team directly in the midst of it. 

Change is hard. There is no way around it — change turns our world upside down. But that is not to say that change is bad. Change is what it is — neither good nor bad — and only takes on identity by way of our approach to it. We’re in a habit of framing change as a negative. Our number one objective when approaching a significant change? We need to change that habit.

In our session together we reviewed the cycle of change. Janssen’s “Four Room” model is a terrific map for our process of adaptation in the face of difficult change projects for two reasons.

  1. It allows us to see how we naturally move from out stage of acceptance to another, from Contentment, to Renewal, to Denial, to Confusion, then back again, and not always in order.
  2. It allows us to understand where we are in our acceptance and adaptation to change and — more importantly — to know where we have ability and responsibility to support others on our teams. 

As leaders, recognize that you’re allowed to adjust to change yourselves, to move through the process naturally and honestly. However, your public face is to celebrate the renewal of change to come, while denial you confront in private. 

Your teams will be confused. Celebrate that, too. If the people around you are confused it means they are working hard to engage in the change that is occurring around them. They’ll be struggling to hold positive and negative emotions in their heads at the same time; you are the mover of rocks and the carrier of water for your teams, constantly reframing each challenge as yet unrealized opportunity. 

For those who have asked for the link, here’s a wonderful video I presented at the conference, “Not about the Nail.” It captures what may be the most critical component of any change project: there’s always room to laugh. 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter on the Zoom Function for strategic leadership

YouTube - Zooming: How Effective Leaders Adjust Their Focus

Kanter has an interesting take on the importance of zooming in, and zooming out, for leaders in strategic roles. It's a riff off of her "Kanter's Law," everything can look like a failure in the middle, recommending leaders learn to be agile leaders. What I find worth noting is that it's logic that challenges our assumptions of the characteristics that make up the best leaders. We hear too often that the best leaders are big picture people, people who are able to define direction and lead others to grand change. Kanter's assertion is that mixing the big picture with the muscle of zooming in to understand detail, not just principle, allows leaders to "see the specific destination, not just what's around it."

The interview below is just 10 minutes and is worth consideration this morning.

Tanmay Vora on virtual teams, tips support strong teams of all kinds

QAspire Blog: 10 Key Lessons On Leading Virtual Teams Effectively

All of Vora's points are accurate, but one stuck out at us more than others: "Lack of trust is one of the biggest killers in a virtual team environment. The way you manage a team tells a lot about how much you trust them."

Tells a lot? It tells everything.

When a team is away, leaders tend to get insecure and start micro-managing. They just push decisions to their teams, rather than involving them in the decision making. This works against building a culture of trust and empowerment.

We've talked about the people process before and just how important it is to model the right behaviors in your own leadership to facilitate a strong team, whether virtual or not. Remember, though, the other legs of the stool; modeling positive leadership for your people is directly supported by team-friendly processes that communicate clearly, and technology that supports communication and strategic objectives. The strongest teams emerge when all three -- the people, process, and technology variables -- are functioning at their strongest and supporting the weight of the project equally. With strong teams comes respect and trust, not only in leadership, but in one another.

Building your legacy as a leader through focus and simplicity

Create Your Legacy as a Leader - Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi for HBR this morning:

The surest way to build a company whose leadership will outlast your own is to focus your attention on the few essential things that your company can do better than anyone else. If you can reinforce that focus in every decision you make — from mergers & acquisitions to new product launch to budgeting or cutting costs — it can help you win market share, generate sustainable growth, or even turn around a decline.

It's not about following the path of greats, they say, rather having a clear understanding of what it is that you do best. And that's the tricky part, too: understanding what you do best. It is far too easy for organizations to become mired in day-to-day at the expense of clarity. If you're in this particular boat, be critical, and make 2011 the year of simplification. For everything you do, can you draw a line up the strategic plan from that activity to your organizational objectives?

Leinwand and Mainardi offer three "drivers of coherence" which are great, though one in particular really jumps out in support of the simplification challenge: "Can my team articulate the three to six capabilities that describe what we do uniquely better than anyone else and how these capabilities support our value proposition?"

