Tag Archives: Body Language

Take the Risk out of Change

The “new normal” declared that change is accelerating at an accelerating rate, yet “conventional wisdom” says people don’t really change. Since people find it hard to change, wouldn’t the rate of change be slow?

Our politicians, (the ones we elect to change things in Washington) in spite of their promises, are very slow to bring change. The incumbent likes the status quo and every freshman senator wants to be an incumbent.

What about the Church, Synagogue or Mosque – I’ll bet it hardly ever changes. If change happens quickly, these institutions tend to fracture or even disintegrate.

How about the food you eat? The type, the time, the place and quantity – do you change these much? Probably not, although I wish I would.

Many examples prove we are creatures of habit. For the incumbent, sitting on the inside edge of the power structure is better than risking that spot. Most incumbents can safely rattle off a list of changes that need to be made though.

When I asked Art, the CEO of a company he owns, how he copes with change he said, “Change can be intimidating. For every action, there is a reaction, but you can’t stay stagnant. Hiring a key player caused me to have lots of sleepless nights – letting go of control is hard.”

So how does change happen? In one sense, change emanates from outside the current power structure and is usually initiated by someone who wants a piece of the pie. Gain is the motivator.

In another sense, change comes on the wave of crisis. My commute on the ferry, reminds me of how quickly after 9/11 the Coast Guard gunboats began escorting the ferries across Puget Sound. Crisis made change happen quickly.

In a privately owned company, with less than a dominate market share, change can be forced by fear of loss. Significant change is difficult for people. A company often tolerates what it has and gives up what it wants because of the risk. So how do you minimize risk? These steps work:

Become a great sponsor: Take the time to collaborate with someone and describe the targeted change, including specifications, requirements, milestones and the name of the person that will own this.

Test for accuracy: Has the owner detailed the resources, people and the risks necessary to make this change?

Formalize change: Make sure to document all changes to the scope, resources or timing with formal signature approval.

Visually display the milestone status: Use Green for the milestones on target, Yellow for threatened ones, and Red for off target.

Process and manage issues: An issue is an opportunity or problem we encounter on the way to achieving a milestone. These need to be resolved judiciously, quickly and communicated weekly to the team with a visual update.

Casual change is fun to launch with words in meetings but they usually fail to achieve the intended future state. Formalizing change through planning, status updates, issue processing and communication will help everyone move into the future and make the next change much easier.

Beyond these thoughts, what have you learned about leading change? I’d love to hear your comments.  Jim@peer-place.com


The Crucible of Execution

As this CEO shared his frustrations regarding a key leader on his team, I mentioned that I’d been hearing him express this for quite awhile when he quickly fired back, “No, it’s only been a few months.”  With a patient voice, I proceeded and then he volunteered, “I guess you’re right, it has been going on for quite awhile.”  With this statement, he shifted into awareness.

It’s been said that 70% of the communication between two people swiftly occurs through body language.  With this in mind, consider also that frustration is often described as low-level anger.

When my wife Becky, greets me with, “Hi, how was your day?” her words carry different meanings based on how I interpret her body language.  Eye contact for a second or two means one thing, while shifting eyes means something very different.

In the case of the CEO described above, although he denied it, his frustrations had been present in this critical relationship for some time and were being communicated to this key person through his body language.

Like a low-grade fever, this hidden message was actively eroding their capacity to execute and was even threatening the longevity of this vital relationship.

The companies that I work with have less than 1,000 full time employees and I can tell you that in this space, hidden messages abound and denial is the norm, but I have seen this change.

Key relationships are a crucible.

A crucible is a container that can withstand very high temperatures.  In a similar way, we find ourselves being tested and refined through the key relationships in our lives.  Execution depends on key relationships; they are a special place where energy and meaning flow as a current between people.  When frustration, unmet expectations, rushed, inadequate or incomplete communication or judgment is allowed to linger, the flow deteriorates: creating a cycle of waste that dramatically affects execution.

In the words of Warren Bennis, “Social architecture is that which provides context (or meaning) and commitment to its membership and stakeholders.”  “An organization’s social architecture serves as a control mechanism, sanctioning or proscribing particular kinds of behavior.”  “A leader must be a social architect who understands the organization and shapes the way it works.”

When a CEO is frustrated with a key contributor for long, it points to a bent social architecture – one that sustains and supports a crippled relationship.

Relational connection is the conduit that supplies the flow of current that your future depends upon.

Most “first company CEOs” form their leadership patterns in a predictable fashion.  Their first step is usually to replicate the skills and moves that landed them the CEO seat in the first place.  When these moves yield diminishing returns, the hunt for new tips, techniques and ideas ensue.  With hundreds of promising self-help sources within easy reach, their experimental cycle accelerates.  After much trial and error, a few CEOs choose to move deeper.

After either repairing or replacing this key relationship, the next move for this CEO is about looking deeper.  It involves personal transformation in pursuit of the ultimate question, “Who am I that I would allow this frustration to linger?”  Tackling this question is important because by choosing this path a more authentic and durable CEO will emerge.

In my experience, the craft of leadership starts with heightened self-awareness and this gift is usually presented to us in the crucible of execution.

Exciting strategies are fun to develop but poor execution is the norm.

What should we be talking about that we are not?  I’d love to hear from you.  Jim@peer-place.com