We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Boss or Friend - or Can It Be Both?

I’ve recently observed two situations that surprised me. One was a meeting where the Chairman refused to send late notices to several customers behind in their payments. He stated he didn’t want to do this because he was, in his words, "trying to be kind and compassionate to those customers having problems during these challenging times." In another situation, a senior management leader rationalized why he wasn’t relieving a manager of her duties and replacing her with someone who would actually do the work, because he wasn’t sure "she had enough time to really accomplish the task," (she had had a year so far).

The reason I was surprised (and I too am a compassionate individual) is that neither leader approached the situation from the perspective of being fair to everyone impacted by the situation; they had forgotten to be mindful of not playing favorites. In both situations my perception (similar to others attending each meeting) was that these leaders were making exceptions for their "friends." Somehow they had allowed their relationships to cloud their decision making capabilities to a point where they were guided by two sets of rules – rather than one. Does this biased approach to management and decision making go on in your organization? What are the business consequences of playing favorites?

Managing the Boundaries
Managers and executives are not robots; naturally they have feelings about the people they work with. As a manger working with others I often describe my relationships with words such as: trusting, warm, close, respectful, collaborative, and open. In fact, my OD training encourages me to have relationships that are based on knowing the other person as a person first, in order to create the best working relationship.

However, there is a delicate and fine line between creating and maintaining a professional relationship and being "friends." Many of us have observed how difficult it is for a new supervisor to be successful when promoted out of a group to be made the supervisor of that group. It’s challenging for the individuals in the group to accept the behavioral changes associated with transitioning to a different relationship with the leader, and for the leader to implement the behaviors now associated with a new level of authority and respect that comes with the new position. It’s much easier to move up when it’s over a group that you have no history with.

While it can be a great motivator and team building experience for the team to go out for a meal or drinks, it’s important for the boss to establish and sustain a social and friendly working relationship within a practical boundary. If that doesn’t occur, chances are the boss will lose respect, trust and the commitment of those on the team perceived not to be in the "in crowd." So, how does the boss walk the tightrope between friendly and not-too-friendly?
  • The boss should be careful about sharing. NEVER share confidential company information or information about other employees.
  • The boss should remember these aren’t your "drinking buddies," "gossip club," or "social network." Lead by example, balancing the appropriate levels of friendliness and respect that align with your position.
  • The boss should cultivate and maintain a culture of fairness by treating everyone with the same level of respect and expectations for performance.
  • The boss should not participate, encourage or condone conduct which is, or can be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing or sexual by others participating or observing the group. Never forget that you are the boss – not the BFF.
  • And what about those office romances? Yes, this could be a separate blog, but I just want to mention it here. At the first signs of romance, the boss and subordinate should step back, make a decision about how important the relationship is, and then make the right decisions about how to go forward in an open and non-compromising manner. This is one of those situations where it is black and white – it is never appropriate for the boss to be romantically involved with a subordinate. I’m all for romance, but not when it impacts the workplace. Enough said.
Leadership mentoring, coaching and training are excellent options for providing assistance to managers on how to navigate the friendship boundaries in the workplace. Depending on the leader’s background, experiences, and work style these lessons may be learned quickly. On the other hand, for someone not so tuned into people issues, or someone new to management, the learning curve may be longer. Coaching and mentoring results can be strengthened by personal insights from feedback provided through assessment tools such as: 360° Feedback, Emotional Intelligence or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s all about being able to communicate clear expectations, raising awareness to the perceptions of others, and learning how to manage the boundaries.

Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty
Perceptions are a funny thing. Very early in my career my supervisor told me that "perception was reality." Armed with that wisdom he said my job was going to be much easier. I just needed to remember that what really mattered was how my employees perceived the situation, not what I was communicating. My job was to match my communications and their perceptions. Easier said than done! But you get the point. We’ve all seen the example of the Old Woman and the Young Girl (1888 German postcard illustration). They’re both there, but we all don’t see the same one. (Which one do you see?) It’s the same thing with our employees.

Most Management and HR 101 training programs advise leaders new to management careers to be careful not to become "friends" with employees. They encourage managers to be social, develop good interpersonal skills, demonstrate compassion and concern, but to not cross the thin line between boss and friend. The reason: the distance is necessary in order to be perceived as fair and equitable when making decisions that impact team members. Bosses need to be perceived as unbiased when a decision needs to be made such as: promotions, key projects, raises, layoffs, and cubicle vs. office. All these decisions are dissected by team members.

The number of psychologists available to help us with relationships is a demonstration of how difficult personal and professional relationships can be. Managing workplace relationships has its own set of challenges, and is compounded by the fact that we spend at least 25% of our lives at work! Naturally we want to have meaningful connections with the people around us, and therein lies the challenge – getting to meaningful without creating inappropriate perceptions.

