Posts Tagged communication
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
– Benjamin Franklin, author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat (1706-1790)
In sport, music, theater or many other disciplines, it is obvious that success strongly depends on the time spent preparing for the event itself. With no surprise, the same rule applies to business. In order to increase your chance of success, let us introduce you to the OsCAR framework for power preparation of your most critical, high-stress professional interactions and events.
The OsCAR framework for power preparation is introduced as part of the class “Work Stress Management – the Essentials”
Access the full class here
Last Revision: 2020 June 21
“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
– in “Good to Great” from Jim Collins, American business consultant, author, and lecturer on the subject of company sustainability and growth (born 1958)
Several times a day, managers have to take decisions that will potentially impact or benefit their business, customers or teams… What is the best approach between a top-down decision-making approach and a bottom-up one? What are the various decision-making approaches and which one to favor for which situation? This post introduces the four main decision-making methods that shift the balance of the decision control between the leader and to their teams: the unilateral style, the consultative style, the democratic style and the consensus style. This posts also presents the related best practices on how and when to use those styles, depending on the analysis of some key criteria related to the situation at hands (like urgency, maturity of the team, expertise required, fostering engagement).
Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Decision-Making Styles: from Leader to Team
Because, in a business world, most of the decisions that are taken will impact the business itself and potentially, through ripple or direct effect, the team morale and engagement, it is key for managers to define and follow decision-making practices that will ensure that the best possible decisions for the business and for the teams are taken for any given situation and that the team fully supports those decisions once taken.
From our observations, efficient managers have often developed the following decision-making habits:
- They assess first if it is a situation where they need to be involved personally or where they can fully delegate the decision-making process to a trusted employee, relying on the existing reporting structure (in that latter case, it is recommended that the manager trains his employees on the content of this post prior to the decision-making delegation) ,
In case they need to be involved personally in the decision-making process, they know the panel of decision-making types that they can use with their relative benefits and risks,
- They understand which decision-making style to pick through the identification of key factors linked to the situation they want to address (such as existing data and facts at hands, urgency, expertise required, operation frame and constraints, what is negotiable and what is not, potential business impact and team impact…)
- They are aware of the main decision-making biases and other heuristics,
- They communicate clearly to their team on the above before initiating the decision-making process,
- They ensure the support and commitment of all the team members once the decision is taken (regardless of the approach chosen)
- They review periodically, during the execution, the outcomes of the decision and assess the level of divergence between the expected results and the reality, often using a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach. They do not hesitate to recognize possible decision errors early enough and bring the team back at the decision table for necessary adjustments.
- They do not shy away from their responsibilities as team leaders on the outcome of the decision, regardless of the method chosen and the decision itself
In order to help managers navigate this apparent complexity, below is a summary of the four main decision-making styles with their respective descriptions, the recommendation when to use them and their related risks. Those decision-making styles allows the leader or the team to have more or less direct control on the decision itself. Note that the scope covered here is for decisions involving or impacting a full team; process and comments for individual decision-making where a single employee is concerned would obviously differ.
- “Unilateral” or “Directive” decision-making style
- the manager takes the decision unilaterally and communicates it to the team
- this style gives the full control of the decision to the manager and usually leaves no space for negotiation.
- It is frequently used by managers with a “leader control”-oriented leadership style
- When to use:
- to use for emergency cases under time pressure but only when the manager possesses the necessary expertise or experience
- to use on time sensitive issues with a junior team lacking experience or knowledge (or under unstable conditions) and when the business at stake is high
- to use when it is a non-negotiable top-down decision where frame and context cannot be openly shared
- Risks and recommendation:
- beware of the “hero leader” syndrome: the exclusive use of this approach by a manager will not support the team development and will quickly create frustration or disengagement from the team members.
- probability of having team members not committing or supporting the decision is high.
- Therefore, once the decision is taken and case closed, it is recommended that the manager holds a debrief session with the team. Topics to cover are: explanations on how the manager came to that decision, open constructive feedbacks from the team, lessons learned on what worked and what could have been better and the steps for the team to learn how to efficiently contribute to similar situations in the future. Obviously, those recommendations do not apply in case of a non-negotiable top-down decision where individual follow-up meeting would then be more appropriate.
