Tag Archives: leadership

Co-creating your organization’s future

Here’s something daring for a Change Management professional to say: change can’t be managed.

You can (and must) lead your organization through a project, a re-organization, or a set of circumstances that changes your operation in fundamental ways. But in the end, “management” doesn’t work.

You may think you can control the process, and if so you may be in for a surprise. I won’t say an “unpleasant” surprise, because there’s always some good that comes out of “failure.” At the very least, you’ve gained valuable insights. At most, you and our organization have grown in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

You may be surprised that your team doesn’t see change the same way you do. You may see that some positions will need to be eliminated and you want to downplay that reality. You may not be contemplating a change in personnel at all – you only see the upside to change. You may be surprised that immediate cost savings are not apparent when you finally implement a change.

You will ask someone like me “How do I get my team to see this change as a great thing for our organization?”

And I will screw up my courage to be quite candid and say: “You can’t.”

You cannot decree how people in your organization are going to perceive the changes you are planning. You cannot manage disruption caused by the need to retrain for new processes and systems, or hide (for long) the fact that change may mean some people lose their jobs. You may not be anticipating job losses at all, and you can follow the best practices in change management, yet you will still get “resistance” and a drop in productivity.

Why? Because people are complicated, because your organization is complex, because most elements of an organization’s culture are hidden under the surface, and because people adapt to change in unexpected ways.

And then you will say to me: “Well if change can’t be managed, why should I hire you?”

And I will say: “Because your job as a leadership team is to create the conditions where you and your employees and stakeholders are co-creating your future together, and that’s what I can help you with, if you’re up for it. It’s never as straightforward as you think it is, but co-creating a resilient and healthy organization has rewards beyond a single project.”

No one gets to choose how another person will react to change. But you do get to choose how you structure your organization. As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to create conditions where change means progress and productivity, not fear and loathing. Do you encourage resilience? Is every part of your workplace aligned to a shared purpose? Do you empower your employees and stakeholders to act and think for themselves towards that shared purpose

Creating the conditions for employees and teams to take responsibility for their own success is quite frankly a scary proposition. That’s the paradox of leadership: letting go of the outcome makes for better outcomes.

If you’re prepared to be surprised, and to learn along with your team, then you’re prepared to lead through change, and I’m prepared to facilitate the process.

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Vintage microphone

Week 15 in review: everyone’s favourite fear

On the way home to Vancouver from Nanaimo for the week, I ate my White Spot meal and listened to podcasts and thought about how I started my communications career in radio news – waaaaay back when I was a sixteen year old, still in high school. How that work seemed to come naturally to me. I’ve never been afraid of speaking in public. It has always been a mystery to me why people freeze up when they have to talk in front of a group.

I’ve read the news to tens of thousands of unseen listeners, I’ve given impromptu speeches to convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve given presentations to hundreds, or at least several dozen. I’ve been the corporate spokesperson giving media interviews on television and to newspapers, always confident in my messaging and my delivery.

Until today.

Vintage microphoneMy staff may or may not have known it, but today, when I had to speak in front of all of them assembled at the staff meeting, I very nearly choked. Suddenly, as I looked out to their faces, I realized I wasn’t saying everything I wanted to say – that I should have prepared more.

I told them they have lifted me up as I embarked on this journey: a new city away from my family, a new job, a new institution with its history and culture that I knew nothing about three months ago. I’ve had to run to catch up. It’s been intimidating and wonderful, and I truly couldn’t have done it without the talented, amazing people I work with.

As I talked, I worried. A doubting voice in my head chided me: “What if they don’t believe you? You’ve made some changes since you’ve been here and you know some people don’t like all of the changes you’ve made – what if they think you’re full of malarkey? What will they think of you now, hearing you trip over your words because you’ve suddenly become nervous?”

So – I tried to speak from my heart. I acknowledged there have been a few bumps, and thanked them for not letting me stumble too much. Then, I thought I’d better just shut up and buy them all a drink, which is what I did.

