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Four Tips to Help Your Team Avoid Jumping to the Wrong Solution

“If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.”   –Albert Einstein

Think back to the last time you were part of a team charged with solving a problem. During that first meeting, did you Change management techniquesspend more time:

  • Defining the problem to identify the root cause behind the failure, or more time
  • Talking about potential solutions?

In our culture we often leap to solutions before we’re absolutely sure what it is we need to fix. It’s a fact that most of us are pressed for time. It’s also true that time is money.

However, it’s a lack of clarity and understanding about how to resolve our challenges that leads to frustration and wasted resources every time.

4 tips to identify the most viable solution

  1. Forget hierarchy and title.
  2. Use a facilitated approach to team problem-solving.
  3. Promote a balance of divergent and convergent thinking.
  4. Ask why 5 times to identify the root cause.

Forget hierarchy and title:  Include the people who are closest to the work. Although this might seem obvious, teams often include leaders only or members from just one function, instead of a cross-section of individual contributors who are closest to what is going on and who are invaluable to identifying a solid, cost-effective solution.

Use a facilitated approach to team problem-solving:  Encourage your teams to think beyond the first ideas that extroverted team members may quickly offer. Fact is, some incredibly valuable ideas may exist in the minds of the more introverted members of your team as well and they may never see the light of day. Also, an observation or comment from a quiet team member may spur a new idea from another.  The best resource I have ever found to facilitate problem-solving is Sam Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. He provides easy-to-use tips and tools to collect diverse points of view, create a shared framework of understanding, and develop viable solutions.

Promote a balance of divergent and convergent thinking:  Create a team norm that prohibits comments like, “yeah, but that won’t work because …” or “we tried that once and it didn’t work…” or any other negative comment that would cause the discussion to come to a close before you have opened it to all the possibilities. Then, begin your initial problem-solving sessions with divergent thinking to allow people to offer up any facts and ideas that come to mind.Decision-making model for organizational change

Because we are so pressed for time, it’s natural to want to jump quickly to solutions. The problem is that in doing so, we limit the scope and quality of our decisions. In his book, Sam Kaner illustrates how to leverage both divergent and convergent thinking. Both are critical. Both are necessary.

Ask why 5 times to help you identify the root cause of your problem:   Sakichi Toyodo developed the 5 Whys Tool at Toyoto Motor Corporation to help his teams identify the root cause of an issue and come up with the best solution. Now the tool is used within Kaizen, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma.

I heard the following anecdote* during a workshop. It illustrates how the National Parks Service harnessed the power of the 5 Whys Tool:

The Problem:  The Jefferson Memorial stones are deteriorating. The initial solution was to haul up new stones from a quarry in the South to replace them. A costly, time-consuming process, which would involve closing the memorial for months. The team got the right people in the room, used divergent and convergent thinking to brainstorm and evaluate possible solutions. During the process, they asked why five times:

Why #1:  Why are the stones deteriorating?  Because we are cleaning them so often with abrasive chemicals. Potential solution:  better cleaning process.

Why #2:  Why do we need such abrasive chemicals?  Because an abrasive cleaner is the best way to clean off the pigeon droppings that have recently increased. Potential solution:  eliminate the pigeons.

Why #3:  Why all the pigeons?  Because they flock to feed on all the spiders. Potential solution:  kill the spiders.

Why #4:  Why so many spiders?  Because they are attracted by all those tiny flying insects called midges. Potential solution:  kill the midges.

Why #5:  Why all the midges?  Because they are attracted by the monument’s lights during their twilight swarming period.  The Best Solution Turn the monument lights on two hours later.

The final solution was cost-effective and simple. Just think of how much money might have been spent if the team had not taken time to understand and define the problem that needed to be resolved.

So, the next time your team is charged with solving a problem–where will you spend the bulk of your time during that first meeting?

