Posts Tagged ‘A Sense of Urgency’

Getting at real transformation: advice for aspiring change leaders

I recently asked a group of smart, experienced people what advice they would give others about managing change in an organizational context. The first response (after a short period of silence): “It takes time, and grit.” While subsequent suggestions may have been a bit more specific, the honesty and accuracy of that first response stole the show. It does take time, and leading change—particularly large-scale change—is not for the faint of heart.

How do you describe a change leader?

Emotional intelligence certainly helps. Change leaders must recognize, acknowledge and address both personal and organizational feelings of loss, uncertainty about the future and fear of the unknown. They must be willing to invest time, energy and resources in helping the organization move through the process and in managing resistance along the way. Change leaders must engage other change leaders, continuously building and supporting a team of individuals to champion and guide the change process. And they must emphasize communication. Great change leaders are optimistic and consistent in delivering a message of moving forward. They communicate regularly, talking with people face-to-face as well as virtually. They continually check the pulse of the organization.

John Kotter’s eight stages to transform

One of the most challenging aspects of leading change is ensuring that all stakeholders—clients, customers, managers, line staff, volunteers, board members, even funders—grasp the need for change. In times of stress (and who isn’t experiencing stress these days?), maintaining the status quo is tempting, as is “nibbling at the edges” by opting for small,less-painful adjustments over true transformation.

John Kotter speaks eloquently to this in his 2007 Harvard Business Review article “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” in which he outlines eight stages that must be managed in order to give your transformation effort the best chance of succeeding:

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition to lead the effort.
3. Create a vision to direct the change initiative.
4. Communicate the vision, using every vehicle possible.
5. Empower others to act on the vision, e.g., by encouraging risk taking.
6. Create short-term wins.
7. Consolidate performance improvements and produce more change.
8. Institutionalize new approaches developed during the initiative.

The danger of quick fixes

Over the years I have seen many organizations struggle to institute some kind of major organizational change, recognizing only later they had stumbled at Step 1: establishing a sense of urgency. Sometimes the impetus for change comes from the board and staff never fully buy into the need. Other times it is a charismatic ED, someone who knows the organization needs to change and sees a clear path forward, but doesn’t fully appreciate the doubt that still exists among line staff. Even those who see and acknowledge a need for change may not feel a sense of urgency. That is often when a range of “quick fix” suggestions are made.

Our clients don’t feel heard; let’s set up a Facebook page and encourage dialogue through social media. Turnover has been high; we need to re-evaluate our hiring process and make sure we are attracting the type of candidate who would succeed here. Our competitors are expanding the range of services they offer; perhaps we, too, need to consider offering a more comprehensive range of services. These may or may not be good ideas, depending on the situation, but chances are these actions in isolation will not solve the larger problem, or get the organization to where it really wants (and needs) to be.

Questions to start the change conversation sense of urgency? The following questions can help jumpstart the conversation.

What is happening internally that might indicate a need for change? What is happening externally?
What is (or will be) the impact on mission attainment, service quality, client/customer satisfaction, financial sustainability, and morale among staff and board members if these things continue?
How have others in the field addressed similar challenges and/or opportunities? Did they seek change? Why or why not? What was the result?
What could happen if we change?
What will happen if we don’t change?

That last question may be the most important. Sometimes it is the acknowledgement that the status quo will not, in fact, best serve the organization and its mission that is the most powerful driver. Change is hard, but in the long run, not changing might be a whole lot harder.

See also:

A Sense of Urgency

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Leave a reply

The heart and soul of remarkable fundraising

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join a Corona Insights webcast interview with consultant Kimberley Sherwood of Third Sector Group, Inc. Sherwood discussed the importance of heartfelt engagement in your fundraising efforts. One of the realities of this approach is the nonprofit executive director/CEO is the keeper of the mission’s heart and soul, says Sherwood. In other words, if you’re the organization’s leader, it’s your job to embody the spirit of the mission so your staff can build on your inspiration with the donors they’re cultivating.

It’s no coincidence that Sherwood claims engaging the heart and soul is the cornerstone of remarkable fundraising. Leadership guru and prolific business book author, John Kotter, talks about the essential connection between organizational change and putting the heart back into the workplace. In one of his latest books, A Sense of Urgency, I asked John why we have to be reminded to infuse emotion in our leadership strategies, be they strategies for fundraising or other efforts. Here’s what Kotter said:

Spreadsheets and statistics drive our business decisions. Technology allows us to measure countless metrics and produce reams of data. And as I explain in A Sense of Urgency, we have been taught throughout our careers to tell people the facts as logically and rationally as possible. So it’s no surprise that leaders rely on these same approaches—and they certainly have their place. But as I wrote recently: Winning hearts and minds away from complacency is not possible with economic data alone. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t pull hundreds of thousands if not millions of white people into his cause by saying, ‘I have a strategic plan. Let’s look first at the data in exhibit A.’

