Your skeletal system is not your nervous system. Anyone who has worked with me, especially in the last couple of years will know that this is my favourite expression when starting the discussion around how to optimise the way we approach change.
The skeletal system is of course important. It’s the tangible, structural and probably most visual aspect of change, represented by things like a change plan, the organisation charts in a restructure or documented work flows for a new system. We need the skeletal system because people need structure throughout change. We know that people like structure at the best of times, and when the ground is moving underneath us, structure is needed more than ever.
However we also know that the skeletal system is only as effective as the nervous system that powers it. If the skeletal system is about the solid and structural elements of change, then the nervous system can be considered as the way we approach the change and work with the intangibles.
Consider stakeholder management throughout change. This is often thought of as sharp end of engagement throughout change, and the process is usually one of asking: who are our stakeholders, and why are they our stakeholders? What if we reframed this to ask a different question that combines the approaches of the skeletal and nervous systems? It would sound something like this:
Who do we think:
We are then armed with a powerful piece of information that is ready to be validated through informal conversations and checking in with each team member or group to get a sense of where they are at. Once the validation has occurred you can then structure your leadership around what those in each category need to hear or experience to help them engage with the change.
And then of course, there is the more recent COVID-19 situation. The rapid change experienced by everyone as we transitioned to virtual working didn't give anyone a chance to manage the transition as well as we would normally like. But we are now talking about what the near future looks like, including talk of returning to the workplace. In this situation, you can use the above analysis to gather a picture of where your team is at in terms of the next transition; in fact I would suggest it's a non-negotiable if you are looking to lead in an engaging manner, and build engagement between your team and what's next.
The final word?
Both the skeletal and the nervous system are required for the human body to function effectively and the same goes for ensuring there is engagement throughout change. If we focus only on the tangibles, we miss the opportunity to get people involved and engaged with what’s going on. If we focus only on the intangibles, such as who we need to engage and what they need to hear or know, we risk losing them because they can’t see or sense how the whole thing hangs together and more importantly what there is for them to hold onto throughout the change.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
There is no denying the fact that life is quite different for all of us right now. In the face of uncertain future economic conditions, fear for the health and wellbeing of loved ones, and management of the daily challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to fixate on today’s problems.
But one thing IS certain. The future of work, the next ‘new normal’ will be quite different from the world we knew pre-COVID. As was the case following previous global recessions, we can predict that businesses are going to face increasing pressure to deliver more with less resources.
And businesses must look to the future now in order to prepare and respond to this.
Success is all about how we motivate our teams during and post crisis.
Already businesses, teams and individuals are learning to adapt, through necessity, to remote working and different uses of technology. Advancements in technology in recent years are providing us the ability to work remotely with great efficiency. Business operations can transcend sites, cities and even national borders, with virtual teams seamlessly delivering products and services across time zones to their global customers.
But technology alone does not enable a business to have a competitive advantage. It is their people who do this. It is the team members who hold the unique skills and abilities to design, deliver and support solutions which their competitors cannot easily replicate. And it is the motivation of these same people to continue to innovate, and continue to deliver, even in times of duress, that will enable success post COVID-19.
But now more than ever your critical resources must be developed and nurtured. The employees needed and relied upon right now to sustain and drive your economic success are also individuals with family members who are in many ways impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are worried about their health. They are worried about how they will continue to pay their bills. They are juggling the stresses of home schooling their children. Many are for the first time in their careers learning how to be effective working from home without regular contact with their manager and/or team members. They are wondering if they will still have a job in three, six or 12-months’ time. And all this is playing out in parallel with the pressure on businesses to do more with less.
So what can you be doing now?
At this time and over the subsequent months, it is timely for leaders to reflect upon the research conducted by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who discovered that people must go through five distinct stages in order to overcome grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. We now know that that these are the same stages every single person must go through in order to accept change in their lives – be it relating to a small personal issue or indeed a huge life or work event. We all go through this. We also progress through the stages at different rates and in different ways to reach ultimate acceptance of change.
What this highlights for leaders right now is that rarely before has there been a greater need for strong and empathetic leadership to ensure that team members are supported through this ‘change curve’, emerging on the other side of this pandemic ready to embrace the ‘new normal’ and engaged to drive business sustainability.
As we navigate this time of change and transition, below are some key focus areas for leaders to be mindful of in building and maintaining team motivation:
1. The importance of communication: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
In times of change, more than ever, people need to be kept informed of what is and is not happening. The evidence proves that the primary determinant of successful organisational change is the level and effectiveness of the communication delivered to those who will be impacted. Even if nothing has significantly shifted since a previous announcement, regular updates to your team members are a must. When working remotely it is obviously not as simple as ducking into the next office to speak to a colleague or team member, but the importance of collaboration and communication cannot be stressed highly enough as a driver of individual and team motivation and an enabler of change acceptance. Schedule regular team meetings to keep the group connected and utilise this opportunity to build greater understanding of collaboration tools and technologies at the same time.
