Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Questionable Corporate Phrases #1: "You're not a team player."

For all who work in Corporate America, there comes a day when we're in a critical meeting, and someone very powerful points to us and uses this phrase:

You're not a team player.

While it is never wise to question the motives of others, it is safe (and fair) to consider the impact of the phrase, since it may be one of the most manipulative strings of words in the English language.  Here are some of the implications.

The phrase "You're not being a team player" implies:

You're obviously not willing to help us all succeed.
You're obviously in this for your own gain.
You're not thinking of the bigger picture.
You're not interested in our success.

It is a crushing phrase that immediately puts us on the defensive. As soon as that happens, we're on the ropes, and with a flushed face of embarrassment, we begin explaining that we are indeed willing to help, willing to be part of something, willing to see the team succeed.   
Yet at the back of our minds we know we don't have the resources, span of control, time, funding and extra hands to complete the task we've been challenged with.  

Those who use the phrase know exactly what they're doing.  They are putting people into the uncomfortable place of having to commit to something out of sheer guilt and fear of a loss of reputation.  In some cases, I believe it borders on extortion.  

If you've been a target of this questionable phrase, consider whether this is a consistent method of the person's managerial tactics.  If so, others know, because they've experienced the same tactic.  Be diplomatic but direct.  "My track record demonstrates a consistently high level of support for this organization, and we'll do what needs to be done.  But let me offer that this project stands in the way of several other major corporate initiatives.   Just so I'm clear, what's the priority?" 

If you've used this questionable phrase, rethink your approachThere are far better ways to gain team member collaboration without resorting to manipulative pressure.  Only weak leaders turn to this type of tactic.  Over the long run, your reputation will precede you and people will come to expect this sort of behavior. This phrase is sophomoric at best.

Embarrassing team members into cooperation may work in the short term, but over the long haul, you'll build resentment and lose key people. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Art and Science of Middle Management

The Middle Manager as Artist.  

Organizational challenges rarely present themselves as pristine, clearly articulated problems. They are often messy, confusing, and obtuse.  They have no real form except as disconnected elements requiring order.  

The Art of Middle Management is to apply creativity in solutioning, to look beyond the 'tried and true' and seek a way to bring all the parts together in an elegant composition.   In this way, the Middle Manager is an Artist. 

When a Middle Managers takes the time to assess the emotional impact of work, they are artists.

Symmetry of Art and Science

The Middle Manager as Scientist.

Gathering data, assembling project plans and outlines, testing propositions, developing structure, and engaging the hard work of thinking are the scientific elements of Middle Management.  

The Science of Middle Management is to make the pieces fit together, bringing order out of chaos, reducing complexity, and ensuring a complete and thorough solution. 

In this work, a Middle Manager is a Scientist.  When a Middle Manager applies good psychology to help their teams survive and thrive, they are scientists.

Effective Middle Managers are both Artists and Scientists in pursuit of organizational goals.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Executive Role in Managing Change Resistance

Think for a moment about moving from one place to another.  Maybe you did that as a kid.  Your parents had thought about it for months, then they sprung the news on you.  You were confused, angry, frustrated, sad and disoriented.  After the move, you were wary, concerned, cautious and hesitant.  That’s change management in a nutshell, and it provides an insight into change resistance.

      Change Resistance is a popular subject: 

     Resistance is brought up again and again as a source of change failure. Thankfully, it is receiving some academic attention, since resistance to change is not always a malicious attempt by malcontents to derail an initiative.  Resistance is more complex than people who say "I don't want to do this."  In fact, Executives play a major role in managing resistance.  
      Executive approaches to managing change resistance.   

                                         Hint: Command and Control is not helpful.
·         "Do this or you’ll be fired.”  I start with the least helpful of the approaches.
·     "Upper management insists that we do this.”
·      "Just get on board.”
·      “You’re just not a team player.”
·      “Why don’t you get it?”

     Ever wonder why people resist change?   