Successful change requires urgency and enthusiasm from leaders on down. And that sort of excitement can only be unleashed with a compelling appeal to people’s hearts. This brings us back to Sherwood’s point about leading your organization’s successful fundraising by modeling heartfelt engagement with the cause.

I’ll leave you with this passage from Kotter’s Urgency book we featured with a Page to Practice™ summary at CausePlanet: “For centuries we have had the expression in English, ‘Great leaders win over the hearts and minds of others.’ The expression is not, ‘Great leaders win over the minds of others.’ More interesting yet, the expression is not that great leaders win the minds and hearts of others. Heart comes first.” (p. 45)

See also:

www.CoronaInsights.com

www.ThirdSectorGroup.com

www.KotterInternationa.com

A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter

Leave a reply

Is your sense of urgency working for or against you?

Due to the overextended and under-resourced nature of the nonprofit sector, it’s easy to look around your organization and misdiagnose your busy staff and hyperactive meeting schedule as having a sense of urgency. A Sense of Urgency author, John Kotter, argues otherwise.

Is your urgency true or false? Organizations that are truly inspiring transformative change don’t suffer from endless busy work; the employees have a sense of purpose, an emotional attachment to the aspirational goal and shed low-priority activities in pursuit of meaningful milestones that mark progress. The social sector is a breeding ground for these false diagnoses of urgency, and nonprofit leaders must root out busy work in favor of smarter, inspired progress toward game-changing goals.

What’s the single biggest error people make? Two years prior to publishing A Sense of Urgency, it occurred to Kotter how often he was being asked, “What is the single biggest error people make when they try to change?” More than 10 years of research, hundreds of interviews with managers and three books on the subject told him leaders did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction.

What managers had to say This observation inspired Kotter to test the idea and probe deeper by systematically asking managers a new set of questions. For example, “How high is the sense of urgency among relevant people around you?” And, “If it’s too low, what exactly are you doing to change this fact?”

Here are the interesting conclusions resulting from these questions:

1. At the beginning of an effort to create change, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult.
2. Complacency is much more common than we might think and very often invisible to the people involved. Success easily produces complacency and it doesn’t have to be recent.
3. The opposite of urgency is not only complacency, but false or misguided urgency which is more insidious. False urgency is driven by anxiety, anger and frustration. It’s characterized by a frantic feeling.
4. Mistaking what you might call false urgency for real urgency is a huge problem today.
5. It is possible to recognize false urgency and complacency and transform them into a true sense of urgency. The book describes these strategies.
6. Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous. Continuous change requires sustaining urgency.

Visit www.KotterInternational.com for more information about the John Kotter and his best-selling books.

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

The Three Laws of Performance

Leave a reply

Success: A breeding ground for complacency?

This piece first appeared on the blog, Great Leadership.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.”

Bill Gates said that, and he’s exactly right. More often than not, great accomplishments cause individuals and organizations to become comfortable with their way of doing things. Businesses turn static. Workers turn their focus inward. Even the most dynamic of organizations can turn complacent, thinking that what they are doing is right, that there is no need to change, regardless of what’s happening outside.

Here’s one example: This summer, the Washington Post asked me to comment on the debt ceiling debate. At the time, congressmen were busy deflecting blame for the dire economic circumstances gripping the country. Negotiations were gridlocked. A deal to stave off economic calamity seemed out of reach. I wrote that Washington suffered from a “complacency cancer,” that after 250 years as the nerve center of the most prosperous, innovative, militarily and economically advanced nation in modern history, success had gone to our political leaders’ heads. They were resting on their laurels, refusing to change, confident that the old way of doing business would suffice. The same behavior was on display just a few weeks ago, as the congressional “super committee” failed to reach a deficit-reduction deal.

The complacency cancer plagues the private sector as well. I recently read about a study that found successful companies to be far less likely than their weaker counterparts to pursue large-scale change. My own research over more than three decades has shown the same results: despite being better prepared to take bold action, companies with a high level of achievement tend to feel content with the status quo. They sit tight. They focus on themselves. And they ignore the rapidly changing world around them, even in the face of cold, hard facts that clearly show the need to move in a new direction.

It’s plain to see how foolish this thinking is, but no one is immune—not you, not I, not even the most intelligent, experienced leaders. Yet, in today’s constantly changing world, complacency is a recipe for disaster. As a leader, you must do everything in their power to identify it and root it out.

Here are some questions you can ask to determine whether complacency has set in among your employees:

Are team conversations inwardly focused, and not about new markets, emerging technologies or potential competitors?

Are past failures discussed only to stall new initiatives, rather than as learning experiences?

Do important meetings end with no decisions about what needs to happen immediately?

Do workers regularly blame others for problems, as opposed to taking responsibility and changing behavior?

Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a major challenge or opportunity knocking at the door?

If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then complacency has taken root. Before it continues to spread, you must take action to instill a sense of urgency in your employees.

