Wissam Adib
Coaching for Change

Blog

On Change

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
Strengths diversity

A lot of attention has been given to the importance of diversity in the workplace, and with good reason: it makes good business sense. Having diversity at work means that you have women and men of different cultural backgrounds attack problems you're facing from many unique perspectives. This is a good thing.

Humans, by their very nature, are attracted to people who are similar to them. Growing up, we make friends with kids who like the same things that we do. This doesn't really change as we grow into adults.

Curiously enough, we also tend to value people who have similar strengths as us. The outspoken, charismatic executive will frown at the perceived weakness of the quiet, introverted types. And the deliberative, soft spoken leader will wince when dealing with the reckless, shoot-from-the-hip manager reporting to them. Our strengths filter our view of the world. This is a bad thing.

Strengths diversity is just as important as gender or racial diversity. As a leader, you should have a systematic approach to identifying and appreciating the unique strengths that you and each of your team members bring to the table. If you only hire people who look and act like you, the organization will only be able to solve problems that someone like you can solve.

Wissam Adib
Working from strengths

I recently became a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. Strengths coaching is a powerful  approach that helps people achieve their goals by focusing on the things they do best rather than by trying to overcome weaknesses. Part of the Strengths coaching process involves working with clients to understand and then claim their strengths. "Claiming", according to Gallup approach, is the process of helping clients gain appreciation for strengths and how these strengths can help them achieve their goals.

I find it curious that you have to help someone claim their strengths. You'd think that people would naturally gravitate toward the things they do best, and be the first to announce these to the world. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. In the few months that I've been applying this approach with people I coach I always find that they will push back on the value of one or two of their strengths. You would think that having harmony or empathy, or being analytical (three of the 34 strengths in the Gallup Strengths system) would be a good thing. Unfortunately, everyone of us has a few strengths that for whatever reason we became convinced are actually weaknesses.

As a leader, you should work to reclaim some of your lost strengths regardless of any preconceived notions about who a leader should be and what qualities you think they should have. Your unique value to the world depends on you working from strength, not from trying to be someone you're not.

Wissam Adib
Expecting the drop

When people embark on a change project, they expect a gradual effort that ultimately results in success.

This never happens. 

What perpetuates this mistaken belief about the nature of change are the initial improvements. You start a new diet, and the first few days you lose weight. Then the cravings start, the weight loss slows down, and all the signals you've been tracking to show you're on the right track are showing that you're not getting the results you want. 

This always happens.  

The same is true in organizational change. The initial sense of optimism soon gives way to challenge and fatigue. When that happens, employees fall back on old habits. 

If enough thought and analysis went into the change plan, you'll have the confidence to push through, and to project that confidence to the rest of the team.

A beacon they can follow when times are dark.  

Wissam Adib
Making sure you're understood

As a leader, your only responsibility is to build an organization that can deliver, and you do this mainly by communicating and making sure you're understood. Leaders excel in the communicating part, but many fall short in the being understood part. 

It doesn't work if you're not understood.  

One easy way to make sure you're understood is by asking: "what did you understand from what I said?" You should ask this even if you think you've been understood (that's the point). 

When the understanding is different from what's being communicated it's worth stopping to consider why before repeating the same message again. Is everyone on the same page in terms of the facts, and the meaning of those facts? Do you share the same assumptions and beliefs about the topic being discussed? You may need to take a step back to move forward as one team. 

Wissam Adib
Culture clash

I've worked with many managers who enter a new organization and hit the ground running. They set new targets, launch programs, and challenge the stats quo. These are leaders who, until this point, have been successful in challenging environments. This time, rather than achieving the success they're used to, their efforts are met with resistance. Fast forward a few months, and little has been achieved.

What happened is that cultures clashed. The tools and behaviors that they developed in other organizations don't always transfer well.

There are two scenarios here.

Some organizations, especially those with a successful legacy, are defined by their culture. When Tim Cook took over Apple, he had to acknowledge the culture that Steve Jobs put in place before gradually introducing change. When Ron Johnson took over as CEO of J.C. Penney, the Apple culture didn't transfer well, and he had to leave.

In other cases, an organization's culture is the cause of its decline. Even then, it cannot simply be ignored. In an organ transplant, the doctor first has to remove the bad organ before putting in the healthy one. The same is true here, and care must be taken to understand the existing culture. Only then can a plan be made to change it and to make the change stick.

Wissam Adib
On Change

The new CEO devises a brilliant strategy and redesigns his organization structure based on the latest best practices from the Harvard Business Review. He calls for a meeting of his executive team, and over the next hour presents this world-class plan to his team, who listen carefully and diligently take notes. At the end of the meeting, he gives them the go ahead to go forth and implement. A job well done, thinks the CEO as he leans back and puts his feet up on the table.

A year later, things have not really changed much, and the company continues to underperform. 

What happened? Why did the strategy fail?

The reality is: change is hard. And the same CEO that expects employees to turn on a dime is struggling to lose weight with the latest fad diet...for the 12th time. 

Change takes time, effort and consistency. It's a daily struggle, until one day something clicks and it's as if the new reality has always been. 

And during this struggle, it pays to have someone who can show the way. 

 

Wissam Adib