Walking The Line Of Innovation And Order In A Growing Startup

innovation order growing startup

gothamCulture is a little too old to still be referring to ourselves as a startup, but even as we have evolved and scaled, the startup spirit remains embedded in the way our team approaches their work every day. We view constant and innovative change as what gives us our competitive edge and unique service offerings.

The problem rapidly growing companies like ours tend to run into is that innovative change can occur in a vacuum. You may get so lost in the task at hand that you don’t think to discuss it with outside team members, and once the task is over, you simply move on to the next, without taking a step back to objectively review it.

innovation order growing startupIf rapidly growing companies don’t share or document their successes, team members are often required to reinvent the wheel when the same obstacle arises on another project.

An effective approach to project management and documentation is critical for these organizations, but how do you sell the value of managing projects in a (somewhat) consistent manner to a group of people who view it as a hindrance to innovation or a burdensome layer of administration? How do you manage the tension between innovation and order?

Here are a few strategies I use to navigate these waters:

  1. Embrace customer collaboration over contract negotiation. For those familiar with Agile, you’ll recall this from the Agile Manifesto. As an Operations Manager, our frontline staff is my customer. Reframing my approach to process design as collaborative instead of a negotiation makes for a much better outcome and a much more positive work environment. Work with your frontline staff to understand how operational processes impact their daily lives, and inform them of the value the project management process brings to the business if properly instituted.
  2. Open brainstorming discussions to teams and departments outside of your project team or your regular “go-to” people. Every time we do this, we leave with a great idea. An issue many organizations face is that by sticking to their project teams, they develop “skillset tunnel vision”, and don’t properly leverage the resources at their disposal (i.e., you forget that the Stats guy is also an Executive Coach). Institute “Lunch and Learns” or other opportunities for staff to share lessons learned. It helps build your team and improves the way you resource your future projects.
  3. Communicate early and often! It sounds so simple, but it never is. If you’re going to do Lunch and Learns, or Book Clubs, or any opportunity to get to know and learn from your staff, don’t just do it once a quarter. The sell should be easy: it’s a chance to break from your tactical work, collaborate with others, and get yourself back into a strategic headspace.

At the core of these tips is reinforcing to staff that interaction is key, and pausing to reflect strategically is critical to sustainable growth. If you can communicate these core concepts to staff effectively, carving out time to do both should come easily.

Shifting Organizational Culture To Enable Collective Impact

collective impact

By Chris Cancialosi & Stan Schneider

In 2011, the Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) released a seminal article by John Kania and Mark Kramer, which stimulated a much-needed resurgence of social reform initiatives that follow the collective impact paradigm. The concept of collective impact (CI) asserts that multiple, diverse agencies and groups must work together – not in their separate silos –to achieve the shared goal of effective and sustained social reforms – whether they are reforms aimed at children, disconnected youth, families, returning veterans, or other underserved groups.

What is the potential power of collective impact, and what internal cultural changes must occur before organizations can harness it?

In their paper, Kania and Kramer identified and defined five common components for organizations participating in successful social-change initiatives: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and the support of a “backbone” organization.

Understanding the fundamental components of collective impact efforts and actualizing and sustaining positive change as a result can be a significant gap to bridge for a variety of reasons.  A key element in driving this success is the ability for participating organizations to evolve their cultures (their normal way of getting things done) in order to develop a new way of collectively engaging that drives results.

Among the central tenets of collective impact that we address here are the notions that participating organizations (i.e., the “collective”) share a common reform agenda and are willing to engage in mutually reinforcing activities. For example, if a community is interested in improving student achievement, proponents of collective impact would argue that the school system should not tackle this issue on its own – it should collaborate with a wide range of other public, philanthropic and community organizations who share a common interest in public education.

An often-cited exemplar of collective impact in action is the United Way-sponsored Strive Network, begun in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in northern Kentucky. The Strive Network has brought together a diverse set of community leaders to develop cradle-to-career supports for young people, resulting in promising gains in academic achievement and system-wide improvements in education.

Challenges In Bringing Collective Impact to Fruition

While collaborative engagement can be a significant contributor to social reform, we have learned, from our experience in collective impact initiatives, that it is often easier said than done for organizations to truly align themselves around shared goals – especially when these organizations have a history of competing against each other for funding, and, in some cases, for populations to serve.