- Prior to announcing his decision – and if not time-sensitive -, the manager can “test” it with his trusted partners (manager, peers, HR…) to see their reactions and help preparing answers to possible objections or to seek inputs on how to generate higher support for the team
- “Consultative” decision-making style
- the manager requests inputs to his team members but takes the ultimate decision
- this style allows the manager to have a strict control on the decision while engaging his team members in the decision-making process by seeking and gathering their views and inputs.
- It is often used by managers with a “leader control”-oriented leadership style but also by managers with an “employee control”-oriented leadership style when put under time pressure to decide.
- When to use:
- to use when the manager needs specific expertise that he does not have to decide
- to use instead of consensus decision-making when time is of an essence
- to use to initiate further engagement of an already experimented team that is though not yet mature enough for a consensus approach
- Risks and recommendation:
- if the manager does not explain clearly that he his the ultimate owner of the decision, he may open the door to long negotiations and debates that will dilute his objective of gathering valuable inputs for a quality decision.
- Quality of inputs may be low if objective and frame are not set clearly (what needs to be decided upon, in which timeframe, what are the constraints – budget, resource… – and related room for negotiation…)
- this style is efficient only if all team members are in a position to bring quality inputs, else the manager may create frustration to the less experimented people from the team who can then get disengaged
- for staff whose inputs seem to have had no influence on the final decision, commitment to support the decision may decrease
- recommendation is consequently, as a first step, to have the manager reminding clearly to the team that he is the owner of the final decision based on the various individual inputs and what the framework for the decision is.
- Also, the final decision will have to be provided in details to the team accompanied with explanations on how each input has helped to model the decision (or the reason why some inputs have been discarded) in order to ensure full support on the execution (individual meeting may be required)
- “Majority vote” or “democratic” decision-making style
- the team members and manager provide several alternatives and the final decision will be based on the result of a vote with pre-defined parameters.
- this method shifts the power balance to the team since the final decision may completely differ from the one proposed by the manager.
- It is mainly used by managers with an “employee control”-oriented leadership style .
- When to use:
- to use with a team large and mature enough to conclude on several quality proposals as the range of possible choices for the vote and to generate active participation among the team members on a specific matter
- Risks and recommendation:
- if the team is not large enough, this method can not apply.
- if the team is not mature enough or has not got the necessary experience, identifying the viable options may take a considerable amount of time and discussions. Also the manager needs to be comfortable with all ideas and with the fact that his own idea may not be picked. If the manager ends-up with poor quality proposals, he may have to fall back to a consultative or directive approach which will result in higher frustration for both the team members and their manager.
- if the voting parameters are unclear (majority percentage, weight of the manager…) result may create frustration and disengagement.
- staff whose idea does not win may have difficulties or feel frustration to work on executing the idea of somebody else.
- if the voting is done openly, followers will be inclined to vote for the same choice as their reference colleague or manager, biasing the result
- Thus, managers applying the majority voting method should first make sure that the team has reached the sufficient maturity to bring on the voting table, in a timely manner, viable options that everyone will be comfortable supporting once the vote is made. The manager should also clarify explicitly the constraints / framework to get the various options designed and proposed. Each participant should be given sufficient time to present his proposal(s) with related benefits and risks and process to select options that will be submitted to vote should be clear.
- Besides, the voting method should be presented in details by the manager in order to avoid any misunderstanding (open or closed vote, required majority, weight on the manager’s vote or not, second vote in case of equality…).
- “Consensus” decision-making styles
- All team members with their manager have to build together a decision that they agree to support without any exception.
- This approach lets the team build and support the decision with almost full autonomy
- It is commonly used by managers with an “employee control”-oriented leadership style leading a team that has reached maturity.
- When to use:
- to use with a mature team of experts to create further commitment and engagement
- Risks and recommendation:
- if the team has not yet reached a sufficient maturity, severe conflicts can arise or debates may go too emotional.
