Overcoming Barriers to Change

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One of the highest barriers to effecting change is getting enough people to change their thinking from “the way it is now” to the way you want to operate. In fact, many people are very resistant to change–I call that resistance “institutional inertia.” The most successful companies are able to help their teams and their stakeholders make the transition in thinking, and it’s absolutely crucial to innovation and transformation. How do they do it?

Knowing Where You Want to Go

Obviously, you have to know where you’re going or you’ll never get anywhere, so that’s the first step. Senior leadership teams need to spend some time thinking clearly about where you want to move the organization well before engaging the rank and file. A solid vision statement is a must, and not one of those flowery ones full of meaningless buzzwords. A clear vision of where you want to move the organization must also be congruent with your existing mission statement. If it’s not, you’ll either need to change your vision or revise your mission. It does no good to change one and not the other!

Knowing The Barriers to Change

There are all sorts of barriers to change, both internal and external. Understanding what those barriers are and making a plan to overcome them is the next step in effecting transformation and innovation. In large organizations internal barriers to transformation will be:

  • Threats to positional power
  • Uncertainty in accomplishing the organizational mission
  • Threats to personal careers

Take time to identify the key players and list the threats to your transformational plan, then make a concrete plan to mitigate each. For example, if people are concerned with losing their jobs you can mitigate that with assurances you don’t plan staff reductions. If organizational reorganizations will change certain persons’ positional power, you can mitigate those by engaging those people directly and ensure you have a plan to either move them into a commensurate position or offer compensation to take away the sting.

There’s also external barriers as well:

  • Resistance from functional communities
  • Resistance from key stakeholders
  • Resistance from customers

Like the internal barriers, making specific plans to reduce the resistance to the planned transformation is key to success. Overcoming these barriers is where senior leaders really earn their pay! Getting functional communities on board, for example, will likely mean lots of time discussing planned changes with key functional leaders and getting their buy in. Of course, even the most gifted negotiators sometimes can’t get everyone on board. In those cases, it’s necessary to build a stable of allies that can help you exert political influence on decision makers and stakeholders to make the change happen. For small companies, those functional leaders will often be industry associations and government oversight staffs. For larger organizations, it could be “higher headquarters” or even key C-suite or board members leaders in the company. Assemble the team, make the case, and build consensus among those who can stop the transformation. Be prepared to use influence and power to knock down barriers if necessary!

Knowing When to Engage the Entire Team

As the senior leadership team, you’ll have consider when to bring more people into your planning process. In complex change efforts, keeping the team as small as possible initially will prevent “paralysis by argument.” Again, you’ll need to clearly articulate where you’re headed and why it’s beneficial to all involved. Get as many people as possible involved in creating the transformation plan, careful not to overdo it with too many! Ideally, the more people invested in effecting the change, the more successful you’ll be in making it happen. However, don’t grow the team too fast, and don’t allow the team to take over the transformation from the senior leadership team!

Make it Happen

To effect any transformation, you’ll need to (1) Know Where You’re Headed, (2) Know Your Barriers, and (3) Know Who to Involve. Follow this three-step process and you’ll be able to lead your teams through change!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 3 – Executing the Plan

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, How To Change

riding-the-wave-of-change

Planning is very important, but just like the surfer sitting in the lineup at some point you have to actually drop in and ride the waves. For leaders, this idea means we have to carry out the plans we make. Perfect plans don’t accomplish anything–implementing them does!

That surfing maxim came home to me in the deserts of Kuwait of all places. January 2003 was cold and wet in Kuwait. We’d been planning for months and now it was “go” time. While some projects in our construction program were already underway, we were about to embark on a crash program to complete the remainder of the crucially important projects to get our air base ready. In a few weeks, we’d be receiving 5,000 Airmen and Marines, as well as 200 airplanes. I’ll probably never know for certain, but the word was that when our base was fully operational then we’d begin Operation Iraqi Freedom. In other words: the world was literally waiting on us. We needed to execute the plan we’d made, and we’d need to do it right the first time.

In Part 1, we discussed surveying the environment, and in Part 2 we talked about making a plan. Part 3 is all about execution. After you survey the environment and make a plan, you have to put it into action. When in execution, leaders should keep in mind the following :

  1. Steer the implementation – be a leader and do the job.
  2. Anticipate barriers and plan ahead.
  3. Communicate to everyone constantly.