2. Recognise employee efforts
It has been well proven than in almost every culture the most important drivers of motivation and performance are feeling valued at work, being developed in role and for the future, and believing that there is purpose in what you do. With people working in increasingly remote operations currently and likely into the foreseeable future, the remote leader must ensure that team members do not lose their sense of value, their purpose and team connection as a biproduct of isolation. Paradoxically, remote working operations can create an invaluable opportunity for leaders to reach out to individual team members in more intimate ways as they will be spending less time in the office and in physical meetings. Take the initiative to schedule moments for one to one connection to provide feedback to your people, check in on their well-being and discuss their development. This time of uncertainty can be utilised to strengthen relationships with your team.
3. Offer coaching and mentoring
This is an ideal time to invest in coaching and mentoring for key people to help them navigate the change curve, learn how to work remotely or in new ways, prepare for a future working landscape which may look different in terms of its technological or strategic challenges and simple prepare for the future more broadly. This is the time to develop talent and build resilient leaders who will future proof your business.
4. Ensure your culture is fit for purpose
Just as organisations must regularly review and redirect their strategy to ensure relevance in line with external influences, so they must also review their extant culture. While there is no perfect or ‘ideal’ culture, there is an ideal culture to suit each organisation’s strategy at a point in time. What does this mean? It means that the way people work together and their collective understanding of what is important and what is not important, must support what your business needs to achieve. And with the world of work and business now changing around us, it stands to reason that this is a great time to assess the way people are working together – and realign activities as and where needed to ensure your long term viability post pandemic.
For more information about how we can help you to build collaboration and communication skills, effectively engage your teams, help you assess your actual and desired culture, and for information about our coaching offering please click here.
We’re in this together.
Author: Suzanne Wall
Based in St Petersburg, Florida, Suzanne is an accomplished leader and Executive Coach with global experience working for several large multinationals including IBM, HP and Thales. Suzanne facilitates Ponte Valle programs and coaches in the US and virtually for global clients.
The ability to lead and manage across borders is an indispensable leadership quality. The way business and business growth is trending, combined with new ways of thinking about how we work driven by Covid-19, it’s highly likely that a majority of tomorrows leaders will experience leading teams, functions or businesses largely comprised of virtual and globally dispersed teams. This isn’t restricted to the more well developed industrial nations either; many large manufacturers, IT and services organisations are busy investing in emerging economies, which represents a whole new way of organisational thinking and in turn leadership behaviours to ensure success. In fact the organisational approach and the leadership behaviours that underpin success in a global context are very much the same and evolve around three key criteria:
Organisational. As an organisation, the ability to create a culture and practice of genuine collaboration is critical. Many M&A’s and expansions into new countries stumble or fail because more effort is invested into protecting and defending territorial patches and ‘old’ ways of thinking, rather than relaxing the mostly psychological boundaries and allowing energy to flow between teams, functions and countries. But collaboration doesn’t just happen. If time is invested up front to create strategic alignment between the impacted leadership groups, followed by a short process of creating a shared vision of what successful collaboration looks like, along with a framework or supporting leadership charter, then you have done more than most companies in enabling organisational collaboration. Beyond that think about how you embed collaboration into your systems; do you reward, recognise or incentivise collaboration? Is collaboration a performance measure of the executive team? Is there an expectation of visible collaboration between the board and the executive team?
Leadership. Fostering collaboration is difficult if it doesn’t feel supported or safe to do so. If there isn’t an organisational approach to enabling collaboration, then it falls to the leader to make it happen; and this is more about mindset than skill.
The actual ‘doing’ of collaboration isn’t so difficult; it’s the thought process that precedes the behaviour that makes or breaks collaboration at a leadership level. If a leader is able to relax the boundaries that separate them from their team, and their team or function from the rest of the organisation, they open up the gates for energy to flow and the exploration of different ideas held around how the work can get done. As we know, this comes back to the level of self-confidence and awareness of the leader to see the benefits of letting go; so what are your organisational development opportunities for leaders in this area?
Organisational. We tend to think of communication on an individual level, and there is no doubting the role that leadership communication plays in reinforcing the trust required for cross-border success. But like collaboration at an organisational level, there is an organisational responsibility to create an environment where conversations are encouraged, feedback is highly regarded and distance is no barrier. The last one should be the easiest from a technological perspective, but it is the supporting organisational capability plan that will ensure people know how to use and optimise communication technologies. The intersection of the organisational capability strategy with the internal communications and broader strategic plan will also help highlight the types, intensity and frequency of communication required to ensure the broader goal of successful global working is achieved. As we are seeing today with the sudden introduction of mass remote working, it's not enough to have ad-hoc measures and then learn on the run, which is the experience right now for many companies. Think ahead, think company-wide, and think systemically about how you create communication strategies that enable, and encourage, meaningful conversations in a safe ad supportive environment.