- for sensitive topics, the manager will have to turn into a professional moderator else consensus may never be reached. Discussions and debates may turn hot but have to stay constructive…
- if the manager engages himself too much, he loses the position of neutral moderator which may generate frustration among the contributing team members,
- beware of followers who will simply align to their reference colleague or to the manager view; this can biase the final decision through “false consensus”
- all employees will have to comply and support the decision when consensus is reached although they may have prefered a slightly different option. It is the role of the manager to follow-up and to make sure that the decision remains supported at anytime (including by himself)
- Recommendations for managers are here: to make sure that the decision framework has been clearly set, to dedicate a space to each individual to express and share their views and ideas openly (preventing “talkers” to monopolize the debate, “manipulators” to over-influence the followers and followers to silently align even if not convinced). Debates may be colorful but discussion must remain constructive and respectful of every participant at any time; those basic rules must be reminded prior the opening of the discussion. Note that the support of an external moderator may be required if the manager cannot assume the role of neutral moderator.
- Finally, in case a consensus cannot be reached in a predefined timeframe, it is strongly recommended that the manager has a decision-making fall-back plan ready.
- exercise 1: Look at the key decisions impacting your business and your teams that you have taken over the past months.
- Which decision-making method(s) have you favored? Why?
- To which extend have you shared the decision-making method with the team?
- How far were the decisions supported by the team members?
- What was the type of engagement generated to your team by the approach you’ve used?
- If you had to do it over again, would you use the same approach? If not, what would you do differently and why?
- exercise 2: Which decision-making style would you use in the 3 below cases? Why? What are the risks and how would you tackle them?
- You have just been appointed Head of Sales of your unit, coming from the Client Relationship Management team where you had spent more then 3 years. Your understanding of the local market was one of the factors that had supported your promotion to this role. Your Sales Team is composed of one veteran who has been in the industry for 10 years and selling the solution over the past 5 years, one sales manager who moved into the role last year and who had previously worked for 2 years as pre-sales in another unit of the company, a new grad who joined last year and a new staff who on-boarded less than 6 months back coming from one of your main global competitors. It is now beginning of September and you are requested to present to your executive management by mid-November your next year sales strategy and related execution plan…
- Your European-based company provides non-intrusive biometric sensors combined with easy-to-use health care apps suitable for senior people. Your company has enjoyed a steady growth and has just opened a business unit in Japan where the demographic and technology access seems to offer a promising market. The team is composed of a sizeable sales forces, a small local R&D team in charge of proposing new solutions based on the local market specificities and a Service Desk dealing with client issues. Since the inception of the company, 5 years ago, you have built and been heading the European-based Service Desk but had looked for a career development opportunity outside of Europe. Your track record had put you on the top of the list for a promotion as Japan Head of R&D and Service Desk. And here you are. Because of the language barrier, you could not move experienced staff with you and had to build the team from scratch less than a year ago. Today, your Number One customer calls the Service Desk showing signs of extreme dissatisfaction with the way that some of the menus and data from your app are displayed in Japanese and threatens of cancelling the contract. You remember a very similar case 2 years ago when you had introduced a Russian version of your app. The customer is waiting for a call back in the next 30 minutes…
- You are leading the marketing department of your business unit with a team of three people. So far your company has given large autonomy to each business unit to manage their own marketing process leading though to inconsistent practices across the company. Your team members have all been in the company for more than 3 years showing steady performance, except one staff wo was just recruited 9 months ago based on his track record at one of your largest competitor. You are requested to appoint one team representative to work on a transversal cross-unit project aiming at defining marketing best practices for the company…
- exercise 3: Analyze the last time you had fully delegated a decision to one of your team members.
- Do you have clear criteria defined for a full delegation of decision (type of situation, potential business impact / team impact pre-assessment, identified team members for specific decisions, reporting structure…)?
- Why have you decided to delegate in this specific case?
- How far have you explained the framework and context related to the situation to decide upon (timeframe, budget, resource, information and data at hands…)
- To which extend are the team members you’ve delegated decision authority to familiar with the concepts of this post?
- How have you followed up upon the delegated decision?
- What were the specific challenges?
- What would you do differently next time you delegate a decision?