 

*Source unknown

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A Strategy to Create Awareness and Reinforce Organizational Change

Honeywell’s annual Big Red H Award Program created lasting behavior changes and played a key role in developing world-class communications professionals who contributed to company success.

In the mid-eighties, few standards existed among Honeywell’s Aerospace and Defense communications professionals. Communicators ranged from those who thought their jobs consisted of writing and SOS—sending out stuff—and those who created strategic communications to help leaders manage organizational change and achieve company goals.Change management strategy

Not surprisingly, the company valued the second group highly. So, their leaders launched a program called the Big Red H. The goal was to encourage best-in-class work and develop high-quality professionals.

The Big Red H Program consisted of three steps:

  1. At the end of each year, communicators submitted their best work for evaluation by a group of experts.
  2. The submission process required communicators to describe their project, identify quantitative objectives, provide an audience analysis for each stakeholder group, and define their strategy to mitigate resistance for each project they submitted. In addition, and this was the most important element, communicators needed to list the measurable results they achieved. For novice communicators, completing the submission to The Big Red H Program created awareness about the elements of an excellent communication plan. For more experienced professionals, the process served to reinforce what it took to be a world-class communicator.
  3. All communicators were invited to attend an annual best-in-class communications conference whether they’d submitted a project or not. During that conference, people were honored, projects highlighted, awards presented, and communicators had a chance to learn and share best practices.

The program was beautiful in its design and simplicity because it:

  • Provided ongoing awareness about the value of strategic communications—not just to the communicators but to the leaders they supported as well.
  • Created the desire among communications professionals to adopt best practices and to be recognized as highly competent among peers and leadership.
  • Reinforced ongoing behavior and actions throughout the Aerospace and Defense Group to be a strategic communicator whose work made a difference to the success of the company.

What type of organizational change do you want to achieve in your company? How might an awards program create awareness and reinforce the behavior you want?

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Avoid Three Common Mistakes When Launching Organizational Change

“What did we do to be treated so badly?” Alice shook her head, tears rolling down her face. “I’m just waiting to hear that I don’t have a job anymore.”

Twelve other people sat around the table nodding their heads in agreement.

It was midnight, end of the second shift at a Buffalo, New York plant for a global manufacturing company. Outside snow slammed against the windows of the conference room. It was two days before Christmas.

Several months earlier, the company had launched an organization-wide initiative to address evolving customer needs and improve the quality of their products. Although changes were progressing well in other locations, morale was extremely low at the Buffalo plant. My job was to find out why.

One of the others spoke up. “No one tells us anything since they announced this organizational transformation they keep talking about. It’s as though we don’t matter anymore. We get email after email filled with stuff, but no one comes to talk to us.”

“That’s right,” said a third person. “It didn’t used to be that way before you acquired us. This was our company, and we really made a difference. That’s why we chose to work here instead of somewhere else.”

It’s easy to underestimate the level of disruption that occurs when we launch a change initiative. Even when a change is positive, initially most people can only think, what will happen to me? Will I still have a job? What if I can’t take care of my family? Although these thoughts are common human nature, they have a profound impact on productivity and morale. Leaders often make three classic mistakes by:

  • Underestimating the power of the existing culture. Even with the best of good intentions, employees are used to doing their work in a certain way. Until they understand and have time to process the need for change, they will just keep doing what they’ve always done.
  • Moving too fast to implement changes while communicating too little or too late. Sometimes the pressure to just make things happen causes leaders to move forward before listening, assessing, and understanding the impact of the changes they wish to make. The result? Some employees shut down and let fear take over, others stand around and kvetch at the copy machine, and the rest keep charging ahead doing what they’ve always done—or worse, trying out new things that may not be beneficial. A lack of clarity around new roles and responsibilities is one of the biggest reasons change initiatives fail.
  • Forgetting the importance of connecting with people on all three levels:

 Intellectual:  Employees understand the rationale behind what needs to happen.