Leadership. In a multi-national environment, a leaders ability to use communication as a key leadership tool is critical, especially if they are leading people in another city or country. Unlike the leader who sees their team everyday, the ability to ‘walk the talk’ takes on a whole new meaning. Whilst ever a leader is thinking in mono then there isn’t the likelihood of inspired thinking or discretionary behaviour from their people. When we are thinking in mono, our behaviour is quite lineal and we miss the opportunity to connect with people beyond the transactional. Once leaders think in stereo or even in surround sound, their words and actions have the ability to be everywhere and live on in the minds of their people. And this is what the global leader needs to perfect – to be able to paint pictures with their words in such a way that if their team can’t see what they mean in person, they can clearly imagine it and be motivated by the possibilities of what the picture represents. Language training is certainly important, but this goes beyond being bi-lingual. There is a deeper aspect related to the self-esteem and confidence of the leader that does more to undermine effective global-minded thinking and connection than almost anything else. So what is the plan for providing coaching and development in this area that allows for those leaders who need it to grow in a safe and face-saving fashion?
Organisational. Global leadership at its best is supported by an organisation that clearly understands and internally articulates the fact that it is global. This articulation can be seen in the following ways:
In other words, if the organisation were a person, it would know who it is (a global creature) and be very comfortable with who they are. It’s not always easy to reach this stage, especially for those companies in the early to mid stages of international growth; the teenagers of the global business community. However it is attainable, and necessary, for the organisation to be able to support their leaders in driving the culturally aware organisation. But it also means that the board in these situations need to carry a depth of experience and a willingness to nurture the organisation when needed in supporting it's evolution as a global-thinking organisation.
Leadership. Culturally aware organisations create and communicate strong messages of inclusiveness and speaking with one voice starting with the board and the executive leadership teams. The national make up of these groups is only one factor that can create an immediate impression of organisational cultural awareness. What is more important is the quality of their actions and the way in which they lead. Do they actively promote and encourage collaboration and cultural diversity? For example, speaking a shared language when more than one or two countries are represented in a meeting or respecting time zones when setting international meetings. If little things like this aren’t done at the most senior levels of leadership, then it’s not likely it’s being done down throughout the organisation. The potency of leadership at this level is critical to ensuring the right messages are cascaded down through all leadership levels regarding cross-border leadership.
Dropping down into the organisation, the same principles apply, just in a different way. For a business leader, this doesn’t mean being able to speak all of the languages of the people in their team. This is about understanding the ways of working of the people in your team, and what behaviours or rituals are important to observe and incorporate into the team’s way of working. Like collaboration, it’s not something that comes naturally to all leaders, especially those who are leading for the first time in a global capacity. This is where the strength of message from senior leaders and the supporting organisational frameworks are critical in helping leaders in more complex situations. It also means that teaming and the way teaming occurs is a little bit different, and works more with understanding and creating shared values and ways of working rather than the more traditional behavioural teaming approaches.
Think Holistic. Think Integrated. Think Long Term
When going global, leadership development is only one part of the equation. To really set our organisations up for global success it is about seeking full integration between:
1. What we want our leaders to do, and
2. The organisational measures we have in place to enable our leaders to do it well.
It's also about playing for the long game. It's about knowing that you are developing the next generation of leaders who will be adapting to the volatility of business on a more frequent basis than we are today.
In an everyday leadership environment this is important. In a global leadership context - it is critical.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
Leading and managing in complex organisations, such a matrix or a large global organisation, can be frustrating at the best of times. And now we throw in a new dimension, Covid-19. As if working in a matrix didn’t have its challenges before, the addition of forced isolation and remote working does not make things easier.
We know that in a matrix teams are typically spread out in any case; managers leading teams in different countries or sites, single teams dispersed over multiple sites or countries and teams that need to be collaborating despite distance. So there is already a measure of tolerance that exists for life in a remote working environment. But here’s the thing. Life pre-Covid-19 meant that we could still come together when we needed to discuss, explore and expedite decisions. Much of what we achieve in a matrix is done through personal interactions, influencing and optimising our connections and network.
But in our new reality, we can’t do that as easily. Nor in the foreseeable future.
So, what can you do to be an effective contributor or leader in a matrix organisation during these time? Well, the truth is, you should be doing what you were doing all along!
