Posts Tagged change
Because front-line people deliver on the agency mission every day, they inevitably encounter opportunities for improvement. However, if your leadership style does not promote the free exchange of candid feedback, you’re probably doing your agency and the public a disservice by not receiving and acting on potentially valuable information.
Setting the tone for feedback is a leadership skill that deserves attention and practice to ensure you do not miss opportunities for individual, team, and agency improvement. So what gets in the way of a free flow of information? Here are some common pitfalls.
- Lack of candor. When a leader establishes a work environment where candor is not valued, people have a tendency to tell the leader what they believe the leader wants to hear. This creates a “yes boss” mentality where the leader’s perspective and ideas are valued and reinforced above alternative points of view. As a result, there is a loss of diversity of thinking and input.
- Fear of retribution. “Why would I risk angering my manager with a potentially controversial observation?” If people feel they will be chastised, bullied, or ridiculed for speaking their mind, they will keep potentially useful ideas to themselves.
- Talking instead of listening. Does your team practice good listening habits? Or do people listen just long enough to reinforce their own opinions? If teams are not attentive and don’t explicitly convey a desire to receive feedback, information flow is restricted.
- Lack of action. Does your team make changes based on new input and suggestions? Or do team members take more of a “my way or the highway” approach that leads to disagreement? If you really value honest, candid feedback, you have to demonstrate that it is desired, valued, and acted on.
Open communication is a key to the successful fulfillment of the agency mission. What changes do you need to make in your leadership style and behavior to allow more candid feedback to come your way? These four starting points can serve as a road map as you begin to examine your own agency’s culture.
When we hear the word change, there is usually some pause in our thinking as we reflect on the why, when, what, and how of potential impact. This is especially true in a large organization because of the number of people affected and the diversity of views. What can agency leaders do to help individuals embrace and support change? Here are a few key areas to address.
Address the Why: Any change, regardless of complexity or scale, requires sensitivity in addressing the need for change. This should include anticipating questions and concerns about why the change is needed. If leadership cannot come up with a tangible, concise statement about the need for the change, there is likely little value in it.
Consider Impact: It is only normal for individuals to evaluate change through the lens of how it will impact them personally. Achieving buy-in calls for a detailed response to the question What’s in it for me? (WIIFM). Once each person recognizes how the change will impact them as an individual, they can begin to consider the change from a broader point of view. Communication and employee involvement are key before energetic support for change can be realized. Communication could include emails highlighting supporting points, staff discussions, town hall meetings, and focus groups. It is also very useful to involve a cross section of employees in contributing to the design and development of the desired change.
Demonstrate the Value: With an explanation for the change and grass roots buy-in within reach, leadership needs to develop a safe harbor in which to test the change. This test could take the form of a pilot in a specific part of the organization that would illustrate how the change will positively impact the organization. The duration of the pilot would depend on process complexity and degree of perceived change.
Measure, Monitor, and Adjust: Once a desired change strategy has been implemented, it’s important to monitor, measure, and adjust the strategy as required. Measurement can be in the form of qualitative survey or quantitative output measures. In both cases, results should be openly shared with employees so that everyone can objectively observe the positive contribution of the change. Managing with facts and data will secure commitment to current and future changes because it will show a demonstrated desire for positive impact.
Challenges are a reality in any organization facing a change initiative. But transparent communication, employee involvement, and adjusting and measuring impact can go a long way toward calming initial resistance, getting past the pause, and managing the change process.
Got change in your future? Make sure to include these elements in your change strategy to ensure greater success.
Public sector entrepreneurial initiatives serve the public by improving economic prosperity and creating jobs. Many well-known technological advances have their roots in government funded research—global positioning systems (GPS), speech recognition software, lactose-free milk, LED lighting, even the Internet itself—they all owe a portion of their success to government funded agencies.
However, we cannot lose sight of the critical role leadership plays in the successful execution of these ideas—specifically, leadership courage in three forms: going against the grain when necessary; promoting big picture thinking; and doing the right thing.
Going against the Grain: When the Air Force Research Laboratory decided to establish the Entrepreneurial Opportunities Program, leaders had to work through legal and policy challenges to provide an opportunity for sabbatical and spinning off commercial products. This is something we have come to expect from Silicon Valley and universities; however, leadership courage was the key ingredient that provided the passion and drive to do what was best for the public.
Big Picture Thinking: Leadership courage sometimes includes the will to define the future and create organization models that advance public service beyond expectations. This is a key difference between management and leadership. Looking beyond present conditions, formulating a view of the future, and embracing the art of the possible creates the conditions where technology transfer and entrepreneurism in the public sector can occur.
