Windshield or Bug? — How to Thrive During Change

bugAs both Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dire Straits have pointed out, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

This isn’t exactly the case with change in organizations because there are inevitably fewer people leading the change than there are people impacted by a change they don’t control.

Change management practitioners would emphasize that every individual has influence over whether change is accepted in their organization. From change champions to passive accepters to active resistors, everyone can affect change.

In many cases, however, you may neither want to bolster nor derail a change. You just want to find a way to navigate through it with as much benefit and as little disruption as possible. The question is how to do that. When a change is happening in your organization, here are a few tips on how not only to survive, but also to thrive:

  • Un-Divide Your Attention:
    Thoroughly read all the communications about the change. Attend the all-hands meeting without your smartphone. View the webinars – and not while multi-tasking. If you’re relying on the water cooler conversations for information about what is happening, misinformation is a given. Actively listen to what your leaders have to say. Yes, this takes time away from your day-to-day responsibilities, but it’s worth it.
  • Question Authority:
    Do not hesitate to ask questions of your supervisor and senior management about the change. Use your agency discussion boards and other communications forums to get answers. Of course, word your questions wisely. If that’s not possible, seek a safe forum in which to ask the question. If there isn’t a way to submit anonymous questions, reach out to HR to develop one.
  • Just Me, Myself, and I:
    As much as we want to be “all business” at work, our emotions do play a role. Spend some time reflecting on both your practical and emotional reactions. Will the change results in less interaction with a favorite colleague? More interaction with your office’s Andy Bernard (or Mimi for Drew Carey fans, Copy Guy from SNL), and you just can’t take that? Will the change result in more or less interesting work for you? More or less power? Figure out how your feel about the change and WHY you feel that way. Know the lens through which you, as an individual, view the change.
  • Think Globally, Act Locally:
    Communications from leaders often focus on the benefits at the agency level. It is critical you can view the change through that lens, too. If you’ve participated in the change communications and asked questions, you should understand the global situation. Where your efforts are most critical, however, is at the local level. Boots on the ground implications of changes are sometimes missed by senior leaders in change planning. Think through all the implications of the change for your role and team. What are the indirect consequences? Are there any potential issues that need to be addressed? Surfacing them – and addressing them – early prevents later problems for both you and your leadership.
  • Expect the Unexpected:
    No change program goes according to plan. If you enter the change expecting to have to be flexible, you’re less likely to be annoyed when the unexpected happens. Have contingences in place if, for example, a software program is delayed. If you’re scheduling vacation around implementation dates, talk to your manager about what happens if the schedule shifts. Finally, don’t be surprised by the changes in the people. Some super stars may leave the agency. You may see sides of others’ personalities you didn’t expect. Surprises are inevitable. Your resilience may be tested, but you can be prepared for that.

Deepak Chopra said “All great changes are preceded by chaos.”  In the case of change within your organization, you will survive the chaos when you practice listening, asking, introspection, analysis, and resilience. That is how you thrive in situations of change. In the Government right now, change is a constant. Continue to expect the unexpected.

Start With Goals: Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce

Football in goalWith constantly changing technology to keep up with, demands for efficiency and a shortage of millenials entering their ranks, Federal leaders are under more pressure than ever to recruit and retain new talent, and get more from existing employees.

The need to optimize talent in the workforce is evident. How do you begin to assess the critical skills gaps in your workforce, and align professional development and training to agency missions and goals? And once you have a vision of what your future workforce should look like, how can you make it happen? 

My colleagues and I recommend a strategic approach in our upcoming book from Management Concepts Press, Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce. Here’s an excerpt:

The first step is to analyze the agency’s strategic and performance goals and determine where training could enhance the achievement of those goals. A gap analysis will identify competency discrepancies that hamper achievement of the future desired state. Some key questions to ask are:

  • To reach each goal, what competencies must the current or future workforce members possess?
  • What benchmarks can be used to create innovative approaches to reaching this goal?
  • Are there competency gaps that must be addressed to meet this goal?
  • Could training help reduce other HR problems, such as high staff turnover? (OPM, 2000)

The next step is to develop alternative strategies to close the identified gaps using both training and non-training solutions. If the conclusion of the analysis is that training solutions are necessary, then a cost-benefit analysis will be required for justification of a training program. Key questions to ask are as follows:

  • Could training address the competency gaps?
  • Are non-training strategies needed to support the training intervention?
  • What types of training should be provided (e.g., classroom, distance learning, electronic performance support, on-the-job training)?
  • Do the anticipated benefits from training outweigh the projected costs? (OPM, 2000a)

Excerpted with permission from Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce by William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CPLP Fellow; Aileen G. Zaballero, M.S.,CPLP; Jong Gyu Park, MBA. © 2014 by Management Concepts Press. All rights reserved.

