Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group

Friday, April 23, 2010

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Listen to Respond or Listen to Understand?

Whether coaching leaders or talking with groups about leadership and conflict, I often ask the question, “How frequently are you listening in order to respond?” In group settings, it’s amazing to see how many people nod, and somewhat abashed, acknowledge that listening to respond is what they normally do. So I ask you, in the last interaction you had with a boss, co-worker, partner or child, were you listening to respond or listening to understand?

In this newsletter, we’ll contrast listening to respond with listening to understand and outline some steps you can take to increase your influence and change relationships.
Listening is something we do when we are not talking.
Conversation is like tennis; it’s important to keep the ball moving and to win the point.
“You’re not listening.”
Looking up from the computer, “Yes, I am.”

Consider meetings you've attending and interactions you’ve had today; how much do the statements above describe you?

Now turn the question around, how much do those statements describe the other person(s) in the interaction? If the answer is a lot; how did that make you feel?

Many of us spend a lot of time hearing (possibly), but little time listening. During the course of a conversation, we are reacting, thinking about the next thing we are going to say, pondering whatever is going in our lives, looking for an opportunity to volley back the ball of the conversation or for an opportunity to score a point. The problem is that while we might keep the conversation afloat, the other person doesn’t necessarily feel heard, or worse, we’re set on scoring with an answer that was incomplete, off the mark or even destructive.

Now listening to understand can be hard work, so why bother? Think about a time when you were really heard, what do you think about the person who took that time? Do you respect them? Were they influential? Did you seek to avoid (or repair) conflict with them? True listeners may build deeper relationships, or they may just build better solutions; either way, they usually command greater respect and influence.

Listening to Understand
1. Choose to master your own emotions so that you can listen.
2. Know that the other person is interesting and set yourself a goal of learning what makes them so.
3. Remove your filters – notice what you are already believe about this person and let it go.
4. Ask thoughtful questions that
* Show that you are paying attention
* Move the conversation forward
* Challenge the other person to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.
5. Restate what you are hearing – the words, the feelings and the beliefs – and seek confirmation that you are hearing correctly.
6. Think before you speak (and not while you are listening).

You might argue that there’s too much to do to spend extra time listening. The challenge to you might be, how could you do this with the same amount of time (or even less) and have better relationships and relationships?

Please comment on this article, share your experiences, and give your suggestions around listening to understand.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

When Leaders Resist

In December I attended a workshop on Creating a Lean Culture. The focus of the discussion was on what Toyota has done to establish a culture of continuous improvement in its operations. While Toyota has developed a unique culture (despite the recent recalls), it is difficult to translate the Toyota Way into other organizational contexts. This is particularly true for the companies that are implementing Lean or Six Sigma concepts in existing, reasonably successful companies or operating units. Yet the question among the workshop attendees was often not “What should we be doing?” but rather, “What do you do when a leader resists?”

It often appears and it’s certainly conventional wisdom that whether the change in lean, six sigma, a new IT system, or a benefits change, some leaders and managers will resist the change. When it’s the successful, seasoned mid-level leaders, it can be extraordinarily difficult to bring them around. This article speaks to a few strategies that can prove useful in breaking down the resistance and inviting these leaders to join the change. While the example is a lean implementation, I encourage you to rewrite this story with the change that is underway in your organization.

Meet Larry. Larry is a plant manager. He’s been at this facility for 15 years, the last 7 as plant manager. He’s successfully managed or led the plant through capital projects, labor negotiations, environmental incidents, seasons of sold-out production and full line shutdowns. The plant safety scores are continuously improving and he regularly meets his cost reduction targets. Larry is well-respected at his plant, within in his community, by his peers and by the business head. Having outlived most of the corporate programs, he’s expecting to do it again with this change.

Larry’s a smart guy. He’s joined the tours to “best practice” facilities. He’s read the articles. He’s listened to the successes, challenges and failures of his colleagues who’ve moved forward with the changes. He doesn’t argue that it won’t work. He doesn’t block the consultants from running their workshops. He even gives one of his people, perhaps not one of his stars, the role of project lead, and dutifully reports at the quarterly reviews the work that is going on at the plant. Yet everyone knows that that little is actually happening.

Larry may be someone you know, or you may need to influence people like Larry. I invite you to read the rest of this article to identify some strategies for working with Larry. If none of its working for you, or you’ve lost patience, give me a call and we can talk about how I can I support you in developing new strategies, or I can work directly with Larry in moving through the change.

