Tips for Helping Your Team Process Change

I’ve been thinking this week about change. I wrote earlier about how my division of my company had been acquired. In the period that followed, I saw numerous individuals in a key moment, as they led their organization through change. Some were more helpful than others.

Here are a few things that worked well.

Talk about integrity and alignment. Usually, big shifts are not sudden. They are the result of a logical progression, culminating in change. In these moments, the most effective leaders reiterate their commitment to their core beliefs. They point out ways in which they did what they said they would do. They take the time to sell the shared vision to their teams again. They talk about first principles, the things that remain the same, and why the decision makes sense in light new circumstances while serving these shared, unchanged goals. They acknowledge inconsistencies, and ask their teams, when ready, to buy-in to their vision once again.

Focus on your audience’s needs. This seems so simple, but many leaders were unable to put aside their own preoccupations to focus on the needs of their teams. Numerous leaders phrased the decision in terms of their own incentives, rather than taking the time to step back, and consider their audience.

And their number one need is probably safety. I was shocked by the degree to which my own emotions focused on concerns at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–my job security, my benefits, my belonging, my logistics. Everyone thinks about themselves first in these moments, and it is difficult, in the midst of change, for organizations to make commitments to make people feel safe. Effective leaders talked about intentions, gave evidence of behavior in line with those intentions, or took the time to tell a positive story of their employees current situation. Even the awareness that safety was an issue of concern made leaders’ communication so much more effective. This proved to be a tricky topic: the more senior you are in an organization, the more alternatives you have, and the less safety is an issue. It takes empathy to remember the concerns you would have had a few years before and give a compassionate, resonant response.

Understand the role of time. Accepting change is not instantaneous; it’s a process. Leaders who were most helpful had multiple conversations. They provided space for their teams to ask questions, over several days, through sequential discussions. They gave time and space to absorb, reflect, and move forward. And, crucially, they allowed themselves space privately to process–communicating a positive view of the future while patiently giving their teams the gift of time.

These are straightforward ideas, but easy to forget in the confusion and excitement of imminent change. The best leaders were able to act on these simple, difficult concepts–and provided an incredible benefit to their teams as a result.



Ideas for happier feedback

In my role at work, I often have the chance to hear senior leaders reflect on what has helped make them successful.  They always name their ability to learn from feedback as essential to their long term growth.
But for some reason, whenever anyone gives me feedback, it doesn’t seem to be so helpful.  People tend to share criticisms of my actions that don’t make sense given the situation I was facing.  Or things that other people should really be fixing about themselves.
Okay – that was sarcasm.  It sounds ridiculous when I write it down, but most people can relate to those feelings.  Feedback can be embarrassing, gut-wrenching, or confusing to receive.  And the important feedback is most likely to take us by surprise and make us feel defensive.
So many options for how you choose to experience feedback

Of course, the right response to feedback is always gratitude.  But, often I find myself trying to evaluate the validity of the feedback as I’m receiving it.   This comes off as unreceptive and stubborn.

So here are a few ideas I’ve been trying lately to help.
  • Take other perspectives.  At work, I did an exercise with a group where we chose different words to explain how we experience feedback.  Each group then talked about ways their perspective both helped and hindered them.  We then discussed how the people to whom we give feedback experience those moments.  But, for me, simply understanding that there are range of possible perspectives was incredibly helpful.
  • “The Shelf.”  When you receive feedback, you can choose not to act on it immediately.  Instead, imagine noticing it and putting it on a shelf.  If you never receive that feedback again, you can choose not to make a change.  But, if you hear that same piece of advice repeatedly, you can revisit that decision when you’re ready to address it.
  • Ask a few questions Instead of trying to assess the validity of feedback in the moment, focus on really understanding what your friend is saying.  You can ask clarifying questions, ask for an example, or ask for a recommendation on a better approach.  This will keep you from trying to evaluate what you’re hearing as right or wrong, and instead focus your mind on listening.
  • Send a thank you note: Because feedback can be stressful, most of us don’t handle it as well in the moment as we’d like.  Writing to express gratitude encourages continued feedback, but also shows that you take seriously the insights that were shared.
Here’s the advice of other leaders I respect on feedback.
Have a great day, and stay encouraged!







Preparing for a new role

I recently caught up with a few friends who are taking on leadership roles in new organizations, either following business school or after being a part of a company for a short amount of time.  They asked me for advice on preparing for these changes.