To illustrate the point, the school choice movement has fueled unprecedented competition for students between and among public, charter, and private schools. If a city’s public, charter, and private school administrators were to participate in a collective impact initiative intended to improve citywide education outcomes, would they be able to subordinate their own institutional agendas (for expanding enrollments, for higher-performing or better-behaved pupils, etc.) in favor of what might prove to be in the best interests of the community’s students and families?

Similarly, could publicly operated child welfare agencies collaborate with private foster care agencies without bias in a public-private collective designed to systematize foster care referrals in the best interests of the children requiring placements? Perhaps, but doing so might require a substantial organizational culture change for some of the groups involved – and changing an organization’s culture can be a daunting challenge.

Collective Impact and Organizational Culture

collective impactImplementing the kind of cultural change that may be required by organizations participating in (or asked to participate in) a collective impact initiative would necessitate a carefully planned and well-executed change management process. Such a process would require participating organizations to engage in new ways of approaching and interacting in their work in order to create new, mutually agreed upon ways of collaborating to drive the potential collective results that this model can provide.

In order for the five foundational components of CI to truly add value in terms of tangible and sustainable collective gains, each member of the collective must adapt the way they “do business” in potentially fundamental ways that can grind against the existing beliefs and assumptions people have used as a guide for their work for a long time. Helping people to understand the changes, and reinforcing the idea that ways of working up until this point were not incorrect, can be beneficial in reducing the anxiety that people may be feeling when confronted with these transitions.

If organizational culture is defined as the shared beliefs and norms of behavior that an organization develops over time, it would not be surprising that, oftentimes, “right” might look different from group to group. The “right” behaviors that are adopted over time can look different from organization to organization primarily due to the fact that they each found their path to success through different means.

So long as this way of working yields success for the collective, it only serves to reinforce that those ways of working are, in fact, the right ways to do things. It is this basic tenet of culture that makes it so solid and difficult to evolve. If, through engaging in CI efforts, leaders are asking their people to behave in ways that misalign with the historically “right” way of doing things, a significant amount of anxiety can develop and resistance to such changes may well derail any hopes of achieving the benefits of such an effort.

“Are you telling me the way we’ve always done it is wrong?” “I know how to succeed in this current environment- I may not be as successful doing things a new way?” “If this worked so well for so long, why would we even think about changing the recipe?”

In order to effectively prepare their organizations to evolve existing systems and processes to fully reap the rewards that CI can offer, leaders must first set the conditions that will help their people challenge and adapt their thinking around these dramatic new ways of operating. Below are several critical considerations for leaders contemplating utilizing CI as a way of bringing about significant and sustainable reform.

Prepare Yourself.

  • Examine your own beliefs, values and assumptions as a leader and try to gain an understanding of those with whom you may partner.  Misalignment of fundamental beliefs about how things get done can be an enormous hurdle to try to work through, taking focus and effort away from your CI efforts.
  • Come to grips with the fact that you may have to give up power for the greater good of the collective and be sure that you are okay with that prior to getting into a situation. When this happens it can undermine the benefit of the CI effort before it even has a chance to get off the ground.

Prepare Your Team.

  • Take the time, as a team, to really understand the culture of your organization. What is truly valued? What unique philosophies about the work you do are fundamental to your organization’s identity? Having a clear understanding of your culture will help you understand the potential implications of attempting to partner with other organizations in a CI effort.
  • Work with your team to discuss and come to grips with the possibility that by giving things up to the collective, the organization may in fact have a lot to gain. This may include giving up total control of how things are done, giving up data and information that was once held close to the vest, or relinquishing certain aspects of peoples’ roles in order to maximize the impact of the collective.

Prepare the Collective.

  • Before diving into the work at hand, advocate that time and attention must be allocated to the formation of the new collective. Engage as many stakeholders as possible in discussions about the big picture, roles and responsibilities, and allow people to work through questions and concerns together.
  • Help stakeholders at all levels to understand how their day-to-day efforts and new work methods are going to add value to the collective. Having a clear understanding of where you fit in can make a huge difference in peoples’ experiences with the new normal.
  • Don’t make it a one-hit wonder. Set aside time along the way to continue to give people a chance to come together, to share lessons learned, and to take an active role in continuing to work through challenges that are affecting the collective.
  • Collaborate early, at all levels, in identifying the systems and processes that will help smooth out interactions.  Figure out how data will be shared in a way that makes all parties comfortable as trust develops.