The elements that help us be successful in a matrix organisation are mostly the same for everyone who is now required to work remotely. A couple of years back we published the top five things that go into being a successful leader in a matrix. Today we've revisited these points and added a Covid-19 footnote, because whilst each element is still relevant, for all of them there is heightened sense of relevance and importance for making the matrix work in today's circumstances, and we believe, in the post-Covid-19 era.
Adapt to the Structure
What we said then: Traditional hierarchical structure thinking and behaviours (command and control) just don’t work in a matrix, and successful matrix leaders get this. They may not fully grasp the structure that surrounds them, especially if they are new to the business. However they still find a way of building an informal network that will support them and their team in achieving their goals until they get their head around the formal structure.
C-19: Apply the same principles in how you transition to remote working. And do not underestimate the necessity and comfort that a network can bring in these times. Also know that your team will be leaning a little more on you to know how they should be adapting and working in a remote structure. So even if you are finding it a bit challenging possibly one of the best things you can do is create an open dialogue in the team about how you adapt together.
Create a Support Network
What we said then: Leading on from the previous point, those who achieve success don’t do it alone! They identify very early the value of an informal network of internal coaches, mentors and friends from different parts of the organisation. It’s not unusual for these people to be recognised when they walk through the shop floor or when they head to the finance department. Their relationships are reciprocal and based on more than just, ‘can you tell me’. You may think that it looks like a benign coffee that the ‘connected leader’ is taking with that guy who works in the accounts payable department; but you can be assured that she now knows more about what it takes to get one of her suppliers invoices paid quickly, as well as having a colleague who is more than just another stranger in the elevator each morning.
C-19: Do the same…except it’s a virtual coffee/connection. You can’t physically walk to another department, but you can reach out virtually – touch base – and in these times bring a human touch to reducing the psychological distance, whilst building or maintaining a valuable connection.
Ask Questions and Seek to Understand (Not to be understood)
What we said then: Successful matrix leaders and employees remove as much ambiguity as they can by seeking to understand why things are the way they are, and aim to remove the shroud of mystery. They know that the first step towards success is not to try and force your way of thinking on to others, rather, they listen, and seek to create a shared solution. Chances are that if you listen well, you’ll be asked to share your thoughts in return. Role model the type of interaction you would like to receive. A great bi-product of this is that a strong rapport is built that reduces the impact or presence of silo’s.
C-19: This is of equal importance in a forced remote working situation. In fact, your ability to listen, and listen well, is critical right now. You need to be honing your skills that help you read between the lines, and to hear the things that aren’t said to get the full message.
Don’t Assume that Your Dual Reporting Lines are Aligned
What we said then: If you have two or more upward reporting lines, don’t be afraid to organise a regular catch up on the topic of alignment. Successful matrix leaders make the issue of alignment explicit and get the objectives of each reporting line on the table. Every time I’ve facilitated this occurrence, either for myself or others, it is a real value creator. Importantly though, a 30 minute conversation on the topic of alignment can prevent the many hours of frustration that comes with trying to balance competing interests. Simply put; you are one person. Where and how you invest your energy is critical and if those above you aren’t aligned in what they want from you, then it makes sense that your performance will be diluted accordingly.
C-19: If you weren’t doing the above point before then perhaps you should start now. The tyranny of distance can make it easy for mis-alignment to grow unnecessarily, and you can’t be relying on your two upline managers to be talking and ensuring your priorities are aligned (it would be nice to think this was happening – but it probably isn’t). Ensuring this alignment is in place is as important for you as it is for your direct reports – it’s hard for you to give a clear direction with confidence if you don’t possess either for yourself.
They Don’t Become a Politician…But they are Aware of the Politics
What we said then: By taking care of the above point, you can reduce the impact of politics; however the larger and more complex the organisation, the more prevalent the politics. Those who have genuine success in complex environments don’t necessarily buy into the politics. That’s not to say they will completely avoid getting stuck in a political game every now and then, the reality is that this is likely to occur from time to time. But they are able to see the politics for what it is, and ‘work the sideline’. This means that they are almost like the political journalist who can see what’s happening, try to make sense of why it’s happening and is able to report on it from the sideline. In an organisational context you can also work the sideline. Observe the politicking; remembering you don’t have to choose sides. If you observe closely what is being played out you can make a more informed decision around how you choose to connect with those stuck in the games rather than feel as though you are being helplessly sucked into the political vortex!
C-19: There’s not too much to add here, except to remember that this continues whether you are in a face to face or remote environment. Don’t assume that because there is distance there are no politics. Groups will still split. People will still have agendas. They are just played out a little bit differently.
This closing paragraph was written in the original article, and it is truer today, than it was when it was written:
There’s one other thing about successful matrix leaders; and that’s their level of resilience. I’ve discussed this previously, and can’t highlight enough the importance of being flexible in your approach whilst at the same time being continually mindful of your situation and being prepared to adapt at short notice.
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.