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Change2020 – a perspective one year on

Reflecting on one year as a consultant with Change2020 has been a happy experience… it’s hard to believe that it’s ‘only’ been 12 months.

For me the year has reinforced that the greatest learning we have is from each other. Although the opportunity in change is immense, the pathway to delivering outcomes is often complex. The only true formula to successful change is to drive broad ranging, relentless engagement and to be responsive to these discussions. I call it the change within the change, and successful change leaders are agile and recognise this nuance. Having worked with clients willing to adopt this mindset as part of transformational change has been to see genuine partnership, collaboration and courage. To shape a program and implement at the right time, with the right level of emotional investment, is a two-way process that involves a balance of intuition, judgement and ongoing adaptation. It is also an investment in trust and this is fundamentally the central premise of partnering in change.

Embrace ambiguity. The creation of this new Change2020 vision has been a very exciting development in our journey over the past 12 months. Embrace ambiguity is the essence of who we are as change consultants, but also much more than that. It’s the world we live in, the business context we operate within and a shared awareness amongst the people we talk with each day. To be able to genuinely live this vision is, for me, everything to do with leadership, change, strategy and engagement. Ultimately in any change program there are essentially a set of variables and a set of values – marrying the two together is the currency of change management and it’s not straightforward. To build the Embrace Ambiguity vision is the greatest opportunity in change for any organisation and one that we look forward to continuing to evolve.

Over the last year I have also met some truly fantastic people who have joined the Change2020 team and it has been inspiring to see our numbers double in size. These individuals bring diversity and perspective, and the exciting aspect has been the immediate alignment with our vision and values, and the collective recognition and connection that this has provided. These individuals live our story and talking about it really has been a lot of fun. (NB: We couldn’t do what we do without all of you).

Everything Change2020 does aligns with its core values and it drives a proposition that is focused on relationships and delivery. This is a point of difference that is very exciting and rewarding. It provides a working environment that genuinely respects and invests in individuality, and this has been the biggest change for me – to appreciate true authenticity.

To see change delivered is the ultimate learning experience as a consultant. The past year has reinforced that to listen, learn and adapt as needed is essential and, above all, just keep it real. Here’s to the next twelve months of working with amazing team members, clients, new clients and collaborators – and to embracing ambiguity.

The Challenge of Trust

Trust is Essential in Building Better Organisations

Trust is the currency of strong values, successful service delivery and great relationships.  Put simply, we work to build trust and break down barriers in order to transform organisations, teams and individuals. However, when the level of expectation between two parties differs it can lead to an inherent conflict of trust that is difficult to overcome. While this may seem straightforward, the question for leaders’ is: do we really demonstrate trust in our people, despite what we say?

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The Innovation Statement

The Innovation Statement: a new mindset for an era of ambiguity

Australia needs a significant shift in ideology when it comes to promoting innovation and entrepreneurialism, both essential to long-term economic growth. The Innovation Statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday was important to signify this inherent requirement to shift perspective in relation to our country’s future and welcome an ‘ideas boom’.  A more agile culture, a more nimble government and more tolerance towards risk, to capture but a few of the messages, aligns strongly with the business agenda.

Innovation is needed within organisations to create opportunities and differentiators for products and services by collaborating effectively and pushing boundaries in thinking. One commentator in the Australian Financial Review called yesterday’s statement the first intelligent set of policy initiatives to boost the innovation ecosystem that we’ve seen from government, noting that the real test now for Malcolm Turnbull will be how quickly he can turn these interdependent policy initiatives into law to create the ‘Ideas Boom’ that he spoke about. Part of the opportunity for businesses is to adopt a more entrepreneurial approach in the collective leadership mindset, one that is open to new ideas and accepts failure as a potential outcome and encourages debate and discussion.

Innovation and The Implementation of Change

Another key message relates to the link between innovation and risk, which is often a fundamental challenge towards the implementation of change.  As Ben Schulz, co-founder of Bastion Cycles, comments in The Sydney Morning Herald, innovation is really about managing risk.  He says “To have an idea is easy, to implement it is all about how much are you willing to risk to get it to market.” In reality, there is often a requirement upon leaders to make decisions in spite of a lack of cohesive information and in short timeframes. A willingness to take risks is central to agile leadership particularly given new priorities are emerging driven by an environment of complexity, uncertainty and rapid digital transformation.