    Maybe you’re part of the problem.  Maybe you’re creating the resistance!
1.      You and your executive team have been thinking about this change for months, maybe years, and then … out of the blue … you announce the change and expect others to jump on board.
2.      “Just do it” may be helpful for exercise, but it doesn’t play well with people whose lives are going to be upset because of a change.
3.      Sometimes, naysayers actually have a point.  Blowing them off only creates enemies and hostile compliance.
4.      Sometimes executives think people at lower levels of an organization should just ‘do’ stuff.  People sense the condescending attitude of someone who truly does not care about the front line worker.
5.      Sometimes the change causes serious disruption in people’s lives!  If you're a single mother with a child who has asthma, and you need to be at weekly appointments, a change in location, schedule or supervisor can have an immense impact on your life and the life of your child.  Executives need to be aware of these kinds of impact resulting from a change.

     Maybe there’s a better way. 
1.      The simple act of listening provides a great deal of credibility with people.
2.      Sometimes, jujitsu is necessary.  Sometimes we need to use the power of the negative to make gains.  If you have naysayers, engage them in the change process.
3.      Above all, having a clear and compelling argument for the change is essential to persuade users.
4.      A compelling argument requires clear language and cogent statistics. Don't make it sound academic or use language that makes no sense to people.  Speak plainly. 

Reduce resistance by increasing motivation.
     The percentage of people who resist something just to resist is very small.  Cogent arguments that create a bulletproof rationale, along with a clear plan for implementation, can reduce resistance.  Who knows, you may gain the organizational momentum you need to win the masses to your change initiative! 

      Lead!  Show the way.  Demonstrate the change!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Executive Role in Change Management

It is no surprise that Executives are wary of Change Management:  

  1. Some executives have put their trust in change management systems, investing heavily in CM models only to see their investments become a sunk cost (sometimes with a commensurate loss of business).
  2. Some executives have heard all the presentations and invested only to realize the change team was weak and ineffective.
  3. Some executives see CM as an ad hoc organization off to the side, brought in only as a last resort.
  4. Some executives have trusted external resources (aka Consultants) to help them with a CM model, only to see a poorly executed hand-off from the external resource which resulted in a lack of continuity ultimately resulted in a failed project costing millions.  
  5. Some executives have seen their investment as a waste of time, money and human energy.
Given these experiences, one can hardly blame the skepticism in the executive ranks for this discipline. ... and yet, every one of those executives has had to manage change.  They've sometimes done it the hard way, with brute force, or with organizational savvy/power/political alliances.  And sometimes they've done it because they were ... drum roll ... great change managers (and they didn't even have the title!).

And yet, Change will continue to happen in organizations, and executives play a critical role in Change Management efforts:

Executives perform the following activities during a major change:

·        Prioritization  - Organizations are rife with non-stop changes and new initiatives. Executives prevent Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder from derailing a project.  (See my post on  OADD .)
·        Support – Team selection: Executives ensure a top flight team on their project, provide funding, ongoing communication and leadership modeling.

·        Persistence – Sometimes things don’t go well. Executives keep their hand on the tiller and steer the change ship through deep, rough (and often uncharted) waters.

·        Blocking and Tackling – Sometimes teams need a ‘heavy-hitter’ to get the job done.  Executives are needed when major barriers prevent system implementation. 

Executives play the following roles during a major change:

STRATEGIC EVANGELIST -Managing the strategic nature of the change is critical element of executive change leadership.  Executives need to immerse themselves in the rationale for the change.  They feel it, breathe it, sense it and know exactly why it is necessary for the organization...while the business is conducting day-to-day operations.  You need to have an answer!  If you don’t believe in it, no one else will.

CHESS MASTER - Executives coordinate high level strategic activities – ensuring clarity between initiatives toward an end goal.   

ORGANIZATIONAL "GREAT COMMUNICATOR"  – An executive ensures that everyone knows what’s happening and why.

ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST – An executive helps people adapt to the change, by listening to concerns and offering creative and effective counsel.

FIVE STAR GENERAL – Executives help the team stay the course in the face of struggle and unforeseen consequences.

ORGANIZATIONAL DIPLOMAT – Change will cause organizational impact requiring soothing of egos, smoothing rough edges, and helping cooler heads to prevail.  

What does this mean to executives?  Your role is critical. Research shows that executive support is a critical factor in effective Change Management (see below).   Although your past experiences may have been underwhelming, your leadership capabilities can shape the success of your next organizational change. 
McKinsey - Psychology of Change