Getting to the Honest Truth

LEARN HOW TO GET THE UNSAID SAID, The Most Important Communication Strategy To Boost Teamwork, Increase Trust, Build Remarkable Relationships, And Get Things Done!

September 26, 2013-Washington DC Metropolitan Area

This highly engaging and interactive seminar is delivered by Steven Gaffney, and based on his popular selling books, Just Be Honest and Honesty Works. Honesty is still not only the best policy, but it is the easiest and most effective way to communicate when it comes to resolving conflicts and producing results. A key problem within organizations and between individuals is not what people ARE saying, but it’s what they are NOT saying to each other. How much of your organization’s productivity, efficiency, and collaboration is affected due to unspoken communication? How much time and money is costing your organization due to not having honest and open dialogues?

In this session with Steven Gaffney, participants will be challenged to open up and engage in open discussions and exercises as well as applying the Gaffney Guiding Principles for honest communication to help improve relationships, build trust, and make work and life easier.

Possible outcomes and key deliverables for participants are:

  • How to get others to tell the truth
  • How to have an honest breakthrough conversation with anyone
  • How to eliminate fear so that people are honest and open with you
  • How to open lines of communication and convey crystal clear messages
  • How to create an environment where honest communication is a non-negotiable
  • How to prevent misunderstandings by using Notice vs. Imagine technique
  • How to share ideas, information, opportunities, and solutions without hesitation
  • How to receive and give feedback
  • How to reduce defensiveness
  • How to correctly evaluate familiar and unfamiliar situations
  • How to handle others whose negativity undermines initiatives
  • How to manage expectations
  • How to increase accountability and get things done efficiently
  • How to prevent repetitive and unproductive conversations that waste time and money
  • How to build trust with anyone
  • How to recognize and resolve small issues before they become gigantic problems
  • How to avoid being blindsided by eliciting open communication
  • How to prevent close-minded thinking

GETTING TO THE HONEST TRUTH Communication Seminar

Thursday, September 26, 2013
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Best Western
8401 Westpark Drive
McLean VA 22102
$995 per person

 

Click here to sign up!


“In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.” – What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had compared himself to others?

Imagine a world in which Martin Luther King, Jr., had been nothing more than a preacher with a sizable congregation, Bill Gates was nothing more than an effective manager at an IT firm, and Oprah Winfrey just a newscaster at a Baltimore television station. Suppose Warren Buffet was nothing more than a man who managed his money well in order to provide a nice life for his family. We probably wouldn’t know their names, yet by most standards they would still be deemed successful.

Yet I believe that true success is the degree to which we reach our full potential. By that standard, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet could not be called successful if they did not achieve what we all now know they were capable of. If they had been satisfied with comparing themselves favorably with others, they may have not been inspired to achieve what they achieved. Where would our society be without the contributions they have made? What would the landscape of twenty-first-century America look like without them?

Fortunately, they did not suffer what many people suffer from–Comparison Success Obstruction ™ (CSO). People with this affliction compare themselves with others to gauge their own success. Those comparisons can sadly set us up for mediocrity. If Warren Buffet suffered from CSO, he could have taken a look at his neighbor and been satisfied with the idea of building a bigger house, purchasing a nicer car, and sending his children to better schools. Oprah Winfrey could have landed her job as a Baltimore newscaster, compared herself to friends and colleagues, and decided she was doing quite well just where she was.

Many organizations suffer from CSO. They even go so far as to benchmark their achievements against other organizations. Perhaps yours does this too. While benchmarking can produce some good results, it can also chain your organization to the common results of others—restraining you from catapulting beyond the competition and producing breakthrough results.

Comparing ourselves to the competition begs the question — so what? So what if you can move widgets faster than Widget Movers Express? So what if you are the leader in a certain technology? So what if you are the highest in retention? Are those reasons to be content? So what?

Maybe your organization has untold “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” potential. Maybe there is a life-changing discovery or invention lurking within your organization — within the minds of your employees. Maybe it is within you! But this is unlikely to happen as long as you or others around you suffer from CSO.

I once heard an interview with John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach who won seven straight NCAA titles and nine titles in eleven years. The interviewer asked Wooden for his keys to success, and Wooden said that after each game – regardless of the score — he asked his players, did you play your best? Think about this. In professional sports, team dynasties result from an effective coach and a few outstanding players who are with the team year after year. But the make-up of teams in college basketball is constantly changing as new students join the team and others move on to graduate. But the changing roster didn’t hinder Coach Wooden. He built a dynasty in part by asking the ever-changing faces on his team, did you play your best?

Imagine if we were asked that on a daily basis. What would your answer be? Is it time to step it up, push ourselves, regardless of what others say? I think so. Not because we have to, not because there is something wrong, but because we can. After all, isn’t that what true success is all about?

That is why I believe we need to drop the judgments and comparisons with others. We need to stop looking behind us to see who is chasing us. Instead we need to run fast regardless of the others in the race and push ourselves to see what is possible. This is what striving for true success is all about.

Are you playing your best, or are you settling for what you think you can get rather than going for what you truly want? What are you willing to do about it? After all, the only person you can control is yourself. You cannot necessarily control what others do, but you are fully responsible for the way you respond and the actions you take to achieve the results you really want. Attaining perfection may be hard, but making progress is easy.

WARNING: If you choose to stop suffering from CSO and strive for what you can become, brace yourself and make sure you enjoy the ride, because there is an ironic twist that will come your way. The twist is that successful people often don’t think of themselves as particularly successful. If fact, the more successful they are, the more they recognize the gap between where they are and what they can become.

A while back, I saw a documentary about the incredible life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the many things that shocked me was that he was plagued by the thought that he had not yet done enough. Imagine that. As successful and accomplished as he was, he was not satisfied—not even close.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was chasing down a dream. He knew that there was always more to do. There was always more that he could expect of himself. He had a vision for the future, and that vision was not limited by comparisons or others’ expectations. True success is not about how we compare with others, but how we compare with what we truly can become.

Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet aren’t playing small either. They each have their own vision for the future, a vision that I would argue continues to expand as they achieve more and more. Who can they become? How about you? What dreams can you accomplish?

While others are fixated on comparing themselves with others or preoccupied with looking over their shoulders to make sure no one will overtake them, keep challenging yourself and those around you with what you can become.

Maybe there is “Martin Luther King, Jr.,-Bill Gates-Warren Buffet-Oprah Winfrey” potential in you and the people around you just waiting to be awakened and inspired. Think of the difference that that could make. It can begin now. It’s up to you.

MLK

Here is a 6-Step Formula to Start You on Your Journey:

1. Recognize you may be suffering from CSO, and do something about it. Throw away the comparisons. They limit your potential.

2. Create a vision for the future that is not a reaction to the past or a comparison with others in the present. Spend some time reflecting on what you believe you can become. Dream. Brainstorm. Use what if? What if we had nothing stopping us? What if we could really accomplish our ideal product or service? What if we had the perfect economy?

3. Avoid dream crushers, vision smashers, and naysayers. Don’t be hampered by low expectations – your own or anyone else’s. Instead, search for people who dream big and believe in themselves and in you.

4. Execute the next step. No matter how big the vision, no matter how daunting the task, ask yourself, “What is the next step?” Then do it.

5. At the end of each day, reflect and ask yourself, “Did I play my best? What can I do better tomorrow?” This attitude is the key to long-term success.

6. Build your support network. Share this article with others. Pass it to others who have remarkable potential. The fewer people who suffer from CSO, the easier it is for you and others to accomplish breakthrough results.

 


“Achieving Full Capacity” – Assests Required to Create an Honest Communication Success Culture

Organizations these days face limited resources and numerous external challenges, yet the demand to achieve full capacity remains constant. More than twenty years in business with employees tells me the key to achieving full capacity is to build and continuously nurture an Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) because such a culture makes all the difference to innovation, efficiency, and teamwork as well as the bottom line.

An Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) is the key differentiator between organizations that are successful and dominant in the market and those that are not. It is also the primary differentiator between organizations with employees who are fully engaged and those who are not. Considering that a recent Gallup poll revealed that 70 percent of employees are not engaged or inspired in the workplace, I would assert that it is time to consider the role of culture in facilitating engagement in order to win in the marketplace.

WHAT IS AN HONEST COMMUNICATION SUCCESS CULTURE?
An Honest Communication Success Culture has two primary characteristics—proactive sharing and taking responsibility—as illustrated in the grid below. These concepts seem simple, but their application may be a bit more complex than meets the eye. Let’s take a quick look at what proactive sharing and taking responsibility really are.

Proactive Sharing

In an organization with a strong HCSC, people openly and honestly share their thoughts and opinions because they understand the biggest problem in an organization isn’t what people do say, it’s what they don’t say. Proactive sharing is sharing without being asked, and it involves three levels of communication that we call the three I’s:

Level 1: Information. This is the first and most basic level of sharing. Information is critical for people to make informed decisions, and one
of the biggest problems in the workplace is uninformed decisions. Although any sharing is helpful, simply sharing information—or doing a data dump—isn’t enough. Some employees do share information but never draw conclusions or alert others to problems that are brewing.

Level 2: Issues. You can also refer to issues as problems or challenges that must be shared to insure the health of the organization. Problems that are ignored or hidden grow and become more complicated and expensive to fix as time passes.

Level 3: Ideas. Ideas directly impact innovation. You can’t move forward on an idea you don’t know about, and you can’t develop a rough idea into a solution that will positively impact your bottom line if you’ve never heard about it.

In organizations with the strongest HCSC, people proactively share at all three levels: Information, Issues, and Ideas. All are necessary. It’s easy to see why organizations that promote proactive sharing—up, down, and across the organization—are more effective and efficient and able to dramatically increase revenue and profits.

Taking Responsibility

Sharing is destructive rather than constructive if people don’t take responsibility. When people share but play the blame game, others will get defensive, hunker down, and blame back. This behavior can actually stall organizational growth. If left unattended, destructive sharing becomes entrenched in the culture and can lead to a downward spiral for the organization. By encouraging everyone to take responsibility rather than to shift it, organizations find solutions rather than fault and create an environment that encourages people to take initiative, think out of the box, and excel with velocity.

ACHIEVING FULL CAPACITY

Because organizations consist of people, and people make up culture, understanding whether your employees are enhancing your organization’s HCSC or undermining it is crucial. The grid below identifies the four key modalities that employees operate with (usually without even knowing it) and demonstrates each modality’s level of proactive sharing and taking responsibility. All employees fall into one of the four categories — Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets — and, as the grid reveals, each impacts your HCSC. These categories are not personality types; they are modes or perspectives that anyone can fall into.

The reason to identify these roles is not to place blame, but rather to create awareness and develop a plan to move people into the Asset category. Helping employees become fully engaged benefits your organization and everyone in it. As you look at these perspectives, remember
to assume your employees have good intentions. Many people want to do their best for you, but their past experiences can lead to wrong conclusions and actions in the present. Understanding these modalities will enable you to improve your culture, engage your employees, and get your organization to operate as close to full capacity as possible. Let’s take a look at each one.

Honesty Grid- final 8.26.13

To get the rest of this article on how to identify the four categories – Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets – and learn how to convert all of your employees into Assets, send an email request to breyana@stevengaffney.com or call 703-241-7796. Feel free to circulate as well!


Beware of the 5 Communication Myths!

When it comes to dealing with problems or issues with others, we are likely to believe one or more myths of communication–ideas that are touted as solutions, but can actually result in more problems.

Myth #1: Time heals all wounds.

The truth is, that time usually deepens wounds. If time really healed all wounds, people would not blame their behavior on their childhood and past events as they often do. In fact, time can deceive us into thinking that problems with others have been resolved, but all it takes is to see them again or something to remind us of those previous unresolved issues and we will become upset all over again. In essence, our unresolved past is lying around waiting to strike us in the present.

What to do? Do not rationalize by thinking, “Well, they are not saying or bringing it up, so I will just let it go.” Just because they are not bringing it up does not mean that they have let it go. They may feel awkward or embarrassed or they may not know how to bring it up so they have decided to bury it. The key is to proactively bring up issues and resolve them.

Myth #2: Don’t rock the boat.

The truth is, if you don’t rock the boat, the boat will probably sink. Faced with an issue or problem that is bothering us, many people rationalize, “I am not going to say anything. It is not that big of a deal. I don’t want to rock the boat.” The problem with this way of thinking is if we don’t say anything, the issue is unlikely to be resolved. Then what was once a small issue may fester and grow into a big problem.

What to do? As stated above, proactively bring up issues as they happen.

Myth #3: Be diplomatic.

The truth is, if we are too diplomatic, the point we are trying to make will not get across and nothing will get resolved. Have you ever had someone claim that they told you something, but you really don’t remember or didn’t understand the message they were trying to send? This happened because the message being conveyed to you was so subtle that you missed the point.

What to do? When we have to communicate an issue, bringing it up in a respectful way is important, but make sure the issue and what you want done is clear and direct.

Myth #4: Sandwich what you really want to say between two compliments.

The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated. The sandwich method is when you place what you really want to say between two positive compliments. “I appreciate how hard you work, but blah, blah, blah… and thank you for working with me on this.” This communication trick can permanently damage relationships.

What to do? Tell people the truth. People are smart, but we are lousy actors, so be honest and clear. If you have issues, talk about them and get right to the point. When you have something nice to say, bring it up in a conversation unrelated to the problem so you can get the most benefit out of the conversation.

Myth #5: More communication leads to resolution.

The truth is, simply having more communication can lead to wasting time and possibly more misunderstandings. Sometimes it is believed that the more people talk about something, that easier the message will emerge from the sheer volume of information. But how often have you been in a meeting where people “talked about things” and nothing got resolved.

Consider this: if the solution were simply to increase communication, wouldn’t you expect that the increase in e-mail, cell phone use, and video conferencing would have significantly reduced communication problems? In spite of all of these extra tools now accessible to us, it seems that there are more misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts than ever before. And people still complain that they don’t receive the feedback they need to do their jobs properly.

In fact, communication technologies can also help people spread misinformation with blazing speed, sometimes leading to devastating results. Communication technology is not inherently bad. However, the way people use it is often ineffective. Increasing the amount of communication through multiple channels is not the answer.

What to do? Instead of just increasing the amount of communication, make sure that people know how to effectively use the different methods to communicate. These methods can make the critical difference in successfully resolving issues as they arise.

Take Action


Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Have an upfront conversation about the “myths of communication” and assess what everyone is willing to do differently. This way everyone will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom we all have to contribute.