As mentioned before, Larry is smart guy and he’s seen and heard all of the evidence. Nonetheless, as organizations frequently made up of engineers and accountants, we fall back on trying to move him with either 1) evidence or 2) management “persuasion”. Consider how ineffective solid evidence is in changing many behaviors, such as, flossing, exercise, smoking, speeding, etc. While evidence of the value of a change is critically important, the most compelling evidence to a person if what they experience. Larry’s evidence is that he’s been successful, is successful, and believes that he knows how to continue to be successful. Furthermore, Larry knows that his past success has involved avoiding these “passing fads”.

Before considering useful strategies, we want to begin with recasting the resistance. In 1999, Dent and Goldberg in “Challenging A Resistance to Change” argue that accepting the conventional wisdom that people naturally resist change leads to counter-productive behaviors. Instead of looking at ways to overcome resistance (read more in my last newsletter) , we’ll explore ways to influence behavior.
  1. It’s too big, too much or unclear. Look to the success stories to identify for the “vital behaviors” – the smallest set of behaviors that will have the greatest impact. These are not thoughts, values, or qualities, but the very few “must do’s” that done consistently and persistently will lead to change. For more on Vital Behaviors see Influencer by Patterson, Grenny, et al.
  2. People resist loss, not change. In the SCARF model suggested by David Rock (Your Brain at Work), apparent resistant may come from feared changes in Status, Control, Autonomy, Relatedness, or Fairness. Explore and acknowledge what people may lose. Once the fears are identified, opportunities arise to address the fear, alter the change to minimize the impact, or allow the person to set aside the fear and proceed.
  3. Unclear alignment with personal goals. Support people in uncovering their goals and how the change fits in with them. Perhaps Larry is motivated by seeing teams get energized – show how your change will make that happen. Maybe Larry wants to keep things quiet until retirement, so taking a risk and working hard isn’t motivating; can he see this as leaving a legacy? Spend time on the values, goal and purpose looking for the places of alignment.
  4. “You’re not listening.” Ford and Ford in Harvard Business Review April 2009 remind us to look at resistance as feedback. Focus on the purpose of the change and invite discussion, engagement, involvement and even refusal as you refine the change effort.
  5. Plan for a marathon, not a sprint. New behaviors are often not easy and take time to become comfortable. People will experience challenges from others and from existing systems, and so need ongoing support. Unexpected roadblocks will arise. Build support teams, provide regular communications, celebrate what’s working, and add fun into the change.
It often seems like most people are not wired for change; yet the reality is that we are marvelously equipped to accept, adapt to and adopt change. It is a reality of all elements of our lives – in our homes, in our family life, in our education, in our careers, in our economics, in our jobs. We may not always respond rationally to a change, but then doesn’t that in itself, give us clues on what strategies may begin to influence behavior.

For help working with leaders who are (apparently) resisting change, send me an email at Sherry@ReadSolutionsGroup.com or leave a comment on the posting.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Four Rooms of Change

I had the opportunity to listen to Kenny Moore, the Monk from "The CEO and the Monk" speak. He introduced the "Four Rooms of Change Theory" developed by Claes Janssen. While similar to other change models, this one offers some imagery that may be useful in conversations with managers. As with all models, it has some limitations.

The premise is that all systems - individuals, teams, communities, organizations - live in a within a space of four rooms; often referred to as a 4 room apartment. The rooms within this apartment are Contentment, Denial, Confusion and Renewal. According to Moore, people move from one room to the next when 1) they are ready, 2) life invites them, and 3) reality kicks them.

When we look at this model in the context of organizational change, its very simplicity enables its use with management teams. It is easy to relate each room to life experiences, as Janssen and his collaborators have done.

What makes the model interesting for these discussions is the premise that people move of their own accord. As leaders, we can not push, pull, threaten or entice people from one room to the next. We can, however, work to "keep the doors open".

As we look more deeply at this model, we begin to notice the following questions:
1. How do people behave in each room?
2. What are the most effective leadership tools aligned with the behaviors each room?
3. If every room is a necessary part of the change, what is the value of each room?
4. Is there a way to "decorate" or light each room that makes it a safe place?
5. How do we keep the doors open? Are there different strategies for different rooms?
6. What organizational systems and structures keep doors open? Which ones shut doors?
7. Is it true that the best thing that leaders can do is keep the doors open, and not push, pull, threaten or entice?

If you've used this model, I invite your comments and thoughts. I'll use future blog posts to delve into my questions.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

People resist loss, not change

So much is written about why employees resist change. Yet it takes little time to find research supporting the concept that resistance is an interpretation of the situation from the eyes of the change agent. In fact, most people recognize that change is inevitable - a reality of life.