Supervising a High-Potential Employee and a Lesson From Happy Gilmore

HappyGilmoreLeslie was a rock star on the rise . . . until she got fired.

We’ve all seen someone with Superman or Superwoman potential, one with extraordinary talents. With eyes closed and one hand tied behind the back, this person can still, somehow, miraculously pull out great results.

That’s what Leslie did in her promising career, going from strength to strength . . . until so many relationships internally were so damaged that her boss had to see her out the door.

How do you supervise a high-potential employee? How do you help him or her avoid career “derailers?” And what does the Adam Sandler movie “Happy Gilmore” have to do with anything? (Keep reading to find out.)

Let’s start with the assumption that the employee has the right stuff; there is no real question about technical capability. However his or her brain is wired, he or she is primed to perform. Technical proficiency is much more easily addressed than “soft skills.”

To help the employee with this technical skill, a few things help. Let’s discuss those first before getting into the tough stuff.

First, connect him or her with other, more experienced and high-performance people doing similar work. Whether you call them peers, mentors or comrades in arms, it can help for a high-potential employee to see a bit beyond his or her own immediate horizons. Sometimes, the employee may start to see his or her own brilliant way is actually not the only way.

Second, help the employee get very specific on which specific aspects of the work tap their talents. Most knowledge work is a constellation of dozens of discrete, different tasks. The job may include research, problem-solving, critical thinking, customer service, scenario planning and teamwork. These, and even particular aspects of these, may be either manna from heaven or dreaded tasks. Things get more differentiated. Getting specific helps to isolate strengths, which is important for career planning.

Having employees experience many different kinds of work (rotations) helps them further discern the range and type of their talents.

Third, help the employee set real developmental goals. These will stretch their talent, and expose the employee to ever more information about the intersection of the talent and the work.

Now, for the hard part, and why Leslie got fired, and what Adam Sandler learned.

The potential trouble with high potential starts with the employee realization that he or she has got the goods. With a growing sense that he or she can run circles around others, a variety of counter-productive thoughts and behaviors can start to occur. The person may show up as aloof, a diva, dilettante, savage critic, condescending or arrogant.

What’s underneath this is usually a two-word mantra that organizations need to pay attention to: “Talent walks.” Because it can when it doesn’t like what is happening. The calculation the employee makes “My (great) results justify my behavior.”

The behaviors mentioned above are, of course, derailers, likely to invite resistance, anger and isolation. As it is very hard to get much done all by one’s self, most reasonable people can see the need to engage others in a way that creates commitment and collaboration, rather than hostility and distance.

In Leslie’s case, she was brilliant with external stakeholders. Able to win agreement nine times out of ten, she hung the moon. But inside the organization, she regularly shredded anyone who did not do exactly what she wanted (demanded, actually), as soon as possible. This included peers. Disbelief, threats and anything but reciprocity (which is a fundamental law of life) were her MO.

Management ultimately did the calculation: the damage internally had now outweighed the benefits externally, and she got canned. That’s how it works. The high-maintenance bills get too high. So, what to do?

Here’s how to help high-potential employees harvest the fruits of their talents without stinking up the place.

First, above all, help them to see that technical competence alone rarely wins the day, particularly in the long run. Make the case that they are actually going to need others along the way, and that the higher up they go, the more this will be true. Of course, this is the business case for emotional intelligence, so slip a copy of the book Emotional Intelligence on the desk.

Second, introduce them to two tools commonly used in development: the Johari Window and the Cycle of Learning.

The Johari Window

Public Area Pane

What I know about myself
What others know about me

Blind Spot Pane

What I do not know about myself
What others know about me

Facade, Mask Pane

What I know about myself
What others do not know about me

Unknown Pane

What I do not know aobut myself
What other do not know about me

The most valuable part of the Johari Window is usually the blind spot, which, as humans, we all have, little or large.

The moment of realization when any person starts to see how others see him or her is no small matter. It often represents a sudden and potentially massive upward shift in consciousness, or awareness.

A 360-degree assessment is the most common way this occurs, but regular, honest and constructive feedback also works. It may take several rounds, but at some point, the message usually sticks.  As expressed in a Harvard Business Review article, one person said he suddenly realized he had interpersonal B.O. Of course, this new-found knowledge may or may not be used (and you should encourage application), but little personal change is possible without it

The second tool is the Cycle of Learning, a part of systems thinking.

The Cycle of Learning

Unconscious Incompetence

You’re bad at it, but you don’t know.

Conscious Competence

You’re good at it, but it takes effort and energy.

Conscious Incompetence

You’re bad at it, and you know.