“Leading and Operating in Ambiguity” – The New Skill Set for an Ever-Changing Work World

Ambiguity. We have all confronted it at some
point in our careers. Matrix organizations,
multiple bosses, dotted- and solid-line
reporting, internal and external customers,
budget cuts, and economic issues are all factors that
contribute to an ambiguous work environment. In fact,
many of my executive clients cite ambiguity as a top
source of frustration, challenges, and wasted time and
money. Surprisingly enough, it does not have to be.
Ambiguity can also bring great opportunity – for those
who see the possibilities. Our ability to manage, operate,
and lead in an ambiguous environment separates the
best from the rest on an individual and organizational
level.
I am not saying clarity is a bad thing or that we should
not strive for it. I am simply acknowledging that it is not
always possible to achieve. Get clarity when you can, but
when you cannot, choose to embrace the opportunities
ambiguity creates for you to shine.
One key to coming out on top is to see the major
benefit of ambiguity. Namely, it can serve as a forcing
function that engages the mind. If everything is always
clear-cut and provided for us, we can become lazy – on
both an individual and organizational level. But when
things are not clear, there are opportunities to forge new
territories, stake one’s claim, make suggestions, and seize
the moment. While some organizations are constantly in a
reactive mode, waiting to see how the world is changing,
The New Skill Set for an Ever-Changing Work World
by Steven Gaffney
Leading and
what the economic trends specifically dictate, and what
customers say they want, others are creating and shaping
opportunities.
Look at Apple®. They did not wait until people said
they wanted something like an iPad. Apple created it and
now others are scrambling to get in on that market – a
market Apple defined. In an ever-changing marketplace
of technology, Apple continues to create products
that generate demand. They are not tossed about by
commonly perceived limitations or paralyzed in reactive
mode awaiting clear instructions.
After all, even customers (internal customers included)
want us to suggest innovative ideas and take initiative. We
do that by uncovering hidden needs rather than simply
reacting to what customers say they need. If a customer
says they want X, we will usually give them X. Yet the value
of ambiguity is that it forces us to probe, allowing us to
find hidden needs and deliver what our customers truly
desire.
This ability to chart your own course and not be
dissuaded by common limitations can be the key to even
individual success. If I had told you ten years ago that I
was going to write a 500-page children’s book, you might
have suggested I have my head examined. After all,
children do not normally read that much, right? Yet look
at the success J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series had with
children. She looked beyond the preconceived limitations
of children’s literature and saw an opportunity. In doing
so, she pioneered the way for juvenile fantasy fiction.
Whether we are leading, managing, idea-generating,
servicing customers, or creating new business, we should
expect to do it in an often ambiguous and rapidly changing
environment. That requires proactive rather than reactive
behavior to seize the moment and take action.
One common syndrome we see in the workplace is
the “Deer in the Headlights Syndrome,” and it is one of
the most frequent complaints I hear from leaders. They
say that employees are frozen – like a deer caught in the
headlights – waiting for clear direction, rather than being
proactive with ideas, suggestions, actions, and solutions.
Books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin are now suggesting that
people who are just waiting to be told what to do are
often the most replaceable. In some industries they are
even the ones whose jobs are being outsourced overseas.
It has never been more critical to meet ambiguity head-on
and create new opportunities. The individuals who can do
so in a quick, effective manner will increasingly become
the go-to people, while the organizations that do so will
come out on top time and again.
7 Tactics and Skills to Implement in
an Ambiguous Environment
Nearly twenty years of surveying the work environment of
top governmental agencies and Fortune 500 organizations
have shown me that with the right mentality and some
key strategies, we can overcome the challenges of
ambiguity and capitalize on the opportunities it presents.
The following seven strategies can help you and your
organization embrace those opportunities.
1. Eliminate Half-Baked Ideas. An ambiguous environment
presents incredible opportunities. The way to seize
those opportunities is by suggesting quality ideas that are
well thought out. Some people mistakenly believe that
others do not want to hear their ideas. They complain
that they have tried making suggestions and their ideas
were rejected. That may be, but ideas are often rejected
because they are half-baked and the person hearing them
lacks the time to shape and invest in those ideas. So
whether or not the idea is inherently good, it is denied.
Interestingly, I have found we are often closer to
getting a “yes” than we realize. Test it out. Next time you
get a “no” to one of your ideas, ask, “What would you
need to see to change your mind?” You may find that with
a few adjustments you can get the “yes” you are looking
for. Remember, those who create ideas are often the most
valuable players, and they can thrive in ambiguous times.
2. Take the Reins. Move from seeking explicit direction
from superiors to practicing self-management. As the
great management consultant (and friend) Zemira Jones
shared with me, the more people can self-manage –
evaluate and make corrections — the more motivated and
inspired they will be. Being free from the need to wait for
constant approval allows quick and timely adjustments to
be made, resulting in a tremendous time savings.
To effectively self-manage, it is critical to verify your
roles, responsibilities, and goals. If they have not been
communicated to you, be proactive in creating them
yourself. Look around for information and data; then
create your roles, responsibilities, and goals. Confirm
all of it with those to whom you report and then move
forward on them. Do not wait for goals and direction while
opportunities pass you by. Instead, create, verify, and take
action.
We cannot necessarily control our environment, but
we can control how we respond to that environment.
Choose to see the opportunities ambiguity creates
rather than getting tied up in the challenges. Often by
responding in an effective way, we can shape and affect
the environment.
Ambiguity can also
bring great opportunity
– for those who see the
possibilities.
3. Use Influence, Not Authority. As we discussed, we
often end up operating in a matrix environment, which
means we need to do things more by persuasion than by
directing and ordering. Even if we do have the authority,
we want to stay away from exercising that authority in a
heavy-handed way. Doing so may cause others to give us
lip service and then slow roll the initiative, or resist us in
other passive-aggressive ways.
The ability to influence others in an honest, nonmanipulative,
and effective manner is a crucial skill set
in today’s complex world. One skill for improving your
influence is building and maintaining rapport with others.
Another important skill is addressing and resolving
objections and hidden issues. If you can work on improving
those two skills, then your ability to influence will continue
to grow.
4. Get Clarity on the Non-Negotiables. Even in the
most ambiguous, unclear environment, there are
certain things that are non-negotiable – off the table.
Our ability to gain clarity on those things can save
tremendous time and resources. Nothing destroys
motivation like spending time working on something
that was actually non-negotiable from the start. Leaders
who bring clarity about negotiable vs. non-negotiable
can get extremely high returns from a workforce that
focuses their ideas and actions on the negotiables.
5. Beware of Idea Killers. Watch out for statements like
these: “We already know what they want”; “We know
better”; “We tried that before”; and “That will never
work.” Attitudes like these are idea killers, and they can
leave your organization stagnant, allowing others to pass
you by. The antidote to idea killers is to ask questions
and dig for information. Do not assume your customers
want what they have wanted in the past. Choose to probe
and uncover hidden needs. This is a key to capitalizing
on the opportunities in an ambiguous environment.
For more information on avoiding idea killers,
please read my article on the “Power of Wrong.” If
you do not have the article, please call our office.
6. Reset Expectations. I am struck by how many people
are waiting for change to stop and responsibilities
to become clear. If this is happening, hit the reboot
button and reset people’s expectations. Remind them
that things will always be changing and that much
will be unclear. For that reason, it makes sense to
always be improving (and therefore tinkering with
things). If we are not progressing, we are regressing.
The pace of change in today’s business environment
demands constant improvement on an individual and
organizational level. That means it is crucial to have the
mindset that there is no such thing as the perfect solution.
Often it is taking action that allows us to see how to make
things better. Consider this: when was the last time you
saw a plan that was executed the way it was designed?
The truth is that no matter how well thought out our
plans are, we will most likely need to make adjustments.
Encourage everyone to expect change and embrace it.
7. Keep the Floodgates Open. One leader told me
he actually likes ambiguity because it forces people
to think and communicate. In the absence of being
certain, people have to seek out others and talk
with them. For that reason, an environment that
encourages open, honest communication is a must
in order for the other strategies to work. It is the
foundation for capitalizing on ambiguity’s opportunities.
If staff is not willing to share issues and challenges
or is not empowered to freely share ideas, then
ambiguity’s opportunities cannot be seized. Open those
floodgates by rewarding honest communication and
encouraging staff to share problems and solutions.
This will enhance creativity, make room for outsidethe-
box thinking, and improve teamwork – exactly
what is needed in an ambiguous environment.
The end result will be a boost to the bottom line.
For more information on how to achieve open,
honest communication, please read my article “The
11 Most Costly Hidden Problems in the Workplace.”
If you do not have the article, please call us for a copy.
The factors that contribute to ambiguity are here to
stay, so do not allow ambiguity’s potential challenges
to blind you to its prospects. Ambiguity offers great
opportunity to flourish – to lead the way in the everchanging
marketplace. Take the initiative and use the
seven tactics to operate, excel, and lead in an ambiguous
workplace

Ambiguity. We have all confronted it at some point in our careers. Matrix organizations, multiple bosses, dotted- and solid-line reporting, internal and external customers, budget cuts, and economic issues are all factors that contribute to an ambiguous work environment. In fact, many of my executive clients cite ambiguity as a top source of frustration, challenges, and wasted time and money. Surprisingly enough, it does not have to be.