As the collective impact model continues to gain momentum, and as valuable lessons are learned with regard to best practices for setting a solid foundation for success in such efforts, we submit that larger, cultural assessment and evolution be a key foundational component in this process. The cultural shift that would enable participating organizations to step out of their traditional silos to support the collective agenda seems a necessary condition for achieving the desired social impact, and is worthy of systematic attention from proponents of the collective impact movement.

This article was co-written by Stan Schneider, President and CEO of Metis Associates, Inc., a national, employee-owned consulting firm that brings over 36 years of experience in evaluation, information technology, and grant development to its work with a wide range of organizations committed to making a meaningful difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.

Change Begins Where Strategy, Culture And Leadership Connect

culture and leadership change

Many organizations know when they are in need of change. Things that once worked don’t seem work any longer across the organization. Small issues in one area or function or department now seem systemic. Behaviors and attitudes about work, and with work, are changing. Austerity, ambiguity and productivity issues may be permeating.

Organizations recognize when there is a need for change, even if they don’t fully understand what needs changing or where to start in order to address these issues. Often, leaders address performance or engagement opportunities at the surface level, when in reality these may be indicators of a much deeper problem that can only be identified by addressing the organization’s strategy, culture and leadership.

In these cases, leaders must address all of these facets of the organization rather than focusing on a single issue. And while there is no universal resolution for every organization, I’ve found that addressing these performance issues effectively always begins with the following 3 steps.

Step 1: Acknowledge the Problem

So you know you need change. Check.

Then, as any good leader would do, you immediately jump to what you believe should be step 2:  solve the problem. You start attempting to change everything all at once. But, while you’re testing new changes, overwhelming your staff with new roles and responsibilities and asking a litany of perhaps unplanned, random, unconnected and overlapping questions, you may be watching your ‘systemic’ issues persist or even get worse.

You ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?”

Where you go is really a question of where you start. It’s important to realize that step 2 is not to solve the problem, because you haven’t yet addressed the cause of the problem. Step 2 is about truly assessing the problems, the situation and the current reality of what is going on in your organization.

Step 2: Assessment

Before you can begin to find effective solutions, you must first accurately and reliably assess the problem you’re trying to solve. Assessment of key variables, regardless of where you company is in size or maturity, is key. This is often a difficult concept for us ardent, type-a leaders who want to see results and see them now.

Patience, we will get you there. But first, let’s assess the situation correctly and thoroughly before we spend resources on solutions that may not be the root-cause of your issues.

There are a few consistent key areas of assessment any organization should start from when embarking on a journey of organizational change. Taking the time to accurately assess the reality of your organization’s issues will help you better identify the root cause and allow you to understand how to best prioritize your approach to the change at hand.

The key assessment areas fall within four key areas: 

The first two assessment areas help you understand the reality of your ROI (return on investment) or value:

  • Mission (direction, purpose and blueprint) “Do we know where we are going as an organization?”
  • Consistency (systems, structure & processes) “Do our systems create leverage?”

The second two assessment areas help you understand innovation and customer satisfaction:

  • Adaptability (pattern, trends, market) “Are we listening to the market / our customers?”
  • Involvement (commitment, ownership, responsibility) “Are our people aligned and engaged?”

Once the assessment in these four areas is completed, you now have an understanding of your current operating environment. Now you can begin to prioritize the problems you’ve uncovered, and how you need to address them.

Step 3: Solution Strategies

The most critical solution strategies you put in place will likely require some level of initial action in one or more of the areas of strategy, leadership, and/or culture change. These three areas encompass the triad of successful organizational change attributes.

As I mentioned before, you cannot try to solve everything all at once without overwhelming your team. In order to prioritize these three change navigation attributes, then, you want to choose one of these three as your area of focus:

  • A Strategy focus starts the change journey by first understanding your direction, purpose and blueprint and how these impact organizational success.
  • A Leadership focus starts the change journey by first understanding who you are as leaders in your organization. Consider how you show up collectively as a team and individually as an executive and how this impacts organizational success.
  • A Culture focus starts by first understanding the underlying organizational behaviors, values and assumptions that exist and how these impacts organizational success.

