The Change Factor - The business catalyst
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Archive for August, 2011

Maintain in Change

Sometimes the worst part of being a leader during change is when you can’t ‘fix it’. Often leaders get to their position because they can ‘get things done’ and during uncertain times that ability can be frustrated because they are not yet in a position to finalise anything. The decisions may be being made elsewhere, the sale is not concluded or the environment is out of our hands, so you can’t say ‘here is the solution’.
A good leader will know that this is uncomfortable for their people, and not good for morale and productivity. They will know that during uncertain times some people will try to create their own certainty and leave meaning good people will go. And of course that sends signals to others, which multiplies the uncertainty. So what can you do if you can’t ‘fix it’?
What you dont do is wander round as if nothing is any different and people should just be ‘getting on with it’. The best thing to do during a period of change is to acknowledge it. It may sound weird but getting face time with your people and saying ‘ there is a lot of change right now and I know it will be making many of you feel uncertain’ is exactly the right thing to do. Firstly you are their leader and they expect you to lead. Secondly, showing that you understand that it is not a comfortable time, shows that you care about your people, and that in itself can reduce the discomfort. Then what? You still can’t fix it, so don’t fall in the trap of trying to do so. The amount of times I’ve heard leaders blow their reputation by saying ‘ dont worry, it will be fine and you will all be okay’. Oh really, are you sure?
What you can say is ‘When i know more, i will talk to you all’. And that means little things, not just big things. Changes to other departments, people they know, brands they know, you need to be the source of information. Why? Because on the path to certainty in your area, you need to provide little certainties to maintain that morale. Is that all you do? ( acknowledge the uncertainty, tell them you will tell them more when you know). The temptation for many leaders is to suggest that people ‘ just get on with it’ or ‘business as usual’. These may be what you would like as a leader, but in themselves they are not motivating. And what you are trying to do is motivate during a time which is not motivational in itself. This is where your understanding of  motivation comes in.  Appealing to their sense of motivation works better than telling them the outcome that you want ( business as usual). ‘The best thing we can do right now is do the best we can and in ensure that our service is as good as usual for our customers’ can appeal to a sense of pride and for those with a high drive for service/altruism etc. For sales guys it can be ‘ let’s just show we can meet those targets whatever happens’ which can appeal to their results focus. But remember, your motivation will not be theirs and just saying what you would like to hear won’t always work (see  here  for more). As a leader your role is to create an motivational environment, so that’s what you need to do.
So acknowledge the situation, acknowledge them, promise to keep talking and give them a rallying call. You are a leader. Don’t hide: lead!

All Good Things

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘all good things come to an end’. We normally apply it to such things as winning streaks for our favourite sports teams or the end of a long running and acclaimed Tv series. In our own lives we may say it at the end of a good holiday perhaps. But do we ever consider it in terms of our working lives?
Within business it really could be applied in many ways; such as the natural decline of a high selling product line that becomes unfashionable or overtaken by technology. It can be applied to companies themselves, many of whom decline and disappear even though at one time we thought they would be stalwarts and a constant part of our lives.
In our own careers, it can be roles that we really enjoy that gradually disappear as technology or need overtakes them. Sometimes the company gets bought by an owner who sees things differently and decides that the role we had is not relevant for their business model. And of course, sometimes they all combine as a product declines, so too does a business and then as it goes, so does our role. 

These situations feel very different to the holiday scenario, where we smile as we say ‘ all good things cone to an end’. Perhaps it is because the holiday was always designed to be a short term activity and our job, the company, the product wasn’t, but it’s harder to smile and say ‘all good things..’ when it comes to our workplace. Perhaps it’s because the holiday is a matter of personal choice ( two weeks, three weeks, home or overseas etc, these choices are all ours to make) and the end of a product or company isn’t, but people have difficulty facing the end of such things in their working lives. 
I’m not talking about sudden announcements of redundancies ( which I talk about in my ‘Leading through transition’ seminars’) which we all know create anxiety for people. I’m talking about the gradual ‘writing is on the wall’ situations, where we hang on to a product, a division or a role well in to their  decline, almost hoping that fortunes will be reversed and the good times will come again. 

How often have you seen a company hold on to a product even though it is losing money and there is every sign that it has been overtaken in the marketplace by improved technology, a better idea or changing fashions? How about a business model that served us well for many years but is now outdated, ineffective or costly (door to door sales? bookstores anyone?), but is held on to for what seems to just be the warm recollection of the good old days? And in situations where the company is sold and it us very obvious that the new owner sees things differently how many times do you see people hanging on to their role even though everything is changing around them or it is obvious that they are no longer appreciated by the new boss? Waiting for the boss to see the light? Or perhaps to be ‘paid to leave’?

I had a conversation with a top quality GM recently and during it we agreed that it takes guts to leave a job that you really have no need to leave, but you can see that your time in that role should be over; that  ’all good things come to an end’. It’s the same being the one to say ‘this strategy has only a year left in it’  or ‘this product will only last us another sales cycle’ or ‘ this model is doing fine but we actually need to prepare for it’s end’ and doing so while things are relatively ok. My GM colleague said to me ‘it takes guts to get out at the top, but everyone respects you more in the long run’ and I think he is right. 
Recognising  that ‘all good things come to an end’ doesn’t mean you panic at the first sign of change, or when one or two things don’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you jump as soon as the new boss arrives or when your company goes up for sale. It doesn’t mean that with the right effort a product couldn’t  be turned round or a divisions fortunes improved.
It does mean taking stock of everything and being able to recognise the reality of an environment, the trends and the symptoms and then deciding whether the path you are on is going to work for you/the brand/the division (delete as required). 
For all of us there will be times when ‘all good things are coming to an end’, the trick us can you see them in time.