Monday, March 31, 2008

19 Change Tips For Leaders During Turbulent Times

1.Make time to get out and see people. When you are with them spend most of the time listening.

2. Resist the urge to try and take control of everything. Instead get your star performers involved and rely on them.

3. Tell your people everything that might matter to them. If there are things you cannot tell them, tell them that.

4. Strong emotions will not disappear overnight. Provide opportunities for people to talk. Be patient.

5. Build trust by framing everything you do and say in a way that expresses your trust in them.

6. Find ways to involve as many people as possible as early as possible.

7. Be reliable by doing exactly what you say. If you don’t admit it and explain.

8. Reward people for doing what needs to get done.

9. Show that you care about everyone in the organization including those that may not be directly impacted.

10. Be careful to not let sarcasm or cynicism creep into your language.

11. Provide more frequent feedback to let people know they are appreciated for doing the right things and making improvements.

12. Bolster self esteem by helping people see their strengths.

13. If you cannot tell people something explain why in sufficient detail.

14. Suggest people participate in change skills sessions.

15. Replace or adjust the measures that do not reflect the current priorities.

16. Go out of your way to reinforce the behavior and results desired.

17. Re-affirm the important project milestones and deliverables.

18. Separate what is “business as usual” from what is or soon may be different.

19. Focus on individual coaching in a way that helps people see themselves being successful.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Because that's the way we've always done it!"

I first came across this story from an engineering colleague of mine, Kyle Smith. He said he got it from Howard Winsett, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. I have no idea if it's true, but it's a great story to help people see the need to challenge the conventional wisdom. Or silly HR policies.

Does the expression, "We've always done it that way!" ring any bells? The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that is the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads. Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre railroad tramways, and that is the gauge they used. Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used the same wheel spacing.


Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts. So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they all had the same wheel spacing. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horses butt came up with it, you may be exactly right. This is because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war-horses.

Now, the twist to the story...

There is an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses' behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. "Thiokol" makes the SRBs at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the
railroad track is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So, a major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.

Monday, March 3, 2008

6 Ways to Listen Like a Leader

The ability to listen effectively is an essential component of leadership, but few leaders know just what it takes to become a better listener. You can improve your ability to lead effectively by learning the six skills for active listening.

CCL's Michael Hoppe recently authored the guidebook Active Listening to make CCL's approach to active listening more explicit and available to a broad audience. In the book, he describes the six skills that contribute to an active listening mindset.

Active listening involves paying attention, holding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing. Each skill includes various techniques or behaviors.

1. Paying attention. A primary goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone and allow time and opportunity for the other person to think and speak. Pay attention to your frame of mind, your body language and the other person. Be present, focused on the moment and operate from a place of respect.

2. Holding judgment. Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold their criticism and avoid arguing or selling their point right away. Tell yourself, "I'm here to understand how the other person sees the world. It is not time to judge or give my view."

3. Reflecting. Learn to mirror the other person's information and emotions by paraphrasing key points. You don't need to agree or disagree. Reflecting is a way to indicate that you heard and understand. Don't assume that you understand correctly or that the other person knows you've heard him.

4. Clarifying. Use questions to double-check on any issue that is ambiguous or unclear. Open-ended, clarifying and probing questions are important tools. Open-ended questions draw people out and encourage them to expand their ideas (i.e., "What are your thoughts on ..." or "What led you to draw this conclusion?").

Clarifying questions ensure understanding and clear up confusion. Any who, what, where, when, how or why question can be a clarifying question, but those are not the only possibilities. You might say, "I must have missed something. Could you repeat that?" or "I am not sure that I got what you were saying. Can you explain it again another way?"

By asking probing questions, you invite reflection and a thoughtful response instead of telling others what to do. You might ask, for example, "More specifically, what are some of the things you've tried?" or "What is it in your own leadership style that might be contributing to the trouble with the team?"

5. Summarizing. Restating key themes as the conversation proceeds confirms and solidifies your grasp of the other person's point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up. Briefly summarize what you have understood as you listened (i.e., "It sounds as if your main concern is ..." or "These seem to be the key points you have expressed..."). You could also ask the other person to summarize.

6. Sharing. Active listening is first about understanding the other person, then about being understood. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person's perspective, you can then introduce your ideas, feelings and suggestions and address any concerns. You might talk about a similar experience you had or share an idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation.

This article is adapted from Active Listening by Michael Hoppe (Center for Creative Leadership, 2006).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

12 Ways to Bring an External Perspective to Your Team

Teams and organizations can often get too insular and unable to think outside of their own boxes. Leaders need to encourage team members to look outside for new ideas. Here's 12 ways to ensure your team members are getting their daily dose of external perspective:

1. Send team members to external training, networking events, or conferences

2. Forward newsletters, articles, research, and best practice reports to your team

3. Set up training for your team to take together, using internal or external instructors.

4. Bring in external guests to participate in brainstorming or other activities with the team.

5. Bring in temporary group members, for job rotations, or contract positions.

6. Arrange reciprocal visits with other groups or organizations.

7. Bring in a guest speaker to present a unique perspective or expertise. (Remember to look outside your industry or specialty.)

8. Arrange a field trip to visit the site of a customer, a customer of one of your customers, or even a competitor.

9. Arrange a field trip outside your industry to observe best practices.

10. Meet with independent inventors or entrepreneurs in your field.

11. Surf the Web to view competitors’ sites.

12. Bring in consultants to provide different perspectives.