Obviously, taking wrong decisions can easily bring businesses down or destroy teams’ morale and staff engagement. Developing effective decision-making habits becomes therefore critical for managers. Assuming that the manager in charge has to personally get involved in a decision-making process, his first step should be to identify what is at stake and the context surrounding the situation: timeframe for the decision, possible impact on the business and on the team, specific experience or expertise required, available resources, team maturity, desired level of engagement of team members, risk of unsupported decision, possible decision-making biases. Then the manager should identify the most appropriate decision-making method, considering whether he prefers the team to drive the decision as much as possible or whether he prefers to be the sole owner of the final decision. As sole owner, the directive style has the merit to deliver a quick decision-making process suitable for urgent situation with high business at stake and where expertise is available at the manager level. Alternatively, if specific experience or expertise is required, the consultative approach will efficiently support the manager by helping gathering the necessary inputs from the team, increasing de facto the involvement of the various team members. A Majority-vote style shifts the decision authority balance further to the team who then have to come and vote for a viable option with their manager. Finally, for mature teams, consensus decision-making will very probably bring the highest level of commitment and support. It is though to be noted that each one of those styles presents risks depending on the situation at hands. It is thus the responsibility of the manager to appreciate the benefits and risks of each of those decision-making styles, to keep in any case accountability over the decision agreed upon, regardless of the process used and to request for justifiable adjustments whenever required.
Last Revision: 2015 March 28
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
– Peter Ferdinand Drucker, Austrian-born American writer, management consultant and university professor (1909-2005)
Getting the right things done can obviously be achieved in various ways: a “command-and-control” directive approach based on the manager’s exclusive expertise, a participative team discussion leveraging on everyone’s knowledge and skills, a path shown in a convincing and energetic manner by a charismatic leader… While it is important to know the various management and leadership styles with their respective advantages and drawbacks, it is also crucial to recognize that the best leaders are often the ones who can navigate from one style to another, depending on the context.
Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Leadership and Management Styles
The above matrix allows a simple positioning of 5 classical pairs of leadership / management styles based on two dimensions where:
- the x-axis represents the orientation of the manager towards people (ability to communicate and establish rapport with others, strong interpersonal skills, ease of communication with various audience) or towards tasks (set distance in his interaction with others, focus on hard skills, expertise and knowledge)
- the y-axis displays the inclination of the team leader to take a direct control on things (strong personal involvement, commitment to success and results through self-implication and direction setting for the team) or to let the control to his teams (results are targeted through the team work, manager steps back)
Note here that each pair of style represents a “at best / at worst” set of behaviors with an existing continuum between the two extremes.
- “Leader control / Task-oriented leader” Quadrant
- authoritative leader:
- is self-committed, gives instructions, structures the team activities, sets precise objectives, models behavior, defines detailed evaluation criteria, is solely accountable for decisions, uses a top-down approach
- style is also known as directive leadership
- coercive leader:
- wants full-control, does not delegate, does not accept co-workers’ influence, requests tasks to be executed, builds his authority exclusively on his technical expertise, does not accept failure, always decides, does not listen
- style is also called autocratic leadership
- risks and recommendation:
- while a directive leader can quickly deliver results under unstable conditions (reorganization, new team being set, business downturn), his management style may be challenged when working with senior expert team members.
- even if the strict command-and-control approach of an autocratic manager can save the company from high-urgency crisis situation, this leadership style is proven not being sustainable on the long-term. It inhibits the employee’s will to contribute and creativity and consequently freezes the ability of the team to change and evolve for the better.
- it is not uncommon to see authoritative or coercive managers becoming real bottlenecks if not a true risk for their companies, acting as “hero” leaders that the company can no longer run without…
- authoritative leader:
- “Leader control / People-oriented leader” Quadrant
- persuasive leader:
- engages his team through cooperation, explains projects and values, stimulates, encourages, mobilizes his resources to mobilize his teams, consults for opinions and suggestions, remains accountable for every decision, is flexible on methods, supports co-workers’ initiatives and autonomy
- if the persuasive leader is pulled at the far-extreme of the 2 axis (Leader control / People-oriented) , he will turn into what is commonly presented as a charismatic leader, knowing how to inspire and energize his teams thanks to his creativity, enthusiasm and convincing power.
- utopian leader:
- manages based on principles, mixes up explanations and adherence, puts his teams under pressure, does not accept differences, promotes changes for the sake of changing, sets unrealistic goals, does not take the reality into account, confuses innovation and creativity
- risks and recommendation:
- while a charismatic leader will excel in motivating his troupes by giving sense to their work, his followers may fall in the trap of blindly walking the path without questioning the direction, even if requested to do so.
