Leading Teams through Change at the Speed of Business

Hello, friends,

Several years ago, I was musing with one of my clients about organizational change when he offered a perspective that was so self-evident, it completely reframed how I think about leading change.

My client (I’ll call him Dave) and I were discussing the road blocks that kept people and departments from achieving at their highest levels in his organization. The culprit? Uncoordinated change initiatives coming from home office.

Dave indicted his own department. “What business to do I have disrupting their priorities, just to meet a timeline I created out of thin air? How do I know my change is really a higher priority than what they are working on right now?” I think he’s right. Uncoordinated, pre-emptive change can destroy momentum, slowing adoption and putting your core business processes at risk.

Sparked by Dave’s insightful questions, I drafted the May post for strategy + business, “Leading Teams through Change at the Speed of Business.” I offer 11 strategies for taking a more integrated, team-centric approach so you can accelerate adoption without losing team momentum.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Change is no longer an event for most businesses, but a constant process. In an increasingly VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—business executives have borrowed the military acronym), the demands on managers are enormous. For example, one leader I work with was asked to integrate new teams six times in nine months following a merger, until her department began calling themselves “the island of misfit toys.”

Many teams find themselves chasing zig-zagging priorities and can’t build the momentum they need to succeed. While our business environment and pace has changed, our approach to change hasn’t evolved with them. We still take an event-driven process and try to execute it more and more quickly. We tend to drive individual change initiatives, rather than creating the context that teams need to dispel confusion and ultimately thrive. Team-building activities are helpful, but many leaders struggle with how long that process can take, and, teams can still walk away unclear about the implications for their work.

But people generally want to commit and deliver. They get stuck in hesitation and churn when they are asked to change in ways that don’t make sense to them; when they are not convinced of the opportunity to improve; or when they feel undervalued. Leaders who create a routine for change can avoid these common pitfalls. Here are a few strategies to help teams stay engaged as the mission evolves. You can find the complete list of strategies here.

Weave changes into a narrative. Context and clarity go a long way. Connect the dots between past initiatives and what is underway now. This will help your team make sense of the bigger picture and where they fit.

Design convincing experiences. Teams move into action when they are convinced an opportunity is real. Involve employees in first-hand activities, such as field trips or customer visits, to help them see why change is needed and how they are a part of it.

Welcome questions. We often view questions as resistance, but creating an environment that is safe for questions will help your team take ownership of their new direction. You will also gain valuable insight to the team’s level of understanding and where you need to provide more context and clarity.

Clarify the economics. Creating a simple model of your key business drivers can help communicate the logic behind multiple changes and build business acumen on your team.

Sustain disciplined focus. Mock up a dashboard of the measures your team will review at regular check-ins. When new initiatives emerge, be ready to negotiate expectations with your team so you can deliver on your existing goals.

The payoff to this strategy is sustained momentum, for your team and your organization. Think of how a flock of birds changes course in mid-air: When you develop a day-to-day routine for aligning or realigning your team, you help people anticipate change and rise to the occasion. Remember the “island of misfit toys”? When the leader embraced several of these strategies, her team grew so skilled at change that they began to actively solicit mergers with other groups.

Please feel free to share your comments here, or at strategy+business, where you can view the complete article.

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

This post is adapted with permission from an article published by Elizabeth Doty in strategy+business entitled

Integrity is Free

There is an old saying in the operations world, that “quality is free.” Specifically, quality gurus such as Philip Crosby, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran found that investments in improving product or service quality more than paid for themselves, because they simplified production processes, eliminated waste, reduced rework, reduced returns, and fostered customer loyalty.

As I think about promises and business momentum, it strikes me that the principle of “quality is free” also applies to questions of integrity and keeping our word. In fact, for the leaders of the quality movement, quality was a matter of integrity.

So, in this recent post in strategy + business, Integrity is Free, I explore the ways that integrity “more than pays for itself,” by improving credibility, galvanizing teams, accelerating innovation, and building trust. Here is a brief synopsis:

In the 1979 bestseller, “Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain,” quality guru Philip Crosby outlined a straightforward argument: It’s always cheaper to do things right the first time than to go back and do them again. Though the downstream benefits of doing things right the first time weren’t always easy to track, but they were invaluable. “Quality is free,” Crosby wrote. “It’s not a gift, but it is free.”Crosby and his contemporaries, Deming and Juran, noticed that problems with qualityusually arose because senior leadership had not been clear about what they were committed to deliver, or they acted in ways that didn’t align with those commitments in practice. Conversely, when companies transformed, it was often because a senior leader became convinced that defects were not inevitable and the status quo was hurting the bottom line.

Today, integrity—or lack thereof—remains a critical challenge for companies. “Commitment drift” can seem inevitable, as roles and priorities change, companies merge, and timelines shift. Indeed, it stretches the imagination to envision a world in which businesses deliver on 99.99966 percent of their commitments, as factories do with Six Sigma quality methods. Every day, business leaders face pressure to side step the truth, fudge the numbers, play politics, or pass the buck. In the moment, doing the right thing, or doing things right, always seems to cost more. Yet if we go along, the costs of compromise—damaged reputation, stress and added complexity—predictably follow.

Integrity isn’t easy, but research has found that acting in an honest and transparent way can pay off. For example, in “The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word,” Cornell University professor Tony Simons outlines a 2000 study of 76 franchise hotels that revealed a 3 percent difference between two hotels’ average employee “behavior integrity ratings” translated into a difference of US$250k in profit per hotel per year.

Why does integrity pay off?  First, honesty and transparency make things simpler. Second, when you have the courage to own your values and make clear commitments and keep them, others are more likely to trust, commit and engage. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, integrity forces individuals and companies to invent. Rather than managing impressions and looking like we are achieving results, we are left with no choice but to really achieve them.

Waffling on integrity almost always involves some element of avoidance. Yet, when you step up with courage and conviction, less of your attention goes to managing appearances and putting out fires, so more of your effort can go to the actual work… and the next breakthrough.

What are your thoughts? Could integrity serve as a core business philosophy?

Please feel free to share your comments here, or at strategy+business, where you can view the complete article.

Find a more academic focus on The Safra Center blog.

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

This post is adapted with permission from an article published by Elizabeth Doty in strategy+business entitled Integrity is Free.