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Archive for the ‘Performance Management’ Category

Managing Transitions – Letting Go

Monday, January 24th, 2011

A longtime client has requested some help with managing change.  So, I’m pulling out my most trusted reference: Managing Transitions by William Bridges.  Anytime I support a client with change issues, this book is part of my toolkit.  Bridges makes an argument that I think is key in dealing with change:  “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”  Simply put, change is situational, yet transition is psychological.  It’s critical to manage the psychological part of change, and that’s often the part that is overlooked by leaders.  In the diagram above, Bridges illustrates the three phases of transition:  1.  Ending, Losing, Letting Go, 2.  The Neutral Zone, and 3.  The New Beginning.

As Bridges makes clear in his book, every transition begins with an ending.  There is some form of “letting go” that accompanies a successful transition.  No matter whether the change is positive or negative, change begins with an ending of something.  For example, a new process means letting go of a strong sense of familiarity and feeling of competence with performing daily tasks.  Or, a promotion means changing peer groups and letting go of daily interactions with people who you’ve grown to know and count on.  Personal changes come with transitions as well . . . moving to a new neighborhood or city means letting go of your physicians, neighbors, and a strong sense of community.  Even when changes are good, there is letting go to do.  Leaders must allow time and space for the psychological process of letting go.

It is possible to create an environment where people are able to deal with losses openly, without it turning into the proverbial whine and moan session.  Bridges offers lots of suggestions.  Here are my favorites that through my work with clients have proven to be very effective:

  1. Accept the Reality and Importance of the Subjective Losses.  In other words, everyone deals with loss differently.  What you may consider easy, someone else may consider wildly difficult.  Learn as much as you can about someone’s perception of loss.  It will make it much easier for you to address it.
  2. Don’t Be Surprised at Overreaction.  The key here is to understand that if somone’s reaction to change is stronger than yours, you’re likely to call it an “overreaction”, when in fact it is simply someone’s reaction.  Loss can, however, be incremental.  That is, an initial reaction to change can be layered with another reaction to something else coming down the pike, and so on.  So, what you may view as an overreaction, might actually be reaction “overload”.
  3. Acknowledge the Losses Openly and Sympathetically.  An empathic leader is a powerful leader.  So, bring losses out in the open and make them safe to discuss.  Invite others to share their feelings of loss, and share yours as well.  For example:  “I know these changes are going to pose challenges for all of us.  I’m sorry about that.” Or,  “I’m feeling a bit like a duck out of water myself.  It’s hard to learn a new process.”
  4. Expect and Accept the Signs of Grieving.  People process change differently, but like stages of grief, you’ll likely notice anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness or confusion.
  5. Give People Information, Again, and Again.  Leaders cannot overcommunicate, especially during times of change.  Even if you don’t have an update, that’s information your team is likely to appreciate.  Keep them informed.
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Saying “No”: It’s Not For Whiners Anymore

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Last week, I read a blog post by Marshall Goldsmith called Overcommitment: A Happiness Killer.  Most everything that Goldsmith writes grabs me.  He’s a world-renowned coach and thought-leader on effectiveness and performance improvement.  The crux of his post is to “think about what saying yes to that next request will mean.”  Really, when you say “yes”, it’s important to think about what you are saying “no” to.  I get it.  Nonethless, it’s really hard for me to say “no”.  And, this got me thinking of some common reasons why people don’t say “no”, especially in the workplace.

  • We’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • We don’t want to be perceived as something other than a “team player”.
  • We want to be seen as super-capable and afraid that if we say “no”, we’ll be seen for what we are: human.
  • It sounds like a really good idea.

Learning to say “no” isn’t taught in business school.  Many organizational cultures don’t value saying “no” because it’s perceived as anti-team or pro-whining.  But, “no” can be a really good thing.  There are lots of reasons to say no, especially in the workplace:

  • We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying yes and then not being able to deliver.
  • We want to be perceived as being a “team player” and saying “no” when we know we can’t deliver builds trust and credibility.
  • We want to be seen as super-capable so we make sure to say no to something that will do nothing but take our “eye off the ball”.
  • Just because it sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean it is.

