Tips for Getting Started

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Tips for Getting Started

These are tips submitted by people who are out there leading change inside organizations.


Remember the Fundamentals

Often, with the wide array of exciting, new, novel, and creative approaches available it is easy to forget the basics or “fundamentals” of good group process. Such is the case in this example where a Project Team was “frozen” and needed only a few simple questions from an outsider to break out of the cloud of confusion.

A Global Project Team tasked with “fixing” our Forecasting and Planning processes labored dutifully for many months to develop methods that could be applied in each of the countries and regions where our business operates. The culminating conclusion to the work was designed to be a two day Global meeting where the key decision makers from Finance, Commercial and Supply Chain representing each of the four Regions would be presented the results of the work and would “sign on” to implementing the new processes in each of their respective Regions and Functions.

Approximately two months before the meeting, the Project Team looked at the calendar and realized the date, that for so long had been “out there,” was fast approaching and that they really did not know how to pull the meeting together, how to present their thinking nor how to go about gaining and documenting agreement.

In our initial teleconferences I asked the following questions:

  • Who owns the meeting?
  • What is the single primary meeting purpose?
  • Who needs to be involved in the meeting?
  • What process(es) will most likely be effective in helping the attendees achieve the primary meeting purpose?
  • What agenda will be the most efficient in terms of maximizing time and energy investments?

These questions had not been asked. When the Team began to answer them, it was discovered that a great amount of confusion existed among the Team members and the Team sponsors. Answers came quickly and immediately moved the group into productive action. The special global meeting was a huge success, creating alignment and good will. While a lot of other work was required before, during, and after the meeting, the KEY work was done on the teleconference where the five “fundamental” questions were asked and answered.

Internal Consultant
Global Chemical Company

Increasing Ownership

This particular change effort involved the design and roll-out of a detailed job model impacting over 200 employees in the IT department. The purpose of the job model was three-fold: to clarify roles and responsibilities for over 50 IT positions, to define the qualifications of job holders, and to recommend logical career paths within and between job groupings. The job model represented a significant opportunity to change how jobs and careers were approached in the department.

The idea for the job model had the backing of the senior leadership team. However, the more important challenge was to get middle management and staff solidly behind this effort. Without their buy-in, the job model would have little meaning to employees and would fail as a change effort. It occurred to the four-person steering group heading up the effort that we should actively involve this important stakeholder group in the building of the job model. Who is better positioned to know the work of the department than this group of individuals?

We established eight working groups that were charged with building detailed job descriptions for several positions. Staff employees, who had familiarity of the jobs, and whose peers respected them, were “invited” to serve as group lead. The group leaders also helped recruit other subject experts to work with them. The steering group provided some parameters but allowed the working groups to debate and flesh out the details of their cluster of jobs. In the end, we had about one quarter of the unit’s employees (about 50 people) involved in building the job model. This not only helped secure the buy-in we were looking for, but also was instrumental in creating broad ownership throughout the department. The job model was a great success.

Manager, Organization Development, media company

Taking a Step Back

In the coaching work that I do in support of individuals or teams, there is often an understandable difficulty in stepping away from the immediate situation and its challenges, in order to focus on the larger interest.

Faced with the struggle to see the ‘larger picture,’ I often work with the client to find a future time when it is possible to see the situation in a wider context. It must be close enough to be realistic and not so far into the future that all of the present-day realities will have faded from memory. I think the client needs to retain the appropriate level of tension that can generate creative solutions, but not lead to ‘gridlock.’

My experience tells me that the ability to step back from the current situation and see options is most available to clients when I can engage them in a discussion of what they would like to be able to say to me in two or three years time. Their clarity about a future that no one can really know, tells them and me a great deal about their intentions and their preferred outcomes.

With the clarity that comes from that dialogue, it becomes more possible to return to the present and generate approaches and alternatives beyond the obvious or the ‘knee-jerk’ reactions that I and they might default to.

Ross Roxburgh

Sympathy, Empathy, Two for Tea…

We live in a fast paced world, and we expect ourselves to answer every request and resolve every problem. That demand to “fix” things isn’t just a Mars/Venus difference, and it is even more of a challenge at work. There are several benefits from empathic listening. Simply listen and acknowledge the other person’s situations, reactions, and feelings, without giving suggestions. One benefit is that you are strengthening the relationship so that when you are in a crisis, you have a foundation to draw from. Another benefit is that empathic listening keeps the responsibility for problem solving with the person involved. You can offer support without taking over.

How do you listen empathically? First, you pay attention. Slow down your internal talking and stop planning what you’re going to say to the other person. Just listen and notice what they say and how they say it. When they finish, confirm what you heard (summarize, not parrot), and then ask if you got it right. Recognize their perspectives; you don’t have to agree with them. Finally, instead of suggesting a solution to their situation, you can ask them what they are planning to do – and listen all over again!

Anastasia Walsh
Two-Way Communications Program Manager
Lockheed Martin

Getting to Know You Can Lead to Mission Success

This Tip for Leading Change is about the value of including non-technical “chit-chat” in our daily work life. Effective technical two-way communication is often the result of a trusted relationship. Trusted relationships are built on having a common purpose, mutual respect, and understanding who the other person is – not just as a professional, but as a person. We all have a lot of time pressure to get our work done, and may feel that casual talk about life (i.e., life outside of work) is wasted time. What concerns me is that when we don’t know about each other as people, we tend to create incorrect stories about people and assume bad intentions on the others’ parts. When we get to know someone and build a trusting relationship, we are more likely to seek them out when there are problems on the job and know that we can trust them to work with us to resolve them. Consider getting to know your employees, managers, and peers as part of your job, not wasted time. There are many benefits to taking the time to get to know each other – a sense of belonging, friendship, community, and pride – all of which support our constant drive for quality in our work.

Anastasia Walsh
Two-Way Communications Program Manager
Lockheed Martin

Do you know the way to …?

This Tip for Leading Change concerns the value of reversing your habits by leaving your physical comfort zone and visiting others. This is especially poignant for managers and executives, who could benefit in multiple ways by visiting their employees at their work sites. And it also can apply to anyone who gets accustomed to communicating primarily via email – moving away from the computer and visiting people.

I first learned about the idea of managers and executives leaving their offices and going to their direct reports’ offices from a VP who engages in this practice on a regular basis. He routinely meets one-on-one with his direct reports, leaving the comfort zone of his office in the executive area to go to their office. His employees feel respected and valued, not only because they have the private meeting, but moreso because he takes the time and initiative to come to their workplace. Two-way respect is often a key foundation for open two-way communication.

Anastasia Walsh
Two-Way Communications Program Manager
Lockheed Martin

Been There, Done That.

This Tip for Leading Change concerns encouraging and squashing ideas. Many of us (myself included) have been in our industry for many years, working various programs and projects – learning from each, and applying that knowledge to the next. So when someone suggests something that we tried, say, a few years ago, we’re often compelled to quickly discard the idea, saying that it’s been tried and won’t work. The irony is that technology and processes are constantly evolving, so what couldn’t or didn’t work in the past might now work, or at least be considered as a kernel for another idea. Before you reject an idea outright, ask more questions, like, “How will this work? What will this effect? How will it impact schedule/cost/quality?” The idea with asking questions is to explore and gather more information; that will give more substance to eliminating bad ideas and building good ideas. And what didn’t work five years ago might just work today. If I stay open to possibilities, I have a greater chance to finding interesting and creative options for solutions.

Anastasia Walsh
Two-Way Communications Program Manager
Lockheed Martin
© 2009 Rick Maurer – Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations.