Tag: Culture and Organisational Development

Building Resilience in an Ambiguous Environment

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, one of the memorable stories was from US star swimmer Michael Phelps. ‘Swimming blind’ his goggles filled with water during the Butterfly final, an event that he went on to win. “I didn’t panic,” he said. “I went back to all of my training. I knew how many strokes it takes me to get up and down the pool, so I started counting my strokes I didn’t reach the time I was aiming for, but I did win the race.” Of course, this is a story of great talent, discipline and training – his coach had prepared him for such an eventuality – but given the pressure of the event, the huge expectation and his own personal goals, it is also a tale of great resilience.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Resilience and Constant Changes in an Organisation

The volume and pace of change in organisations, whilst perhaps not quite an Olympic event, is a constant and relentless cycle. It necessitates resilience from individuals’ time and time again in order to sustain the pace and focus that is needed during a transformation. Beyond personality attributes, such as optimism and humility, the process of building resilience is a well debated and discussed topic. Yet, resilience is still a key challenge and often creates real risk in the delivery of change. In our experience, the key element for embedding resilience lies in an appreciation of the context – one that is shaped by ambiguity.

Ambiguity is the norm in change and also the opportunity. Internal and external factors impact the change process and create an uncertain environment. One of the major impediments to building resilience is often a lack of connectedness as this impacts not only on the individual but also on morale and team dynamics and can lead to a breakdown in communication or working relationships if an individual ‘checks out’ of the process.

So what are some of the key considerations for building resilience in an ambiguous environment?

  1. Be optimistic – this does not mean that everything is to be seen as positive, rather visualise a successful outcome and ensure this remains the focus in spite of setbacks;
  2. Analyse an activity at work and see how many alternatives you can come up with;
  3. Be curious: ask open questions and listen actively;
  4. Think in reverse: instead of brainstorming how to solve the problem, ask what has caused the problem;
  5. Hold onto your sense of humour, be prepared to laugh at yourself and with others;
  6. Take charge of thoughts – as they are not facts;
  7. Make a note at the end of each day about what went well, not so well – reflect on the note the next morning and make any adjustments/refinements you need to make.

There is no shying away from the fact that resilience is hard, particularly in challenging and unpredictable environments. It is essential to embrace this reality in order to build resilience: this is the opportunity and the common denominator for all involved in change and will provide the basis for success.

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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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.


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.

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?


IKEA as a change agent?

You can feel it when you first walk into the reception area or the office – you know what I mean. You can feel if this is a place where you want to be, where you would be pleased to come to each day, where you might actually enjoy yourself.

The place in which we spend 40 hours per week (often way in excess of this) can heavily influence our mood, our behaviours and our level of motivation. Research shows that people employed full-time outside of the home spend approximately 33% of their waking hours at their workplace, and exposures to physical conditions at work that can affect physical or mental health are both lengthy and frequent. Unwanted consequences such as reduced capacity to work, increased error rates and absences from work impact us all

While many people accept that the workplace must be inviting, too often we rely on a few very thirsty water lilies, the occasional inspirational poster and adherence to ergonomic standards – well, I think we need more.

Appearance and layout is often the first impression we have of the workplace – it tells us a story about the organisational culture. Workplace design is important from a leadership perspective as building emotional connectivity and strong communication in the workplace aids in the generation of new ideas, promotion of information sharing and encouragement of open and frequent communication.

There is considerable focus within current workplace design trends on building collaborative working environments in order to improve communication, creativity and productivity. In its report The Smart Workplace of 2030, global manufacturer and facilities management company Johnson Controls, state that agile workspaces will be in demand providing a transformable and adaptable working environment. It argues that training, collaboration, socialisation and flexibility are at the core of the working model of the future. As part of its Eco Office the creation and sharing of knowledge drives economic wellbeing and the workplace will become more community oriented with employee villages forming to create workplace communities.

I recently had the good fortune to work with a leadership team who really wanted to rid themselves of beige! They were surrounded by it: carpet, wall paint, desks and chairs – even the air-conditioning vents were beige. A very large, open plan, single floor office environment, which was too large for the number of employees, had the traditional excessively large offices for the very important people, a tiny kitchen with limited dining area, no place to ‘mingle’ or catch up with team mates and the meeting rooms were few and far between (they had all been taken by the enormous offices).

They wanted to change it. They committed to changing it. BUT they had a big problem – budget was a significant limitation. The global business had experienced a downturn in profits and the thought of spending money to make the office feel ‘more inviting’ was a very hard sell indeed.