What people might resist is loss - loss of status, loss of certainty, loss of control, etc. Or perhaps they are mistrustful - whether of the message or the messenger.

What will the change agent see when they expect resistance to change? What will they miss when they focus their efforts on overcoming resistance to change?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creating Catalysts

Would you like to see your leaders creating breakthrough shifts in how the work is done? Would you like to see them consistently and naturally drawing together teams from all parts of the business to develop new and creative solutions? Would you like to see your leaders developing new ways for people to work together? Would you like to see your leaders routinely evaluating their own assumptions and working to understand the work through differing perspectives?
Leaders who operate in these modes are Catalysts … catalysts for change. Whether driving LEAN manufacturing through an organization, moving into new markets, or integrating acquisitions, Catalysts have grown beyond the Achievers in their ability to bring people together to move a vision into reality.

In the preceding postings, we have been exploring a competency model for leadership outlined by Joiner and Josephs in their recent book “Leadership Agility”. This newsletter will look at the implementation of Lean manufacturing system to point out the differences in how Achievers and Catalysts might approach the same work. We’ll end by identifying development opportunities that can be used to support competency development to the Catalyst level.

Consider the premise that there is always a way “to create more value with less work.” That is the basis of the process management philosophy exemplified by the Toyota Production System and now described simply as Lean (reference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing). Let’s see if we can contrast how Lloyd, an Achiever, and Susan, a Catalyst might proceed in leading a Lean implementation.

Lloyd is energized by the opportunity to lead the Lean transformation team for his organization. He believes strongly its philosophies and practices. He’s got a proven track record of being able to diagnose and resolve problems with innovative solutions. He knows that the key to his success will be in persuading others that Lean is a key to the future of his organization.

Susan is fascinated by the successes some companies have achieved with Lean. She’s also been exploring what sets apart the best from those that aren’t succeeding. She knows that the tools and structures are important, but has recognized that the key to success is in establishing a clear vision and then getting people from all levels of the organization involved. Susan has seen that if she can create a new way of working together, people will feel excited, empowered and energized. But she also knows that there will be a lot of different opinions on the value of lean and how to implement it. She is looking forward to getting the conflicts out on the table so that the best solutions arise.

Three months into the project Lloyd is noticing that the Purchasing group is routinely not following through on their team commitment. He knows that his conversation with the Purchasing Director will be pivotal. Before the meeting, Lloyd meets with his coach to prepare for this conversation. Lloyd’s coach helps him get clear on the outcomes he is seeking and the relationship he wants to have with the Purchasing Director. In the meeting, he is able to gain a better perspective on the challenges in Purchasing, while reminding the Purchasing Director of the management attention this project is getting. He leaves with agreement to Purchasing will live up to their commitments.

While initially engaged in the work, Susan is noticing that the production planning group is resisting some of the initiatives. In reflecting on an earlier conversation with the Production Planning Manager, she realizes that neither of them really opened up about their differing priorities and there was no real commitment; in fact, the conversation created more distrust. Susan knows that she needs to lead the Lean implementation – it’s not negotiable – but that she needs to be looking for collaboration in the solution. Susan has learned that in the upcoming conversation that she’ll need to be explicit with her key priorities and assumptions throughout the conversation, and that she’ll need to be asking the questions to learn about the priorities and assumptions in Production Planning. With awareness of her own intent and behavior throughout the conversation, Susan was able to find opportunities for joint problem solving.

Lloyd is pleased to get some feedback from his management and HR that he’s really grown into his role as a manager. His team meetings are well attended and include a comfortable balance of information sharing and problem-solving. He’s finding that he can back away from troubleshooting specific problems and spend most of his time motivating his team members, providing support, breaking down barriers, and keeping everyone moving together.

Susan believes that the best solutions come from exploring a variety of perspectives, but is concerned that her participative approach will be seen as too “soft”. With the encouragement of her coach, she has begun to experiment with her team meetings in order to find a balanced power style. She works at encouraging discussion that examines issues from different perspectives. Her team is learning that sometimes she is looking to strengthen her idea, sometimes she is looking for new ideas, sometimes she negotiate a compromise within the team to keep things moving forward, and sometimes she lets her team have their way. She is realizing that valuing input is not the same as giving up her authority to decide the direction. She also finding ways to delegate leadership to people within her team and seeing this is accelerating their development.

Reflect on the stories of Lloyd and Susan. Who would you rather have working for you? Who would you rather have as a boss? Which organization will achieve the greatest transformation?