- a persuasive leader is also usually less interested in closely following-up project and related activities; obviously this may come as a barrier for junior or less experienced staff who would require a closer guidance and coaching approach.
- when becoming his at-worst version of utopian leader, the team’s motivation drastically drops while the frustration increases which quickly implies a higher staff turnover.
- persuasive leader:
- “Employee control / Task-oriented leader” Quadrant
- delegative leader:
- defines the rules, the missions and the responsibilities, plans and organizes the team’s activities, sets an activity tracking system, delegates missions and responsibilities, gives autonomy, steps in only when required, fosters mutual respect through expertise
- bureaucratic leader:
- isolates himself from his teams, lacks involvement in transmitting decisions, does not control delegation in place, mixes up activity and result, manages activities rather than employees, communicates principally per mail, is too rigid in his definition of roles and functions, does not question the existing organization
- risks and recommendation:
- team respect will come from the expertise and high competency of this type of leader. People with less experience can appreciate the clarity of their duties while being guided. Nevertheless, this profile is in many cases less able to inspire his teams, to share a vision. Consequently, this style is not recommended for a team with low morale.
- a delegative leader with high expectations tends to force the pace, expecting excellence and autonomy from all his staff. If this works well with experienced and motivated employees, this may be disturbing for less experienced staff who may start doubting about their own competencies and abilities to perform the job.
- when turning bureaucratic, the manager will simply build a mediocre structure by retaining staff with low-ambition and by losing employees with high energy and who are eager to contribute in building further their company.
- delegative leader:
- “Employee control / People-oriented leader” Quadrant
- democratic leader:
- supports team work, offers collective projects, listens to the bottom-up flow of information, encourages teams to express freely, takes into account the individual needs, recognizes and grows his staff’s competencies, fosters a positive work environment, engages his teams in the decision-making process
- style is also referred as participative leadership
- affiliative leader:
- tries to hide the reality of the hierarchy, prefers to satisfy requests or requirements in order to avoid disagreements, gives precedence to ambiance against results, is unclear on what is negotiable and what is not, systematically seeks for consensus, assists his co-workers rather than helping and growing them, avoids conflicts, does not tackle or postpone difficult or unpopular decisions
- style is sometimes labeled as paternalistic leadership
- risks and recommendation:
- under stable conditions, the participative leadership style allows to build a sustainable structure through empowerment of the staff. The manager himself is no longer the key to the success of his team but the team itself becomes the key and can run with little guidance thanks to an “intrapreneurship” mindset progressively developed through coaching. On the downside, employees who expect or need clear guidance and close support may feel leaderless and lacking directions. This style is also often more time-consuming than a directive style.
- when turning affiliative, the manager develops a nice “family” ambiance that can help to improve a team with low morale or lacking bonds but also takes the risk to decrease performance on the long run by accepting mediocrity in order to preserve the stability of the team at any cost.
- democratic leader:
- “In-between” Quadrant
- adaptive leader:
- adapts to the various situations, works in a trial-and-error approach, formalizes only what is required, negotiates objectives and methods, leverages the competencies of his teams and their complementarities, remains hands-on, grasps opportunities, looks for win/win solutions
- opportunistic leader:
- tries to find a compromise when time to take a decision, is not precise, always changes his behaviors, uses fake-democracy, insufficiently formalizes the practices, talks rather than acts, does not take clear commitments
- risks and recommendation:
- while the adaptive style is usually efficient at an individual level, it may still be perceived as confusing and lacking direction, especially if the objectives and missions are not sufficiently defined and set.
- if falling into opportunistic behaviors, manager and team’s performances clearly decrease because of the too-many uncertainties and promises which are not executed on.
- adaptive leader:
Seasoned leaders know from experience that excelling as a manager requires to navigate the above leadership styles matrix depending on the context, while staying crystal clear on what is negotiable and what is not with the team and its members. “Context” can be summarized here as the influence of the following factors:
- organization / team missions and objectives
- team maturity
- team member individual situation: personality, role and responsibility, autonomy and competency for the required task or activity, motivation
Understanding those factors allows the leader to identify and use the most appropriate leadership style for a given staff at a given time for a given duty…
- exercise 1: To which quadrant of the leadership styles matrix do you belong to by default? Where do you position yourself on the “at best / at worst” continuum of this quadrant?