You get my drift.

Saying “no” effectively means thinking critically and keeping the big picture in mind.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or if you’re a leader, questions you can ask your team) when determining whether “no” is the right answer:

  • Does the request move your organizational agenda forward?  In other words, if you say “yes”, will there be progress toward something that matters?
  • Is the request in alignment with your role or responsibilities?
  • Do you have the authority and resources to take on and complete the request?  Or, if you need to access shared resources, do you know how?
  • If you say yes to the request, what affect does it have on other things you’ve said yes to?
  • Is there someone else in the organization more skilled and able to complete the request than you?

More and more, I find myself talking with clients about why they accepted that meeting notice or how they found themselves on yet another sub-committee.  Most of the time I discover that they answered someone else’s call without any questioning or critical thinking.  In today’s workplace, resources are scarce at worst or spread too thin at best.  People need to be a little more strategic about what they take on, and leaders need to support someone’s ability to ask some key questions before taking on a request that might suck time and energy away from something that really needs their attention.

Marshall Goldsmith had it right when he said overcommitment is a happiness killer.  I contend it can also be a productivity killer, an effectiveness killer, and a mission-critical-focus killer.

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Posted In: Leadership, Performance Management

Culture and Values

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I’ve just finished reading Tony Hsieh’s new book, Delivering Happiness.  It is the best book on culture that I’ve ever read.  Hsieh is the CEO at, and besides being witty and really funny, Hsieh is incredibly insightful about the importance of culture.  He shares EVERYTHING about how they built culture at and gives everyone who reads the book a blueprint for how to do it at other organizations as well.  He argues, very compellingly, that without a strong culture that has some teeth behind it, there is no way Zappos would have achieved more than $1 billion in gross sales annually in just 10 years.  Key here is the “teeth” behind the culture.  Zappos is willing to make hiring and firing decisions based on their cultural values.  In other words, if someone won’t fit into the culture, no matter how skilled or competent she is, she won’t be hired.  And, on the other hand, regardless of how talented and capable an employee is, if he behaves in a way that is counter to the corporate values, he’ll be fired.  There’s just no negotiation when it comes to culture and the values that shape them.  The result is a culture with authenticity and consistency.

Building culture starts with identifying an “end game”.  What is your company’s purpose?  What do you want to build and achieve together?  This isn’t just a “touchy-feely” question . . . it’s a strategic and critically important one.  Being part of something bigger than you are is inspiring and can yield great results.  The purpose can be really simple.  At Zappos, their higher purpose is to deliver happiness – to make people happy.  And, it’s turned out to be an incredible business plan.  The important thing for any organization is to have a clear purpose.  What is yours?  And, more important, if everyone in your organization was asked about the purpose, would they know what it is?

Next, building culture continues with identifying core values.  What guides your behaviors and decisions?  Values can help you make sure that your higher purpose is achievable and real.  At Zappos, there are 10 core values.  There is no magic number – you can have 3 or 5 or 12.  How ever many you have, you need to make sure you can live with them and commit to them and have some teeth behind them.  If you have too many, it’s easy to lose focus and ultimately, lose the meaning of the values.  If they are values you can commit to, and make hiring and firing decisions around them, then they are a solid set of values.  The values are the key expression of culture.  When you ask employees and customers to describe culture, it’s the values that they’ll speak to because your values are your culture in action.

Finally, building culture means building the expectation into the organization, through things like job descriptions and performance evaluations, that living up to the core values is everyone’s responsibility.  By living your values, you’ll build and sustain your culture.

I  love doing culture work with clients because it is inspiring and reminds me that there are fantastic possibilities to be explored if we only open our hearts to them.  What possibilities are there out there for you, I wonder?

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Posted In: Leadership, Organizational Culture, Performance Management, Uncategorized, Values