Ambiguity can also bring great opportunity – for those who see the possibilities. Our ability to manage, operate, and lead in an ambiguous environment separates the best from the rest on an individual and organizational level.

I am not saying clarity is a bad thing or that we should not strive for it. I am simply acknowledging that it is not always possible to achieve. Get clarity when you can, but when you cannot, choose to embrace the opportunities ambiguity creates for you to shine.

One key to coming out on top is to see the major benefit of ambiguity. Namely, it can serve as a forcing function that engages the mind. If everything is always clear-cut and provided for us, we can become lazy – on both an individual and organizational level. But when things are not clear, there are opportunities to forge new territories, stake one’s claim, make suggestions, and seize the moment. While some organizations are constantly in a reactive mode, waiting to see how the world is changing, what the economic trends specifically dictate, and what customers say they want, others are creating and shaping opportunities.

Look at Apple. They did not wait until people said they wanted something like an iPad. Apple created it and now others are scrambling to get in on that market – a market Apple defined. In an ever-changing marketplace of technology, Apple continues to create products that generate demand. They are not tossed about by commonly perceived limitations or paralyzed in reactive mode awaiting clear instructions.

After all, even customers (internal customers included) want us to suggest innovative ideas and take initiative. We do that by uncovering hidden needs rather than simply reacting to what customers say they need. If a customer says they want X, we will usually give them X. Yet the value of ambiguity is that it forces us to probe, allowing us to find hidden needs and deliver what our customers truly desire.

This ability to chart your own course and not be dissuaded by common limitations can be the key to even individual success. If I had told you ten years ago that I was going to write a 500-page children’s book, you might have suggested I have my head examined. After all, children do not normally read that much, right? Yet look at the success J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series had with children. She looked beyond the preconceived limitations of children’s literature and saw an opportunity. In doing so, she pioneered the way for juvenile fantasy fiction.

Whether we are leading, managing, idea-generating, servicing customers, or creating new business, we should expect to do it in an often ambiguous and rapidly changing environment. That requires proactive rather than reactive behavior to seize the moment and take action. One common syndrome we see in the workplace is  the “Deer in the Headlights Syndrome,” and it is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from leaders. They say that employees are frozen – like a deer caught in the headlights – waiting for clear direction, rather than being proactive with ideas, suggestions, actions, and solutions. Books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin are now suggesting that people who are just waiting to be told what to do are often the most replaceable. In some industries they are even the ones whose jobs are being outsourced overseas. It has never been more critical to meet ambiguity head-on and create new opportunities. The individuals who can do so in a quick, effective manner will increasingly become the go-to people, while the organizations that do so will come out on top time and again.

7 Tactics and Skills to Implement in an Ambiguous Environment

Nearly twenty years of surveying the work environment of top governmental agencies and Fortune 500 organizations have shown me that with the right mentality and some key strategies, we can overcome the challenges of ambiguity and capitalize on the opportunities it presents. The following seven strategies can help you and your organization embrace those opportunities.

1. Eliminate Half-Baked Ideas. An ambiguous environment presents incredible opportunities. The way to seize those opportunities is by suggesting quality ideas that are well thought out. Some people mistakenly believe that others do not want to hear their ideas. They complain that they have tried making suggestions and their ideas were rejected. That may be, but ideas are often rejected because they are half-baked and the person hearing them lacks the time to shape and invest in those ideas. So whether or not the idea is inherently good, it is denied.

Interestingly, I have found we are often closer to getting a “yes” than we realize. Test it out. Next time you get a “no” to one of your ideas, ask, “What would you need to see to change your mind?” You may find that with a few adjustments you can get the “yes” you are looking for. Remember, those who create ideas are often the most valuable players, and they can thrive in ambiguous times.

2. Take the Reins. Move from seeking explicit direction from superiors to practicing self-management. As the great management consultant (and friend) Zemira Jones shared with me, the more people can self-manage – evaluate and make corrections — the more motivated and inspired they will be. Being free from the need to wait for constant approval allows quick and timely adjustments to be made, resulting in a tremendous time savings.

To effectively self-manage, it is critical to verify your roles, responsibilities, and goals. If they have not been communicated to you, be proactive in creating them yourself. Look around for information and data; then create your roles, responsibilities, and goals. Confirm all of it with those to whom you report and then move forward on them. Do not wait for goals and direction while opportunities pass you by. Instead, create, verify, and take action.

We cannot necessarily control our environment, but we can control how we respond to that environment. Choose to see the opportunities ambiguity creates rather than getting tied up in the challenges. Often by responding in an effective way, we can shape and affect the environment.

3. Use Influence, Not Authority. As we discussed, we often end up operating in a matrix environment, which means we need to do things more by persuasion than by directing and ordering. Even if we do have the authority, we want to stay away from exercising that authority in a heavy-handed way. Doing so may cause others to give us lip service and then slow roll the initiative, or resist us in other passive-aggressive ways. The ability to influence others in an honest, non-manipulative, and effective manner is a crucial skill set in today’s complex world. One skill for improving your influence is building and maintaining rapport with others. Another important skill is addressing and resolving objections and hidden issues. If you can work on improving those two skills, then your ability to influence will continue to grow.

4. Get Clarity on the Non-Negotiables. Even in the most ambiguous, unclear environment, there are certain things that are non-negotiable – off the table. Our ability to gain clarity on those things can save tremendous time and resources. Nothing destroys motivation like spending time working on something that was actually non-negotiable from the start. Leaders who bring clarity about negotiable vs. non-negotiable can get extremely high returns from a workforce that focuses their ideas and actions on the negotiables.

5. Beware of Idea Killers. Watch out for statements like these: “We already know what they want”; “We know better”; “We tried that before”; and “That will never work.” Attitudes like these are idea killers, and they can leave your organization stagnant, allowing others to pass you by. The antidote to idea killers is to ask questions and dig for information. Do not assume your customers want what they have wanted in the past. Choose to probe and uncover hidden needs. This is a key to capitalizing on the opportunities in an ambiguous environment.

For more information on avoiding idea killers, please read my article on the “Power of Wrong.” If you do not have the article, please call our office.

6. Reset Expectations. I am struck by how many people are waiting for change to stop and responsibilities to become clear. If this is happening, hit the reboot button and reset people’s expectations. Remind them that things will always be changing and that much will be unclear. For that reason, it makes sense to always be improving (and therefore tinkering with things). If we are not progressing, we are regressing.

The pace of change in today’s business environment demands constant improvement on an individual and organizational level. That means it is crucial to have the mindset that there is no such thing as the perfect solution. Often it is taking action that allows us to see how to make things better. Consider this: when was the last time you saw a plan that was executed the way it was designed? The truth is that no matter how well thought out our plans are, we will most likely need to make adjustments. Encourage everyone to expect change and embrace it.

7. Keep the Floodgates Open. One leader told me he actually likes ambiguity because it forces people to think and communicate. In the absence of being certain, people have to seek out others and talk with them. For that reason, an environment that encourages open, honest communication is a must in order for the other strategies to work. It is the foundation for capitalizing on ambiguity’s opportunities.

