Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Surf the Change

VUCA is a great concept for organizations to adapt from the military. But we may want to adapt it even further.

Change in organizations these days is stressful, unending, relentless, and a fact of life. So how about SURF?

In 2012, I wrote that stress will continue to stay at a heightened level.

Why? According to news reports on the U.S. economy, hiring will be slow in 2012, and many employers are planning further headcount cuts. Workloads, however, are likely to keep going up. "Doing more with less" will continue.

This is the main driver of workplace stress! When you combine workloads, pressure, and time shortages, with uncertainty and chaos, much of it due to organizational change, watch out: stress will increase. As decades of stress research has taught us, the more stress, the greater the negative effects.

Should managers care? In short, Yes. Stress takes a big toll on employee engagement, on performance, and on health. In today's whitewater working environment, managers need to develop leadership capabilities for resilience in themselves and others.

What can managers do? In military schools, leaders are taught about VUCA, an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. VUCA environments, like many of today's hyper-stressed workplaces, demand much of those in leadership roles.

With VUCA as a framework, here are four more elements that I believe are key in today's workplaces:

Volatile - The more things change, the more the volatility that people have to deal with. As Holmes and Rahe taught us decades ago, change means stress. The more change, the more stress, the greater the danger. Managers and their teams need to toughen their change readiness capability to withstand such volatility.

Uncertain - In uncertain environments, predictability drops, and surprises rise. In such a climate, planning, organizing, and adaptability take on a critical importance for managers and their teams.

Complex - You know you are dealing with complexity when confusion and chaos become the norm. Many of the problems that teams face in today's organizations are truly complex. This means there are no obvious "low hanging fruit" solutions that they can quickly implement. Instead, managers and their teams need to learn new ways to think critically and creatively to solve the dilemmas they face.

Ambiguous - In the midst of chaos, a team needs the mental ability to maintain their "line of sight" toward their objective. Having a clear and compelling sense of purpose ('Where can I do the most good for the business right now?') helps to laser focus on the most pressing priorities.

As I write this, I am anticipating the Thanksgiving holiday later this week, followed by Christmas and the coming of a New Year. I think we need more help.

I think we need more. I think we need SURF:

Stress - What are you doing to manage the stress in your organization? Do you even know how stressed out people are, yourself included?

Unending - There was a time when change projects were "neat," having a beginning, middle, and ending. Forget about that now. These days, change is like a roaring flood.

Relentless - There is no end to it. Some management pundits preach the gospel of change. Jack Welch once said "Change before you have to." That is why we are where we are. Welcome to the new normal.

Fact of Life - If you don't want any part of it, good luck. Are there still monasteries where you can cut yourself odd from the world? If so, go and good luck.

The answer is to become a surfer of change. Surfers of big waves do something that most of us will never do. But there are lessons we can adapt. For example, Dr Elana Miller of Zen Psychiatry offers this wisdom:

"The ocean doesn't care about you. It is a force of nature that existed long before you were born and that will be around long after you. We operate under the illusion of control when so many of the most important things in life aren't even close to the realm of our control. When you release yourself from the illusion of control, you can relax. You can put in your best effort but let things turn out how they'll turn out. You can find moments of joy in the most simple things. So don't fight forces of nature. Ride them."

If you are a Manager right now, consider all of the above as a checklist for 2014. What do you resolve to work on to help your team cope with the stress and thrive in your organization?

Posted on Tuesday November 26, 2013 by Terrence Seamon, surfer of change

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Service Excellence and Leadership

Yesterday I was a guest speaker in Atlantic City at the 30th annual conference of the Association of Community Providers here in New Jersey. Their theme for this year's event was "Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities." The reason for this theme, and the focus of the convention, was Change. A great deal is changing in their industry. Ground-shaking change caused by the transition to "fee for service," as well as the Affordable Care Act.

While many of the other speakers were subject matter experts, I was asked to address leadership and service excellence. Here is a synthesis of the main points I shared.