I can just hear some of you questioning why it’s a bad idea for a manager and employee to be "friends." You may even be thinking there would be greater productivity and commitment if everyone was friends, but consider these points:
  • History has demonstrated that being friends with subordinates does eventually create a negative perception and a work culture of favoritism. Even if the boss thinks he/she is being 100% fair and unbiased, second guessing will be taking place.
  • The boss may not realize it, but other employees and managers will give more slack to the "friends," thinking that the boss will step in to side with the "friend" or protect them when a disagreement occurs.
  • If the boss gets emotionally attached, those emotions will consciously or unconsciously influence employment decisions.
  • If the boss sees an employee as a "friend," the boss will more than likely have expectations for performance that are unrealistic or inappropriate – "Gee, a friend would never do that…"
  • If employees see the boss as a "friend," they may have unrealistic expectations about the company information, confidential or not, that will be shared with them to give them advance notice or a leg-up on an opportunity.
  • Employees with the perception that the boss is playing favorites will consciously or unconsciously sour morale, negatively impact productivity, and increase personnel issues for the boss to manage.
  • Of course, there’s always the chance that the boss and the company may be sued if employees perceive they are being discriminated against based on their perception that another employee is getting special treatment.
So What's Next?
As our workplaces become more flexible, and our technologies allow us to be connected 24/7, it’s important for organizations to help bosses manage the boundaries. Organizations need to:
  • Discuss the pros and cons of being "connected friends" (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) with employees.
  • Educate managers on the legal ramifications (personal and enterprise) when there are perceptions of workplace discrimination.
  • Provide appropriate protocol guidelines for meetings that are conducted outside the workplace, such as in someone’s home, especially since we’re moving towards more teleworking arrangements.
  • Provide a culture and avenue for employees to discuss perceptions or concerns about unfair treatment in order to quickly correct situations going in the wrong direction and to minimize the surprise of lawsuits brought on because there was no other course for discussion.
  • Provide coaches to assist managers in creating and sustaining a healthy and productive workplace.
  • Provide a watchful eye over workplace flexibility options, layoffs, promotions, raises, etc. being granted and ensure that a fair and equitable review and approval process is being followed.
  • Encourage and train new managers, those promoted from within a team to lead the team, to facilitate an open and honest discussion with team members to acknowledge changing roles and the impact these changes will have on their interactions and expectations. It’s best to be clear as soon as possible about the reality – the promotion has an upside (more money and opportunities) and a downside (no longer friends with subordinates) and both need to be respected.
The list of reasons to revisit and educate managers on the importance of balancing the boss/employee relationship is growing. What do you think? Is it ever OK for a manager to be a friend with employees? I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wanted: Global Managers

Do you remember the 1964 World’s Fair Disney exhibit, "It’s a Small World"? (It debuted the song you can’t get out of your head as soon as you hear it.) Well fast forward to the 21st century and we’re there – "it’s a small, small world." The notion of a global marketplace is no longer a prediction; it’s here, and its impact is far reaching. 

Globalization not only impacts companies that import and export products. It influences the operations of all types of industries that have facilities in the U.S. and overseas, as well as totally U.S.-based enterprises that have competitors in foreign countries. Today, companies with an Internet presence and a few employees can, and do, compete effectively in the global marketplace. Globalization - the movement toward economic, financial, trade, and communications integration - is impacting all types of businesses, regardless of size.

We’ve grown beyond just large corporations like Coca-Cola and Sony needing to pay attention to how international business is driving changes to our education systems, leadership development programs, customer service approaches, technologies and financial decisions. Business investments in products, services, workforces, facilities, technologies, and communities all have to consider what’s occurring in the global marketplace. Is your organization considering these influences? Is your leadership team designing strategic initiatives for competing and winning in a smaller world?

A "World-Wise" Road Map
The 2010 IBM Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study, titled Working Beyond Borders, found that "while organizations continue to develop and deploy talent in diverse areas around the globe at an accelerated rate, the rationale behind workforce investment is changing." The study findings indicate that:
  • expansion requires workforce redirection to locations providing the greatest opportunity, not just lower costs
  • management strategies to reflect an increasingly dynamic workforce must be re-imagined
  • competitive success will depend on leadership talent to assimilate information and share insights among a diverse group of employees living and working around the globe
  • social networking and collaboration "soft" skills also have a beneficial bottom-line consequence
Supporting the IBM Global Study findings, the May issue of HR Magazine, (available to SHRM members), includes an interesting article by Kathryn Tyler entitled, Global Ease.

