Friday, May 28, 2010

Three Strategies for Managing Change and Transition Successfully

Got Change?
Have you ever encountered a situation where you were faced with organizational changes that left you uncertain about how to manage and navigate through the transition? Problems can arise sometime when you reach out to people within your organization, because it can descend into a gripe session, which really isn’t helpful. If you seek guidance and advice from your personal network, there may be a limited or lack of understanding about the complexity of your particular situation. The reality is that if you don’t navigate the transition well there can be unintended, negative consequences. Further complicating matters it can feel and/or appear as if there can be winners and losers during times of change and transition. Let’s face it no one wants to be on the losing side of the equation.

Drivers and Accelerators of Change
In my consulting practice almost all of the organizations I work with are undergoing some type of change driven by either internal and/or external factors - sometimes a combination of both. Some of the external drivers that can trigger the change process include industry innovations; market changes, such as competitive forces; economic; technological; social and political forces. Some of the internal drivers that can trigger the change process include leadership and management changes, which can result in mission, vision, strategy, and the need for tactical shifts; organizational growth or decline; expansion into new markets and adding new product lines; and the need to streamline processes and procedures.

There are drivers that “accelerate” the rate at which change occurs, such as globalization, technological advances, a CEO change, and, of course, the most recent economic downturn where many companies had to respond quickly in order to survive. Although it is possible to envision a time when globalization will not be an accelerator for change, but for now globalization continues to accelerate the rate at which organizations must respond and adapt.

Whatever the driver for change, we must learn how to adapt quickly – even when we don’t feel ready or equipped.

How to Successfully Manage Change and Transition
Organizational changes can be lonely and challenging to navigate, but there are strategies you can employ that can make the process a lot easier. What do I mean by that?

Tip #1 Manage Your Stress Levels
Ok – admit it change is stressful. Sometimes it is a good stress, but sometimes it tips over into distress! Depending on all that is going on in your life, this may be the stressor that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Therefore, it is critical to learn ways to manage stress, because stress can create havoc on your body. It increases the body’s production of cortisol, which can result in weight gain. Too much stress can actually inhibit intellectual functioning. I could go on and on, but the most important thing is to manage your stress levels, so that it does not negatively affect your health.

For me Bikram yoga is an amazing outlet, but it is a big commitment. I am not big into meditation, because I really cannot sit still that long, but any form of yoga allows me time to focus on the mind, body connection. Whatever your choice find something that works for you, something that you can/will commit to.

Tip #2 Observe and Stay Grounded and Connected
First let me say that if you don’t manage your stress level, it will be very hard to observe, stay grounded and get connected. In part, because when you are overwhelmed with stress and fear it is difficult to stay grounded. So while feeling fear during times of transition and change is normal – don’t let it rule you and your decisions. This will help you to stay grounded so that you can actually observe and stay connected to how the changes might affect you. It will also allow you to ask the right questions from the right people. If you are not grounded during times of change, you can be thrown about by the winds of change and feel completely out of control. I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay grounded during times of change, because it will allow you to see where you are/are not aligned with changes and more importantly what you need to do in order to take care of yourself during the change as well as what skills you might need to learn in order to be a major player as the change unfolds.

Tip #3 Build Capacity
As I mentioned in tip #2, when you are grounded you will see trends that you might not see and you will begin to understand how the change applies to you and what skills you will need to build in order to be a successful player as the changes unfold. Without understanding how the change applies to you and what capacity you must build – you could get left in the dust wondering what the heck just happened as the transition rolls on.

There is more
There are more strategies, but these are the top three plus this is the beginning for you to ponder as you navigate the winds of change. We will be posting a white paper on change soon on our website, which will include additional strategies, so check it out if you would like to read more on this topic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Can Companies Do?

My Consulting Practice

Many experts talk about the need to put people into roles where their strengths are utilized. However, in my consulting practice I rarely work with organizations that have the luxury of designing jobs solely around people and their strengths. Most jobs are created based on an executive’s assessment of business needs along with some type of justification, especially if the position is new. If the position is well established, there may have been no true re-assessment of the role in years, and the role may/may not accurately reflect current business needs. What can an employer do?

I just don’t see a singular focus on a ‘strengths-based approach’ as a realistic model given day-to-day business reality and an ever-changing business environment. When scanning my entire practice, I don’t think I have ever met an individual who had a job that only played to their strengths. I have seen individuals who present the business case to change their role. However, even when the job has been explicitly created there are generally still elements that do not fully play to their strengths, and/or that require them to stretch and grow into the role. My sense is that both aspects (business needs and individual strengths) are really important components, and maybe they are equally important when looking at this issue and what an employer can do.

Making the distinction

I have observed individuals who appear to be miscast in their role, but not all of them are considered a performance problem in the “eyes” of the organization. What makes the difference? It might be helpful to look at a few real examples.

There are examples that come immediately to mind of two individuals who were both considered to be either miscast and/or a bad hire due to various performance-related issues. The situations, however, are starkly different and well worth exploring – especially from an organization’s perspective. Neither of the individuals were, by both my and their estimations, a great match for the organizational culture, but that is where the similarities ended.

Confusion around expectations

There was a great deal of confusion around one of their roles. There were varying and unclear expectations from the different stakeholders, yet there was no cohesiveness that bound the various constituents’ expectations together into a well articulated role. The boss who directly worked with this person on a day-to-day basis was not displeased with their performance, but this person was widely viewed as a poor performer and there was some level of negative history following this person. Further complicating the matter, the person never really got the feedback necessary in order to course correct, they had an unknown blindside.

The company did not have a way of defining the role in a way that linked all the stakeholder’s expectations into a well articulated role, allowing the person to develop the skills necessary in order to raise their performance. The person, while not a great match for the culture could have been a much more productive employee if the company had benchmarked their role and created a clear roadmap for successful performance with a strong development plan in place. Even a strong feedback loop would be more helpful than allowing the person to languish in a professional purgatory of sorts.

Not a good match

The other individual was also not a good match for the culture, nor were they a match for the job they held. When I first met them, I was struck by the level of unhappiness they experienced in their role. After some reflection and investigation, it turned out that this person was not only in the wrong culture and the wrong job, but also in the wrong industry. No amount of development, job clarification, and performance management would ever make a difference. This person was holding on for dear life to the security they thought their steady paycheck brought them. They desperately needed to move on. Thankfully for them and their company, they eventually did - thereby allowing space for someone better suited for the role to step in, and allowing the mismatched individual to step into the possibility of a better matched job/profession.

Summing it up

In an economic contraction, many companies may feel as though their staffing needs are met and new responsibilities can be handled by their existing employees. However, there may be individuals in the company who are miscast in their current role or the roles they might be asked to fill. This takes a toll on productivity, it negatively affects peers and co-workers, and in a worst-case scenario it can sometimes impede the progress of the company.

Many companies take an approach of categorizing employees as A, B, or C players, which may be helpful. However, it might not really get at what it takes to succeed in a particular job. When a company benchmarks the job by defining how the job should be - the role then begins to take on a different shape – one closer to reality and the organization’s true business needs. In addition, it creates a strong foundation for hiring when the economy resumes its inevitable expansion. This process, performed properly, is an unbiased way in which to measure existing staff against the benchmark, understand their strengths, and produce a roadmap of strong development plans. What if the benchmarking process shows that a person is no longer a match for the position based on changing business needs? This process allows the company to assess how to best redeploy the employee in a more suitable position based on a balance of individual strengths and corporate needs. In short, benchmarking both defines what is required to excel in a job and ensures that an employee has a job in which they can excel.

Photo Credit: Flickr Jeff Sandquist