This week, I spent a lot of time with a group of sales leaders for a large industrial manufacturing firm. In the context of a large digitalisation initiative we discussed the role and specific tasks for leaders to drive and motivate sustainable change.
In this post I want to share the essence of the discussion with one of the Senior Leaders in the aftermath of group work with the team.
We discussed using the model below, which is based on Simon Sinek’s hierarchy of Why, How and What, when it comes to leadership:
With this model I tried to visualise, where and how leaders “take action”, when it comes to driving change.
Keep your hands away from the “what”
If you have hired the right people, and if you have managed to put them in the right role, your job is done. If you have to tell people what they are supposed to do, you have got the wrong people on board.
The “operational” level of “how”
Providing guidance for operational work through processes, frameworks or templates still is managerial. Even though some people might be asking for clear instruction and guidance for how they are supposed to apply their skills, I don’t perceive this particular element as “leadership”.
To motivate people and make them believe in the value of applying the standards, might be a leadership aspect of this part of “how”.
The “leadership” level of “how”
This is where real change kicks in. To motivate change and lead by example when it comes to fundamental change for i.e. the ways of working, is what is expected from leaders.
Thinking with the recipient in mind, turning personal experience into corporate knowledge or adopting new digital opportunities isn’t something that can be ordered. It is where leadership meets operations, because leaders will have to show the same attitude and act as a role model.
This applies to ways of working, not giving up on adapting new technologies as well as helping others to feel comfortable in the new world. There is no reason, why a SVP shouldn’t be the key user of a new collaboration environment.
Excellent leadership in this level will have the effect of empowerment. People will be equipped with the right mindset to put their competence and abilities to full play.
The purpose level of “Why”
Well…I’ll let Simon Sinek pick this one up. This entire post is inspired by his TED talk anyway…
I have the feeling, that change and change management have become empty phrases. A lot of people talk about it, but no-one really knows, what it means, and there is nothing tangible following the words…
(SVP Commercial Sales, Industrial Manufacturing)
I have to agree with him, because I have reached the point where I don’t even hear me say the word “change” anymore. That’s probably the destiny of an evangelist: you have to keep saying it, make it tangible and help people to understand what it means.
Otherwise it will actually stay an empty phrase for good.
Why change is so hard.
There is no better way of putting it than the following cartoon strip does:
Whenever it’s time to act, the audience gets thinner and thinner and the line of volunteers and heroes gets shorter and shorter. Because change sounds good, but it comes at a price…
And I am certain, you’ve seen this before:
Triggers to make things stick.
Athletes know the drill: without embedding your physical challenge into your daily life every day, there will be no progress. You don’t become a long distance runner with the occasional jog, you won’t get the beach body from the weights you swing round twice month.
To establish something new, it’s helpful to have a ritual. Something everyone does, every day, for at least 30 days. Then the ritual becomes a habit and it will be hard to give it up again.
Most likely the things to be done will still be there. Not matter if it’s at the work place or anywhere else in life. If you want to introduce “new ways of doing things”, you need to alter existing routines and make room for the new stuff. That “new piece” can be a tool, an approach or simply a way of starting a conversation.
Celebration of Success
We need to be kind to ourselves. It’s not always the won sales deal, the stronger abs or the better time for the mile. We need to celebrate success along the way, the newly established habit or simply the awareness for the new. Celebration is emotional, and positive emotion helps to endure the efforts of change.
But be prepared for setbacks!
There will be days, where your mile feels like eternity. There will be days, where the scales tell you: nah, not even close.
Be prepared for that. Be prepared to be resilient.
In business, this means that you have to accept the fact that it won’t be a smooth ride all the time. If a lot of people are confronted with change, anxiety and fear aren’t strangers to the game.
Embrace frustration & fear
New stuff can be scary and people usually don’t embrace change naturally. We need to develop a “we help each other along the way” mindset. We have to tune our radar to capture the little signs of discomfort and intercept early to not even let the bad feeling establish itself properly.
We need to learn to care for each other more, also at the workplace.
Share the discipline to stick with it
Don’t give up. Don’t fall back to old ways, because you know how to trick and fix them. Share discipline to give it another try. Be in it together to try, fail, try again, fail even harder and then succeed. It will be worth it in the end!
Change is a constant in today’s world.
BCG’s Jim Hemerling takes about 5 ways to lead in an era of constant change. It was one of the TED talks I watched this week over my home office lunch, my 30 minutes of daily inspiration. With that video I want to close today’s post – because essentially it says it all, and I wish I could spend one dinner with Jim to talk about his talk.