The Catalyst level is a natural extension of the Achiever. The Achiever can be counted on to deliver results with a focus on solving the current problems and involving others through persuasion. The Catalyst is at a stage in his career when he sees the personal and organizational value in stepping out of the old ways of doing business, in building a participative team, and in finding creative ways to develop his direct reports.

To develop an Achiever to the Catalyst level, coaching will focus on the following areas:

  1. Deepening awareness of beliefs, values, and assumptions about yourself and others
  2. Discovering the interest in and value for helping others succeed
  3. Finding out what’s important to other people and connecting with it to make a difference for them
  4. Shifting from motivating and directing others to coaching and training
  5. Involving others in collaborative problem solving
  6. Increasing self-awareness in the moment, and learning how to adjust feelings and behaviors throughout interpersonal interactions
  7. Seeking and incorporating feedback into personal development

For more information on how Sherry L. Read, Principal and Executive Coach, Read Solutions Group works with developing and senior leaders to raise their competencies, contact Sherry at Sherry@ReadSolutionsGroup.com.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Achievers

The last posting described the Expert Leader in the following way:

The Expert Leader is a strong, tactical problem-solver; someone you love to have
on your team. You can depend on them to get the job done day after day. Yet the
Expert Leader is often so focused on being seen as right that they forget to
look at the bigger picture, or to bring other people along with them.

The Achiever combines leadership with technical capabilities in order to play on a bigger field. Let’s follow Mary from the last newsletter, on her career path to Regional Sales Manager. A few months into the job, Mary feels as though she has never worked harder in her life. There seem to be challenges with every client, personnel issues that are not being addressed, and errors being with the customer accounts. She says that she has no problem with delegation, yet it seems as though nothing is ever quite good enough for her. She wants to have real team meetings, but can barely find the time to get the work done. While Mary has been promoted, at this stage, her leadership skills remain at the Expert level.

Believing in Mary’s potential, her boss hires an executive coach. In reflecting on her desires for her leadership style, Mary tells her coach that she wants to create an environment where her team is both challenged and motivated, and where she can work on broader issues. With the support of her coach, Mary begins to schedule biweekly team meetings with the agenda focused on the key projects she has identified that will support sales throughout the region. She is seeing opportunities to use her team’s initiatives to change the sales process for the division. Mary is disciplining herself to listen more, use more questions than answers, and to choose the times when she makes the decision. Mary is making the shift to Achiever Level Leadership.

At the Achiever Level, leaders spend an increasing time delivering organizational outcomes versus solving discrete problems. They see their priority as delivering on the mandates of senior leadership and other stakeholders. The Achiever motivates his team by focusing on the larger objectives, inviting discussion, creative and healthy debate. He shifts his emphasis from managing tasks to managing people. This latter shift requires the Achiever to become more skillful and comfortable engaging in crucial conversations.

Coaching at the Achiever Level

Build self-awareness and intent: Challenge the developing achiever to explore their experiences and strengths. Ask for reflections on personal growth – “How are you changing? How are you still the same as in earlier periods of your life?” Ask the Achiever to investigate how their actions reflect their values and beliefs. Inquire into the discrepancies between stated values and observable behaviors. Support the Achiever in building a coherent set of values and beliefs that will support their development as leaders.

Develop a breadth of perspective: The Achiever develops the ability to look at problems through an adjustable lens - zooming in and out on problems – looking forward and back, over short and long intervals. Invite the Achiever to envision a range of possibilities, to be open to “a right answer” rather than “the right answer”. Encourage the Achiever to analyze situations for patterns and to use this learning to find new ways to solve old problems. Notice that the Achiever, while aware of bias and error, will still depend heavily on their own sources of data and experience, and can become quickly closed to other perspectives.

Use your team: The Achiever focuses more energy around motivating others, rather than giving orders. Question the Achiever on how she is using team meetings. – are they being used to gain buy-in and test their own ideas, or is the Achiever using the meetings to cast a wide net for new ideas? Is the team truly supportive of the leader’s direction or are there concerns and opportunities being left unsaid?

Tackle the crucial conversations: Coach the Achiever to explore the areas where they are holding back. The authors of Crucial Conversations tell us that these are conversations where the stakes are high, emotions may be high and there is an expectation of opposing opinions. Learning and practicing skills, employing them with all stakeholders, and growing with each experience is key to developing through this level.

Achievers are the key to leadership at many organizations today. They are strong at outlining their vision for an organization, at rallying the troops and executing on outcomes. They explore the landscape for changes in strategy, let go of the day-to-day, and are motivated by the success of the organization. Focusing on the behaviors above will enhance the success of the Achiever.

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