Unconscious Competence

You’re good at it, and it does not take effort or enery.

The key to this tool is that it is applied to skillsets outside the ones already amply demonstrated as high-potential (e.g.,  communication skills, conflict management, self-awareness, self-regulation and the other skills needed to accompany the technical skills). Team work is usually the keystone of performance in this case.

For some reason, the word “competence” gets attention with high-performers. So go ahead, use it. High-potential employees like the concept of mastery. In this case, it means making skills in communication, conflict management and the other behaviors mentioned above into automatic habits.

Third, use the employee’s most intractable problems as potential gateways for great self- and other-awareness. These problems are usually social (meaning they involve other people), and the dawning awareness that technical brilliance won’t win the day invites a new discussion on how to gain cooperation, and how to connect.

Finally, what about Adam Sandler?

There is a pivotal scene in the movie Happy Gilmore where Sandler, a hockey player who has stumbled into golf, comes off the course and talks with his coach. Sandler can hit the ball a mile; he’s high-potential.

Coach: Happy, shut your trap. You were great out there today.

Happy: Thank you.

Coach: But not that great. A lot of that was luck.

Happy: Some might call it luck. I like to call it … well, luck, I guess. So what?

Coach: Don’t join the Pro Tour yet. We got work to do before you go against professionals.

Happy: Forget it. I’II pick up the rest as I go.

Coach: Don’t be a fool! People would kill to hit the long ball like you. You got an advantage over any other golfer. By developing the rest of your game…you’d be unstoppable.

The bottom line for high-potential employees is that it’s a beautiful thing when they can combine great technical performance with great skills with people — when “the rest of the game” is developed.

This Week in Grants News

Obama“This Week in Grants News” is a resource Management Concepts provides to keep you informed of important grants-related news from the week.

  • Obama Signs Executive Order Barring Anti-LGBT Job Bias
    The president signed an executive order amending Executive Orders 11246 and 11478 to require Federal contractors not to discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgendered employees. The executive order does not directly affect Federal grants; however, any grant recipient awarding contracts under a Federal grant will need to ensure the contractor abides by the new mandate. Read more here.
  • House Will Vote in September to Avoid Shutdown
    House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will consider a continuing resolution (CR) when members return from their month-long August recess.  The CR will likely fund government operations through mid-December, though the House leadership has not released specific details yet. Congress has not yet passed any of the twelve appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on October 1. Read more here.
  • FEMA: Opportunities to Achieve Efficiencies and Strengthen Operations
    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) administration of disaster assistance programs. This report summarizes previous GAO studies on FEMA’s administrative capabilities. The report does not make any new recommendations. Read the report here.
  • Managing for Results: Enhanced Goal Leader Accountability and Collaboration Could Further Improve Agency Performance
    The GAO examined how agency priority goal leaders administer their responsibilities under the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act (GPRAMA). Multiple officials discussed the role grant programs have in meeting agency priority goals. Read the report here.
  • 3 Ways to Get More Out of the DATA Act
    Steve Goodrich, President of the Center for Organizational Excellence, examines how Federal agencies should implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act to maximize benefits of the law. Read Goodrich’s suggestions here.

Having an “HMU” Instead of an Attack

HelpMeUnderstandA senior leader at a Federal agency I recently worked with was revered throughout the organization, known for his wisdom, excellent communication skills and approachability.

When something went bad or wrong with anyone, he would sit down with the person and have an “HMU” conversation.

Before explaining what an HMU is, it is important to remember how most conversations go in many organizations when something goes wrong. The conversation often goes badly, evokes negative emotions, defensiveness, hurt feelings, future avoidance and other damage. (This is why teaching people how to give feedback that works is a standard feature management and leadership development programs.)

But an HMU conversation is different. It stands for “Help Me Understand.”

First, it’s a conversation, not a diatribe or one-way monologue.

Second, it leads with questions. Asking to help someone help you understand is a question itself.

HMU starts with no real agenda or pre-conceived notions. It starts with a desire to understand.

Since the “how” of the “what” always matters greatly in these things, it should be noted that the demeanor of the leader who uses this approach is calm, open and reasonable.

The HMU gives the employee the responsibility of walking through his or her reasoning, and it goes from there.

When there is information that was not known to the leader that changes the picture, he thanks the employee and everyone gets back to work.

And when there was a lapse in logic or good thinking on the part of the employee, the leader helps the employee see that.

Employees know an HMU could lead to constructive criticism, but it’s different than an attack. It helps them to think through their actions, surface their reasoning and actually learn something.

The next time something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, start with “Help me understand . . .”

If giving effective feedback and other leadership and management competencies are holding your team back, consider implementing a leadership development program.