- exercise 2: Reading the below sentences from various leaders, can you precise the management style?
- “You remember the training I gave on that new product we need to support, don’t you? I’d like you to be in charge of setting up and maintaining a test environment with that product for next month. You can get the support from the infrastructure team if required. Simply send me a weekly progress report and don’t hesitate to let me know if you get stuck somewhere.”
- “I don’t have the time for questions now. Do what I say!”
- “Guys, our sales funnel on this strategic product has been pretty low for the past four weeks. Can we sit all together tomorrow afternoon in order to identify what’s on the way of increasing our pipe here? Do not forget to come with your notes on the challenges or successes you had while selling this product; I’d like we share those to see what actions we could take as a next step so that everybody can meet their quota this quarter. Thanks”
- “Don’t ask me. Simply follow the procedure and enter a travel request in the expense system even for that half-day case you are referring to. I will log in the system in the next two days and check the details of your travel request. if I have questions, I will put a comment under the supervisor window; make sure to check it and answer. I know that you already know the cost of the train, but please attach the quote of our vendor to the request. I will then check it to approve or deny the request based on our usual expense limit.”
- exercise 3:
- Analyze the last interactions with your boss. Can you identify which leadership style he/she has used while interacting with you? Is always the same style being used? Is it efficient or would you prefer to be managed in a different manner?
- In the same way, analyze your last one-on-one reviews with some of your team members as well as your last team meeting? Have you exclusively used your default management style as identified in exercise 1 or which other styles have you also used? What can you conclude? Is there anything you would do differently and why?
If obviously different management styles can be described based on the team leader’s inner nature to turn to people or to tasks and his tendency to be self-involved or to let part of the control to his staff, each profile reveals nevertheless clear advantages and drawbacks, especially when pushed to their extremes. Therefore, every manager should understand first the dominating management style they fall under by default and then learn how to adjust their behaviors based on the situation of the team and individual employee they interact with.
Answer to exercise 2: 1. delegative – 2. coercive – 3. democratic – 4. bureaucratic
Last Revision: 2015 March 24
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
– André Gide, French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947 (1869-1951)
Our societies constantly change, technology evolves at a fast pace, the market landscape our companies are engaged in undoubtedly transforms… In order to stay competitive, profit-driven companies have to adapt as well and dynamically adjust to their environment (market, competition…), implying sometimes some drastic changes in terms of organization and culture. Managers have then the difficult duty to support their teams navigating those changes, removing as much as possible the staff resistance in order to speed up the transformation for the better (assuming executive management take wise structural decisions for their companies and staff).
Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Reduce Resistance to Organizational Change
Even for the better, changing often means getting out of the routine, sometimes getting out of a comfort zone and adapting to a new environment, a new context, a new way of doing things, which obviously requires a minimum of flexibility to the person experiencing the change.
In 2002, Miller and Rollnick, professor of clinical psychology, attributes the resistance to change to four possible reasons:
- the lack of vision regarding the negative consequences of not changing: it is key to understand and to share openly the short/mid/long terms impacts of not changing to raise the staff awareness of the potential risks for the company and themselves of staying static (eg loss of market share implying lay-out…)
- the personal interest in not changing: because, by definition, changing is synonym of letting things go and in parallel taking new things up, this may result in a motivation gap or even in a personal image discrepancy for the concerned staff (what I’m now asked to do is no longer what I identify myself to, what I’m proud of…). Those gaps must be identified and worked on in order to help the employees to transit smoothly to their new responsibilities.
- the lack of vision about the benefit of changing: if the staff cannot get a clear representation of the benefit of changing, they will obviously be more reluctant to change. Why learning new methods or changing habits, colleagues, roles if one cannot imagine the expected added value? It is there important to help the employees to identify to the new structure by stating clearly the expected positive outputs of the change.
- the adequacy between the change hurdles and obstacles and the available resources for changing: even though one may fully understand what calls for a change, one may feel not capable to go through it. In other words, one needs to understand the expected difficulties while changing and at the same time one must be convinced of having enough resources (knowledge, time, support…) to overcome those challenges.