Kathryn’s article focuses on the strategies necessary to help organizations build "culturally competent" Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO). I saw the value of these strategies carrying over to any manager responsible for leading international work teams; not just HR. So I’m offering them for your consideration.

Ms. Tyler suggests that organizations and individuals can independently and collaboratively incorporate career learning opportunities, such as the following, to boost global leadership development:

Travel - A long term assignment may not be practical for everyone; but with a slight modification, perhaps taking an 18-month assignment with two-week trips back to the states every three months, it may be a workable option. Work and travel should be focused on countries and cultures that are important to the organization whether the location is dedicated to operations, labor or customer markets.

International degrees and workshops - Not all professionals need an international degree. Enrolling in global courses can be very educational and rewarding. Schools such as the Thunderbird School of Global Management offer courses on various topics related to globalization. However, for managers who have the time for and interest in an international degree, the experience can be valuable and allow for establishing a strong business network with executives from other countries.

Read globally - Keeping up on world news through country specific newspapers and resources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, Fortune and Harvard Business Review is a must. Incorporating discussions about current international events into management meetings can also lead to innovation and creativity.

International projects - Managers should be encouraged to study a new language, assisted by resources such as Rosetta Stone; and to volunteer for project assignments as they are identified. An organization can build a competitive advantage by locating managers in emerging markets for a year or two in order to gain an understanding of the way work and business relationships are accomplished.

Multicultural network - Leaders should be encouraged to network with other managers and executives who have international backgrounds and responsibilities, even if their role is not the same. Managers can also be matched with mentors outside the U.S. and should be offered access to opportunities where they could join in on international team projects.

So What’s Next?
The writing is more than on the wall: Globalization is here to stay, and leaders need to be taking the right steps to embrace it. Just by virtue of the word, globalization means business not usual. Therefore, it requires new thinking and new ways of doing things.

As I wrote about last week, planning and implementing organizational change isn’t a strong suit for American businesses; as demonstrated by a 70% failure rate. It takes time and commitment to successfully initiate change and to have it embraced by employees. But it can be done with the right leadership and change management approach.

According to Peyman Dayyani, VP of Organizational Development and Human Capital for Mobile Communication Company of Iran, who was quoted in Tyler’s article, "acquiring global skills should include a 70-20-10 learning approach: 70% learned by doing, 20% from being mentored by individuals with a global mind-set, and 10% by reading and attending classes." This formula can provide a good yardstick for developing the mixture of global learning experiences suited for specific organizational needs.

Not only do organizations need to consider the impact of globalization in their approach to strategic expansion, they also have to re-imagine their orientation, leadership development and human resource programs that support workforce analysis, succession planning, engagement, job rotations and more. Leadership development, especially to grow global cultural competencies, still seems to be elusive to many organizations. According to IBM’s Study, companies are struggling to both find and nurture effective future leaders.

Cultural competencies necessary for the success of global leaders according to Kathryn Tyler include self-awareness and the knowledge of how you are perceived by others; language acquisition, which not only provides a means for communication, but also allows for insights into the culture; and societal sensitivities, which allow leaders to be open to different solutions and adaptable to different cultures and work style norms. Leadership development programs focused on integrating these competencies along with the traditional leadership skill sets would go far in helping executives prepare for managing an international workforce.

The experts have gathered data, analyzed it and are laying out road maps for tuned-in organizations to follow in their quest to motivate and prepare leaders for the changing requirements of global management. What advice would you add to aid companies trying to strategize about how to prepare for success in a global market?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coaching Adaptive Change

Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This quote was posted today by Kathleen Friesen in her blog Ideas for Reflection. What perfect timing, as I was beginning my blog on integrating a coaching strategy into an organization’s approach to change, because "putting one’s thoughts into action is difficult," especially when you’re trying to do it alone.

For at least 15 years I’ve been writing about various concepts and techniques for successful change management. When I started, human resource/change management gurus like Wayne Cascio were quoting that "70% of all change initiatives taken on by businesses fail." Today, Harvard Business Review is still quoting that same rate. Why is it that after all this time, we haven’t improved our capabilities to be successful with change? Perhaps the answer lies in our unrealistic expectations about how change works.

Technical vs. Adaptive ChangeOne reason we continue to see a steady stream of unsuccessful change initiatives is that most organizations treat all change in the same manner. This causes problems, because not all change is alike. As more research is being conducted on our change management efforts, we’ve seen evidence that there are two types of change:

Technical change - when the solution is known and can be provided. This type of change is usually straightforward and relatively easy to implement; i.e. our assembly line needs to be updated to the latest technologies. The impact is installation of the new equipment, training on the new equipment and processes, and perhaps updates to operational policies and procedures.

