Posts Tagged ‘change leadership’

Management vs. leadership: the problem with silos

This article first appeared in the Kotter International Newsletter.

Silos can be found in global corporations or in start-up ventures with 15 employees and no matter the size, they are detrimental to an organization’s ability to succeed in a rapidly changing world. It’s important to note silos can be vertical or horizontal. Functions and divisions can have high barriers between them or senior leadership can be completely isolated from lower management levels.

A siloed organization cannot act quickly on opportunities that arise in a fast-paced business landscape and are unable to make productive decisions about how to change in order to seize these opportunities.

Can you recognize when silos are forming in your organization? There are several signs. First, are you surprised to hear about projects taking place in other divisions? Are these projects well underway without you ever knowing about them? Second, do you communicate infrequently with other leaders around the organization? Finally, have you been championing an opportunity or project for a while, and a large subset of the organization doesn’t know about it or understand why you are pursuing it?

To eliminate silos, you must bring people across the organization together. There are several ways you can do this:

Bring the outside in: Ensure divisions share data with one another so people understand how each division is performing, what customer or external stakeholder complaints are and where there is room for improvement. Make it clear needed changes are an important opportunity to galvanize action, but it’s not a blame game. Frame changes that must be made as organizational, not divisional.

Focus on opportunity, not crisis: While crisis can be a catalyst for action, fear can also send people running for the door. If you frame the organization’s need to break down silos as a positive opportunity, you will see more people raising their hands to help make it happen. Help people in different divisions understand how they have a chance to make the organization better and more powerful by eliminating the barriers between divisions or management levels.

Create a “guiding coalition” that breaks down barriers: Bring together a team of people committed to changing the way the organization operates, composed of people from all levels, divisions and locations. Don’t pick this team; ask people to apply for it to gauge their levels of commitment.

Once formed, hold an inaugural in-person meeting that allows members to connect to each other with both hearts and minds as a way to build trust among them. Set regular meetings, such as quarterly in-person gatherings and bi-weekly conference calls, to maintain momentum. Encourage group members to communicate outside of organized meetings and more importantly, filter messages about the group’s activities to others in their respective divisions or offices. Finally, ensure senior leadership stays closely involved with the guiding coalition – without this involvement, the group cannot make needed change happen.

See also:


A Sense of Urgency

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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:

A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter

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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 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

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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


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