Leaders: There’s a New Way to Understand Change
Author’s NOTE: I wrote the first version of this article in 2018 – a full 2 years BEFORE the whole world locked down and faced the COVID-19 pandemic. Business has not been the same since.
At a recent luncheon, I was involved in a discussion that I find becoming more common. The topic was this: Change Management is old news. The argument says the way we once understood change management has been overcome by several new and more complex drivers in business.
Here are some of the reasons old-style change management doesn’t work anymore.
First, we are now into Phase Three of technology advancements. Phase One was the development of the Internet; building the superhighway for information exchange. Phase Two was the emergence of power users who understood the opportunities from phase one and launched very disruptive platforms to overhaul the way we operate and live (think Apply, Amazon, Facebook, Google). Phase Three, our current phase, includes IOT (the Internet of Things), nanotechnologies, and other rapid response initiatives in energy, life sciences, and medicine.
The pace at which Phase Three operates has the potential for changing in an instant. Long, drawn out change management plans can’t sustain the rapid change happening required by Phase Three.
Another factor is the whipsaw effect most business leaders find themselves these days. Conflicting interests create massive paradoxes that keep managers and leaders on their heels. These are examples of polar opposites that now exist in businesses of all sizes, and the list goes on.
Be more hands-on with business, but less hands-on with people. Executives stated a need to find new ways to be inclusive and to help others develop. Meanwhile, they’re now more conscious of keeping their eye on the day-to-day business in a way that’s more encompassing.
Do more with less. Drive increased productivity while reducing resources and controlling costs.
Empower the work team but manage risk. Leaders must take chances while safeguarding the business. In a highly
unpredictable market, this balancing act is more difficult than ever before.
Seel diverse points of view but drive unified action. A leader must encourage people to share ideas while inspiring them
to embrace the ultimate decision.
Next, conventional leadership approaches involving annual reviews, merit awards, and other older compensation models don’t support the rapid change cycles. People can work multiple, very diverse assignments within a one year review period. Conventional tools like strategic planning and budgeting have time horizons that look like glacier movement when compared to the fast pace of some current change.
Lastly, old mindsets about human behavior in the face of change are becoming less effective for managing and leading work teams. Whether you blame it on the Millennial effect or some other convenient excuse for poor leadership, teams today don’t thrive under old ways of managing.
To better accommodate the rapid change in the business world today, you must adopt a different view. I have become an evangelist for one that makes much more sense.
I call it ACE for Agility, Core, and Edge. Let’s start with the Core.
The Core is who we are and what we know/believe. It’s the stuff we’re “made of”. Core comes from the composite experiences we have had in life. Your core includes values, beliefs, experience, biases, prejudices (yes we all have them). It also includes the knowledge you have accumulated whether by teaching, training or practical experience.
The Core is not limited to values and beliefs but has much to do with that. Understanding your own core can help define purpose. Core helps to understand the power of harnessing your mind’s attention and your hearts affection. When these two critical elements are running in harmony, you can be an unstoppable force.
Core creates our comfort zones. When you feel you are operating in a comfort zone, you are deep in your core.
As you face new challenges or get pushed into unfamiliar circumstances, you are walking on the Edge. The edge is where everything we don’t know lives. New ideas, new technology, new programs, business growth initiatives, all are edge things.
Standing on the edge takes us far away from our core and leaves us uncomfortable. Most of us don’t like the edge. We don’t like it on the edge. For many of us, we don’t even like stepping too far away from our core.
Yet changes happening around us demand that we visit the edge. All the “new” things in your world are likely Edge items, not core ones.
Agility is the special ability to move from core to edge and back again without losing all sense of balance or security. Great leaders develop their agility more than even their core. Having agility as a leader gives you the strength to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. The agiler you might be as a leader, the more you are known as the stabilizing force.
- Requires being fully aware “in the moment” to concentrate intensely on the needs of the situation
- Allows for behavioral transitions between proven practices and new approaches
- Is employed in a proactive and intentional way to increase the effectiveness
Have you ever worked for someone who seemed to never get rattled despite some very stressful situations? That person had agility. They could go out to the edge (the stress) and not lose sight of their core. They knew their core was a strength and an ever-present reservoir of wisdom and experience. They knew that going to the edge did not require abandoning the core.
Lee Hecht Harrison conducted a survey of 130 executive level leaders (CEO, COO, CFO or Presidents) from over 92 organizations. FIndings show that the most successful leaders are adept at using a wide range of behaviors strategically matched to produce targeted impact.
Here are some of their top line findings:
- In response to dealing with paradoxes and contradictory environments, leaders need to make frequent choices about the way in which they lead. They must draw upon a broad range of behaviors to navigate and lead most effectively.
- In order to increase their agility, leaders cannot rely solely on their strengths and preferences. They must learn and practice new behaviors.
- Behavior shifts cannot be prescribed; rather, personal capability must be developed to select the right approach “in-the-moment.” This requires the development of self-reflection, which builds the awareness to effectively scan the situation, select the most results-orientated focus, shift to the required behavior and learn from the experience.
The Best Type of Change
Back to the argument about change management. The best change you can pursue is learning to develop your agility. For the moment, your core is finite. It is only just so big.
The edge is arguably infinite. There are moments of all types every day that become edge events in our lives. Do you disagree with infinite? Think of the edge as a circle around your core. Mathematicians tell us there is an infinite number of points along the outer edge of a circle.
The best change you can pursue is learning how to grow your agility. Why? Because better agility gets you out to the edge faster with a more stable ability to respond. Then once the edge is handled, you revert back to the core. This push and pull build a Resilience.
Steps for Increasing Personal Agility
Because self-awareness is the first step, you need to learn to “see” when agility is being used. The person may be aware or unaware that they are behaving with agility. What you will notice is that the person is using a combination of approaches in dealing with a group and has success in getting a broad range participation that leads to focused, productive action. They are curious about
what others have to say and respectful of diverse views, bringing a level of creativity and innovation to addressing complex situations.
- Find a leader who demonstrates the ability to select the right behaviors for a range of different situations. Notice when they match their approach to the situation. Ask them to share how they make this determination. Have a discussion about how you both become aware of matching your behavior to the situation.
- Identify what “clues” you use to determine whether to go for “core” or “edge.”
- Practice identifying when you are in “core” and “edge” modes. Become aware of how you choose which approach to apply.
- Practice becoming aware of yourself when you are distracted and how you can regain focus.
- Practice concentrating your attention, identify a work or point of attention that you can use to refocus your actions. Use it when you notice yourself getting off track.
- Identify the environment that gives you the highest level of performance. Notice the results you get when you are in this environment.
- Identify how you “know” when it is time to shift and move on. How do you determine your point of diminishing return for an approach? Notice when you have stayed in one mode for too long.
- Practice using this “signal” to make change earlier.
- Notice what happens when you release your focus and move
There is an added benefit. Once you more effectively move back and forth between core and edge, you actually grow your core. Your experiences out on the edge become your new truth. The new impact of having completed an edge task adds to your core.
I know I’ll get letters from my change management friends. These I welcome because then we’ll all get to share ideas about new edges and where our core sits. Let’s ACE it!
Author’s Note: This ACE model is shared by permission of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global leader in talent development. It has been my privilege to work with their team across the U.S. Coaching senior executives at major corporations.
To see more about this framework, click here.
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