Adaptive change - the solution is not cut and dry; it requires experimentation, growth, new discoveries, and adjustments to various functions throughout an organization. The ultimate solution is the product of the journey.

Adaptive Change Model, Carol Mase, Shift Magazine, Spring 2009
Used with permission.
Carol Mase, author of an interesting article, The Adaptive Organization provides a great illustration of the work and focus required for change to occur when the outcome isn’t as straightforward as a technical solution. Reading her work, I immediately wanted to layer it with the concepts Jeanie Daniel Duck writes about in her book The Change Monster.  Carol’s work is a terrific integration of the people and system realities of change.

Examining Mase’s Adaptive Change Model we see it merges two important aspects of change, once the transitional change aspect has been initiated. The process allows for the psychological trajectory of transformational change (blue line) as well as the structural journey (red line) of transactional change. Where we run into problems is trying to deal with the destabilizing events (both internal and external) that occur during change initiatives which generate "adaptive strain" and confusion. Following the red line you can see the emotional trauma brought on by change for many individuals, and can visualize where those Change Monsters are hiding, ready to jump out at every twist and turn to foil your progress.

Mase suggests that adaptive challenges require leaders that are comfortable and prepared to grow into a solution as they motivate the hearts and minds of others to embrace the new vision and perform differently. Looking at change holistically allows growth and expansion for the organization as it achieves a higher performance level and behavioral changes that are sustainable.

I found The Adaptive Organization to also be a great roadmap for how executive coaches can aid managers experiencing and/or driving change in their organizations. A coach can be a valuable partner assisting the manager in finding the courage to stay in the "Cauldron of Change" through the difficult personal work that must be done, processing changes to mind-sets and behaviors associated with Endings, Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings (William Bridges) A coach provides reassurances, as appropriate, that it’s ok to "feel your way" to the next course of action when you can’t see clearly what’s supposed to come next; supports and tempers those feelings of urgency to have all the answers before the questions are asked; and offers encouragement when personal doubt surfaces.

Tool Kit: Adaptive Change Skills and a Coach

Adaptive Change Model, Carol Mase, Shift Magazine, Spring 2009
Used with permission.
We all know the value of accountability in changing behaviors. Look at the success of the Weight Watchers program, marathon and Olympic trainers, or college study groups. If you want to change behavior, and in doing so the culture of the organization, you are more likely to have success if you are accountable on a consistent basis. That’s the job of the coach. The coach also guides the journey with assessments, honest dialogue, tough questions and a professional commitment that honors ethics and confidentiality.

Ms. Mase summarized her research by noting the key leverage points required to successfully facilitate adaptive change:
  • "Implement collective conversations to produce clear, compelling and shared visions for the future.
  • Ensure leadership has the abilities to tap the collective intelligence of the system while using its diversity, imagination and creativity to resolve the adaptive strain.
  • Nurture leaders that builds relationships of trust, commitment and collaboration."
What would your organization be like if your managers had the support they needed to deal with the chaos of the "Cauldron of Change" and stay the course until creativity and innovation emerged?

When leaders are not properly skilled to manage themselves, as well as their organizations during times of uncertainty, organizations tend to resist the change, deny there is a need for it, and return to the status quo; aborting the change initiative and proving, "If you just wait long enough, everything will go back to the way we used to do it." Another failed change initiative!

So What’s Next?

Research indicates that organizational success is strengthened by:
  • Leaders identifying and building their adaptive change skills and competencies
  • Employers understanding employees will alter their mind-sets only if they see the point of the change – building trust, opening communications and soliciting collaboration are critical skills for managers to possess to motivate engagement of change
  • Modifying policies, procedures, and reward and recognition systems to encourage the behaviors, culture and performance goals envisioned for the future
  • Ensuring employees are building the required future skill sets to achieve the vision
  • Leadership modeling new behaviors and performance expectations on a consistent basis
I’ve seen the remarkable changes coaching can inspire in individuals, as well as teams, when confronted with significant workplace change. There certainly is a place for each of the diverse training methods available today (i.e., classroom, workshops, webinars) when aligned to accommodate the appropriate transfer of knowledge, skills and abilities. The coaching experience is yet another developmental strategy providing for personalized and unique dialogues, guided discoveries, and a safe environment to practice realigning attitudes, values, and behaviors with the needs of the new organization.

We’re all dealing with change. If you haven’t taken a moment yet to read Carol Mase’s article, please do. I think you’ll enjoy it and it will help to expand your thoughts about managing change and the importance of being skilled to deal with adaptive, as well as technical change.

As you’re considering what I’ve written today, I’m curious to hear about your experiences with change: Can you see a way the Adaptive Change Model could help you facilitate change? Thank you for sharing your lessons-learned, comments and thoughts.