A couple of weeks ago, I’ve worked on an executive briefing on my experience with internal digitalisation in large corporations. Based on my work in industrial manufacturing, insurance, pharmaceutical and professional services environments, this is my collection of
Motivation for internal digitalisation
Challenges that companies experience along the way
The role leadership & management has to place in digital transformation
It’s important to say, that not all aspects apply to each company but it’s quite striking how many aspects of motivation & challenges a lot of companies have in common…
As a coach my goal is to work not just for but with people. A genuine interest in the emotional state of others is an essential part of what I do. To sharpen my empathy radar and to improve my ability to observe how others feel in a particular situation, I’ve started my journey into mimic resonance training (in German Mimikresonanz).
Identifying an emotion in someone’s face should not be confused with mind reading, trickery or lie detection. The TV series “Lie to Me”, while highly entertaining to watch if you’ve started to train Facial Action Coding yourself, has undoubtedly contributed to some such confusion on the subject.
The deeper purpose of mimic resonance as a methodology for acting on empathy however, goes way beyond unveiling a lie.
Communication for the benefit of the relationship
In business – and undoubtedly in private lives – communication is too often a one way street, the sending of a message. But if the effectiveness of communication is your objective, simply “getting it out there” isn’t enough. How a message is perceived, what recipients have understood and how the words resonate with the audience are key to ensuring a communication goal is really achieved.
The ambition to formulate a message with little room for interpretation is certainly a good start. Conveying a message face to face theoretically allows us to actually see how the content resonates with the other person.
In the age of digital communications, the face to face option is often missing, leaving our empathy radar more or less blind. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to develop a way to create feedback loops for the digital world – perhaps with emoticons. But for the moment, this form of improving communication and ultimately relationships rests firmly on the premise that we do not replace personal interactions completely with digital ones but rather the two complement each other.
Sharpening the radar for visual feedback, before taking action
I’m thoroughly convinced that it’s essential to remove guessing games from interpersonal communication and to do whatever we can to sharpen our observations of non verbal feedback in any face to face situation.
Mimic is built into us as humans. It’s there from birth and it is scientifically proven that expressions in our mimic are universal across all cultures. It’s a truly reliable indicator for our emotional state as human beings.
But the real challenge is in learning to resonate on what you observe in someones mimic. As opposed to the “mind reading” (I know what you’re thinking) angle, observing a particular mimic, identifying it, and matching it to the respective emotion is essential. But questioning that emotion, its origin and cause is paramount to real understanding. Any sort of unfounded interpretation can easily lead you down the wrong path.
Remove obstacles in times of change
The training I’ve started will improve my ability to observe what’s happening right before my eyes and how to react to it. My goal is to sharpen my sense of people’s emotions and my skills to find the right words for the situation at hand.
Equipped with that, I will be even better positioned to help companies answer key questions in change and digital transformation scenarios:
Have people understood the WHY to our journey ahead?
How do people feel about the changes affecting themselves and their teams?
Are our teams confident and committed to their role in the process?
Is our leadership model authentic and does it resonate with the organisation?
Will our work deliver value for the people, employees and customers alike?
While working on a series of articles for a client (<— #braggingmoment), I’ve stumbled across an intriguing question: who’s actually in charge of keeping an eye on middle management and their needs and role in digital transformation?
Bam! You’re now a coach.
Flat hierarchies, agile teams and distributed accountability – the new world of organising information and knowledge work. Leadership doesn’t get tired of preaching a “new togetherness” and how the own network of expertise and experience will blow the competition out of the water. More and more employees ask for flexibility and freedom to do their job whenever, from wherever and with whatever – and that’s not exclusive to Digital Natives or Generation Z.
The middle (or operations) management, however, only finds itself in foot notes and at the bottom of a bullet point list. From there they learn that task based management is out of date and how too much control & conquer will suffocate creativity and corporate culture.
They find their new roles described as coaches and guides to their teams. Most of the time description ends on exactly that level, though. But what does it mean to be a coach? What will they be guiding people through and how will good guidance be determined?
Change management must not be exclusive to the employee level
To give change a positive and long lasting effect on corporate and collaboration culture, middle managers need help with their role transformation as well. It’s not fair to expect that they just adapt to a completely upside-down environment and adjust their style of working and managing based on gut feeling and best effort.
No matter how non-hierarchical or flat a company structure is, there will always be a certain group of people who are accountable for overseeing performance and results. Leadership cannot be at the stern and at the same time have an eye on every functional crew member of the ship. At least that’s my humble opinion, and I am aware that there are a lot of other voices out there.