Determine what challenges and opportunities are out there. Discuss them with other senior leaders so those at the top have real clarity about where the organization is headed. Then, communicate that opportunity to your workers, keeping each of the following tips in mind:

Appeal to the head and the heart. Sales figures and spreadsheets can help people start thinking differently, but they’re not going to convince them to change their behavior and take the kind of action needed to move an organization in a new direction. That takes an appeal to the heart. Make a rational case, but do it in a compelling way to win over hearts and minds.

Bring the outside in. If inward focus is the problem, attention to outward reality is the answer. Share outside perspectives. Shed light on troubling data. Listen to customer-facing employees. Each of these tools can be persuasive in helping people see that the outside world is changing—and so, too, must their organization.

Behave with true urgency. Lead by example. If you’re expecting your employees to change, you must change first. Demonstrate your own sense of urgency—in meetings, in emails, during speeches and in one-on-one interactions—and never let up.

Find opportunity in crises. Always look for the upside possibilities. Crises are threats, to be sure. But destabilizing experiences, if navigated carefully and harnessed effectively, can be powerful drivers of change.

Deal with the naysayers. There will always be skeptics. But then there are people who, for whatever reason, simply do not want change. These people, especially if powerful, can be dangerous. The key is to confront them head-on. Do not try to co-opt them or ignore them. It won’t work. Instead, distract them by sending them on special assignments, expose the fallacies in their behavior for all to see, or, if all else fails, push them out of the organization. That bitter pill is sometimes necessary to fight the complacency cancer.

As urgency takes hold, complacency vanishes. Now, your organization is on the path to true success: able to adapt, to change, and to continually seize big opportunities.

See also:

A Sense of Urgency

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

 

Leave a reply

Lead change, make it stick and get in on the big opportunity

Thirty years of research by leadership have proven that 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail. Why do they fail? Because organizations often do not take the holistic approach required to see the change through.

However, by following “The 8 Step Process for Leading Change,” organizations can avoid failure and become adept at change. By improving their ability to change, organizations can increase their chances of success, both today and in the future. Without this ability to adapt continuously, organizations cannot thrive.

My years of research have proven that following “The 8-Step Process for Leading Change” will help your organization succeed.

 

Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency

  • Examine market and competitive realities
  • Identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities

Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition

  • Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort
  • Encourage the group to work as a team

Step 3: Developing a Change Vision

  • Create a vision to help direct the change effort
  • Develop strategies for achieving that vision

Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-in

  • Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
  • Teach new behaviors by the example of the Guiding Coalition

Step 5: Empowering Broad-based Action

  • Remove obstacles to change
  • Change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
  • Encourage the risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions

Step 6: Generating Short-term Wins

  • Plan for visible performance improvements
  • Create those improvements
  • Recognize and reward employees involved in the improvements

Step 7: Never Letting Up

  • Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the vision
  • Hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision
  • Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

Step 8: Incorporating Changes into the Culture

  • Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success
  • Develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession

One of the most common questions I hear in working with business leaders is, “Now that we’ve embarked on this transformation, how do I make sure these changes stick?” The answer is simple: keep at it. Cultural shifts happen in organizations when new behaviors are displayed, over and over again, to achieve results. Those new behaviors soon become the norm, and sustainable change begins to take hold.

In an interview with Kotter International Senior VP, Mike Evans, I discuss what it takes to make change stick. Here is a transcript of that interview.

Mike Evans:  John, the final step of the 8-Step Process for Leading Change is embedding the change into the culture into the organization. How do you make it stick?

John Kotter:  Well, you get it into the culture. That’s how you make it stick. But the way that happens is you get people to behave in a new way. You make sure it’s a smart new way so you get better results. You make sure that those results maintain themselves over time, not two months, which means people have got to continue to do it in the new way. What happens, I’m not sure why, ask the social anthropologist, but when people behave in a new way, it gets good results and it sustains itself for a while, it just kind of sinks into the DNA of the group, into the culture. Once it’s in there, that’s the anchor that helps things stick.

Mike Evans:  Here’s something that just shot into my thinking process: here is the example of Southwest with Herb Kelleher, the leadership team that built a culture that produced phenomenal business results, a great place to work, devoted, committed employees.

John Kotter:  Astonishing story.

Mike Evans:  Herb leaves, the leadership team leaves, and yet the culture remains the same.

John Kotter:  They drove enough of that totally changed, different way of running an airline, not just into behavior that was being driven by a single personality or behavior that went on for a year, got great yearly performance, the analysts were happy and let it slip away. Because they got it into the culture and the method again is get the people to behave in a way, get enough success, hold onto it enough and it automatically just kind of takes care of itself. It sounds too simple but human groups actually, that’s the way they behave.

Mike Evans:  I just recently had the experience with a client and the CEO asked the question, how will we know when this is in the culture? The response I provided to him was that you’ll know when you can leave and you know that your presence is no longer necessary to sustain that.

John Kotter:  Not a bad answer.

See also:

Leading Change

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down

A Sense of Urgency

www.kotterinternational.com

Leave a reply

Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
Forget your password?
Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.