You should start with at least one of these change navigation attributes, but wherever you start, you will realistically tap into all three at some point on your journey to high performance and organizational improvement.

Strategy, culture and leadership all go hand in hand. Your organization will only find sustainable success at the intersection of all three.

Five Ways to Foster Commitment During Organizational Change

foster commitment during organizational change

You’ve already met for countless hours with consultants, your leadership teams, and analysts to plan a change for your organization. You have a well thought-out direction and plenty of steps to get there.

You’re ready…

Chomping at the bit…

…Now what?

You’ve worked hard to map out the path ahead. But to move towards that new direction, you need commitment from the rest of the organization. You need people on your side, willing to change along with you. A critical mass of committed people to get the other heel-draggers to come along.

If you’re imagining a tall, rocky cliff in front of you when it comes to this part of the change, you’re not alone. Fostering commitment takes time, presence, and awareness. It may be an uphill climb, but with the right tools and mindset, you can lead the way for the rest of your team to commit and follow you up the mountain.

Leaders often take systems, like the chain of command, compensation, or the social pressures from colleagues, for granted. Rather than spending the time to foster genuine commitment, they rely on extrinsic incentives and compliance to ensure that change happens. Unfortunately, forcing commitment through compliance is often unsustainable.

While compliance may work for small process changes, it only encourages the bare minimum for organizational change. In the long run, forcing compliance can contribute to a pervasive feeling of disempowerment among employees.

There’s no doubt that changing behavior is hard for everyone. The psychological process of change can be a gauntlet. It’s up to you as a leader in your organization to help your team understand their role in the change process and help give them a sense of ownership over the outcome.

Here are 5 ways you can help foster commitment in times of organizational change:

Understand and recognize what has to be let go

In order to change, we have to let go of what was done before. Psychologists know this as a very real period of loss, anxiety, and fear. During the change process, there will be a range of reactions from people, both inwardly and (sometimes) directed at you: “So you mean what I was doing before was wrong?” “But I’m comfortable here.” “This is the way we’ve always done it.” “What am I going to lose?” “What do I need to protect?” You can imagine how this anxiety can spiral into resistance.

As a leader, rather than glossing over this fear, address it. Be frank about what might be different. Recognize those feelings of worry, and help people deal with it by listening rather than rushing to convince them of the positive outcomes that will result from a change. People need to be heard in order to feel supported during this time.

Tap into your authentic self

Be honest with yourself and your team about the level of discomfort there may be with the change. Will you be struggling to adopt some of these things? An authentic display of self-awareness and vulnerability does a lot to develop trust between you and your employees: “I know my default setting is to keep information to myself, especially given how hierarchical we’ve been in the past. But I’m actively working on getting information out to more people as we transition. It feels unnatural to me, but I’m convinced this will be good for us in the long-term.”

You can also recall your own experiences with change to empathize with your organization. Do the following reflection: When was the last time you were asked to do something dramatically different? What was your initial reaction to that request? How did you feel? What did you do? Did you change? Why? Pay attention to what it was like for you to change, and connect with people on this level.

Get to know your community

Development workers, social workers, and community organizers are in the business of asking people to make big changes. A major part of their work is to get to know the community, simply by walking around and spending time with people. Take a page from their book: get out from behind your desk and into the organization and actually talk to people.

During a change, your presence as a leader is critical. Listen. Ask good questions. Allow members of your organization to discuss what they see and how they see it. Take the time to respond to those fears and worries about the coming changes.

There is nothing worse for commitment than an absent leader. Feeling seen and heard can lessen people’s level of emotional vulnerability during change. Get out there and be your honest self.

Get the right people on board

Consider doing a network mapping exercise to understand who in your organization will be most important to get committed early. Who has a strong relationship with people? Who knows how to develop trust with their subordinates? If one person commits, will there be ten others who follow them?

As people in your organization enter into the change-gauntlet, they will be looking to the top for confirmation. Is your leadership team walking the talk? Are they committed in a way that role-models behavior to the rest of your employees? The same questions mentioned above will be crucial to have with your top team.

Rinse and repeat

Gaining commitment is an iterative process and different people will experience anxiety at different times. As your plan gets underway, new questions will arise. Your leadership team may feel exhausted.

What’s important to remember is that re-visiting commitment is equally as important as re-hashing the plan and tracking your progress. The 5 tips above will help you get there.