S = Set the bar high. Customers in all segments, from banking to air travel to community care, are expecting more from their service providers. When customers have a choice of provider, the firms that set their bar higher and strive to raise their standards of quality, will gain the competitive advantage.

E = Establish the customer as the center of your dashboard. The late great Sam Walton once said There is really only one boss, the Customer, and he (or she) can fire every one of us simply by taking their business someplace else. Is your customer at the heart of all that you do?

R = Review your Mission. Everything you do should flow from it. Do all that you do with a sense of purpose. Especially with the customer in mind. Peter Drucker once said that the purpose of business is to create and keep the customer. That's it.

V = Vision & Values. What do you stand for when it comes to your customer? Taking care of your customers, creating solutions, fixing things when they go wrong, and making them feel cared about, noticed, well informed, reassured, and appreciated are the essentials. At British Airways they have this saying: "Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. "

I = Innovate & Improve continually. Remember the ABC of service excellence: Always Be Creating! New programs and new services come from continually seeking new ideas from your team and from other stakeholders.

C = Complaints are a gift. Though complaints are hard to hear at times, the unhappy customer is actually a great resource for service leaders with ingenuity. Bill Gates once said "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning" . . . and improvement.

E = Expect the best from yourself and your team. Utilize the power of positive expectations. "High expectations are the key to everything," Sam Walton once said. With positive expectations in mind and communicated to your team, you create the conditions most conducive to achieving your goals as an organization.

Which brings us squarely to the leader. Leadership is the number one success factor in service excellence and in organizational performance.

What should the service leader do?

L = Listen & Learn. Once the leader has communicated the direction that the team needs, she then must listen to them. Ask questions to get the discussion moving: What are your ideas? What can we do to improve? Then listen. And learn. One of the most powerful leadership skills available is listening. Truly listening, attentively, without distraction. You may hear some good ideas. Occasionally even a brilliant one. Listening is the best way to show respect to another person. And to honor the contributions they can make.

E = Empower your team. The key to your team's success is trust. Take the risk of letting go and giving some of your power to your people. That's essentially what the word 'empowerment' is saying. Yes, it's scary. It means giving up some control. But by making your staff stronger, you strengthen the whole organization.

A = Assist your team. If your resources are constrained and you are "under the gun" to produce results, you will need to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and pitch in. At the same time, however, be sure to make time in your weekly schedule to assess your team members. Acknowledge each on an individual basis. Appreciate the strengths each one brings to your organization and do your best to play to those strengths.

D = Delegate to develop your team. Organizations known for service excellence, like Disney, Southwest Air, and Costco, invest a lot in developing their people. Delegation of assignments and responsibility is a great way to develop others. Plus it empowers them to take on more, growing not only their skills but also their sense of ownership.

E = Equip and Enable your team. Leaders grow and strengthen their people. They do this by teaching and by coaching. Do your people have what they need to do the job and succeed? Do they work well together? Make time on a regular basis to strengthen them as a team by facilitating team building sessions. (Let me know how I can help you with that.)

R = Reinforce & Recognize. In today's change-filled environments, we all need constant reinforcement of knowledge just to keep up and anticipate what is coming next. Anyone who is doing their best in such a situation should be recognized and praised for their accomplishments.

S = Show that you care. The service leader shows that she cares about her people by sharing information and supporting them with flexibility. Bill Marriott once famously clarified the connection between leadership and customer service when he said Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.

So what do you think? Are you a service leader? How well do you measure up?

Remember what Warren Bennis said about leadership: Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality.

What does your customer want? Do you know? Have you designed your organization to deliver service excellence?

It's up to you.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday November 23, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

On Fearless Leadership

On LinkedIn, someone asked the question, What type of leadership is most needed by HR leaders?

Here's a type to consider: Fearless Leadership. I got the name from my colleague Bettina Neidhardt who used it as the title of her blog for a few years.