Reed Hastings of Netflix is a "2-in-1" leader worth study

Become Businessperson of the Year - Paul Nunes and Tim Breene - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Paul Nunes and Tim Breene share insight on what they call 2-in-1 leadership:

They not only grow their current business but simultaneously develop the next one that, ultimately, will enable a graceful transition from the first. It is one thing for great leaders to successfully confront great challenges. It is quite another for them to rapidly scale a successful business and conceive, grow and manage another at the same time — especially when they know the new venture may cannibalize its parent. We call this change from one successful core business to another "jumping the S-curve" and we're betting that we'll be seeing a lot more leaders like Hastings doing it.

The Hastings they're referring to here is Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. Hastings is at the center of a quiet media empire, doing his part to shake the foundation of distribution with little red envelopes. But he didn't make "Businessperson of the Year" for the disc by mail program. He made the list for doing everything he can to destroy it.

In the last two years, Hastings has executed the Netflix streaming service across mobile phones and set-top boxes around the world. This new product category directly competes with the core mail-order model that the company is built on. But Hastings had the foresight and guts to take the risk. Whether he knew he'd be at the helm of the ship steering the industry or not, he's doing yeoman's work as a role model for the audacity required for great leadership in the face of great risk.

Nunes and Breene offer some truly interesting thinking in today's post -- absolutely worth reading today.

"Jeopardy" is a platform for challenging our assumptions about people. Seriously.

"Jeopardy!" and man vs. machine: Artificial intelligence will always be a step behind - latimes.com

Steven Baker is author of the up-coming "Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything." If you haven't seen the three-part match, the finale will be broadcast this evening and Baker will be updating this post with real results shortly after.

First, this passage from his op-ed in the LA Times is worth a chuckle (Watson, if it isn't clear, is the name of the computer competitor):

Once, when queried about a famous French bacteriologist, Watson skipped right past Louis Pasteur and responded instead: "What is, 'How tasty was my little Frenchman?'" (the title of a 1971Brazilian movie about cannibals). Even worse, Watson churned away for nearly two hours to come up with such nonsense. Things have changed.

Yes, funny. Funny to a fault, actually. The real message is one of shifting priorities in our offices. We've written much recently on efforts to rethink how we manage our people, how important they are to the way process and technology interact. But the advent of a super-computer that is actually competitive on a show like Jeopardy feels like a more important message than one of simple entertainment.

So, we offer this question: are you using your teams to complete the tasks that are worthy of their capabilities? Your people are (generally) a vastly underused resource. Consider the challenges you are giving your teams and the trust you give them to deliver creative results with minimal supervision. In most cases, getting great results from them will hinge more on giving them challenges that are up to their ability rather than the converse: that you have staff whose collective ability is not up to the tasks they are given.

Baker summarizes:

The rest of us will adapt to the invasion of question-answering Watsons by focusing on work at which the human brain excels — and will leave the rest to machines. We've already outsourced long division, spelling and much of our highway navigation to machines. Now we'll look to them more and more to dig through mountains of data and come up with answers for us. This should free us up to do what remains uniquely human, at least for now: generating fresh ideas.

UPDATE: Wired has a terrific set of pictures inside the Watson facility, if you fancy a tour.

Are you choking innovation on your teams? You might be, and not even know it!

The Seven Deadly Sins That Choke Out Innovation | Co.Design

Helen Walters on a recent talk from the heads of IDEO in New York titled Leading Innovation: Process Is No Substitute:

In most companies, there's a profound tension between the right-brainers (for lack of a better term) espousing design, design thinking and user-centered approaches to innovation and the left-brained, more spreadsheet-minded among us. Most C-suites are dominated by the latter, all of whom are big fans of nice neat processes and who pay good money to get them implemented rigorously. So often, the innovation process is treated as a simple, neat little machine. Put in a little cash and install the right process, and six months later, out pops your new game-changing innovation -- just like toast, right from the toaster. But that, of course, is wrong.

The "seven sins" that Walters covers are spot on, and the piece is worth reading in full. In particular, there is an overriding theme from which we could all benefit:

  • build inclusion into process rather than protectionism,
  • execute quickly and let momentum work in your favor,
  • and finally, change (innovation) takes time -- "be explicit about the impact that you expect" from your change efforts.

 

Turns out business analytics is people! It's people!

Business Analytics: My Valentine’s Day True Love Confession

Here's a terrific piece from Gary Cokins on his evolving relationship with business analytics and performance management frameworks:

Until about three years ago, my main interest was explaining the “how-to” of all the methodologies comprising business analytics and the enterprise performance management (PM) framework and mechanism. Examples of these methodologies are forecasting, strategy maps, scorecards, dashboards, correlation analysis, activity-based costing, driver-based budgeting, customer demand management, and so on. I have implemented these techniques. I’m a practitioner. I love explaining to people how things work and inspiring a vision on how those same things can work much better in the future.

 

What happened to me three years ago? I was smitten. A competing suitor of my “how-to” love appeared. It is my new “why-to” love – explaining the benefits of why to implement and integrate analytics-based performance management methodologies. They both compete for my attention. This is what occurred.

Sounds like you'll be knee-deep in data reading that intro passage, but I assure you, Gary offers a real gem in his piece that is worth reading. He arrives at a conclusion that people people have been pushing onto performance management systems for decades. In short: the barriers to adoption of smart performance management practices are no longer predominantly based on limitations of our measurement systems. They're based on our broad misunderstandings of how people want to be managed!

Thanks, Gary, for the insight!

Where you might be failing by trying to engage best practices for employee success

Making Sure Your Employees Succeed - Amy Gallo - Harvard Business Review

Amy Gallo contributed a fine piece to the HBR Best Practices blog today. Fine really is the word for it -- while she outlines the textbook premise on employee engagement well, I can't help but be left with a longing for at least a bit of discussion around how infrequently the textbook approaches really apply in employee development these days.

Commenter Rick Ross and I are kindred spirits. From his response:

Creating a plan - The formulaic "goal\ objective \ milestone \evaluate risk" method works in the increasingly rare environments where tasks are simple and easily measurable. More sophisticated methodologies are required in environments with higher complexity and where results that are harder to measure. Nothing will deflate motivation faster than being measured in an invalid way.

That last line says it all, and it's the overriding concept I think we are well-served to remember. We deal with great complexity at work, which requires a degree of intellectual dexterity as we try to define the measures of our success. So, what could serve to make a measurement invalid? A) When it doesn't make intuitive sense to the one being measured and, B) When the one being measured had no part in the definition of the metric.

Integrating new processes ends up being a more organic process than we ever expect, and certainly more organic than the textbooks predict. Working with staff to build a planning process that provides clear direction -- and maintains flexibility and adaptability over time -- is key to making change stick in the long run.

 

Are you still a good leader when backed into a corner?

Authentic Leadership Can Be Bad Leadership - Deborah Gruenfeld and Lauren Zander - Harvard Business Review

In a terrific piece this morning at HBR.org, Deborah Gruenfeld and Lauren Zander lay out the case for authenticity in leadership, and where "hiding behind the authenticity excuse" can go awry. From the post:

In practice, we've observed that placing value on being authentic has become an excuse for bad behavior among executives. It's important to realize that what makes you you is not just the good stuff — your values, aspirations and dreams; the qualities others love most. For most people, what comes naturally can also get pretty nasty. When you are overly critical, non-communicative, crass, judgmental, or rigid, you are probably at your most real — but you are not at your best. In fact, it is often these most authentic parts of a leader that need the most management.

Why is this so important to our work? Because any change initiative, any Lean or shared services integration project, anything that challenges the way people work brings out our most authentic selves. It's this authentic self that is backed into a corner, wary of change, and protective of what we know and understand. When we're backed into a corner responding by emotion, we're unable to process the most difficult tasks which, ultimately, might be the best for us and our organizations.

As leaders, being able to reflect critically on our own behavior when we feel challenged, and being able to listen to others as they describe who they perceive us to be without defense or justification, can be the foundation for far greater change to come. But it takes hard work and an open mind to get there.

Japan struggles to activate and accept the changing culture of youth at work

Japan Blocks the Young, Stifling the Economy - NYTimes.com

This is a fascinating piece in the Times on the struggles of the youth of Japan as culture runs head-on into a struggling economy.