If staff is not willing to share issues and challenges or is not empowered to freely share ideas, then ambiguity’s opportunities cannot be seized. Open those floodgates by rewarding honest communication and encouraging staff to share problems and solutions. This will enhance creativity, make room for outside-the-box thinking, and improve teamwork – exactly what is needed in an ambiguous environment. The end result will be a boost to the bottom line.

For more information on how to achieve open, honest communication, please read my article “The 11 Most Costly Hidden Problems in the Workplace.”

If you do not have the article, please call us for a copy. The factors that contribute to ambiguity are here to stay, so do not allow ambiguity’s potential challenges to blind you to its prospects. Ambiguity offers great opportunity to flourish – to lead the way in the everchanging marketplace. Take the initiative and use the seven tactics to operate, excel, and lead in an ambiguous workplace.


“The Perspective of a Lifetime” – Three Life Principles to Beware and One to Live By

ADVICE. It’s everywhere. Magazine covers. Morning news broadcasts. E-mail forwards. It seems everyone has some advice to give, and most of us must be looking for it, because self-help books continue to sell and those morning shows keep booking guests who offer life direction in perfect sound bites.

Recently I started thinking about some of the guiding life principles that I hear repeatedly – those easy-to-remember ideas that supposedly can help guide us through our daily lives and help us make decisions. I quickly realized that if we were to fully implement many of these life principles, we wouldn’t be too pleased with the results.

The trouble is that these ideas get repeated so often that we fail to think critically about them, and we miss opportunities to find a life principle that can help us safely navigate our daily lives. I want to alert you to three common life principles that could cause you harm and give you one life principle that I have found to provide sound guidance. First let’s look at three life principles you should watch out for.

PRINCIPLE 1: LIVE IN THE PRESENT

It is good to enjoy the moment, and I do live by this principle – to an extent. For instance, if I’m spending the day with family or friends, I try to focus on them rather than obsessing over business while I pretend to listen to them. In that way, living in the present is great advice. But the trouble is that this principle of living in the moment doesn’t always offer the right perspective. How can it possibly help you make effective business decisions, career decisions, financial decisions, or family decisions? Those decisions require long- term thinking. I love McDonald’s – in the moment. But afterwards McDonald’s doesn’t make me feel so good. Living in the moment is important, but it can make us shortsighted and cause us to choose the wrong things.

PRINCIPLE 2: TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED

The Golden Rule. Hard to argue with, isn’t it? The trouble is that we are profoundly different from one another. Treating people the way you want to be treated often only works with people who are like you. Suppose you’re a meat lover and you’re having a family of vegetarians over for dinner. Should you serve them meat? Of course not ! Life demands that we develop greater flexibility than this principle suggests. The best leaders and man agers I know have expanded their capabilities and developed the muscles to adjust to other people’s styles and personalities.

PRINCIPLE 3: TREAT OTHERS THE WAY THEY WANT TO BE TREATED

This sounds kind and loving, but sometimes what people say they want is not what’s best for them. If your friend is an alcoholic and he says he wants a drink, should you give it to him? Or, to be less extreme, think about people who say they want honest feedback but in the next breath tell you that they only want feedback in a particular area or in a certain way. As I discuss in my seminars and coaching sessions, when people set conditions for honesty, it limits honesty because others will use those conditions as a reason not to be truthful. The result is missed opportunities for growth. This may be the way these people want to be treated, but that doesn’t make it the best. This assessment got me thinking about what makes a good guiding life principle. It didn’t take me long to realize that for years I’d been observing a valuable life principle in action, but simply hadn’t realized the power it could have for me.

Three of my four grandparents lived long lives, and my relationships with them taught me that people who are approaching the end of their lives often reflect on their accomplishments, their disappointments, their regrets, and all they have to be thankful for. They examine how they’ve made use of their time on this earth. So why not live as if the ninetyyear- old me is present with me to give me advice and wisdom right now? At ninety we will understand what is important in the long run, but we’ll also know the value of enjoying the present. At ninety we’ll know how to treat others, but we’ ll also understand the importance of saying what needs to be said and of making the decisions that may be unpopular but are the right thing to do. At ninety we’ll understand the grave importance of being clear on our top priorities, knowing our negotiables and non-negotiables, and choosing to spend our time with people who enhance our lives and treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

Implementing the ninety year-old principle has made a significant difference in my life. I lived for years sacrificing time with those I love as well as sacrificing my emotional presence when I was physically present. When I began asking myself what the ninety year-old me would tell me to do, I was shocked by some of my decisions and ac actions in my professional and personal life. I realized I had wasted time doing many things that had brought little, if any, lasting value. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have.

Try it. Think of a business or personal decision you need to make, and visualize yourself at ninety. You’re sitting in a comfortable chair with your feet up. You’re smiling and content with the decisions you have made throughout your life. Now ask yourself what the ninety-year-old you would tell you to do now.

Suppose you need to be honest with someone about their attitude, performance, or treatment of others. What guidance might the three damaging life principles offer?

Live in the moment: Unless you love confrontation, this principle may leave you thinking, “Not right now!”
Treat others the way you want to be treated: This could be helpful as long as you don’t mind conflict and aren’t upset by hearing difficult messages. Treat others the way they want to be treated: If the person isn’t open to coaching or often doesn’t want to hear what others have to say, then you’ll have to hold your tongue.

But here’s what the ninety year-old you would likely think about approaching a difficult subject with someone: Things may be uncomfortable and there may be some trouble in the short term, but in the long run, this is the right thing to do. Time deepens wounds and deepens problems, and ignoring situations often makes them worse. I know that pain in the short term can bring gain in the long term. When I look back on this, I’ll be glad I said what needed to be said.

Don’t wait until you’re ninety to gain this valuable perspective. What is the ninety year-old you advising you to do now?


11 Questions to Uncover Communication Problems

All you have to do is turn on the news to see how a lack of honest communication is affecting the workplace as well as everyday relationships we have with one another. In fact, it seems these problems are very common. Therefore, honest, effective communication is even more critical to teamwork, productivity, and profitability and an organization’s lifelong success than ever before.

People at all levels of an organization must be willing to honestly share the information, ideas, and opportunities that come up on a daily basis. This honest communication must also be done in a time-sensitive manner, because things change so quickly in today’s world. If an organization does not receive critical information in time, it can cost them millions or even billions of dollars. Why? Because problems need to be caught and resolved when they are small, and no organization can afford to miss key opportunities.

People make better decisions when they get an accurate, truthful view of problems and situations. They are more focused, proactive, and creative with their solutions, because they know what the problems are as they occur. And they have all the information they need to respond quickly and effectively.

In addition, honest communication allows organizations to attract and retain talented people, because those people feel as if they can succeed in such an honest and healthy environment. In this environment, people listen to and trust each other. They exchange valuable feedback so that goals are achieved and organizations are properly positioned to seize opportunities.

How are you and your organization advancing in the area of honest communication? Do you think there may be some areas that need improvement? Is a storm brewing? To see if you might have some hidden problems with honesty, please answer these Eleven Key Questions to Detect an Honest Communication Problem. (Although this focuses on work issues, you can easily translate it to personal or home issues as well.) If you answer no to any of these questions, an honest communication problem that could threaten you and your organization may be looming.

1. Do you always react positively when someone shares difficult information or unpopular opinions with you?

Many times we say we want honest communication, but when someone gives it to us, we become upset or defensive. We may respond with a nasty look, a raised voice, or by ignoring what has been said. These types of responses speak volumes to the messenger and discourage this person from sharing difficult information or unpopular opinions in the future. In essence, a negative response trains and conditions people not to be forthcoming. If this continues, we might one day say, “Why am I the last one to know? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The key is to own up to the situation and create a safe environment. Then people can say what needs to be said.

