Friday, September 16, 2016

Five ways for leaders to overcome their fear of organizational change

Let's face it: organizational change is uncomfortable and it is one of the reasons that it does not happen often enough even when there is clear evidence that without it our organization will not go to the next level of effectiveness. In the many years that I served as an organizational leader I had to personally deal with this uncomfortableness. In my years of consulting I have watched leaders struggle with the implications of necessary change because of its impact on them and the comfort of the status quo.

Organizations that remain static today quickly find their effectiveness erode. Changes in the marketplace, the size of the organization, the need to break through growth barriers or the necessity of trying new strategies all require change and the first barrier that must be overcome is the reluctance of leaders to embrace it.

Why would organizational leaders not embrace change that can help their organization become better and more effective? Change is uncomfortable! It means that we must move from comfort to discomfort. It means potential changes to our "turf" and how we are used to doing things. It can impact reporting relationships and therefor the "politics" of the organization (and all organizations have politics). It requires us to think about our work differently and often more strategically. All of these factors make change uncomfortable and unless leaders are able to overcome their discomfort they can be the barrier to organizational growth and effectiveness.

How then do we overcome our discomfort to change? It really goes to how we think about our work and about change. 

First, it is OK to admit that change is simply hard. Often we resist change as leaders by arguing that it is not needed rather than just admitting that it makes us uncomfortable. Any major change needs to be prefaced by the fact that it will make us uncomfortable.

Second, we need to remember that our work is not about us but about the mission of the organization. If change is required to better fulfill our mission (and it will be) we embrace it because our commitment is not to our personal comfort but to the fulfilling of the mission of the organization. To resist change because of our own discomfort is to see our work as about us rather than about the mission we are committed to.

Third, we need to be willing to embrace uncertainty as to how the change will impact us. Here is another fact: There is uncertainty in change and until we get through the whitewater to the calm water on the other side we will need to live with uncertainty. But also recognize that our fears are rarely founded in reality: they are simply fears of the unknown that change brings. True leadership is about the ability to negotiate needed change for the good of the organization, not to guard our own comfort. Even when we try to understand the consequences of necessary change (which we should do) there will be implications that we do not foresee.

Fourth, as leaders we need to understand that change is good for us. It requires us to sharpen our thinking, our strategies, our assumptions and our ability to adapt to a changing world. Usually our resistance to change is about us while our willingness to embrace it is about the effectiveness of our work and the mission of the organization. Dealing with organizational change makes us better and sharper leaders.

Fifth, we need to think of change as innovation. That is what it is: innovation to increase our effectiveness. No company survives for long without innovation. If I view organizational change as a nuisance I will resist it. If I see it as innovation that will help the organization do what it does better I will more willingly embrace it. Innovation is always an ongoing process in any organization.

Notice that all of these five principles are about how we think about our work and our role as leaders. If we can change the way we think about change, that change will become easier.

Monday, September 5, 2016

How the internal quality of our organization impacts it bottom line results

I have had the opportunity on two occasions recently to interview the senior staff of business organizations. They were unusual in that they both had amazingly healthy cultures. Staff had collegial and cooperative relationships, they were focused on their mission, were innovative and were delivering results and serving customers in competitive markets. I gave them high marks for the engagement of their staff, their culture of results and the quality of their strategies. In both cases, the businesses were growing and their potential for the future was bright.

So why was I there? Because in both organizations there was a recognition that as well as they were doing, there were internal issues that if resolved could allow them to go to the next level of growth. These leaders recognized that the internal quality of their organizations had a direct impact on their bottom line results.

Think about this. In a flat world, everyone has essentially the same access to information. But that does not mean that all can deliver the same results. To the extent that we allow internal processes or culture to get in the way of what we do we compromise our effectiveness. So paying attention to the internal culture, relationships, processes and the inherent disconnects within the organization becomes a key component of ongoing success.

In my experience, there are three key factors that ought to be paid close attention to.

One: Relationships that are askew. When relationships between staff are strained cooperation, communication and innovation suffers. Solving relational disconnects impacts the whole organization as well as the ability to be all that the organization can be.

Two: Processes that could be more efficient. In the competitive environments we all work in this is a huge factor. Ironically, it is often in our times of success and growth that we ignore this factor because we don't have the time to focus internally with the work we are doing externally. Yet, focusing on our internal processes is the key to future growth and effectiveness. The goal of efficient processes is to drive wasted time, energy and money from the system and foster cooperation and efficiencies that will give us a competitive edge.

Three: The quality of our services or products. In a recent conversation, I discovered that service calls needed to be done on about one third of installations from a well known and successful home product supplier. Driving down such time consuming service calls would obviously make a difference to the bottom line as well as to customer satisfaction.

The key to all of this is developing a system for ongoing analysis of the internal culture, relationships and processes of an organization whether they be in the for profit or non-profit sectors. This presupposes that there is as much attention paid to the internal quality of our organizations as there is to the services we provide to external customers. The first directly impacts the second.