So the plan was simple. Talk to the employees, find out what they liked, didn’t like, who had a passion and eye for interior design, and ensure the budget came in under the obligatory global approval authority matrix.

Firstly they simply used a storage room which had stock and old furniture in it and turned it into a ‘conversation hub’. They painted it green, bought some basic furniture (which was assembled by an employee with over 35 years service to the business and did not care too much for the ‘fluffy stuff’) and waited for the conversations to start. Initially, people were unsure if they could or should use it, but slowly it became a place to have a meeting (in a lounge chair!), discuss strategies (without a whiteboard!) or get the team together for a weekly catch up (without a seat for everyone!).

Next a trip to IKEA and a few more bits of furniture, more paint and a lamp shade. Some ‘meeting rooms without walls’ were set up, rugs were arranged and music was turned on – the impact of these relatively simple gestures was incredible, you could feel it instantly

There was no brief for the creative team except for the budget – rather an approach of ‘just let them do what they want to do and trust them’.

Building an adaptive and collaborative organisational culture stems from positive employee engagement, and often simple opportunities for communication and personal empowerment can have a profound impact. In this instance it was not so much that there were new chairs and rugs, but the fact that the team were able to actually choose and purchase the furniture – this seemed to be the point where people felt real change was on its way.

Sometimes, change really can be simple – lets not lose sight of that.

Manners, Please

This is probably just an opportunity to vent and perhaps it will fall on deaf ears, but I want to encourage the ongoing use of manners in the workplace.

I know that people get busy and that people have different values around the use of the words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I promise’, but I believe there are some fundamentals which must be demonstrated by leaders today. Quite simply, if you say ‘I will get back to you’, show common courtesy and actually do what you say!

Undoubtedly the workplace environment has changed rather dramatically in the past 50 years and continues to do so at pace. Technological advancement, hybrid work teams, matrix management structures have placed layers of complexity on an organisation which were previously inconceivable – let alone the challenges of operating and competing in business. Yet, some things have not changed at all and basic manners are part and parcel of building a successful culture that delivers inspirational leadership and shared accountability.

Social connectivity may be partly shaped by social media but in reality solid, ‘old-fashioned’ relationships are an essential element of workplace communications and leadership. Simple courtesies are how people feel valued and experience personal fulfilment, and they form part of the emotional needs for all generations.

Compassionate leadership is essential to building inspired and productive work teams, where leaders demonstrate respect for their people possessing the ability to put their needs first in order to create real trust and loyalty. However, what of the seemingly increasingly detracting behaviours in the workplace from some leaders? Being late to meetings, leaving meetings early, not saying ‘hello’ to people, keeping phones on during meetings (in full view of others), interrupting without listening to other points of view, not saying thank you, being under-prepared for meetings and making last minute cancellations – these are all stoking the flames for de-motivation and resentment that ultimately reveals itself as low morale and poor productivity.

In her research of 5,600 employees at 77 Australian companies, Dr Christina Boedker of the Australian School of Business found that a critical part of lifting workplace productivity is having a great boss. Her findings showed that great bosses are those who enable workers at all levels of organisational hierarchies to lead change and be the best they possibly can. Notably she found that it is the interpersonal and motivational skills of bosses that prompt staff to exercise discretionary effort.

Simple gestures count. Etiquette must not be forgotten. Good leaders understand these points and make small but significant gestures to let others know they are valued. They stay around for the answer when they ask ‘how are you’, they make eye contact, they smile, they say ‘hello’ and they do not make others feel as though they are too busy to take time to listen.

My issues are probably more so from the perspective of being an external provider as I can’t tell you how many times we have been asked to develop a proposal responding to a challenge or issue. The request more often than not comes from a member of the executive team – individuals equipped to provide a brief, review the response and make a recommendation to their peers regarding acceptance or otherwise of the proposal.

Responding quickly is important in our business as we will allocate time, review available documentation and prioritise the development of the proposal to ensure it reaches the audience as soon as possible (therefore enabling a decision).  Once the proposal is made into its final PDF, it is sent off via email with an encouragement to call if any clarification is required and…? Are those crickets I hear? Not a ‘thank you for the proposal’, not a ‘this is interesting but not quite right’, not a ‘thanks but no thanks’ and not a ‘this is spot on, when do we get started?’ Nothing.

We don’t expect to be successful with every proposal, so getting a ‘thanks but no thanks’ is OK, but getting nothing at all – well to be honest, I think that is just rude.