2. Are you the first to hear and find out about things?

People who are afraid to say things directly to you often tell others in the organization what they truly think and feel. Unfortunately, when you finally hear this information indirectly, it is often severely distorted. Remember the game of telephone? Do you remember how distorted the message became after it had passed through several players? Distorted information thwarts our actions, because it is inaccurate. I have watched many projects and contracts become problematic, because they were built and executed based on hearsay information. Being the first to hear and directly find out facts is the key to handling things efficiently and effectively. That is why some of the best executives and managers develop ways to receive direct communication from their customers, potential customers, and all levels of their staff.

3. Do people tell you everything you need to know?

How many times have you finished a project or made a decision only to find out that people did not share key information and ideas that would have altered or changed what you did? You may have thought, If they had just said something, I might have taken care of this issue more effectively and in a fraction of the time. Key information is often there — we just need to receive it. Honest and open communication is crucial to getting a quality job done on time, within budget.

4. Do people argue, debate, and share opposing opinions in your presence?

President Lyndon Johnson said, “If nobody is arguing, only one person is thinking.” I would add, “or only one person is being honest.” It is normal and healthy to have differing opinions; the key is whether people have the freedom to share those differing opinions, tough news, and other information. If people around you never oppose your ideas and plans, they may not be saying what they are really thinking. If everyone always agrees with you, they probably do not. One reason for this dynamic is that people often suffer from The Authority Pleasing Principle — telling their leaders what they think they want to hear. Many people have been conditioned that the way to make people happy and advance in life is to do just that. Think about how our schooling may have conditioned us in that way. If we gave the teacher what he or she wanted, we were rewarded. In addition to the desire to please, employees often fear potential backlash if they share unpopular points of view. When we try to move forward and make a decision, we find that others are dragging their feet and not doing what we need them to do. In other words, they have not bought into the idea. We need to create a safe environment so people can say what they are really thinking — because receiving difficult information and feedback is essential to taking care of problems before they become huge issues.

5. Do people keep their promises to you?

People who blatantly break their promises may be breaking other promises we are unaware of. As the saying goes, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” Watch out for those who say they may not keep their word on small stuff but will keep their word on the big stuff. This is usually not the case. People who do not keep their promises or who constantly adjust their promises and still don’t deliver are probably not being upfront about something. Sometimes they know inside that they can’t deliver, but they are afraid of our reaction or they don’t want to let us down. Others feel weak or defeated when they admit they can’t accomplish something. So, they are not truthful and upfront about what is really going on. Of course, the failure to come clean only compounds the problem, and in the end everyone pays a severe price. So an undelivered promise is often a symptom of a problem that needs to be discussed and resolved.

6. Can you ask the questions that need to be asked?

People who have something to hide often don’t react well when questions are asked. By getting defensive and having a strong reaction, a person can create an environment in which others back off because they are afraid to ask questions. This enables the hiding to continue. On the flip side, we have to recognize our contribution to the problem and our history of asking questions. For example, have you asked the person questions and then used the information later to punish them — even inadvertently? If so, this may explain why the person is defensive or guarded. So if you are uneasy about asking questions, this might be an indication to further examine the situation.

7. When you ask a question, do people answer it directly?

People who are hiding things often skirt the issue, change the subject, or answer questions in global, ambiguous, or vague ways. Often they gloss over the present situation and jump to the future. In fact, some people not only don’t answer the question, they turn it around and ask you a question that distracts you. This tactic often works. For example, if you ask someone about the status of a report, they may say, “Fine. Just working hard. So, what do you have going on for the rest of the week?” How often have you walked away from discussions thinking, I don’t think they ever answered my question. Further and persistent questioning is often the key to discovering and eventually resolving the problem.

8. Do people tell you consistent things?

If you listen closely to what someone says and they are not being upfront, you will often notice inconsistencies. Not being upfront takes energy, a great memory, and lots of creative stories. Most people are unable to maintain this over time. Their inconsistencies should spur you to probe further.

9. Do the people around you display a range of emotions?

People who only show one emotion are often not telling us everything. Displaying a range of emotions is natural and normal. Have you ever had someone, like a co-worker, client, or a friend, always tell you how great things are or how wonderful you are? Although this might be nice to hear and believe, the reality is that no one is always happy and, in particular, always happy with us. We have all heard stories about someone who thought others were happy only to later discover the real truth — their co-worker was not pleased with their work, the contract was not renewed, their spouse filed for separation, or their child was having major problems in school. So seeing and hearing only one emotion from someone can be a sign of a problem that should be further explored.

10. Do people associate with others who you know to be upfront and honest?

By looking at who people surround themselves with, we can get an indication of the kind of person they truly are. The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” is true. People tend to surround themselves with those who are similar. If someone who claims to be trustworthy is constantly in the company of those who are not, it begs the question: why would they choose to be around people who do not share the same values? There may be a good explanation — the associates may be relatives or long-time friends who have been there during tough times. At the very least, however, someone’s odd or questionable associates should cause you to be extremely cautious until you can fully understand the situation.

11. Are people sharing innovative and even crazy ideas and opportunities with you?

In today’s incredibly competitive work world, we must tap into the resources, ideas, and knowledge of the people around us. Research indicates that many of the greatest ideas do not come from headquarters but the front lines. Staff on the front lines are the closest to the problems, issues, and challenges. They know the way things really work. Without front-line information, feedback, and perspective, an organization can become stale, lose its competitive edge, and ultimately become extinct. This is why we need to constantly ask people for their ideas. Honest communication is not only essential to resolving issues but also in exploring new ideas and opportunities.

If these questions have exposed some problems in your organization or your personal relationships, you are now aware of the situation and can do something about it. Many individuals and organizations don’t ask the hard questions quickly enough to uncover problems before the damage is done. Many people believe it is better not to rock the boat. They just hope things will get better. Maybe it is time to rock the boat and find out what may be lurking below so that you don’t pay an even heavier price later.

Here are three suggestions that can have an immediate impact.

1. Organizations, no matter the size, must take specific and tangible actions to create a safe environment for employees to openly and honestly communicate.

2. Leaders must set the tone and the example by consistently demonstrating honest communication and being open to receive honest communication. They must show that it can be done, it is appreciated, and will be rewarded.

3. Employees need to have or need to be taught the skills and techniques to communicate honestly and effectively. People talk about being honest, but few are actually shown how to do it and produce the desired results. These skills will enable employees to effectively express concerns about thorny or complicated issues without fear of a strong reaction from the receiver.

By approaching this on several levels and from different angles, an honest communication environment can flourish and thrive. This way, people can say what they need to say and find out what they need to find out. Ideas can be freely and safely exchanged, and everyone benefits. One easy, first step is to share the Eleven Key Questions to Detect an Honest Communication Problem as a point of conversation.

If you detect honest communication problems, then iron out a plan to make a significant difference in the level of honest communication. Take action before it is too late!


“How to Listen for the Real Message”- Lesson Learned from My Mother

The most terrific woman I know is my mother. Her advice over the years has helped me avoid many problems. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I missed out on many years of my mom’s wonderful advice. Why? Because I was missing the real message behind her words.

My mother, by her own admission, can be somewhat negative. If I say things are going great, she might ask, “But are you prepared for the future?” Even though I run my own business, she reminds me almost every year that April 15 is tax day. There are many things I am likely to forget, but tax day is not one of them. If there is a possible negative outcome to any situation, my mother can usually predict it and advise me accordingly.

Unfortunately, for years I took her words as a form of disrespect. I thought her negativity and her tendency to play devil’s advocate were signs that she thought I was incapable of doing things right and that she had little faith in my business acumen or my instincts for survival. I reasoned that if she really respected me, she would not be the voice of doom.