But if I had to do it again, I’d acknowledge the three graphic designers who turn out such stellar products day in and day out, often on the spur of the moment, often without the client even knowing exactly what they want. I’d acknowledge they have been having a hard time with the uncertainty of the departure of their well-liked manager, and a new one not hired yet, and myself not being able to give them the hands-on support they’re used to. One time last month, we had to completely re-do a major piece just before we went to print – and by god they pulled it off with alacrity and grace. Now that’s professionalism.

I’d acknowledge the communications team that writes speech after news release after speech, and handles media calls, and successfully pitch stories to local news outlets. In addition, they’ve stepped up enthusiastically when I asked them to “lead with benefit,” pay more attention to our (newly-minted) corporate key messages, change the format of speaking notes, and do a little more advance communications planning, all mixed in with instituting an issues management process that was completely new to them. Oh – and also work closely with the graphics team in re-jigging that major print piece. Add to that – they’ve taken on more of a role in social media integration and planning.

I’d acknowledge my one sole events person who makes sure everything is perfectly organized at each lecture, open house, trade show, and conference that comes along. She will stay to tear down, even if she has to do it herself. She works her ass off to make everything seem easy and seamless at the front end. She’s the go-to gal for an idea for how to dress a stage, decorate a cafeteria, or come up with a fun party activity.

I’d acknowledge the UR assistants who take on the myriad little tasks: getting out the digest twice a week, doing data entry, answering switchboard calls, offering help in the Welcome Centre, always with a smile, even as they’re being interrupted by someone needing a stapler, directions, change for parking (“Parking is in the building right behind us sir…”) or just a chat.

I’d acknowledge my web team – the Bearded Ones, as they are becoming known – who in addition to keeping the “lights on,” juggle multiple and competing demands from internal clients to convert a complex network of pages over to a new Content Management System.

I needed to acknowledge that I have asked a lot of my team since I arrived at VIU such a short time ago, and they’ve done everything they could to make it happen. I hope they’re reading this, because they really did deserve that drink. Cheers! And all the best for 2016.

Photo credit: Vintage Shure Microphone B&W General Lee by Lex McKee; used under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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A warm welcome at VIU

I started a position as Director of Communications and Public Relations at Vancouver Island University a couple of weeks ago.

My brain is full keeping up with new names, positions, regional politics, social landscapes, local business leaders, now also cross-Canada partners, colleagues from other regional universities, and international linkages. It’s incredible how much VIU punches above its weight.

But what makes all this whirlwind/learning curve so worthwhile is that my heart is full as well, and I am learning – learning deeply. Coming from Saskatchewan, and having experience with (and friends within) treaty first nations, it never really hit me until now that most BC land is completely unceded. They’re not just words you write them in a speech (which I have been doing ever since I moved to the west coast: “I acknowledge we’re on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people [or insert appropriate first nations here]” – it’s in the boilerplate). They mean something. The west coast land we all live on, the real estate we buy and sell, was never handed over, relinquished, or surrendered in any way.

That realization has dawned on me since coming to VIU two weeks ago, as I learned about the relationships VIU has with First Nations on the island, and the meaningful steps we have taken in aboriginal education. Then yesterday Elder Geraldine Manson gave a welcome as we opened the Health and Wellness centre on campus yesterday. In her remarks she said “Each and every person who sets foot on this ground is sacred.”

With my new, deeper understanding of what that word “unceded” means, Geraldine’s gentle, unreserved, and very genuine welcome transformed me so much I am still tearing up a day later thinking about it. I am so grateful to have her permission to do my work at VIU.

I’ve been welcomed so warmly by everyone at VIU, in Nanaimo, in Parksville and Qualicum (I have yet to visit our Cowichan and Powell River campuses), from board of governors members, members of university senate, my colleagues in senior management, my colleagues in my department, all other staff in University Relations. Most of all to my president, and to the man whose shoes I can only partly fill as I take over so he can go on parental leave. President Ralph Nilson is a leader in the true sense of the word, and Dan Hurley set me up for as smooth a transition as he possibly could given the sheer volume of work there is to be done as a post-secondary administrator. Their confidence in me is heartening and inspiring.

Welcomed? Yes, I feel very welcomed at VIU, in the deepest sense of the word. I’m very glad to be here.

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