As this fading economic superpower rapidly grays, it desperately needs to increase productivity and unleash the entrepreneurial energies of its shrinking number of younger people. But Japan seems to be doing just the opposite. This has contributed to weak growth and mounting pension obligations, major reasons Standard & Poor’s downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt rating on Thursday.

“There is a feeling among young generations that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get ahead,” said Shigeyuki Jo, 36, co-author of “The Truth of Generational Inequalities.” “Every avenue seems to be blocked, like we’re butting our heads against a wall.”

Consider this a brief coda to last week's post on millennials at work; the lesson we can learn from the struggle of Japan comes in how we appreciate those who foster change in our organizations. Have we trained our selves to identify those who drive us toward new horizons? Or do we thank them for their initiative with a kind request to get-back-to-work?

The term intrapreneurship isn't used nearly as often as it should be. In some organizations, it's labeled a joke. But it represents a powerful concept: "Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so." (PDF) It's about people coming together, activated by a culture aware of the energy that comes from teamwork, inspired to create, no matter the bureaucracy that may otherwise stand in their way.

In Japan, the roadblocks for youth in traditional careers are far stronger than forces that welcome and foster intrapreneurs. Working together, we can do better.

Eric Schmidt to leave Google, offers object lessons on leadership in transition

Eric Schmidt's Days at Google Always Seemed Numbered - Adi Ignatius - Harvard Business Review

Adi Ignatius has been writing about leadership of Google for many years, and comes with some authority to this discussion of leadership in transition at the company. CEO Eric Schmidt announced yesterday plans to step down, to be replaced by founder Larry Page. This bit, from Ignatius' latest post over at HBR, illustrates much of the compelling consternation that has come from the Schmidt-Page-Brin trio over the years.

At another point, I sat down with the three over a table of Legos — Brin and Page are constant tinkerers — and asked them the question that all of Silicon Valley wondered: whether Schmidt actually played a substantial role in the company, or if he was brought in primarily to calm shareholders. "That's been the buzz since I joined. My answer is simply to let the company's results speak for themselves," Schmidt answered. "Good answer," Page quickly added.

A big leadership transition is tough, no matter how you slice it. But we can learn a few key object lessons from Google's story which may apply to our own collective stories down the road.

First, leaders are people, too. At Google, Schmidt might not have been brought in specifically to provide adult supervision, but his presence brought to the organization a sense of maturity that his background as CEO at Novell had earned him. His purpose was to bring a new level of focus and attention to the business of Google, as distinct from the technology of Google. His work there, in spite of the grand variety of his public relations gaffs over the years, has shone him to be an able manager who should be remembered fondly for integrating these two areas. Now, his work is done.

Second, leaders can be developed. Larry Page was a smart guy, a founder of a deeply smart company, and had some terrific instincts about setting up a culture that motivates and drives innovation (the legendary Google "Innovation Time Off," aka "20% time" is just one example). Take this brief bit of wisdom widely attributed to Page:

“We don't have as many managers as we should, but we would rather have too few than too many.”

But Page was not a CEO. Schmidt's experience and perspective, his successes and gaffs, all served to support and develop Page as a leader. Whether that professional development was always part of the plan at the outset isn't really the question; Page wasn't ready to lead the enterprise then, and he is today. As Adi points out, even Schmidt echoed this angle in his announcement-day tweet: "Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!"

Julia Kirby puts a slightly different spin on this relationship in her own response to the transition. Her comparison is of Facebook, where young titan CEO Mark Zuckerburg brought in Sheryl Sandberg, with her key strategic experience as a senior executive at -- ahem -- Google, to provide him executive guidance in his own role. Sandberg is, however, COO. Comparing Schmidt as CEO to Page, and Zuckerburg as CEO to Sandberg, says Kirby:

Those are not subtle distinctions. In a learning situation, it matters very much whether the dynamic you have set up is the relationship of equals, of sensei to student, or of advisor to king.

Third, smart organizations can weather any transition in the eyes of the public. Did you see what happened in the market when Google made this announcement? That key executive leadership was shuffling? Leadership which may indicate a shift in strategic direction? A new focus for the search and advertising behemoth?

Nothing.