Things changed one day when I was attending a seminar. The speaker reminded us not to get caught up in the words people say but to listen for the true message they are trying to convey. At that moment, the light bulb went on. My mother was talking to me in this way because she cared about me, not because she had no faith in me or my skills! Voicing her worries was her way of expressing her love and protectiveness for me; it was not a form of disrespect. Suddenly, I got it.

I vowed from that moment forward to hear the real message my mom was trying to communicate and to be patient with her. She may use words that sound negative, but now I view her worries and warnings as an expression of love. She is simply trying to contribute and point out things that she perceives as helpful.

Of course, as soon as I really started to listen to my mom, I realized how smart and wise she is. She has subsequently saved me on many occasions by pointing out things I would otherwise have overlooked because of my ceaseless optimism.

Are you missing anyone’s real message? A client’s? A co-worker’s? A friend’s?

Let’s take a work example. When someone complains to you, do you hear just the complaints, or do you take time to recognize the impetus behind the complaints? Perhaps the complainer is not actually trying to be difficult. Perhaps the complainer just wants to be noticed and appreciated for the work they are doing. Or perhaps the complainer is dedicated to the job and wants to excel. Maybe the complainer feels frustrated by a lack of resources and may think it is helpful to point out insufficiencies. Some complainers lack the skill or self-confidence to ask for what they really need. They complain, hoping that others will get the hint and provide it.

Complaining clients who are hard to work with can become our best, most-loyal clients if we take the time to hear their real message and address their concerns. If our clients truly do not want to make things work, or if they really have given up, they would probably remain silent and quietly end the relationship as soon as possible.

If we are not careful to hear the real messages people are trying to communicate, we will miss them… and possibly miss out on great opportunities as well. Remember, you cannot change what people say, but you can change the way you choose to hear them. So now, when my mom is predicting gloom and doom in my life, I simply smile and say, “Mom, I got it. You love me.”


Leading Through Change

In the famous 1974 Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Ali leaned against the ropes, covered himself up, and let Foreman hit him for seven rounds until Foreman tired himself out. Then Ali started hitting back and won the fight. This boxing technique, known as the rope-a-dope, proved to be a great technique for Ali to win against a formidable opponent. It’s also a technique that many of us resort to when it comes to dealing with change — and in that arena, it doesn’t lead to a knock-out.

Holding on and laying low is no way to face change, but people do it all the time. It’s one of many reasons that the majority — a whopping 70 percent — of change initiatives fail. People handle change by doing the rope-a-dope because they are tired of “change.” They are tired because they have too many competing priorities and not enough time to get their work done. They are frozen by uncertainty, the tough economic climate, and budgetary constraints. For all these reasons, people lean against the ropes and try to outlast change by holding on, covering up, and laying low. You can’t blame people for trying. Folks have been through so much change, they are suffering from “change fatigue,” as one of my clients called it, so they don’t do anything.

This is why strong, effective leadership is critical these days — because the changing times demand leaders who can successfully lead through change, but people are tired, and they prefer the rope-a-dope to actually making changes. In this day and age, most of us have learned leadership skills, but leading through change is a critical skill set that is often not provided in organizations. Many of us have met leaders who are good at sustaining, building, and even advancing in new markets but lousy at leading, managing, and inspiring through change. To make matters worse, change really is the new norm.

Consider this: “It took twenty years to replace one third of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1960, against four years for those listed in 1998.”* If you feel like the pace of change is always getting faster, you may be right. Of course, not all of those companies went out of business. Some were acquired. Some merged. Regardless, change happened, and this statistic speaks to the rate of change at the biggest and highest levels of our economy. One could easily argue that those who can lead, manage, and inspire change will probably beat out the competition, making that particular leadership skill set critical to the future.

Four Factors for Leading Through Change

Considering the resistance to change and the uncertain times in which we lead, it is essential that we understand the factors critical to change so we can use them to our advantage. Change is complex, but after working with many organizations for twenty years, I have found that focusing on four key factors can help leaders successfully lead through change. It may sound like I am oversimplifying a complex subject, but things don’t have to be complicated. In my experience, when we focus on a few simple factors and solutions we can make great strides. Whether you are a leader who designed the change or you are leading a change directive instituted by someone else, you can use the acronym OVBS to remember the four critical factors of outcome, value, belief, and steps to help you lead, manage, and inspire so you and your organization can make the knock-out punch.

O — Outcome

No one can get from point A to point B without knowing where they’re going, and that is why effectively communicating the outcome of the planned change is critical. How can you achieve something if you don’t know what exactly you’re trying to achieve? You can’t. A confused mind will produce confused results.

The question to ask is whether the people you are leading know and understand the endgame: the objective of the change. Are the direction, vision, and mission clear? The simplest way to find out is to ask. You might even have employees write down their answers, as if it were a real test. That will give you the most accurate picture of everyone’s understanding. If the results reveal a confused understanding and mixed-up priorities, then creating and expressing your Vision of Success (VOS) should help everyone move forward to achieve actual results.

A Vision of Success is a picture of the desired result of change. The operative word here is picture, because people think in pictures. If people can’t see it, not only will they not DO it, they also probably won’t even remember it. If the change is a big organizational change, then it needs to be broken down for what it means for your area. The best Visions of Success are specific, results-drive, simple and clear, and positively focused towards the future.

V — Value

Communicating a full understanding of the outcome of the change is not enough to successfully lead employees through a transition. Employees must also see the value of the change for themselves. What’s in it for them?

Given the state of the world and economy, many people have concluded there is no such thing as company loyalty. We have all seen friends or family members lose jobs, even when they’ve given years to a company. For that reason, letting employees know that the change is good for the company is not enough to make employees value it. Now more than ever before, leaders must make the case for change by spelling out what exactly is in it for the employees.

The most effective way to make that case is to connect with employees with logic and emotion. You have probably heard it said that people make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with logic. Have you ever made an impulse purchase? I have. We make impulse purchases based on emotion, but by the time we’ve made it home from the store, we have our reasoning lined up to back up our purchase. Connect emotionally, and then win their hearts and minds with the value of the change.

Consider this: change always starts within ourselves. You have to reach people by striking what motivates them. Based on our research and experience, we have identified seven drivers of human behavior. Talk with your employees and put some appropriate benefits in place. Continue to keep in touch with them throughout the change. Don’t be afraid to get to the heart of the matter. Ask them this valuable question: On a scale of 1 through 10, how valuable is the change to you? What would it take to make it a 10? The answers to that question will give you a lot to work with.

Helping employees value the change may sound like hard work, but it is critical. Otherwise the change will slide right off their priority list, and all the repetition of your VOS will fall on deaf ears.

B — Belief

The third critical factor in leading others through change is belief. People can understand the outcome and the value of the change, but if they do not believe in the outcome and the value, they likely will not execute on the change. A lot of changes fail for this reason — lack of belief.

In my work, I’ve discovered many reasons why people don’t believe in change, but there are three major ones. The first is that we, as leaders, may not believe in the change that we’re in charge of executing and our employees can feel that. Let’s face it. We’re not Academy Award-winning actors. We are leaders, and people are smart. They know when we don’t believe in what we’re saying. Usually they hear it in our tone. How we say something is usually more important than the words we say. If you find this is happening with yourself, go back for more information and get the perspective from those who designed the change, so that you can do your best to get yourself to believe and then lead others through the change.

Another reason people don’t believe in change is due to failed changes in the past. When people have seen changes that fail to deliver on the promised outcome and value, they can become skeptical. Since research shows that 70 percent of changes fail, we know that most people have had some bad experiences with change. You have to explain why this change is different. If you are not sure how things are going to be different, then I would take a step back and find this out as best you can. This is a challenge but one that can be very valuable. Lessons learned from our past can give us great perspective in the present and truly impact our future success.