Inevitably there will be questions about this announcement including the scale of investment and scope of impact.  However, one of the pillars of the Innovation Statement, and arguably the real call to action, is inspiration. Putting aside the skepticism, it is clear that the government is seeking to define a new leadership agenda and one that is weighted towards opportunity, change and creativity.

Leadership and Innovation

As advisors on change and leadership, this statement is a ‘sit back and think’ moment for leaders.  Ensure that you initiate discussions with your team on the culture you want to create and really engage your workforce around a discussion on innovation. Take a step back and challenge your own thinking to ensure that you have the discussion and feedback processes in place to ensure that all of your people have an opportunity to contribute. Formal or informal, the conversation needs to start, and now!  And remember, be agile and willing to change tack on the way – there is no silver bullet, but there are opportunities in ambiguity.


Performance Management

Performance management is an act of leadership, not a system.

Performance management has become one of the most pivotal features of organisational development in their pursuit of growth – and also one of the most controversial. A system, or not depending on your viewpoint, it is a strategic agenda where organisations often struggle between the balance of process versus engagement, and the end result is often a less than empowering experience for all parties involved. Whether it be a two-way dialogue, 360-degree feedback, online performance management or outsourced systems, chances are that as leaders’ we have all considered new ways of ‘doing’ performance management, often time and time again.  So much of the true value of performance management gets lost in this analytical aspect and the opportunity for organisations to actually drive results plays second fiddle.

The Disadvantage of Systemising Performance Management

Unfortunately, the systematisation of performance management has evolved in tandem with the increase in employment legislation in the workplace. We manage performance formally, at least in part, in order to ensure we can tick the boxes if something goes wrong.  In fact, we tend to evolve the ‘system’ because we need to ensure compliance and effectively manage risk, in as much as we like to ensure that our core products and services are up-to-date with current trends.  The paradox is that performance management is often the one big statement towards proactive, structured people development in an HR strategy, but at the cost of absorbing these compliance issues and creating cumbersome workloads, leading to confusion.  As a result, we have lost the art of what improving performance is meant to be about as a result of an overly systematised approach.

Role of Leaders in Developing Performance

Performance excellence through people will drive success and build the cultural DNA of an organisation. These are real differentiators and it absolutely starts with an engaged, focused and motivated workforce.  Developing performance is an act of leadership that needs to be imparted from everyone responsible for a team; the word management is misleading.  The real need in performance discussions is to provide ensuring clarity of vision and purpose and to deliver constructive, ongoing feedback.

Tips for getting the most value out of the discussion include:

  • A discussion! It is not a ‘tick and flick’ process
  • Develop leaders as coaches and equip them with skills of delivering constructive feedback in multiple scenarios;
  • Engage with employees about performance management to encourage buy-in and personal ownership of their role in the process – it is a two-way dialogue;
  • Remember that performance management is really about reflection and discussion, so keep this at the centre of the process, rather than the latest ‘trend’;
  • And last, but by no means least, keep the procedural aspects to a minimum and ensure they are simple and clear for all concerned.

Build a culture where regular conversations around performance are the norm rather than the exception.


Change Agility and Leading Change

Being Agile Amidst Constant Changes

Organisations are in a constant state of change, whether it be working towards ‘the big idea’ or the impact of multiple cycles of change taking place simultaneously (or more often than not, the combination of both).  These journeys provide real opportunities for innovation and growth.

Better Approach to Change Management

However, the implications of leading ongoing change mean that traditional models – the ‘linear’ approach to change management – are no longer working.  Ambiguity is the currency of ongoing change and necessitates a shift from focusing on the individual aspects of change, such as a new system or process to a constant state of readiness and adaptability, or in other words: change agility.

Change management is an approach to transition individuals, teams, and organisations to a desired future state. It is often viewed in a project management context where change is ‘an event’.  In contrast, change agility is a state of being, behaviour and a critical enabler.

Our traditional ways of thinking are concerned with judgement, but it is not our answers and solutions that need to define us – it is the way in which we think and critically assesses ideas that best supports us to be ‘change agile’.

Change agility looks like:
  • Being flexible and able to shift gears
  • Suppressing the need to control
  • Operating effectively with risk and uncertainty as a constant
  • Accepting that all the information is not going to be available
  • Trusting your gut and backing yourself in the face of the unknown or unexpected
  • Dealing with ambiguity and reducing the impact of ambiguity for your team

Building Change Agility

In order for leaders’ to build change agility, the first step is to adopt a growth mindset; one where the opportunities for improvement and is characterised by effectively coping with change, deciding and acting without having the total picture and comfortably handling risk and uncertainty. Studies show that with a growth mindset, people are more likely to focus on performance over time – where they were before, where they are now, and where they are headed.