Keep Your Hand on the Stick

Executing any plan requires a leader to be involved in the execution. We hire leaders to make decisions and inspire others–that means during implementation leaders must understand the plan and steer its implementation. They should be visible and involved. It’s very easy for a leader to spend all his time making the plan then be absent during the actual implementation. We absolutely must resist that urge. Of course the amount of involvement depends on the level of responsibility. First line leaders need to be there all the time, in the middle of the action inspiring and leading, solving problems for the team. Other more senior leaders need to be visible, but shouldn’t “hover”; give the first line leaders space to do their jobs. The mid-level leader should be looking further ahead: clearing barriers and ensuring the team has the resources they need while maintaining contact with the team “on the ground.” Executive leaders should be spending most of their time at the enterprise level, without neglecting the need to be visible to the people actually doing the the job. Regardless of level of responsibility, leaders have to lead through the change: measure progress, keep track of resources, monitor morale.

Heads Up

Another key leadership task during implementation is to anticipate barriers and plan ahead. Just like the surfer riding a wave has to watch out for changing surf conditions and other surfers, leaders must be on the lookout for anything that can go wrong. One of my favorite techniques came from Gen Tommy Franks’ memoir American Soldier where he took time each morning to write down three things that could go right or wrong on a given day. Gen Franks kept those lists on an index card on his desk, and refreshed the lists daily. There are other techniques as well, but the point is leaders must be looking up and out–anticipating things that could affect the current operation and making adjustments. It does no good for leaders to be just as surprised as everyone else when something unexpected happens. Rather, by thinking through the plan and anticipating things that can go wrong, leaders can position their teams to either avoid or minimize damage from barriers when they pop up.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One often overlooked leadership task is communication. Nothing is done in isolation; no matter what we’re doing others are involved. Everything we do–even those thing “individual” tasks–affect others. We need resources, permissions, advocacy, or buy-in. Community groups, unions, shareholders, boards of directors, and even families all have interest and even stake in what we’re doing. Of course there’s also government officials, customers, and suppliers. All these people and more need to know what’s going on. Believe me, if leaders don’t “feed the beast” and communicate, someone else will fill in the blanks! Public officials need a public affairs plans, businesses need to engage with their customers and advertise, and everyone needs to keep their teammates informed. Clearly, there are as many ways to communicate as there are people, but the key point is this: it’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure everyone who needs to know gets the information. Leaders should spend a great deal of their time communicating, and need to do so deliberately.

Across the Finish Line

Just like a surfer watching the wave and adjusting his course as he goes, leaders have to steer their teams all the way to the finish. By leading visibly, anticipating problems, and communicating appropriately leaders can get their teams to mission accomplishment successfully–while being ready for the next wave!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Leading Small Teams to Greatness, Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, How To Change

teahupoo1

“I don’t know whether this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.” – Art Buchwald

Standing in front of the assembled group of more than 150 staff to tell them they were being reorganized–again–was a little daunting to say the least. Everyone was clearly nervous about the change, but the leadership team assured them we would seize this latest change as an opportunity. However, embracing the change and looking for opportunities to make that change work for us was key to turning a potential disaster into success. Using a three step process we turned the reorg into an opportunity to chart our own future.

Just like the waves in the ocean, change is a part of life and a part of business. Technology, organizations, products, and even demographics change on a regular basis. Leaders who don’t actively plan for and lead their organizations through change, will be swamped by the wave of change. Leading change effectively is a three-step process:

Step 1 – Survey the Environment
Step 2 – Plan for Change
Step 3 – Implement the Change

In this three part series, I’ll teach you the basics so you can lead your teams through change and be ready for the next “wave” of change.

Step 1 – Survey the Environment.

The first step is to look out at the environment and take stock. Just like a surfer checking out the ocean waves, leaders have to be able to understand their environment before even making a plan. It is wasted effort to make a plan for something that doesn’t exist or for an environment already different. Effective leadership entails defining success and understanding what you’re dealing with before taking action. Not only does this give you the opportunity to generate options, but it provides you the chance to gain perspective and involve other stakeholders who can also help lead the change.

Military leaders stress the need for agility because it gives them the initiative. When we have the initiative, we’re the ones driving the pace of operations–not the adversary. It’s the same in business. For any business to remain agile, leaders must anticipate and lead change so everyone else is responding to your agenda. As a mentor once told me, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes.”

Survey the business environment and the internal culture to look for trends or problems. A good understanding of the environment is crucial to making a plan to change, and leaders must have a plan for change. When leading change, you need to be asking yourself some pretty fundamental questions at the very beginning. The very first thing any military leader gets when we “launch” is a mission statement from our boss. We try to begin with as clear an idea as possible about where we’re going and why. When leading change, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve, what’s driving the change, and who’s involved in that change. Asking yourself these basic questions will enable you to begin to plan for that oncoming wave:

  • Is the economy changing?
  • Does our product need updating?
  • Is there a change in technology
  • Who is affected? Is this an internal change or are there external stakeholders?
  • hen will the change start? Need to be completed?
  • Why is the change needed? Can you simply ride out the environmental changes?
  • How will the change impact current operations? How about short-, mid- and long-term business strategy?