A third big reason we fail to get others to believe in a change is a lack of a relationship connection — the feeling that we’re on the same side. When that connection is missing, people may hear what we say, but not truly listen and take it in. Have you ever had someone walk up to you, and before you even hear what they have to say, you think, “NO”? Usually this happens due to a lack of relationship connection — we don’t like or respect the person. If this is happening, examine what issues may be blocking this relationship connection. Some possibilities are past change initiatives that have failed, or maybe an emphasis on revenue and profits to the point of people being skeptical that this change will impact the goals they are being pressured to achieve.

People won’t take action if they don’t believe things will change. The bottom line is that belief is the engine of change. It keeps us going during hard times and great uncertainty.

S — Steps

Change is not a one-time event. It is actually made up of many steps. Are people clear about their next steps? Do they understand the plan? More important than understanding the plan, people must understand that the plan is about progress rather than perfection. Providing clarity about the next steps is a critical factor to leading through change because that is what enables people to make genuine progress.

The first step in making progress toward change is helping employees let go of lower priorities and old initiatives so they can focus on what needs to be done. One tactic for accomplishing this is to have employees make a list of all the priorities and initiatives from the past and then make a conscious choice to either let those things go or at least put them on the back burner. As the management consultant Zemira Jones says, we need to “fail fast.” That means we have to help people recognize and let go of what’s not working, and take the benefits and lessons learned from the past to reinforce and build a stronger future.

Next, break the change down into very small steps. This gets things moving and creates momentum. “Change” can feel insurmountable, but when it’s broken down into small, achievable goals, then people see the value more quickly and “change” is no longer impossible to achieve.

I have learned a lot from my friends and clients in the military, and one thing I’ve learned is the value of training and repetition. Training is important because sometimes people genuinely don’t know how to undertake their part of the change. Furthermore, sometimes people must be urged to achieve their priorities and take action. Having people take small, specific steps creates good habits that will help the change continue to move forward.

One of the main reasons people are resistant to change is they are simply not sure what to do. Using small, clear steps to move forward combats confusion. When people know exactly what they’re accountable for and what step to take next, they are less resistant to change. Since change is a process that takes time, clear and repeated communication about the next steps helps everyone to stay on track.

The Change Equation

Let’s take a moment for a quick review. OVBS stands for the four critical factors to leading people through change:

O — Outcome

V — Value

B — Belief

S — Steps

After working with numerous organizations and observing how incredibly complex organizational change can be, I have come up with a simple equation for an organizational change quotient that can guide you as you lead through change.

Outcome x Value x Belief x Steps = Action → Results

To use the equation, rate each item from 0-10. If either outcome, value, belief, or steps are rated as a zero, then you can easily see that you’ll get zero action and zero results. If one factor receives a stronger rating than another, action and results will be produced; but if all are high, then the change will be strong. Although all these numbers are arbitrary, this does give you something you can benchmark later within your organization. For example, you can share this with your leadership team and ask them what needs to happen to improve the score. Then you can revisit it a month later. The equation provides you with a snapshot, and it also helps you to see what dials may need to be turned up. What is your organizational change quotient? What specific actions can you take to make it higher?

This equation can help you evaluate change on any level — from individual change to sweeping organizational change. It can also empower you to discover what may be the problem. For example, if your area is not producing the results you’re looking for, examine the actions that are being taken. If people aren’t taking much action (changing their behavior) continue to work backward to look at the source of the outcome, value, belief, or steps.

*Commission of the European Communities, Green Paper: Entrepreneurship in Europe 9 (2003), at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2003/com2003_0027en01.pdf.

If you would like to learn six additional strategies to help you improve your organizational change quotient or to receive an electronic copy of the complete article, please call us at (703) 241-7796 or send an e-mail request to info@stevengaffney.com.


8 Ways to Jump Start the New Year

The following are 8 crucial actions you can take to Jump Start 2013 and make it your most meaningful year yet. These changes, though initially very small, can help to put your life on a different path. Good luck to you and we would love to hear about your successes.

1. Let go of the garbage that you are carrying. Reach out to someone you have written off (but still think about) or to someone you have given up on or with whom you had a problem with. Talk to that person and do what it takes to reach some sort of resolution and put the situation behind you.  Ask the other person, “What would it take for us to put this behind us?” Their input can help you create a solution that works for everyone. By reaching out and having a conversation, you are extending the olive branch. This can create a new beginning and trigger conversations and events that can ultimately change your life. Remember: forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.  Make 2013 the year you give that gift.

2. Stop negotiating things that are not negotiable. Are you suffering because you are being flexible and letting go of standards and principles that are important to you? Decide what is negotiable versus what is really not negotiable to you. If you are not clear, how can others be? Then let others know and take a stand. Many people get inspired when boundaries are set because clarity gives them power to focus their time and energy on areas of flexibility.

3. Adopt accountability partners. What is one of your behaviors that you really want to change? The truth is that if you really want to achieve this change, you will. Set up accountability partners and consequences to help ensure that you will make that change. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly complaining about a particular issue and you want to stop being so negative, tell five people you are going to stop complaining about the issue. Every time you complain about it, give them each a dollar.  The point is to send a message that your promises are not empty and you are committed to changing the behavior. Being accountable is one of the most important ingredients in lasting change.

4. Use your strengths. Your relationship with yourself and your talents is the most important one you will ever have.  Appreciating yourself and your strengths is at the core of your ability to create and enjoy the life you want. When you appreciate yourself, you are also more likely to take action and make changes on things that are important to you. Focus on what makes you happy. Don’t overlook your talents and make sure to maximize your full potential. If you’re good at something, why not become great at it? This year, if you remember to appreciate yourself and foster your strengths, you will be more self-empowered and confident to face anything to come.

5. Choose a coach or mentor. Whether it is personal or professional, everyone benefits from someone who guides and advises them. Athletes don’t get better at their specific sports by simply playing on their own each day. They improve by employing a coach who challenges and inspires them to grow and achieve success. Athletes also don’t improve their skills by playing teams equal to or worse than they are. They advance the most quickly when they are challenged by a better team.  It is important for your mentor to be someone who may be wiser, more experienced, or more successful than you are to help you reach the goals you have.

6. Apply your personal method of success to a current problem. What is the biggest problem you are currently facing, professionally or personally? Once you’ve identified that problem, change gears and take a moment to remember a specific moment of success in your life. What were the keys to help you achieve that success? Brainstorm a few ideas of why you think you were able to be successful in achieving the results you wanted.  Over a person’s lifetime, we develop a few “go-to” methods to help us achieve success in various situations. Many times, in problem areas, if you think about it, you are usually not applying one of your normal success methods to help you through it.  Now, return to that original problem. Of the ideas you’ve brainstormed, which are you currently not doing to help you tackle this issue? Apply them and you will see new direction to help you resolve it.

7. Decide on your number-one goal and create a plan to achieve it. Make sure your goal is measurable and that there is a deadline for completion. You might think this is simple – and it is – but people often neglect to set clear goals or create so many that they do not accomplish any. I see this frequently with organizations that have so many goals that people do not know on which to focus. The result is they try to focus on many and often achieve little. Remember confusion causes delay and often failure. Clarity and focus gives us power and inspiration to achieve.

8. Distance yourself from the dream crushers, naysayers, and negative influences. Just like we are what we eat, we are a product of the people with whom we spend our time with and the information we digest from them. With whom are you surrounding yourself? Are those people negative or are they inspiring to be around? What kind of books and materials are you reading? How much are you dwelling on negative news stories?  I am not suggesting that we put our heads in the sand. I am suggesting that we fill our minds with the influences that empower us.  Take the time to clean house.

If you run into challenges and need help or have questions along the way, send me an email steven@stevengaffney.com or give us a call 703 241-7796 at the office and we will do our best to help you.