Values with Teeth: Create More Meaningful Values Statements

create value statements with teeth

Guest article written by Levi Nieminen, Ph.D.

A number of years back, Patrick Lencioni wrote, “Make your values mean something.” His Harvard Business Review article (HBR) is a must-read for any executives toying with the idea of creating values statements in their companies, particularly those who may be doing so lightly.

For those of you who have charged past Lencioni’s warnings and, for good reason, are searching for the best ways to get it right, this brief article builds on that discussion to describe two tests that can help you to avoid creating a values set that is “bland, toothless, or just plain dishonest.”

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How to Prepare For Successful Organizational Culture Change

prepare for successful organizational culture change

While most of your employees likely understand that their primary responsibility at work is — well — to work, I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that they don’t want to be treated like mindless drones in the process.

In today’s hyper-connected world, employees are making their voices heard: They want to join organizations that stand for something. They want to align themselves with a corporate culture that fits their own beliefs and values. A place where they can bring their best selves and contribute in ways that make a difference.

Read More…

How Exceptional Companies Create High Performance Cultures

create high performance culture

For years, as an employee of a variety of organizations ranging from small consulting firms to the US Army, I’ve been increasingly fascinated with the way in which groups functioned.  How some could quickly align around a common set of practices that added tremendous value, while others could not.  How some organizations were able to coordinate and integrate efforts across the globe by setting clear values, expectations and processes in place where others seemed to be operating behind the curve every step of the way.

A decade later, having spent the majority of my professional career in the organizational culture space, I continue to be driven to understand how leaders and organizations are able to achieve significant and lasting performance that catapults them ahead of the competition (or not). Why do these leaders and organizations succeed while others just seem to lag or cease to exist altogether?

While there are a lot of variables that come into play in each situation, one common root always seems played a key role – the culture.

If culture is defined as “the way things get done around here,” the way of doing things that organizations develop through trial and error, over time, are the things that drive behavior and performance.

Organizations that are able to set very clear and aligned values and processes will consistently outperform those that cannot. Furthermore, leaders who understand when it’s time to do things differently in order to stay relevant are those that are best able to adapt their organizations to changes in the business environment.

While it sounds simple in theory, its much more difficult to pull off in reality- ask any business leader out there.

So, how can leaders make this happen? How do you intentionally create a sustainable culture of high performance in your organization?

How Your Company Can Achieve High Performance

Now that “culture” has been recognized as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, the role of culture in a high performance organization seems to be coming of age in business. This new awareness has given me the opportunity to meet a variety of people who have shared their own ideas about how culture drives performance. One such person is Olli Laurén, who leads the Global Machinery and Engineering segment of Egon Zehnder’s Industrial Practice.

I had a chance to spend some time with Olli recently to talk about his recent research paper, “How Exceptional Companies Create a High Performance Culture.” Together, we discussed 3 core abilities that an organization must possess in order to reach high performance:

1. The ability to stop and take a hard look in the mirror.  In today’s rapid-fire business environment, taking a minute to press pause and think can seem like a death-sentence.  Unfortunately, organizations that operate in this fashion may continue to spin their wheels with the same old ways of doing things to try to solve problems that have changed or evolved over time.

Olli calls this quality “a passion for renewal.” Organizations that are able to stop from time-to-time to really understand why they are doing these things are better positioned to identify the need to change in order to keep pace with the market and continue to drive results.

2. The ability to include all stakeholders in the conversation.  Culture is a collective concept- a phenomenon that forms and evolves through the norms of the group.  While many people view culture as the responsibility of leadership alone, the most successful organizations I’ve observed and worked with over the years are those that understand and value the input of their stakeholders.

Olli recognizes the need for transparent and trusting relationships throughout an organization. By fostering trust and transparency at all levels, stakeholders are given a safe environment to provide input and take an active role in shaping the organization’s culture.

3. The ability to let go of the existing behaviors and practices that are no longer serving the organization’s success.  Knowing you should lose ten pounds and actually changing your behavior to do it are two very different things. Getting people to understand that some ways of doing things are no longer effective and actually getting them to change is similar. In both cases, you must take the time to change behaviors that are no longer supporting your desired goals.