─ Emotional:  Employees buy in and want to support the need for change.

─ Practical:  Employees know how to make a personal contribution.

Organizational change is a process, not an event. Cookie cutter approaches don’t work because dynamics differ in every organization. Successful initiatives require a systematic, multifaceted change management process. Here are two excellent resources. Each provides a systematic approach to launching and sustaining successful change:

Back to our plant in Buffalo. It turned out that morale issues arose because corporate leaders did not appear in Buffalo to announce what was going to happen. Instead, they agreed that local Buffalo leaders would deliver all face-to-face communications. The goal was to reinforce their trust and to send this message to each employee:  You have run a successful organization for more than 50 years. As a newly acquired part of our company, we have every belief that your plant will continue to deliver high quality, innovative work. You are a critical part of this organization.

The intent was good—the understanding was not. Once corporate leaders understood how employees interpreted their absence, they modified their change management plans to make regular trips to meet onsite with local leaders and their teams. Morale improved exponentially.

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Emography: A Change Management Tool to Engage Your Team

Emography is the art of drawing an emotion. It’s a right brain activity that helps teams communicate on a deeper level. When team members first create images of thoughts and feelings, it’s easier for them to talk about difficult topics, resolve conflicts, and identify solutions. This technique is especially effective during organizational change when emotions are running high.

Following a series of acquisitions, Natalie was charged with consolidating three departments into one centralized operation. Her challenge was to retain each of the three leadership teams, maintain a high level of morale during the transition, and identify as many ways to decrease operating expenses as possible. A piece of cake, right? To ensure success, Natalie applied the Three Levels of Communication™.

Level 1 Communication – Intellectual:  People understand the need to change

Natalie met individually with her new leaders and told them how valuable they were to the company. She asked for their help and expertise to build a combined, stronger department that would exemplify the best practices from each of the old departments.

She provided facts and figures to convince these leaders they would have a bright, challenging future–even brighter than if they’d continued to lead their own smaller departments.

The leaders told her how hard they had worked to build best practices over the years. They explained how proud they were of all they’d accomplished and that they were afraid the changes would limit their personal power. When they shared Natalie’s messages, they found their own fear and uncertainty mirrored back to them through the eyes and words of their direct reports.

Natalie understood that all the facts and figures in the world were not going to change how they felt. However, she was just getting started.

Level 2 Communication – Emotional: People buy in and want to support the need for change

The next thing she did was to schedule an offsite. Natalie knew she needed to create a joint experience that would help these leaders feel the power they could achieve through a new, centralized department. She knew that before people could feel the power, they needed to share what they’d already accomplished. She also knew that before they could create a new vision, they had to let go of the old.

So, as part of the offsite, she structured a three-part emography exercise.

  • Part 1:  The first morning, leaders broke into small groups, which represented their original departments. On a flip chart, they drew all the images they could think of to illustrate the accomplishments and culture of their former departments. Then they shared their images and thoughts with the large group. Their new colleagues smiled and said things like, “we need to do that in our new department,” and “what a great idea.” Instead of thinking only about what they wanted to say next, people were listening to each other and considering new ideas.
  • Part 2:  At the end of the day, everyone broke into new groups that mixed leaders from the three departments. The groups drew images that described how they and their direct reports currently felt about the changes they faced as one consolidated department. As each group reported back, they discovered everyone was feeling the same fear, uncertainty, and chaos. That night, over dinner, people talked about how they could work together to keep the best practices from each former team and how to help their direct reports transition. They started to talk about how maybe this consolidation could be a good thing if they learned how to work as a team.
  • Part 3:  Throughout the second day, the leaders identified and prioritized objectives for the coming quarter. At the end of the day, Natalie asked them to mix once more into new groups and create images of how they envisioned the new, centralized department. When each group reported back to the larger group, the energy in the room grew and the offsite culminated in commitments from each to build the strongest department they could.