Here’s what I proposed:

First, understand your customer’s experience.  We were talking about a health care company, so I proposed reading a book written by a patient about their experience.  It could be walking in the front door of a retail operation, or installing the application of a Saas business.  The point is that you need to understand how your customer sees your operation, and the path they take from finding your company to completing a purchase.

Second, find an objective view of your organization.  For publicly traded companies, this is contained in their annual reports and their earnings call transcripts.  For nonprofits, it could be their annual reports or their IRS form 990 filings.  For private companies, it might be their reports to their board or their investors.  In any case, it’s important to get a view of how the organization is doing on the metrics that it holds itself accountable to.

Third, reflect on who you are as you step into the role.  Great leaders have self-awareness and behave proactively.  They know what they bring into a situation that is of value, and they know what they want to learn from the experiences they design for themselves to have.  They take a long term view of what they want to achieve, and they keep those goals in sight so they can continue to work toward them over the long term.  I suggested two quick exercises to help with this:

  •  Write down your “why”:  We all have a reason that we show up in the morning.  As a leader in a new role, you should take the time to reflect, write it down, and share it with your team.  And, as you go through this process, ask yourself whether the story you are telling will resonate with those around you.  Is what you are saying true? Will your reasoning make sense?  Are you connecting your experiences and interest with your daily activities in the most compelling and authentic way possible?  If you allowed yourself to be more vulnerable, would you be able to share a better story?
  • Reflect on the connection between your ideas, actions, and outcomes: Beliefs -> Behaviors -> Results.  I’ve found this simple framework to be a remarkably insightful way for me to think about how I show up at work.  Are my stated beliefs reflected in my daily actions?  Will those behaviors yield the actions I want over the long term?  How will I react during the time when my behaviors are not yet producing the results that I want?

Fourth, and most importantly, build relationships.  Organizations run on the human connections, on community.  Take the time to find and connect with people.  Listen and help when you are able.  Celebrate whenever possible.  Enjoy the experience of being together doing whatever the worthwhile work is that you have found in common.

Appreciate the Seasons

My wife and I have a beautiful 4-month old daughter.  She is chubby, full of smiles, and loves to be held.  If you put her down to explore by herself, she always ask to be picked back up.

Until she didn’t–just last week–and started to enjoy time on her own.

We used to joke about how we’d have a tough time dropping her off for middle school still in the baby carrier, because it’s a funny image.  And carrying a baby for 20 hours a day is hard work.  But as we watch her becoming more independent, a part of us was sad that she is, in this small way, growing up.

Life arrives in seasons.

I think this happens with many of aspects of life and work.  All sorts of things come in seasons, not just weather.

…if current trends continue, I’ll say to myself, I’ll still be in the same place in five years.  I’ll be fighting the same struggles and frustrations I am now.   …and I won’t be able to handle it.

Instead, I need to remember that most of life arrives in waves, like the light and the weather.  There will be struggles and victories, uncertainty and simplicity, more and less.  There will be stable times when it seems like things will always be the same, and times when everything changes all at once.

More importantly, I need to appreciate the seasons.  They are a time to focus, to devote greater attention to a few particulars, to learn gratitude and exercise patience.  They should be enjoyed, because they will certainly pass.  I’ll take the lessons and memories forward, and be better for it–if I have the perspective and openness to learn from the gift of time I’ve been given.

Because life isn’t always an even-tempered journey, and great careers don’t always follow a steady path of predictable growth.

Four things I’m doing to appreciate the seasons in my life:

  • Acknowledge them.  Noticing a string of rainy days is much more discouraging than seeing the first signs of Spring.  Knowing I’ve entered a season allows me to appreciate the present and look forward to the seasons that will surely follow.
  • Have gratitude and perspective.  Every season has it’s joys, even if they’re not obvious–something that I’ve learned since moving to Chicago.  When I find a season stressful, I remember that it will end eventually, and that I can be grateful for the gifts that this time will bring.
  • Make changes, knowing they are temporary.  The equivalent of changing my wardrobe as I start to notice an autumn chill.  If I resist the season, I end up spending more time miserable.  Instead, I try to make a change to allow me to appreciate the season as I find it.

I hope this helps you enjoy the seasons in your life a bit more.  Take care!