Doing the Right Thing: In this context, leadership courage means moving beyond checking the necessary boxes to thinking about what is missing from the public service equation. This is a leadership trait often associated with change management and it requires a confidence to explain change.
Good leadership leads to empowerment and innovation. It can be defined only when it surfaces in behavior that pulls the agency beyond the norm.
The skills that have enabled public sector innovation and technology transfer can be learned. Such learning is predicated upon a leadership development framework that highlights entrepreneurism as a developmental pillar. Even without an agency focus on technology transfer, an entrepreneurial mindset can enhance the way an agency approaches public service innovation, continuous improvement, and measures of efficacy. Agencies need to find ways to reinforce training and provide for practical applications through coaching or mentoring. This creates a safe harbor environment for trial and error. Our government should leverage the advantages of leadership development to ensure that ideas for technical innovation and technology transfer are brought forward in the spirit of improving public service and economic prosperity.
In our last blog we reviewed four key points to ensure successful leadership assimilation, and invited our readers to comment. Today we will highlight additional tips and an insightful suggestion from one our readers.
It is essential for a new leader to fully comprehend the existing agency culture before making changes. This same need applies whether the leader has accepted a position in a new agency or has been promoted within their own agency. In both cases leaders should reflect or refresh their knowledge of the agency’s norms, patterns, and expectations. Here are four important areas that need to be examined before the new leader launches any initiatives.
- Decision Making Patterns: Understanding how information is processed, acted upon, and ultimately used in decision making can be important to learning about nuances in internal culture and politics. This area of investigation will also help to establish awareness of key stakeholders and build bridges to them. It is critical for the new leader to respect the way in which decisions are made if they want to influence outcomes, corrective actions, and potential new directions.
- Expectation Management: A new leader should take the time to explore what will be expected of them in the new role. Expectations will exist on three levels: manager, team, and agency. Communication is the key. At a team level, ask the team what they need, what has worked well in the past, and what changes might be necessary. At the manager and agency level, a series of one-on-one meetings with senior leaders and direct reports will help to charter a course with respect to desired outcomes and how to best address issues.
- Feedback: A new leader needs candid feedback to ensure expectations are met and integration into the operational flow is occurring as desired. New leaders should not hesitate to ask a simple question such as “How is it going?” This is a great way to open a dialogue and receive feedback in a non-threatening way. Further, the lost art of MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is an excellent, non-intrusive way to hear about operational activity, discuss projects, establish a presence, and build a connection to the team.
- Relationship Building: If others do not trust and respect the new leader, alienation, passive-aggressive resistance, and other undesired behaviors may emerge. One of our readers has an excellent and practical idea to ensure that integrity and openness are part of a new leader’s foundation: the new leader simply shares their calendar with the team and keeps it updated. This is an excellent way to create trust through transparency. In this way the direct report team can understand the new leader’s availability and appreciate priorities.
New initiatives are better received when leaders take the time to thoroughly understand the culture they are operating in. Increase the quality and frequency of communication to set yourself up for success in your new role.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months. This can occur for many reasons, but one of the most prevalent is the newly hired leader not understanding, respecting, or practicing the organization’s procedures. It is critically important for any new manager to begin from a place of acknowledgment before starting a dialogue around change. Otherwise, organizations just reject the person and their outside ideas even though the new ideas could improve agency mission.
So, what will work to ensure the success of a new manager and the continued delivery of services in the interest of public service? Here are some best practices for new managers—and their leaders—to consider.
- Provide Opportunities for Early Wins. This is not specifically about implementing change or achieving a specific outcome. Instead, an early win should address the new manager’s fit with the agency and reinforce that the agency made the right decision. This helps the team settle in.
- Model Effective Meeting Management. Meetings can often amount to lost opportunities if not well managed. On the other hand, with a well crafted agenda and the appropriate attendees, meetings can be the perfect forum in which to dialogue on tough issues, discuss breakthrough ideas, and build team cohesion through active listening and participation.
- Help with Conflict Resolution. Because conflict is inevitable in any workplace, it is important for a new manager to understand the organization’s existing process for conflict resolution. For example, are conflicts openly discussed? Is it common to bring a third party into the process to provide an independent view? Or are conflicts generally ignored? Once the new manager understands the norm, they can deal with conflict appropriately—or, if no real process exists, they could begin laying the groundwork for a new process by preparing an outline that includes change rationale.
- Learn from a Pro. A very useful and often overlooked assimilation technique is for a manager who had previously held the same role to share their insights with the new manager. This individual can offer a perspective that is usually void of personal agenda; therefore, there is a good likelihood they will provide quality feedback.