Middle management has to be part of the active change management in an organisation – in the role of recipient and as shapers.
Their WHY needs to be adjusted to the new system and provide them with motivation and means to transform their purpose
Their HOW might require a change of skills and perspective, when it comes to rather leading than managing people and objectives – even if they are very operational
Their WHAT will probably be determined in a more dialogue fashion – with both, leadership and employees
Additional thoughts on this, anyone?
*** Promotion ***
Interested in my checklist for change? Check out my recent blog post or go directly to the Digital Sherpa checklist here…
The inspiration for this blog post comes from “Hidden Brain“, an NPR podcast series. One of the latest episodes in the You 2.0 series, Check Yourself, is about the history and the impact of using of checklists in aviation and surgery.
While listening to the podcast, I realised a similar pattern of “we know what we’re doing and we are in-line with everyone involved” attitude in a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past. This attitude, however, is not rooted in arrogance or ignorance, but in the confidence in professionalism, dedication and motivation of the surrounding system.
I believe, that – like in aviation and surgery – it could be beneficial to ask some fundamental questions before embarking on the journey of a digitalisation project or program. At least it’s my experience that in a lot of cases, the ticks in the boxes were what was missing in the foundation for joint success. Too many initiatives lack stability or credibility simply because of a lack of alignment and transparency.
Just recently I’ve added a little “Digital Sherpa in a Nutshell” section to my website. Based on the four key dimensions of my work as a coach, I’ve created a little checklist, that I’d like to share with anyone interested out there.
Today I might have found the answer to why motivation away from something (e.g. a concrete constraint) seems to work better than the motivation towards something (e.g. a vision or new idea)…
I’ve recently decided to get certified as a trainer for mimic resonance (English introduction to the concept on the MDI training website) and attend a course at the Eilert Academy. As part of my studies, I came across some findings on motivation in the context of personality types.
What I never had really figured out, was the root cause for why one seems to be more effective than the other. Now: in his book, Dirk uses a model to describe certain personality types in the context of the attempt to decipher mimics:
Comment: My reference to the conditioning of people as preservers or thinkers is based on my experience how people act at the work place. It’s not a generalisation in terms of personality types and of course influenced by the cultural environments I’ve worked in.
Later on, Dirk then elaborates on “motivational direction” (Orig. “Motivationsausrichtung”) of the four personality types:
Entertainers & Doers are primarily motivated TOWARDS something.
Preservers & Thinkers are primarily motivated AWAY from something.
(Translated from source: Dirk W. Eilert, “Mimikresonanz”, p. 154)
That’s when it clicked for me…
My experience with the effectiveness of motivation and leadership might be rooted in the personality structure of most organisations.
Today’s hierarchies and operational structures have prevented the development of Entertainers (yes, we need those!) and Doers (no, we don’t have enough of them). Too many people are pushed into Preserver and Thinker roles and act accordingly.
That’s why motivation for change and progress has to point in the right direction to take effect: AWAY from challenges, hurdles, constraints and disfunction. Vision statements, promises of a bright future and the outline of “new ways of working” simply don’t resonate with the target group. At least not yet…
I’ve worked in and for big organisations and I’ve witnessed the attempt to introduce less hierarchical and more “agile” organisations and ways of working. While it had worked in some places and projects, in a lot of instances the approach left me with the impression that the concept of agile (proudly stolen from software development) had been interpreted slightly wrong.
As a guest author for Smile Communications (London) I’ve collected my thoughts in a short blog article:
With less hierarchy and governance, companies want to become more agile. The goal is to tear down internal borders, encourage collaboration and be one step ahead of market and competition. Modern digital work tools are supposed to support and nurture this borderless way of working and thinking.
Start-ups get all of this engrained in their DNA from the beginning. Existing businesses have to reverse engineer the process and re-invent themselves. In this, the idea of “agile” often gets misinterpreted and people are left without framework, ground rules and the True North for wherever they are heading.
In this article I want to share my experience from my work in the triangle of leadership, organisational development and technology. (…)
Successful organisational change in a digital workplace experiment
What happens, if you really question the norm? What happens if you set a few ground rules for internal digitalisation that require leadership, a non-hierarchical organisation and cloud technology to meet somewhere in the middle? What happens if you dare to adopt evergreen technology at full scale in a highly compliance driven environment?
You definitely get a case study that’s exciting to talk about, no matter what…