As the so-called field of change management in a business environment has become increasingly specialised over the last couple of decades, many businesses have ascribed (some would say abdicated) responsibility for 'change programs' to a crop of professionals whose sole purpose is to manage change. We've come to know these experts as change agents.
Perhaps a dedicated change agent has mastered the concepts and theory behind effective change management, but in almost every case, we believe that such a focused role is not only unnecessary but an ineffective use of business time and resources. It ultimately doesn't work because in order for change to be implemented effectively and sustainably, the people managing the process must have a solid, preexisting relationship with the people they're selling it to. And facilitating change is a sales process! This relationship allows for communication to be tailored to the individuality of a team and its people: What impact will the change have on them? How will they react to the change? Why might they resist it? What will motivate them to embrace the change? What information will they need about the change? Why is the change happening? The list goes on.
Can a dedicated change agent, with little to no experience with a team, be able to anticipate the answers to these questions? At a superficial level, maybe... but in the long run it won't be adequate. In order for the communication and actioning of the change (the important bit) to really stick, it must come from and be followed up by those who know the people the best – their line management. Managing change is the leadership responsibility of every manager, not a simple task to be either delegated or abdicated.
There's another reason why a dedicated change agent can't replace what comes with a preexisting relationship: As we established in our blog on how to manage resistance to change, the process is most effective when managers get their people involved from an early stage, in part because it offers them the opportunity to bring their creativity to how the change is introduced. A famous football coach once defined creativity (in business) as "having the ability to understand the forces impacting on us and then being able to utilise those forces as a means to reach our objectives." Only a manager with an established relationship with their people will deeply understand what those forces are.
We generally reject the notion of a dedicated change agent – someone who swoops in at senior management's beckoning, unilaterally introduces a change program and then goes on to the next. How can they possibly know how to best communicate with the team and then consistently follow it up? People respect what we in management inspect, not simply what we expect, which is why follow-up is so critical... and why this issue of driving change generates so much lip service. After all is said and done, more gets said than done! And that's exactly why every manager and leader must be regarded as a change agent. By leveraging their relationships while working with their team, they can introduce, sell and facilitate the change seamlessly, effectively and more quickly.
Posted: 31/05/2011 4:50:37 PM
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Talking to a friend the other day, she expressed frustration about a manager who had recently taken on many of her responsibilities and tasks without explanation. Confident it had nothing to do with her performance, most in the office thought the manager was doing this because he didn't believe his regular managerial work was providing him with enough visibility in the organisation; to him, his perceived value went hand in hand with directly producing visible results. Then it emerged that he was going through some significant personal financial issues, thus compounding these irrational actions! (As we cover in our list of good leadership characteristics, this is an important reason why managers need to be financially stable.)
Whatever the reason for the manager's actions, my friend was frustrated because any tasks that were taken away from her would only diminish her opportunities to contribute to the business – and it was from this contribution that she believed her value was measured. Unfortunately, her manager seemed to believe that his value was also measured by completing the same tasks.
Because management's purpose is to create an entity that will function in their absence – thus affording them the time to focus on leadership that will yield innovation, growth and results – they must be measured not by how badly their people and team need them but instead by what their people can do without them. Clearly this manager has no idea what he is (or should be) accountable for!
Any time there's confusion about how contributions are judged within a company, leadership is required to act on it or else the problem will continue in perpetuity... that is, until the business fails. And in the absence of anyone else taking the initiative, it's up to you to manage up.
How can you manage up in a situation such as this? Try going to your manager and asking for clarity on how they're measuring your performance: What are the drivers? What are the key elements? What are the KPIs? With this information in hand (and assuming that you're performing as expected), there's no harm in asking your manager why they're performing part of your job. This may create some awkwardness at first, but eventually it will lead to positive dialogue and lay the foundation for a better working relationship, one in which you maintain control of those tasks on which your performance is measured.
With the realisation that they've been stepping on your toes, your manager may then begin to question how they're managing, and hopefully feel compelled to reevaluate their own role and priorities. Of course this isn't how the process should work, but if no one else is acting to address this confusion, it's incumbent upon you to at least try to initiate this "trickle up" effect.
Managing up in a case like this is clearly far from easy to do. A candid and open conversation with your manager is often wrought with complexities, and to influence your manager to reevaluate their own activities will be even more difficult. But with a good dose of straightforward openness, it can be done. The potential cost of doing nothing (and allowing things to continue as they are) is far, far greater.
Posted: 24/05/2011 4:22:44 PM
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Last month we looked at how much time managers should devote to poor performers and concluded that you can't simply rely on superficial judgments and rules to dictate any plan of action. The topic got me thinking about the other extreme amongst personnel in organisations, the top performers, and what managers must understand when working with them.
Throughout our 40 plus years of experience working in organisations, we've observed far too many managers and leaders who only recognise top performers. In fact, it's one of the "fatal errors" that we warn managers to be alert to in our management training program. Why can this be such a costly error? The hardest workers in most companies are usually not the top performers. (For the most part, top performers do so well because the work comes easy to them!) Instead, the hardest workers in a company are often in a middle group of employees, wedged between the top performers and poor performers who, for different reasons, tend to receive the lion's share of a manager's attention.
