Wissam Adib
Coaching for Change

Blog

On Change

Rising to the challenge

When there's a fire, real or figurative, people step up to put it out. Immediately silos break down, teams work together, great ideas are generated and executed, and people think about what needs to be done rather than who's going to get the credit. 

Companies and governments are starting to study the conditions that exist during emergencies, and trying to replicate them in non-emergency situations to spur performance, with some success.

"there are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job.'"Terrance

Wissam Adib
Journey to the new world

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the men on Christopher Columbus' journey to discover the New World. You're worried the world is flat and you will fall off the edge, you don't really know where you are (it was impossible to measure longitude back then), and for 70 days every day looked exactly like the one before. 

When your team is in the middle of a journey of change, it can be difficult to see the progress being made and easy to feel that everyday is more or less the same as what was there before. 

If you've ever undertaken a personal change effort, whether it's losing weight or learning to play a musical instrument, you'll know that day-to-day nothing looks different. But then someone you haven't seen in a while gives you a positive remark and you realize how far you've come.

Part of your role as a change leader then is to hold up a mirror, observing the progress being made and reflecting it back to the team so they can see it as well. 

Knowing that others can see the work being accomplished is a powerful motivator. 

Wissam Adib
Challenges motivate

When kids aren't engaged in class, one of the reasons can be that they find the material too easy. Teachers fix this by ramping up the challenge.

The limited resources of a startup and the constant fear of going out of business drive employees to innovate and work around the clock. Steve Jobs used this effect when designing the culture at Apple, famously describing it as the "world's biggest startup."

When faced with a challenge they believe in, people will step up. So in your next strategy meeting, make sure to share with your team the challenges that keep you up at night.

Wissam Adib
Can you see the water?

In his 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace told this story: There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

Your "water" is your company's culture. If you can't see it anymore, it might be time to take a swim in a different ocean.

After all, you can't change what you don't see. 

Wissam Adib
Talents are neutral

The team member who works tirelessly, is over-committed and has super hero work ethic is probably also judgmental, highly self-critical and not at peace with herself. 

The manager who's bold and courageous and is great at launching new projects, most likely doesn't think things through and has a tendency to leave people in his dust.

Talents are patterns of thought. Patterns in and of themselves are neutral. They get judged good or bad based on the situation in which they are presented.

Rather than thinking of your team members in terms of their effectiveness, figure out their patterns. Then choose the best pattern for the challenge you're facing now. 

Wissam Adib
Somebody should get fired for hiring McKinsey

A commonly used saying: "Nobody ever got fired for hiring McKinsey". They are the low risk option. By hiring them you might not always get what you want, but you definitely didn't get in trouble.

In an organizational culture that punishes mistakes, employees choose the low risk option regardless of the rewards (sometimes even when they know there will be no benefit). If you're steering your company away from bankruptcy, this might be the right culture to have until things get better.

But if you're trying to achieve great things, make it a point to reward great attempts even when they fail.

And fire the next person who hires McKinsey.

Wissam Adib
Earning the right to have an opinion

If I'm going to listen to your opinion (and it's really just an opinion no matter how forcefully you say it), I have to believe two things:

First, I have to believe that you know what you're talking about. I have to believe that you've done this before, that you've rolled up your sleeves and battled with this kind of problem and not just watched from the sidelines. People who have really done something sound very different from those who passively experienced it.

Second, I have to believe that you have my best interests at heart. There's no easy way to do this. You have to invest time and effort in understanding my interests, and in doing all the things it takes for me to trust you.

Only then will you have my full support.

 

Wissam Adib
As fast as your team

When you take on a new leadership role, you're going to feel the urge to jump in and start working on the projects that are most important to success. With your experience, negotiating a difficult contract or improving customer service is child's play. 

These early wins are important: they build trust, and create momentum towards a better future.

But if projects are always dependent on you to be successful, then you've demoted yourself to a doer rather than a leader. 

Do the early wins, and then move quickly to building your team's capability. This requires a safe space to learn, and to fail. If we learned to walk on the edge of a cliff, no one would walk. 

In the long run, you'll only move as fast as your team can handle. 

Wissam Adib
The hidden social network

One of the first documents that gets pulled out whenever a change is being contemplated is the organization chart. The sheet of boxes and lines supposedly shows where everyone fits in the organization and who they take orders from.

Except it doesn't really. 

It doesn't highlight the old-timer that people look to whenever management makes an announcement to get a sense of whether to take it seriously. And it doesn't show how the executive assistant gives his favorites a heads-up on the downsizing that's coming in a few weeks so they can better position themselves.

Managers react in one of two ways at the first signs of the hidden social network. Some get angry and try to force the "official" structure on staff. Better are those who embrace it, identify the key players in this hidden network, and work to win them over. 

Wissam Adib
What's the worst that can happen?

Someone close to me had an accident with a guy who didn't have car insurance, which is illegal where I live. The accident was also his fault: he didn't realize traffic in front of him was slowing down.  His story is that he was abroad when his car insurance ran out and figured it can wait a few more days. The damage he caused to both cars added up to several thousand dollars, which it seems he can't afford. He's in trouble.

Now what happened to this guy, assuming his story is true, is an extremely low probability event. Everyone has, at one point or another, delayed attending to something because they figured it's not a big deal. Statistics teaches us that the value of a high probability, low impact event is the same as the value of a low probability, high impact event.

Except that one will probably set you back a bit, while the other just might put you out of the game altogether. 

 

Wissam Adib