The reaction was monumentally even-headed. The stock market was neutral. The pundits used the opportunity to recount a few laughs at Schmidt's expense. But overall, the market's collective yawn over the event indicates more than anything that even though no one really saw it coming, we were ready.

This is an organization that understands the importance of the bench. There are key leaders across the company that have been encouraged through culture and directive to grow their people into tomorrow's leaders.

As high profile a change as this is for Google, it provides a great opportunity for us to take a step back and look at our own bench. Who are your future leaders? Take the challenge and find the department heads, managers, and team members that are ready to step up and take over so deftly as not to miss a step. Do everything you can to encourage, inspire, and develop that talent on your own teams.

Canary in the Coal Mine: When your teams aren’t functioning

This week, we sat down to record an episode of Navigating Change which addresses a topic that has become critically important in the work that I do with my clients. Across the higher education space, teams have been tasked to work differently, to face up to new challenges and obstacles, and to deliver results under conditions they have never encountered before. And while the obvious challenges that come with working in complex teams are plenty, those that can hurt the team the most tend to be hiding right under the surface. To sum it up:

As a manager, you are probably not aware of what is going wrong on your team.

Your first task as a manager or department leader is to deliver results. As such, we have established a cultural bias against sharing bad news, anything that doesn’t directly relate to delivering those results. When a staff member levels a concern of this nature, they risk being labeled a complainer, and so the routine continues. The result? A self-perpetuating culture of ignorance to the more insidious issues that may be occuring on your teams.

A leader needs to be willing to recognize that people will not be willing to share information that will potentially make them look bad unless they are confident that it won’t be pinned on them. In an environment of fear and blame, hiding the bad news trumps candor every time.

There is good news: you can change it.

First, understand that a mature, high-performing team does not have to agree 100% of the time. In fact, the best, most productive teams may not even have team members that like one another. But what you will see in every case of teams working well together across functions and projects is an environment of respect. As a leader, your job is to implement this key rule for interpersonal relationships: You may not like your colleagues, but respect them for the work they do.

Second, be a role model for open communication. Your teams will build their cultural habits based on cues they receive from you. If you are able to muster the strength to deliver news — the good and the bad — to your teams regularly, quickly, and succinctly, you will begin to see the same sort of respect for you.

Finally, take every mistake and use it as a visible opportunity for continuous improvement. Show that bad news does not equate to blame, but is a platform for conversation, learning, and new directions.

There is certainly more to be said here. I invite you to subscribe to Navigating Change (iTunes) and listen to the entire episode. Then, share your comments below and bring the discussion online.

The Economic Crisis: Danger or Opportunity?

Is the economic crisis a threat or hidden opportunity?  It depends.  For those who see it as a threat, they will maintain the status quo, keep their heads down and hope for the best.  For those who see this crisis as an opportunity, an entirely different set of behaviors come out - a renewed sense of energy and willingness to demonstrate their value to the organization. Which set of behaviors increase the likelihood of landing in a good or better place?   It reminds me of the story where a man is praying to God in hopes of winning the lottery.  After months of not having his prayers answered, God finally reaches down and says to the man “I have heard your prayers but if you could do me a favor…buy a ticket.”  To get something better in life, you’ve got to get in the game.

What are some strategies that can help shift ones point of view to recognizing opportunities in a crisis or difficult situation?  Here are five:

  1. Attitude Adjustment – Of all the strategies that can help shift one’s focus, attitude is the most important.  Attitude drives behavior.   As Dr. Alan Zimmerman talks about in his book Pivot: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success, “No one gave you a good attitude and no one can give you a bad attitude.  It’s a choice.”  This is a powerful statement and for many a useful wake-up call.  Recently Dr. Zimmerman was interviewed on CBS's Early Show and he was asked how we can maintain a positive attitude in the face of many challenges people face today.  His response was “Failure is not the falling down but the staying down”.  When people have setbacks, he suggests that they avoid the “Why” question.  Why did this happen to me?  Instead, focus on how you can learn from the failure.  Simple, yet useful advice.
  2. Network – Whether one is gainfully employed or looking for work, networking is a key strategy to stay connected with new opportunities.  Many of us find the prospect of networking to be outside of our comfort zone, but networking can bring huge dividends in learning about how one's organization is changing or about job opportunities that may be perfect for one’s skills.  Most jobs are filled through someone knowing a person who is right for the role.  With all of the hiring freezes, vacancies or even layoffs, now is the time to stand out and show your interest in making a greater contribution.  Management is looking for the best people right now, and they have much to choose from.  Improve your position by building relationships through networking.
  3. Take Risks – Networking is a form of risk-taking, i.e. getting out of your comfort zone.  Practicing stepping outside of one's comfort zone is an important skill to develop, especially in times of perceived crisis.   While others may be retreating to cautious behavior, those who take calculated risks can reap huge rewards.  Opportunities are waiting.
  4. Professional Development – This may be the best time to develop new skills.  If one’s organization offers professional or technical classes, jump in.  There are multiple benefits to this.  Firstly, new skills put one in a position to take on new responsibilities; secondly, it’s a networking opportunity. Most importantly, focusing on developing new skills increases one’s confidence and focuses one’s energy on positive action, versus the default reaction to how bad things are.
  5. Update One’s Resume or CV - Updating a resume can be a great way to increase one’s personal confidence.  Most of us wait until we need a resume for a job application versus using the process of updating a resume to survey one’s skills.  When we see our accomplishments on paper, it builds confidence to pursue other challenges or take on greater responsibility.  Even if you’re content with your current role, having a resume handy can be very useful if a new opportunity arises.  This is a competitive job market and many others are prepared to jump on an opportunity that may be perfect for you.

In times of crisis, we can dig our heels in, close our eyes and wait for the anticipated changes around us to happen.  This is one option.   We can also choose to get in the game by facing the challenge and asking “How can I help myself be in the best position when the dust settles?”  Reminding each other we have this choice is the best way to help ourselves and others through this economic crisis.

There are hidden opportunities in a crisis. The question is: Will we allow ourselves to get involved, take a chance and trust that we will benefit from our decision to be proactive?

Many thanks to Denis Walsh for his observations and feedback.

[KFAFVNE4VPMG]

The Key To Getting Through This Economic Crisis

The economic crisis has jump-started a long-standing conversation among senior leaders in Higher Education. How can we best deliver services to our core stakeholders while finding ways to positively impact our financial condition? Since the economy tumbled in September 2008, actions taken by universities run the spectrum of “wait and see” to rethinking how to deliver services and programs, all while keeping the academic and administrative trains running. Like its corporate partners, colleges and universities are now publicly embracing the “bottom-line” as the core enabler of its mission. For institutions that have embarked on broad organizational change, one thing’s for sure. Staff and faculty are anxious. While the most prevalent anxiety spoken is “Will I still have a job on the other side of this crisis?”, it's not always about losing one’s job. The underlying fear is uncertainty.

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between… It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to. Marilyn Feguson Author and Public Speaker

In this period of change, institution leaders have two primary concerns: What if our planned restructuring to address the financial crisis evoke a sufficient negative reaction that cause it to fail? Even worse, what if the changes put in place are not enough?

On the other hand, if you ask staff doing the work what they fear, it's the uncertainty of how they're jobs may change or worse, go away.  The power of uncertainty can have great control over our lives.

The Power Of Uncertainty

Take this example from a study conducted at Emory University:

A team at Emory University examined what happened when people waited for an impending electric shock. Some people dreaded the shock so deeply that they chose to receive a more powerful shock earlier rather than waiting for a lesser shock to arrive at a later, random time. David Eagleman NY times Op-Ed, December 3, 2009

Why would someone choose this counter-intuitive behavior?  Simple.  It's more stressful to wait for something negative to happen than get it over with now.  Knowing what's coming has tremendous influence over our ability to focus.  When changes like possible layoffs or organizational restructuring are anticipated, people's anxiety levels are raised and strong emotions  are evoked - from anger and fear for some to enthusiasm and excitement for the lucky few.  The majority react to anticipated change assuming it will be bad for them.  This, in itself is an irrational reaction.