Within this 'middle group', you may have the person who just started or the person who is trying hard to produce but isn't or the person for whom it's a daily challenge to develop the habits necessary for success. These people want to achieve and they deserve recognition also. It's a vital leadership input to sustaining their effort, without which there's no way they can ever attain success.
What sort of recognition should these employees receive? It doesn't need to be anything extravagant. Sure, your employees would love a bonus or some extra time off, but they'll appreciate something as simple as a handwritten note, something that lets them know that you appreciate the hard work they're putting in.
What are you doing at the moment to show appreciation to your people? Are you only recognising the top performers? Be sure to recognise this 'middle group', because depending on how they perceive your attention to the effort they're putting in, they can have a big impact on the organisation's success.
Posted: 17/05/2011 6:30:03 PM
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In a recent article on how to manage organisational change, we highlighted that in order to understand the change management process, managers need to appreciate that each of their people, regardless of how much tolerance for change they may have, will exhibit some resistance to it. Why is that? It's because people change only when they're dissatisfied with their present situation. However, for the most part, people usually think that their present is at least good or good enough. For example: "If I'm performing well, I'm comfortable and I'm being rewarded for the work I'm doing, what's in it for me? Why should I change?"
This presents an interesting dilemma for managers at innovative companies, especially when they're performing well. For the most part, their people don't just think that things are good – they think things are great! But to live up to their ideals and remain a market leader, innovative companies must remain in constant motion and drive change well before they experience any dissatisfaction with the present.
In a twist of irony, businesses that leave the innovation to others, who perhaps are happy to remain in the middle of the pack, may not face nearly as much resistance to the changes they introduce. That's because they tend to change only when it's forced upon them, when it's abundantly clear to everyone inside and outside the business that they must change to in order to survive. With a "me too" business strategy like this, people can often be begging for change!
So the inconvenient truth is that the most innovative and successful businesses must also be the most adept at managing resistance to change. Which of course leads to the natural follow-up question: How can organisations manage this natural human resistance to change?
The tact, too often employed in businesses, is to confront the resistance when it presents itself. However there's a better way. And that's to act before the resistance ever manifests itself by getting your people personally involved with the change from its infancy. When you give people ownership of the process, you give them the opportunity to buy in from the ground level. And so instead of seeing themselves as a powerless pawn in a process that maybe perceived as being forced upon them, they see themselves as an important contributor.
With ownership comes opportunities for self-discovery, through which people come to recognise and appreciate the three attributes required to embrace change: what is the change, why is the change being made and how is the change going to affect me – both professionally and personally?
When successfully implemented, this approach avoids wasted energy and resources. Instead, you'll find you have an organisation of change agents, ready and willing to be an integral part of the process.
Posted: 10/05/2011 4:59:50 PM
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Last month I read an article by Mary Jo Asmus, Are You Preparing Others to Function Without You?, in which Mary Jo relates a personal anecdote of going to a physical therapist with a leader's responsibility of ensuring "that your team can function without you." She ends with suggesting three activities – developing, mentoring and stretching others – which leaders can perform with their people as a means to reach this end.
For those familiar with Fortune's leadership development program, Mary Jo's line will undoubtedly sound very familiar. In discussing the responsibilities of management, Steve Brown says:
"Management at any level has one major purpose, and that is to create an entity that will function (and prosper) in our absence."
The way you rate a manager is not 'how badly do the people need the manager' but 'what can they do without the manager'. To create such an entity, we must develop and strengthen people. It's a basic, core concept, but one that many managers have difficulty appreciating, respecting and living up to.
For example, when we're facilitating leadership training sessions, we always take a morning break around 10/10:30. To participants, it's an innocent 15 minutes to relax, maybe get a coffee. But to us, it's a test that can gauge who has or hasn't done a good job of developing their people. The test is simple: Whoever calls their office flunks the exam. If they can't take time out to invest in 'creative time' then they haven't done their job! If they can't go so much as half a morning without the need to 'check' on their people, how can they ever expect them to function in their absence!
Unfortunately the reality is that it's easier said than done to make our people independent of us, not dependent on us, because as humans we have an emotional need to be needed. In fact, most of us have spent the majority of our lives working and causing people to become emotionally dependent upon us. We've encouraged our children or friends or spouse or partner to bring their problems to us. For those of you who've functioned in a sales role, it was actually your job to take care of the customer's problems. So when we find ourselves in management (usually by accident!), we want our people to bring their 'problems' to us. And because we have this tremendous emotional need to be needed we (often unwittingly) cause people to become dependent on us. Sometimes this need is so deep-rooted that many managers will create a problem just to feel needed!
By overcoming this emotional need to be needed, managers accomplish two things. First, as Mary Jo establishes, they can turn their attention towards supporting their people's growth and development, and accordingly that of the business. And second, managers afford themselves creative time – we like to call it "heads on" time (versus "hands on" time) – to think about how to improve and grow the business.
Managers: Do you feel that emotional need to be needed? Are you injecting yourself into your people's work too much, or perhaps taking over responsibility for many tasks at the first sign of a problem? If so, take a step back, place more trust in your employee's abilities, and empower them to act as they see fit. By doing so, you'll foster your people's growth and free up more time for yourself – time that can be spent strategising how you can continue to move the business forward.
Posted: 3/05/2011 6:38:33 PM
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