What does it teach to managers undergoing structural or organizational changes?
- communicating clearly and repeatedly to the team at every stage of the change on the four points above is crucial. Your staff must embody the reason motivating the change to adhere to the decision and to act pro-actively. Also make sure to communicate the metrics based on which the success of the change will be evaluated.
- communicating at the individual level is also strongly required. Concerns and reactions to change obviously differ from one person to the other: some may see opportunities to grow whereas other may consider it as a threat to their stability. Ask penetrating questions to understand what is at stake for each one of your employees and help them to formulate answers to the four questions. In other words, make sure to answer the question “so what?” for your staff: you need to make clear what the change will personally bring to the person experiencing it and also what it means for them / the team / the department / the company. You may look for the support of a “neutral” participant like the Human Resources team, an external consultant, another team leader not directly involved in the change in order to help identifying the difficulties for each individual and to help conveying your message through.
- not only you should over-communicate but it is also key to engage directly your peers, managers and teams by asking to share their concerns and ideas around the four points. Ask them for suggestions to help going through the change for themselves and the team, highlighting as well the interdependencies related to the change within the company and informing the other teams of the possible consequences.
- make sure to identify “quick wins” while implementing your change and act on those ones first. Then work on your “core wins” that you can identify using a simple Pareto distribution. Celebrate success in reaching your critical milestones. Keep in mind that there is nothing better than success in getting a change accepted…
- if further adjustments are required while undergoing the change, be honest and communicate around those, always focusing on the four points above and the related “so what” for your staff.
- exercise 1: in order to understand the possible resistance to change of your staff, ask the following questions and facilitate the thinking process by reformulating the answers.
- What are the short-term and mid-term benefits that you can expect from this change?
- Which drawbacks do you foresee in going through this change? According to you, how can they be attenuated or removed?
- In a short- and mid-term perspective, what are the benefits of not changing?
- What are the risks of not changing?
- From your point of view, do you feel capable undergoing this change or do you miss anything to support the transition?
- exercise 2: identify your “quick wins”. When undergoing a structural change, place your expected deliverables and outputs on a matrix distributed between the effort required (time, resource, money…) -classified in high/medium/low- and the expected impact to the organization -classified in high/medium/low-. Your “quick wins” are obviously the ones located in the quadrant “low effort” / “high impact” of your matrix.
In order to be the least disruptive possible and to maximize the staff commitment, structural and organizational changes need to be thoroughly worked on at both the individual and team levels by the manager in charge. First, answers to the four core questions: “negative consequence of not changing”, “interest in not changing”, “benefit of changing”, “adequate resource to support the change” must be clearly identified. Then, it is crucial to repeatedly communicate on those answers when undergoing the change, while fostering creative, collective thinking to overcome hurdles arising from the transition. Success of the change will equally depend on the manager’s discipline to lead it as on the staff buy-in and pro-active engagement to execute it…
Last Revision: 2015 March 28
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
– Albert Einstein, US (German-born) physicist (1879 – 1955)
When discussing with your teams or customers, be it unintentionally, due to time constraints, or to hide some precious insights, one is very often given with partial information only. It is therefore recommended to spend time exploring “the below part of the iceberg” using a specific questioning method in order to improve the relevancy of your critical decision calls.
Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Uncovering the truth: think iceberg
In the same way that you would not invest your personal saving in stock options without knowing and understanding the performance of the underlying instruments, you do not want to make decisions or commit on critical matters without getting the full picture.
Nevertheless many reasons may prevent your interlocutor from shedding the Hollywood projector light on the reality: time constraint, fear of the management reaction (complaint from an employee), desire to hide information (prospect negotiating a contract), lack of self-awareness (employee in burn-out)…
Grasping the lower level realities of your interlocutor requires times, tact and method. From experience, the best way for exploring the untold is to ask questions following the below criteria:
- ask one question at a time in order not to bring confusion to your interlocutor,
- ask open-ended questions (how/what/why/in what way/to what extend/tell me more about/elaborate…),
- ask probing questions (questions that require detailed answers),
- ask non-leading questions (questions must not direct your interlocutor to specific answers),
- ask questions that focus around the matter of concern and that your interlocutor will connect to (initial topic, answer to the previous question),
- ask unbiased questions (questions that are not based on your assumptions).