Shifting One's Focus

If we’re serious about transforming Higher Education, we need leaders to make tough decisions that position our institutions in a fiscally sound direction. These changes will not come all at once and require thoughtful analysis before implementing. There is no getting around that in this period of analysis, anxiety will be heightened because not all the answers will be clear.  Institutional leaders need to help their most important assets, people, get through this period of accelerating change.

But it's ultimately up to the individual to decide whether the coming changes are something to avoid or an opportunity to take advantage of.

Those who maintain a positive attitude through these challenging times are not free of fear or anxiety; they just choose to put their energy elsewhere.  How can I improve my value or get more involved?  What opportunities may come out of these changes that I can take advantage of?  Are there things I can be learning that will help me get through this better?  These questions are at the heart of shifting one's point of view from "Why is this happening to me?" to "How can I best get through this?"

The key to getting through this economic crisis is to build a business culture that helps people learn to make positive choices in the face of uncertainty.  It's a partnership between management needing to focus on the big picture and the individual choosing to be part of the solution.  This is true change management, transforming fear that breeds inaction to optimism that promotes opportunity and personal growth.

"Getting through this..." is not enough

0909CastagneraI was honored to be interviewed by Jim Castagnera for this month's Today's Campus magazine, for a feature on what I've been calling the new normal. I invite you to read it here, as Jim ably covers issues many of us in the field have been discussing for years: the importance of intelligent business planning, the trouble of increasingly complex systems, and the danger inherent in a mentality many institutions share right now, "we just have to get through this... " These are challenging times. What comes next will be largely what we make of it by making good choices and long-term improvements in campus business operations. Jim has pulled together some terrific resources for this piece and I'm thrilled to be counted among them.

And make sure to bookmark Today's Campus -- it's a terrific online publication that covers issues critical to our field.

Stop Doing and Start Helping!

There is nothing more arrogant than walking into an organization, assessing a people or process issue and believing you can single-handedly create a permanent solution. The failure in most organizational projects is the presumption made about the giver and receiver relationship, the giver being those helping with the change and the receiver, those inheriting the change. The three most important presumptions are:

  1. The receiver is asking for the specific advice given
  2. The receiver is open to the advice, diagnosis or solution offered
  3. The giver understands enough of the problem to give this advice

These may seem like fair presumptions but more often than not, advice is given on incomplete information and both sides do not have a shared view of the problem. The problem doesn't get fixed, the recipient doesn't own the solution and the blame game for a less than satisfactory solution takes center stage. Sound familiar?

The Missing Piece

The first thing to recognize is the difference between advice and help.

When I consult with a surgeon, I'm looking for advice, a diagnosis and for that person to take care of the problem. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, architects - these roles are structured around evaluating a situation, applying expertise and doing the work. The person is the means to the solution.

Building a high-performing workforce is different. True success comes down to behavior change.  Positive attitude, teamwork, trust, practice - these skills are the cornerstones of an effective workforce. You can't talk someone into having a good attitude, exhibiting teamwork or being willing to make mistakes as a way to develop skills - they must want it themselves and be willing to do what it takes to get there.

But it's so much easier to just give advice and then walk away, you say.

Projects involving people that end up being perceived as unsuccessful stem from an overemphasis of trying to solve their "problem" versus looking for ways to help them help themselves.  At the heart of making positive change stick is asking this question:

"If diagnosing and advising only perpetuates a dependency and lack of self-reliance, how can you help the group take greater responsibility for their problems and solutions?" Focus on ways to get the groups to practice and immerse themselves in the behaviors that will build their confidence to do the work on their own.  Stop doing it for them.

Yes, being an expert is useful but don't confuse expertise with being helpful. Expertise doesn't changes behavior. To get people acclimated to a new way of doing something, you must ask deeper questions about how they learn, retain information and are able to repeat this behavior on their own. Whether you're the sponsor, manager, consultant or colleague, step back and find ways to allow individuals and groups to do for themselves, versus being so quick to solve their problem. Only then will they be able to run with the ball in a self-reliant way.

A great book that deconstructs the "helping relationship" is Edgar Schein's book "Process Consultation Revisited - Building the Helping Relationship". This book single-handedly helped me reshape how to think about consulting and make sure the responsibility for change lies with those needing to live with the change.