Without speaking for her, what I like about the idea of Fearless Leadership, especially for HR, is the idea of guts. How many HR leaders have you known in your career who had the courage to take an unpopular stand?

Here are a few more aspects of Fearless Leadership:

Have chutzpah: An HR leader has to have the chutzpah (Yiddish for insolent audacity) to speak truth to power and tell the emperor he has no clothes on.

Be true to your self: An HR leader has to stand for something. What are the values of the organization? What is HR's role in seeing to it that the values are referenced in all critical business decisions?

Don't let the SOBs get you down: During one's career, you will encounter people who resist change, who test everything, including your patience. Despite the career risk, Fearless Leaders will take the higher road and tell the naysayers where to go.

Have dash: Don't be timid. Take a chance. Be daring. Put yourself out there.

Such leaders know when it's time to shake the place up and even when it's time to give someone a good solid kick in the posterior.

And a Fearless Leader is not afraid to keep on learning. Figure out who you are in this life and develop yourself, your gifts, your skills. Stay in training. Never stop. Keep growing and challenging your self.

While the focus has been on HR, Fearless Leadership is not just for HR alone. It's for anyone in a leadership role who really want to make a difference.

Stephen Covey once said that "Leadership is a choice, not a position." But many choose not to lead. Rather, they look down at their feet and wait for someone else to stick their neck out.

Yes, leadership entails taking a risk. It takes courage.

Once my dad, a tough WW II veteran and a policeman, said to me, "Terry, You've got moxie."

Moxie is the ability to face difficulty with spirit and initiative. That's a key spice in the recipe for Fearless Leadership.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday November 18, 2013

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Transformational Change - Part 3

A talent acquisition pro was recently grilling me over the phone about my background and capabilities. She didn't know it but I was probably blushing as I "tooted my own horn" about my accomplishments in transformational culture change.

For some reason (maybe it's my destiny, or my reason for being), in my 30+ year-long career, I have often been "where the action is" for an Organization Development practitioner: that is, "in the eye of the storm" of Change.

Mergers. Acquisitions. Takeovers. Re-organizations. Turnarounds. Downsizings. And yes "Culture Changes" too.

I have been there and done that.

So, you may ask, What have I learned? Here are a few lessons from the front-lines of change.

Change is rough - Even when it's the sexy stuff, like leadership development, employee engagement, and culture change, change can be rough. Change always generates stress because it destabilizes things and creates uncertainty. You've got to become a sherpa so that you are skilled at navigating difficult terrain.

"The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines." - Fr. Richard Rohr

You've got to become a light to those who can't see the way.

Stay focused - Things can really start to swirl when you are in the midst of change. Like a typhoon. So to keep your head on, and your wits about you, you must stay focused. Focus can come from many sources. I've found it helpful to stay focused on the W's: Why are we changing? Where are we headed? What will we get when we arrive? A good set of questions gives you the map and compass you need to find your way.

Take care - As an OD professional, your Number One tool is yourself. So you have to stay sharp. Big change projects that go on for long periods of time can grind you down. So you must stay in good shape, physically yes, but also mentally and emotionally. Consider taking up Tai Chi Chih for instance as a way to maintain your balance and your serenity...and your sanity

Stay open - Additionally, you have to proceed through change "with your eyes wide open" so that you can see what is going on...and what may be coming at you. To that end, you have to keep your lines of communication open with the key people that you are engaging with.

Keep learning - Along the way in a change project, all kinds of you-know-what can happen. Setbacks. Shifts in direction. And fiascoes. The key thing when it comes to mistakes and failures in change projects is to learn! Continuous learning. Honest and open discussions around questions like "What happened? Why? What can we learn?" are critical.

I've often said that the most important credential for anyone in the Change Agent business is first-hand personal experience with it. Like being downsized and losing your job. There is no better way to learn about transition and transformation.

For more on this subject, get my book Change for the Better, available in paper and on Kindle.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday November 5, 2013