The more you ask, the deeper you may have to dive and explore… Take your time.
Obviously, this uncovering exercise will request you to reach initially a certain level of confidence and trust with your interlocutor. This may not come with the first interview, meeting or discussion; therefore try to identify when the time has come to go under-water. You may also think of specific arrangement and behavior to help you break the ice before your deep diving:
- book a time-slot long enough to discuss comfortably without being in a rush (respect though the time constraints of your interlocutor),
- ease the sharing by selecting the appropriate environment: for example, round or oval tables usually support sharing ideas (contrary to squared tables that emphasize opposition or hierarchical position),
- remove any attention-catcher from the environment in order to stay focus while discussing (turn-off your screen, phone, shut the door of your office…); this will strengthen your listening ability and also show greater respect to your interlocutor,
- comfort your interlocutor on the confidentiality of your talk if necessary (and respect it!),
- think of being off-site, around a coffee or at lunch, or at least find a neutral place to break the regular context that may model the behavior and answers of your interlocutor,
- listen more than talk and give enough time your interlocutor to answer,
- acknowledge verbally what has been said before moving to the next question,
- introduce the difficult questions smoothly,
- keep eye-contact in case of face-to-face meeting.
A complementary approach is also to think under which conditions you would be more inclined to share your “secrets” or run uncovered with somebody. What works for you may work for others…
Of course, thank your interlocutor for his time and honesty at the end of the discussion.
- scenario 1 – a recruitment interview: you need to evaluate a candidate on his team working competency. The candidate already told you in generic terms that, in his previous jobs, he has always been considered as an efficient team worker by his superiors (top part of the iceberg). Imagine questions that will allow you to uncover the candidate’s true abilities to work as a team and to foster team spirit.
“Tell me about a time when you disagreed with other team members. How did you resolve the issue?”
“Share with me some initiatives you had taken as a team member to improve the overall team performance.”
And finally you have discovered that not only the candidate was unable to propose and participate to team development activities but that he was also unable to cope constructively with conflict situations within a team…
- scenario 2 – a staff complaint: based on the analysis of your resource planning, you have just adjusted your organization by requesting your team to support a new product suite very similar to the existing one from a technology standpoint. This new task comes on top of their current support tasks but the data supporting this decision are accurate, reliable and shows the necessary bandwidth within the team. Nevertheless, one of your staffs who recently looked overwhelmed by those changes has requested for a one-on-one discussion and tells you: “This new organization cannot work for the team! I will never be able to support this new product when I am already overloaded with a long list of issues to close!” (top part of the iceberg). Which questions would you ask your employee to understand and answer the real concern?
“In what way do you think that our team will not be able to cope with this new assignment?”
“What would you suggest to better balance your workload between solving the current issues and the support activities around the new product?”
After a few round of questions, you have understood that your employee had simply needed a bit of support in reviewing the priorities of his issues regardless of the product suite. You have also discovered that his main concern was to take over the support of a product that he had been told to be very complex where in fact no extra technical knowledge was required…
- scenario 3 – a prospect demand: you are negotiating an important contract with a new prospect in a country where you do not have a local presence. Suddenly, the prospect turns to you and says: “You know, for such a complex solution, we will need a local support team. You will provide us with local support, right?” (top part of the iceberg). Think of questions that will allow you to move from this demand to the real underlying need in order to enable an effective negotiation.
“Would you mind elaborating on your “support” definition?”
“In which areas and to what extend do you see a local presence being more efficient than any other type of support?”
Drilling down on the initial demand, you have finally uncovered the need for a technical service desk that would match the local regulation in terms of support hours and that could speak the local language. You have been able to easily negotiate that your 24×7 multi-lingual centralized support center would perfectly answer this need, as it is already the case for other specific countries.
Poor, wrong or incomplete information almost systematically results in inadequate decisions and answers, regardless of the situation. As a manager, it is your responsibility to make wise choice for your organization and employees in any circumstances. An appropriate questioning method will therefore support your decision-making process by allowing you to drill down and uncover the essence of a concern or of a need.
Last Revision: 2015 March 24