Level 3 Communication – Practical:  People know how to make a personal contribution

The offsite was even more successful than Natalie had hoped. Even so, she knew that when everyone went back to face their daily work, the excitement and commitment could dissipate if the processes and tools did not exist to reinforce the right behavior and actions.

So, she and her leaders created a plan to communicate what needed to happen, why, when it needed to happen, and who was involved. They also provided a variety of ongoing experiences for everyone, kept priorities and progress visible, and celebrated progress against plan.

In the end, this team saved $8M in operating expenses. Morale was high, and people were proud to be part of the new team.

Emography is a useful tool. We often think in words rather than images, and language can be limiting. When we draw representations of what we’re feeling, we can express through metaphor and image what we may not be able to express with words alone. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how to use Emography with your own team.

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Five Easy-to-Access Change Management Resources

How to manage organizational changeOrganizational change is like wiring the house with the power still on. You need to get light into every room, but you don’t want anyone to get zapped in the process.

It’s easy to underestimate the level of disruption that occurs when we launch a new strategy, are asked to lead a new team, or when we ask our current teams to do things differently.

Even when a change is positive, initially most people can only think, what will happen to me? Will I still have a job? What if I can’t take care of my family?

In addition to all the disruption, fear, and uncertainty, leaders often make three classic mistakes by:

  • Underestimating the power of the existing culture. Even with the best of good intentions, employees are used to doing their work in a certain way. And, until they understand and have time to process the need for change, they will just keep doing what they’ve always done.
  • Moving too fast to implement changes while communicating too little or too late. The result? Some employees shut down and let fear take over, others stand around and kvetch at the copy machine, and the rest keep charging ahead doing what they have always done—or worse, trying out new things that may not be beneficial. A lack of clarity around new roles and responsibilities is one of the biggest reasons change initiatives fail.
  • Forgetting the importance of connecting on all three levels of communication:

─ Intellectual:  Employees understand the rationale behind the need for change.

─ Emotional:  Employees buy in and want to support the need for change.

─ Practical:  Employees know how to make a personal contribution.

No doubt about it, organizational change is complex. Here are five easy-to-access, and digest, resources to help spark some ideas about managing change in your organization:

  1. Author Dan Heath describes an interesting psychology study in this four-minute video: Why Change is So Hard .
  2. Gavin Wedell, a business educator in London, offers leaders 4 tips to manage change in his three-minute video, What Is Change Management.
  3. Management Consultancy International describes the four typical responses to change in Change Management in 30 Seconds.
  4. Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss their philosophy: “When it’s time to change, we must look for bright spots . . .What’s working and how can we do more of it?” in a Fast Company excerpt about their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.
  5. Learn about a leader who dared to try innovative techniques to transform his team. Download your free eBook (see side bar):  Launching Organizational Change: 5 Tips to transform employee disinterest, doubt, and fear into buy-in, engagement, and action.
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Effective Leaders Ask 3 Questions to Get Results

“Vision without action is just a daydream. Action without vision creates chaos. But leaders who connect vision to the right actions can change the world.” Adapted from a Japanese proverb.

Part 2 of When You Speak, Do Employees Listen and Take Action? 

Elizabeth and her team knew that if they were to create the organizational changes their customers demanded, they needed to connect with employees on all three levels by asking these questions:

  1. What do we want people to understand? This is the intellectual level of leadership communication, the plan to ensure employees understand what needs to happen, why it needs to happen, what is expected of them—and when.
  2. What do we want people to feel? This is the emotional level, the experiences that inspire people to make a personal contribution.
  3. What do we want people to do? This is the practical level to disrupt status quo and ensure that the right systems and processes are in place so people can take action to achieve the results you want.

The team decided to launch their change initiative at an all-employee meeting. When Elizabeth kicked off the meeting, she didn’t put up any charts or figures. She just went to the front of the room, smiled, and thanked everyone for coming.