This list is designed to be a thought starter. What would you add for leaders in public agencies? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and I will include them in my next post.
Transitioning to a new agency, a new branch, or a new role requires some homework to learn, understand, and appreciate rules and workflow. By anticipating the questions and challenges new managers may have around policy and process, you can help them get off to the best start possible.
Succession planning is usually very low on the list of agency priorities until a reminder like Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent bicycle accident occurs. When an influential senior leader is sidelined for even a short time it reminds everyone, “Who is ready to step up and continue the mission?”
A succession planning process is an essential strategy that involves assessment, development, and communication. An agency without a succession plan runs the risk of not being able to fulfill its mission.
So, what does an effective succession planning process look like?
Assessment: Succession planning starts with a determination of positions that should be included in the plan. Plans should also identify talent within—but also outside of internal leadership circles. Specialized skill requirements might make it necessary to identify and recruit talent from outside the agency and/or government.
Development: Identify where skill gaps exist and the degree of knowledge acquisition required to perform a future role. Many agencies are now using phased retirement programs that emphasize and enable knowledge transfer. The phased process allows for incumbents to smoothly prepare for retirement rather than come to an unexpected and sudden exit.
Communication: A final important element of the succession process is to develop a plan for communicating the strategy throughout the agency. In the absence of this information, high-potential candidates could unexpectedly exit the agency to pursue desired career advancement opportunities elsewhere—not knowing that a career path strategy has been defined.
Succession planning plays an important role in ensuring business continuity and the uninterrupted execution of an agency’s mission. Plans are always better when people have the time to think them through. The same is true when it comes to identifying and developing a next generation of leadership. Get started today!
About The Ken Blanchard Companies
The Ken Blanchard Company specializes in helping agencies assess, understand, and address talent and developmental gaps. To learn more visit The Ken Blanchard Companies government solutions homepage.
Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that employees are constantly appraising their work experiences—and that their intent to stay, use discretionary effort, perform at a high level, endorse the organization, and be good organizational citizens translates into behaviors that can be positive or negative.
Employee intentions can also influence the opinions of others—especially in the case of a disgruntled employee who, through social media or other channels, expresses negative views. When that happens, one individual’s pessimistic attitude can shape the intentions of many other prospective employees, potentially resulting in their being negatively influenced about joining the federal government workforce.
Blanchard’s ongoing research into employee work passion has identified 12 factors that influence employee perceptions of whether or not a specific work environment is deserving of their loyalty and best effort. These factors can be grouped into three broad categories.
Job factors. These include Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Task Variety, and Workload Balance. This area should be fairly straightforward and achievable for government agencies. While much debate has existed about the size of the government workforce and corresponding budgets, there is minimal argument about the significance of the work. Individual autonomy—when earned—is in everyone’s best interest. Leaders need to learn how to empower and delegate while also having in place an appropriate check and balance system to prevent errors and catastrophic failures. Task variety is also important. Leaders should be well versed in how to minimize repetitive tasks when making assignments. Workload balance also needs to be factored in to avoid employee burnout.
Organizational factors. These address fairness—both Distributive Justice, having to do with pay, and Procedural Justice, which involves decision making. Performance Expectations and Growth opportunities are also under this category. Employees want to know that compensation and decision making are fair. Leaders can demonstrate fairness by ensuring that merit increases, career growth, and performance evaluation processes are as transparent as possible. Another important driver in this category is the degree to which information is shared. Leaders need to err on the side of openness whenever possible, to ensure there is a steady flow of information sharing.
Relationship factors. These look at how connected employees are with their colleagues and also with their leaders. This is basic leadership, and involves the degree to which leaders are visibly and actively connecting to their teams with regular communication. Many employees, especially those that are salaried, spend a majority of their waking hours working. Developing relationships is critical to creating a sense of Connectedness (both with Colleagues and Leader.) Feedback and Collaboration also play a role. Leaders can enhance a sense of connectedness by demonstrating an interest in their teams, encouraging collaboration, and providing feedback. This can be accomplished in a relatively simple way by inquiring about tasks at hand and their progress, discussing resources that might be needed to perform the work, and generating ideas for continuous improvement.
Perceptions, Intentions, and Performance
Don’t let negative employee intentions undermine your agency’s culture and performance. When leaders understand and act on employee perceptions and intentions, overall engagement and productivity will improve. To learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research in this area, and how this information has helped private and public sector clients develop leadership practices that foster positive employee intentions, visit Blanchard’s research page.