As Kathryn Shulz so eloquently puts it in her TED Talk ‘On Being Wrong’ – being agile means you thought one thing was going to happen …. but something else happened instead (and you don’t fall apart as a result of it).


Storytelling and Leadership

Would you see Phantom of the Opera over 32 times? Bill Toner, CEO of CH&CO Group, once recounted the story of how he had done just that in order to build important client relationships. Not only was this tactic fruitful, Bill noted that he would gladly see the production 32 times again if it was what he needed to do to grow the business.  A simple but powerful story, not only for its factual impact, but also for the numerous occasions that it has been recounted since, particularly as an illustration of his leadership style.

To explain, inspire and build an organisation’s vision storytelling is undoubtedly an essential part of the leader’s toolkit.  It is an aspiration within many communication strategies and a key driver of employee engagement during times of change.  However, in our experience there is often a gap between this aspiration and reality.  Part of the reason for this is the simple fact that there is little time to reflect on individual leadership stories given the demands of a diverse business environment.  The other truth is that an understanding of leadership storytelling necessitates a willingness to take a personal leap of faith, as it requires a link between a story from the leader’s life and the outcome that they are seeking to achieve.

study from Harvard Business School, in which 125 leaders were interviewed, found that they did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success. Rather, their leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.

Storytelling makes you real. It tells how you have learnt, it tells of your development and it enables a view that you are not infallible, in fact, that you are a real person who has a lifetime of learnings to help craft the leader you are today.

The late James Strong, former CEO of Qantas, once said that “you have to be willing to put yourself at risk in the way you communicate and interact with employees.”  A quote that highlights a simple message: trust in leaders is essential and storytelling is an important part of this process. Often we look to our heroes outside of the business world for anecdotes and there is a compelling power in these. Martin Luther King Jr has inspired millions with this “I have a dream” speech on civil rights and he was a great man. But the real question is: how well do you appreciate the link between your life stories and the type of leader you are?

Some sensible and simple tips on the subject of leadership storytelling, from Steve Denning:

  • It must be authentically true
  • It must be positive in tone
  • It must be told in a minimalist fashion
  • It must be a story that contrasts ‘before and after’ the idea or change

Storytelling will help build acceptance for change, increase cultural alignment and drive engagement from employees. As leaders’ the first step in this journey is to connect personal experiences with the dream you want to create.

Engage, Engage, Engage

Establishing and Reinforcing Positive Emotions to a Successful Employee Engagement

If we are witnessing one transformation in the workplace it is the role of engagement as the single most important driver of successful change. Or, put another way, we are understanding the real risks of failing to engage with employees as part of change and the legacy issues that this creates. So why is there often a disconnect between the seemingly simplistic idea of engagement and the reality of workplace change? The answer lies in recognising the decisive role emotions play in employee engagement.

Establishing and reinforcing positive emotions is central to successful employee engagement. It provides a separation from ‘business as usual’ activities in order to reflect and understand the progress of change, with all of the emotive sensitivities that this brings. A leader’s ability to observe cues and responses supports the development of constructive interpersonal relationships.

4 Key Emotions Leading to Engagement

Research demonstrates that emotions are the principal drivers of employee engagement, with a study showing that the engagement level of employees who experience positive emotions is five times higher than those who experience negative emotions. The argument is that leaders should focus on building commitment by building involvement with a focus on interpersonal relationships. In addition to feeling valued the study found that there were four key emotions that lead to engagement:

  • inspired
  • confident
  • empowered
  • enthusiasm

So how can leaders build these emotions in their teams?

Great leaders operate with high levels of emotional intelligence and are equipped with compassion, empathy, and humility in order to place themselves in the shoes of others. They may not have all the answers but support and engage with their teams in spite of ambiguity. They also:

  • put themselves out there, they take the lead to solve problems and tackle issues;
  • build a vision around story-telling, consistent behaviour and an unwavering belief;
  • spend time with the troops, they ask questions, they sit and listen, they are a part of the team;
  • encourage others to take a risk, make a decision, promote an idea; and
  • are real.