“How many of you have heard that our customers are not happy with our products and services?” Some people nodded, some shifted in their chairs, and others just looked surprised. “Well, it’s true. Listen.”

A woman and two men joined her in the front of the room. Each represented one of the company’s three most important customers.

One of the men stepped up to the microphone. “Hello. I’m sorry to say it, but I’m here to tell you that Obitron really sucks.”*

The woman stepped up to the microphone next and said, “Not only are you no longer our first choice, you’re not even our second or third.”

And the third man stood up and said, “What’s going on with you guys these days? You used to be the best show in town.”

People sat straight up in their chairs and listened. When the customers were through describing their perspectives, Elizabeth and her leaders broke everyone into groups so that they could begin to define next steps. After the meeting, employees not only understood on a macro level what needed to happen, each committed to making a personal contribution.

The meeting was just the beginning. Elizabeth and her team prepared an entire series of information and events to unleash the collective power within their department. Working with all employees, they identified the details, the timing, and how they would measure–and celebrate–success. Because everyone understood how she or he could personally make a difference, the changes happened more quickly in Elizabeth’s department than anywhere else in the organization.

Change is a process—not an event. Leaders who know how to connect on all levels of communication are the leaders who create and maintain successful change initiatives.

If you are interested, please contact me for a copy of C3—The Three Levels of Leadership Communication™ model.

Also, don’t forget to download your free eBook (see side bar):  Accelerate Organizational Change:  5 Tips to transform employee disinterest, doubt, and fear into buy-in, engagement, and action.

*Obitron is a fictitious company. Any resemblance to an actual business is purely coincidental.

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When You Speak, Do Employees Listen and Take Action?

Employees who don't listen

Part 1:  Take 3 steps to gain employee buy-in, engagement, and action

The company was bleeding out of every orifice. If they were to survive, it was imperative that every employee understood they could no longer do business as they’d been doing it for so many years. Customers were not happy with the products they manufactured or the services they provided.

Things had to change. Fast.

This is the story of Sarah, Joe, Greg, and Elizabeth. Only one of these department leaders captured attention, gained buy-in, and motivated employees to listen and take action. Only one leader got results.

Too many facts and figures. Sara met with the leaders in her department. She went over dozens of charts and graphs. She talked through every bullet point, describing what wasn’t working and why. She knew her data was compelling. And, her leaders faithfully presented every chart to their direct reports. The results? A growing fear among some employees that they may be laid off and a belief among others that management was over-reacting. Productivity slowed down.

All jazzed up and nowhere to go. Steve held a special meeting that included every employee in his department. He was a charismatic, inspiring speaker, and to a person every employee committed to go back and figure out how to make things better. But when they returned to their jobs, employees were frustrated because they didn’t know what to do. So some just did what they’d always done, while others tried new things. Chaos, confusion, and frustration multiplied.

Process in a vacuum is not enough. Greg called a meeting with his Six Sigma Black Belt, and together they decided to define, implement, and measure new processes that would improve a host of current issues. They held meetings, lots of meetings, with department leaders and employees. Processes changed, and although a few employees resisted, some improvement occurred. But it wasn’t enough.

Communicate on three levels for consistent results. Elizabeth met with her department leaders, and they worked to create an integrated plan, involving three steps. They knew they needed to communicate on the:

  1. Intellectual level to ensure that employees understood the rationale behind the need to change.
  2. Emotional level to create buy-in and inspire employees to take action.
  3. Practical level so that all employees knew how they could make a difference to the organization’s success.

Elizabeth understood the importance of connecting on all three levels to make lasting, measurable behavior and process changes. Find out what she said and did on June 19 in the next Communicate with Moxie blog:  Effective Leaders Ask 3 Questions to Get Results.

Don’t forget to download your free eBook (see side bar):  Accelerate Organizational Change:  5 tips to transform employee disinterest, doubt, and fear into buy-in, engagement, and action.

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