Of course, no matter how compelling the reason and logic of change, unless you have a good handle on the environment you’ll likely to meet significant resistance. During my very first squadron command I was responsible for construction services to the Air Force Intelligence Command. There were three units who did what we did–we were the largest of the three at 85 personnel–and so it made sense to everyone at our unit that we should move the overseas detachments under me. We did all their scheduling and most of their engineering design support. What I failed to do was properly survey the environment and understand that altering command relationships for these two other detachments would be an emotional subject with the commanders. The fact that I was a junior captain and the other commanders were lieutenant colonels didn’t help much either! To them, it looked like a “land grab” rather than a logical re-organization for greater efficiency. In the end, I failed to make the case for change because I had lost the initiative in the discussion early on. Truly, I never even had the opportunity to make the case for change because I was on the defensive from the start.

Had I properly surveyed the environment and fully understood the stakeholders’ concerns, I would have approached the proposed change far differently than I did. Appealing to logic was really the wrong tact–what I needed to do was form relationships so the enterprise would see it was to their benefit to off-load an engineering mission so they could focus on their operational mission.

Understanding the environment is an indispensable first step to any successful change!

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


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Monday Motivation: Adaptability Is Not Imitation

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change, Monday Motivation

Monday Motivation - Gandhi


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


Subscribe to my mailing list and get my ebook, “Mickey’s Rules for Leaders” as a FREE gift!

* indicates required


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Agility Through Independence

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change
Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781
Agile networks of American militia overcame legendary British training and discipline.

The buzzword in modern business these days is agility. What does agility mean? It means networks of teams working independently but in unity to accomplish common goals. The hierarchical organization is sometimes a necessary way to structure a company or military unit, but there are very few organizations that can respond rapidly to changing environments if they operate that way.

Wiring Diagram vs Network of Teams

Since the advent of the industrial revolution, hierarchies have been the norm for organizing large organizations. These days the hierarchy is a hindrance rather than a help. Hierarchies are generally slow to change, slow to innovate, and slow to respond when the environment changes. Notwithstanding the ability of a “Great Captain” to inspire large bodies of people to unified effort in a hierarchy, the necessary fixed lines of communication and authority in a “stack of blocks” makes agility difficult.

On the other hand, networks of small teams who support each other and operate semi- or even fully autonomously are extremely agile. They can quickly share information and get to those in authority quickly for decisions they can’t make on their own. Networks with leaders vested with sufficient resource or approval authority can make decisions on behalf of the network and quickly respond to changing conditions.

How to Build a Network of Teams

To build an effective Network of Teams, we need two things: authority to make decisions and a shared purpose.

First, authority must be decentralized to the maximum extent possible. Individual team leaders or team members don’t necessarily need unlimited authority, but each “node” in the network needs sufficient authority to make decisions or commit resources to accomplish their team or organizational mission. It does no good to form a network of teams then vest all the decision-making authority at the C-suite. Each “node” in the Network of Teams is a contact point with customers, suppliers, and other internal nodes. They have to have the ability to respond to the “demand signal” of those they work with, and can’t be in a position of constantly referring to others to satisfy the demands of their customers.

Second, teams must have a shared purpose so they’re aligned with the senior leaders and organizational strategy. To operate as a network, the nodes need to have as much of a defined “lane” as possible but still have enough “freedom of maneuver” to innovate. Multiple complementary nodes operating independently but towards a shared purpose is powerful indeed. The power of a thirty people all thinking, applying their unique skills and perspectives, and working toward a shared purpose is demonstrated–believe it or not–in the way military units operate. Modern military operations are networks of small units all working toward a common end, often over long distances. In some cases they never even see each other, but they share information and provide mutual support–innovating as they go–based on a common mission and commander’s intent.

Networks of Teams are Agile

The net result of using these networks is an organization that can rapidly respond to change, has “crowd-sourced intelligence,” and learns as it goes. That’s the very definition of agility, and that’s what the 21st century demands of leaders.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Overcoming Institutional Inertia to Lead Change

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change
(DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Greg L. Davis, U.S. Air Force)
(DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Greg L. Davis, U.S. Air Force)

Change is difficult–leading revolutionary change in large organizations requires overcoming institutional inertia.

At dusk, I watched four combat loaded F-16 fighters taxi out to strike targets on the first night of Operation Iraqi Freedom as my engineers were affixing the final solar-powered LED taxiway edge lights to the pavement of our desert air base. Had I gotten my way, that might not have been the case. You see, during the planning phase months before I had insisted on a traditional airfield system with wires. I didn’t want to risk the solution my team innovated–too risky. They had found solar-powered harbor buoy lights, and they tried to convince me to buy them rather than going with a traditional design. I turned them down.