Basic manners are to acknowledge when someone has done something for you at your request. A courteous reply would be a ‘thank you’ – eight letters which takes less than two seconds to type, but for some people it seems too difficult. (In our case, even when the initial proposal is followed up once, perhaps twice and still the only sound is… crickets).

Our leaders need to demonstrate the behaviour they expect in their teams and culture; if they are too busy to say thank you, then where does that leave us? We often hear about how the schooling system is failing our children with the basic three R’s and how parents need more support than ever to bring up children. Well, let’s not forget about our business leaders – using simple manners goes a long way.

Seniority does not provide an opportunity to forget the basics or be dismissive towards others. In fact, the opposite should be true. If you want people to follow you then you need to inspire others by demonstrating compassion to the people around you. Treat others as you would like to be treated, practice open and transparent communication, be open to two-way discussion and dialogue (including constructive criticism) and make time for others, in spite of the relentless pressures faced across the leadership spectrum.

Please take the time to reflect on this article.

Thank you.

7 Change-Cheaters

Maintaining Focus Despite Repeated Cycles of Organisational Changes

Many readers will appreciate that it is often not the subject of a change which presents the greatest challenge; rather the cultural impacts which are likely to occur as a result of the change. Repeated cycles of change have been the norm for many years in Australian businesses, with strong and decisive leadership essential to sustain motivation and focus. Here are my tips for keeping positive and resilient during challenging periods:

  1. Understand the change has a finite timeframe and the feeling of unrest will not last forever. Most change in organisations involves transitioning to a new situation, whether it be the result of a new structure, process or system. Projects like these may have to factor in initially unforeseen challenges, but this is common in change management and necessitates additional planning – it is generally not a crisis.
  2. Find yourself a ‘buddy’ who is normally a bit upbeat and seems to have a glass half full – spend time listening to the other side of the story. Objectivity is essential during periods of change, particularly difficult times. Talking issues through with others helps to keep things in perspective. A buddy builds a base of trust through which problems can be questioned and emotional responses kept in check.
  3. Keep yourself informed, ask questions, be curious – being informed can help to minimise the negative rumours which will undoubtedly surface during the change. Don’t bury your head in the sand or get overly focused on the minutiae of a situation. Ask questions and seek clarification from your leaders throughout the change process. Take the time to read the communications as they are issued and ensure you attend meetings and gatherings where updates will be shared. Also, if you have a question, the chances are high that your peers also have these questions – it is ok to ask, if not, you will be none the wiser!
  4. Your wellbeing is important – look after yourself so stress is an unlikely visitor. Understand where you derive your personal energy from and ensure that you incorporate this into your daily routine; encourage the same for others. Work smart, ensuring that you find downtime in order to reflect, as this will help you to sustain the pace.
  5. Make a clear decision to stay away from the ‘black hatters’, avoid the rumours and gossip and make a stance to not become involved in the negativity. Personal accountability at work is essential; be involved in the change process through observation and engagement in order to ensure that you have the facts. Don’t rely on assumptions, rumour and innuendo. Be brave, when you hear the negativity, challenge it!
  6. Get involved in the change – let leaders know that you can play a role (it keeps you informed and it demonstrates keenness to be a part of the future state). The cycle of change is constant, even if a specific project has a finite beginning and end date. Adapting to new circumstances and anticipating future states is part of taking ownership of your role and input to the organisation. Change brings both learning and opportunity in different ways and it can be fulfilling to have shared a journey with others, as well as developing good skills for the future. Nominate yourself for a role in the change program, request an opportunity to be mentored by a change leader or offer to help out where extra arms, legs and ideas are needed.
  7. Simply choose to be positive, honestly, it works – aim to engage with others, work towards a satisfying workplace and recognise that change is a part of what we experience every day. Whatever stage of your career, maintaining a positive mental attitude is paramount to professional and personal success. Work and change go hand-in-hand and as the saying goes, ‘you get what you give’. Attitude is a choice and it is important to focus on remaining positive. Fighting an inevitable change is exhausting and almost always a waste of time and effort – find the opportunity in the change and make it work for you!

Remember that the world of work has changed so much in 20 years, due to both significant external and internal elements, that we now live in a permanent state of transition – and this actually breeds exciting opportunities for innovation and advancement. Our own experience in this journey takes self-awareness, effort and focus in order to intellectually and personally ensure that we can keep perspective and positivity.

It is your choice how you respond to change!