All too often change is stifled or fails because of a lack of engagement and is a result of not anticipating the emotional impact of all decisions, even the apparently straightforward. There is a need for constant judgement and refining of the objectives of engagement, rather than assuming people are transitioning in accordance with a plan or timetable.

The challenge as a leader is to prioritise engagement; change is a given, but its success is not. Our experience tells us that this likelihood increases significantly if engagement is at the core of the change strategy.

In all of the grand plans to grow a successful organisation one could be forgiven for wondering why the word nice would appear on a list of values or leadership qualities. There is a tendency to trivialise this characteristic in the description of a leader in preference for sharper, cleaner words such as determined, focused, driven or committed. Rarely nice. Perhaps seen as a form of weakness, particularly when set again the harsh challenges of a competitive business landscape, there are many factors which could negate the perception of a leader as nice.

Yet, the challenges we face in developing strong leadership would be significantly improved by an acceptance that it is OK to be nice and that this is an essential quality to build engaged, committed teams. Being nice is a mindset, an approach to leadership that places compassion, humility and empathy at the forefront of leading people, without shying away from difficult issues or compromising focus.

“Just be nice” was a key reflection from Bobbi Brown, founder of the global make-up and cosmetic brand whose company was acquired by Estee Lauder in 1995, at a recent networking event when speaking about her approach to the growth of her organisation. Being nice was her intention from the outset, she noted, and it paid you back.

Research also supports the idea that being nice gets results. Amongst the most prominent is the work of Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Associate Professor from the Harvard Business School, who distinguishes between the qualities of strength and warmth. She contends that too often leaders opt to project strength before establishing trust and run the risk of eliciting fear and a host of other dysfunctional factors, finding instead that there is a body of research suggesting that the way to influence – and to lead – is to begin with warmth. The argument is that warmth is the conduit of influence: it facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.

Crucially, leaders who are able to build trust and keep the lines of communication open are more effective at being responsive to the demands of change, which directly impacts on the performance of an organisation. These leaders focus on engagement as both a priority and a discipline to ensure a level of agility within a team to make change happen, working collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition to the new state.

Adopting the mindset of being nice provides the ability to influence and drive performance. It places engagement at the heart of the change process and is part and parcel of emotionally intelligent, authentic leadership.

Highly engaged or just a control freak?

Today’s leaders know they are required to be engaging, be present and invest time with their teams – they either inherently understand this or have developed this understanding via coaching and development.

The demands on leaders are significant. They are expected to create and lead a high performance culture where accountability is paramount. Shareholders, the Board, employees and in some instances, the media and public all have an expectation of performance and behaviour.

So maybe it is the relentless focus on outcomes coupled with the expectation of creating a great place to work that causes leaders to drift into micro-management or in some instances ‘control freak’ behaviours. Maybe they feel they have to keep a close eye on all aspects of the business to ensure positive outcomes.

The problem is that the leader convinces themself that ‘involvement’ is actually ‘engagement’ thereby justifying their behaviours.

Engaging leaders are proactive, they step up and take ownership over issues and problems (they do not look to blame others), they build a sense of enthusiasm among the troops; they reinforce the vision via storytelling techniques. They invest time in their teams and listen to the challenges, ideas and opportunities; they provide opportunities for growth and development, they trust that others have good intentions; they are open, present and confident while retaining a sense of humility.

Controlling leaders like to be in charge, they like power and regularly seek recognition. They expect others will follow them, while overtly creating an environment of mistrust. They engage in ego-driven conversations and compete with their peers for attention and accolades. You can usually spot them as their stories start with “I did ….” and end with “great outcomes due to me or my …”. They happily bask in the limelight and may actually enter into turf wars in the workplace. They are poor delegators and will ‘throw you under the bus’ if a project is going poorly; blame behaviours are commonplace.

So if the behaviours and styles are so different, then why are two so easily confused?

Time and Style – we all have 24/7 and we have to make a choice as to how to use that time – controlling leaders seek short term wins and therefore operate in a ‘tell and do’ style; engaging leaders focus on developing sustainable wins for the business and team and therefore operate in a ‘show and develop’ style.

Ego – having an ego is not a bad thing, it literally means a person’s self-worth or self-esteem – it is the size of the ego that can cause the issue. The engaging leader uses their ego to back themselves while still being able to listen, be humble, consider the points of others et cetera. A controlling leader’s ego morphs into arrogance where they consider themselves to be right most of the time, the most experienced or the brightest person in the room; their ego adversely influences their effectiveness as they are largely focused on protecting the ‘image’ they have built based on their ego. An enormous ego; often attributed to a sense of fear and vulnerability results in leaders aiming to control as much as possible to manage the negative emotions.