Fortunately for me, and those F-16 pilots taxiing out on the first combat mission of the night, my team decided to risk my ire and bought a bunch of those buoy lights while I was away for a few days to brief our headquarters on our progress. When I returned, I was upset with them for disobeying me, but in the end their risk-taking enabled us to accomplish our mission rather than my reticence. It’s a lesson I took to heart.

Institutional Inertia

One of the reasons innovation is very difficult in large organizations is revolutionary change requires innovation, and that requires leaders to overcome “institutional inertia.”

“Institutional inertia” is my term for the resistance to change in groups, particularly in larger organizations. In physics, the “inertia” is a body’s resistance to the state of motion.  For example, if a body is at rest, you have to overcome its inertia to get it moving. “Institutional inertia” works the same way. It’s the collective weight of established processes, individuals’ self-interest, and even outside stakeholders’ pressure to remain at the status quo. The larger the organization, the higher the institutional inertia, and the harder it is to move that organization in a different direction. In the case of the buoy lights turned taxiway lights, I was the biggest source of that inertia–and when I was gone the team succeeded without me.

When discussing this concept with people, I usually revert to a nautical example. Consider two vessels: a giant oil tanker and a speedboat. The speedboat will turn on a dime, just like a small organization is easy to change. A leader of a small organization can “turn the wheel” of his “speedboat” and it quickly responds. The oil tanker takes a long time to turn, and it certainly doesn’t turn quickly–especially if it has a “full head of steam” on a given course. Just like the captain of an oil tanker, when the leader of a large organization wants to make a change, then he must plan out the change well in advance and it takes a long time effect that change. That’s “institutional inertia.”

21st Century Leaders Must Respond Rapidly

The challenge for large organizations in the 21st Century is to rapidly respond to changing conditions. Extending the nautical metaphor a bit, it’s like trying to move cargo like the big ships with the agility of the speedboat. Understanding and reducing institutional inertia is crucial to increasing agility. Time to Market for most market sectors is shortening–particularly in the tech and service sectors. One of the reasons we no longer use Blackberry devices is because Research In Motion passed on the opportunity to be an early adopter of the touch screen interface. Google and Samsung, on the other hand, saw the opportunity and despite being a large company, seized the chance to bring disruptive technology into the market. That example is less about capital or marketing, and more about leadership vision and agility. So what was the difference?

Examples of companies that failed to recognize and adapt to rapidly changing market conditions are legion, but the reasons for those failures to adapt are usually not because the CEO was a curmudgeon. In most cases large organizations who failed to adapt can attribute that failure to a slow recognition of a changing environment, and a slow response to the change when they finally saw it. Kodak inventing and then failing to adapt digital photography is another example–Kodak once had a camera or film in almost everyone’s hand. Today you’d be hard pressed to find one. Similarly, Swiss watch manufacturers failed to recognize the promise of electronic timing–how could a watch be anything other than gears and springs?

Leadership and Culture Drive Innovation—Or Not

So how do agile organizations manage to rapidly adapt to changing situations? Two words: leadership and culture. It’s leaders who create a culture of innovation and agility by empowering people to take risks and make decisions. A corollary to this idea is that senior leaders have to be willing to listen to new ideas, and take reasonable risks by adopting new ideas. Just like my engineering team’s innovative solution to the taxiway edge lights, people need to be willing to present and tenaciously defend innovation. Furthermore, leaders must be willing to step out and accept those risks. When I returned to my desert air base and found out my team disobeyed me, I had a choice. I could have reversed course and forced my own solution after-the-fact, but in the end I decided to accept the fait d’accompli and accept the risk. When leaders allow innovation and accept risk beforehand then organizations can be agile. If agility is the ability of an organization to innovate and take risks, then the measure of an organization’s agility is in direct proportion to leadership’s committment to innovation and acceptance of risk taking. When leaders encourage innovation and reward risk taking, then organizations can rapidly respond to changing conditions.

The key takeaway is leaders drive innovation and agility.

Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change, Podcast, Practical Leadership, The Five Be's

TCEP Ep19

Aloha everyone! I am privileged to appear on The Civil Engineering podcast with leader, career coach, and former Air Force engineer Christian Knudson.  Episode 19: Riding The Wave of Change As a Civil Engineer Leader – goes live today Wednesday Nov. 25 on iTunes at 6am EST.

This weeks Civil Engineer podcast features Mickey Addison, career military officer, civil engineer, author and senior leader about developing effective leadership in your civil engineering career.  Listen in to his three steps for civil engineering leaders navigating and implementing organizational change.  Plus learn about his new book, “The 5 Be’s”, available now!