Perfection and Achievement – going above and beyond to achieve great outcomes is both admirable and desirable in leaders; engaging leaders deliver on outcomes. Going above and beyond for a controlling leader does not always result in outcomes; often they aim for perfection and of course, perfection is not attainable, so their efforts can be considered wasteful and self-indulgent.

Advice and Directives – engaging leaders will provide input and offer advice; they will then let you decide what to do with the information they have provided. Controlling leaders will offer input and advice with an expectation that you will implement their suggestions; their advice is in reality, a directive.

Engaging leaders delegate effectively; when they ask you to lead a workshop, they contribute as a participant and resist the desire to take over or make corrections to the agenda. They recognise other people around them have talent and quite possibly are better equipped to write communications, analyse data or chair meetings; they are not threatened by the capability of others. Engaging leaders will have up to three successors for their role; they will actively develop and mentor the successors without fear of ‘what does this mean for me’.

The bottom line is that controlling leaders stifle team development, crush creativity and reduce productivity. Yet the essence of building a successful organisation is anchored around people, building their confidence and letting their voice be heard in the workplace. The job of a leader is to bring about many forms of engagement that provide ways in which people can be encouraged to contribute and it’s only in these circumstances that a mission can be achieved, excellence be delivered and a culture fully realised.

So the challenge for leaders is to recognise the emotions of vulnerability and fear – and take personal steps to manage these in order to build high performance teams and a culture based on engagement and accountability.

Busy, Busy, Busy…

Busy, Busy, Busy (does NOT make you terribly important)

There is an unspoken competition going on in boardrooms, open plan offices, call centres and even in espresso bars!

When asked the everyday question: “how are you?”, too often the answer is “good, but busy”. It seems that being busy is a statement which excuses you for being short or abrupt, in a grumpy mood, not delivering on a promise, rescheduling your 1:1 (again) and so the list goes on. What’s troubling is that the competition to prove ‘I am busier than you’ takes up time and effort – time and effort which could be spent doing that 1:1 or delivering on promises.

People hide behind the excuse of being busy in all walks of life. We live in a world of ‘busy-wars’ and this has transcended into the workplace, from competitive meetings to everyday interactions.

The issue is that we need to stop and ask ourselves whether telling people we are busy is getting in the way of being effective leaders.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact is that we are busy – all of us – for different reasons, often with conflicting priorities and with different motivations. Some of us need to be busy to be effective and thrive on being busy, others genuinely find their schedule over-whelming and are fearful of not being able to deliver. As leaders, this presents issues because it is their job to ensure that they not only inspire purpose into teams but build a level of intimacy in work relationships that allow others to question, to challenge, to let us know what they think.

Barrier to Effective Engagement

Telling people that you are busy is not an answer to the question: “how are you?” In fact, how often do you hear the response “me too?” especially from members of your team? This kind of one-upmanship provides no meaningful understanding of what is really happening or how you as a leader can support your team member. It creates a barrier to effective engagement, perpetuating a culture of ‘self-importance’ where being busy is something to be proud of (and tell everybody about).

Telling someone you are busy also tells them that your time is more important than theirs – the person feels they are intruding or adding a burden to your already ‘full’ day. Strong leaders take the time to provide their people with opportunities to talk in spite of their workload. Being busy is a mindset, a reason not to talk, or probe, or question. What’s more, it means that you miss the nice moments, the moments of fun and banter in the workplace that allow us to fully appreciate other people, build relationships and gauge the mood of a situation.

Consider this:

  • Being busy is not an excuse, it is a choice;
  • The definition of busy is different for different people;
  • Being busy does not make you more important than others;
  • Being too busy to conduct your 1:1’s, prepare for meetings, commit to coaching sessions, et cetera will work directly against your effectiveness as a leader;

The ability to communicate in a genuine and open manner is a cornerstone of leadership; connecting with your team both formally and informally is necessary to deliver on common goals. So I set you a challenge – aim to NOT use the ‘busy’ word for one day per week; I promise you it will make you more conscious of the messages you send, how to juggle your commitments and how you engage with people.

And a closing thought – We all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week – how are you going to use it?