Humility is a key concept here, for leaders and employees alike. It takes a lot for people to be comfortable with giving up the way they’ve always done things.  Some take it as a statement that what they’ve been doing all along was wrong.  Others fear that they may not be able to succeed if asked to doing things differently.  Still others hear that there is a need to change but their leaders don’t role model the new expectations, which makes it easy to stay in the same old habits.

Can You Create a High Performance Culture?

The challenge that leaders face in creating high performance cultures is overcoming the deeply rooted assumptions and behaviors that aren’t doing their organization any favors.

Does that mean it’s impossible? Absolutely not.

If my experience has taught me anything, it’s that any organization, no matter what size or industry, has the ability to build and sustain a culture of high performance. To make that happen, you, as a leader, must be willing to take a hard look in the mirror with your colleagues, dig deep into what needs to change, and help your entire organization let go of the behaviors that are no longer serving its goals.

 It’s simply a stepping stone on the path to your organization’s long-term success.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

How to Jumpstart a Stalled Corporate Culture of Innovation

corporate culture of innovation

How often have you heard of a company being widely hailed as innovative in their field these days? It seems like everyone, especially in the startup world, wants to disrupt an industry, become a game changer, or spark a revolution in the hearts and minds of their consumers and competitors.

Unfortunately, chasing a buzzword without really understanding the deeper drivers of human behavior in organizations is not really the most effective way of achieving “disruptor status”.

Innovation is one of the most overused buzzwords today, and while the concept seems to arouse the keen attention of entrepreneurs and startups, it seldom gains any traction in larger, more established organizations.  Many startups flare and burn out in the quest for innovation. For large, established organizations, familiarity and current processes often outweigh the ability to drive it.

So, what does it mean to be innovative? 

What Is Innovation, Really?

Many people think innovation is the process of being creative and coming up with new ideas.  But, these folks are missing the other key component of innovation- actually translating that creative vision into a product or service that adds value to someone else.

In for-profit business, this usually extends further to include the requirement that those other people are actually willing to pay money for such an innovation. If your only goal is to innovate without any sense of the reality of the market and of what is actually valuable to others, you are setting yourself up for failure.

In addition, a lot of people assume a company can “be innovative” by trying to inject a few innovative practices into their process. They may look at an innovative company like Apple or Treehouse, who have woven in innovative behaviors, and try to emulate those behaviors in their own organization.

As you may have guessed, this rarely works.

Companies that are truly innovative are not necessarily consciously doing things to “be innovative.” Rather, they value at their core, certain things that drive innovative behavior and the result is innovation.

It’s really a culture issue- something that resides in the deep recesses of the collective subconscious that guides people by saying, “Hey, these behaviors that are usually associated with innovation- those are really good behaviors in this organization and we really value them.”

Creating a culture of innovation is more about building an engine of employee behaviors within your organization. But, even the most well intentioned engines of innovation can stall unless you continuously provide the right fuel to support those behaviors.

How Do You Jumpstart Your Organization When Innovation Stalls?

A sure sign that the engine of innovation is stalling in your company is when most of your energy is focused on internal or established processes, while external factors in the market and competition are largely ignored.

If we consider Quinn and Rohrbaugh’s competing values framework, organizations who focus internally rather than balancing their focus between the internal and external sides of business may unintentionally set themselves up for failure in the long-term.

There is quite a bit of research on this topic that strongly suggests that the most sustainably successful organizations are those that are able to manage the dynamic tensions that exist between the internal and external components of their business.

Here are four ways you, as a leader, can help fuel a culture of innovation in your company:

Raise Awareness and Common Understanding

It all starts with helping people in the organization to develop some perspective around what organizational culture is and how it drives attitudes and behaviors to every corner of the company.

By raising common awareness, people are able to talk about why there isn’t really a silver bullet they can use to “be innovative.”  It’s more than just doing something differently- it goes to the core of what is valued and what isn’t. Without bringing this to light through common understanding and dialogue, innovation efforts may face a long, uphill battle as the current culture fights against the change.

Make a Collective Decision to Change

If your organization is focusing too much on the internal and you collectively agree that this is an issue; it’s time to make the decision to change.  Only when this decision is made and people are on board with the need will you open the door to begin the journey.

Being Intentional About Shifting Behavior

It’s not enough to just go forth and proclaim that people should now, all of a sudden, behave in new ways. People have survived and prospered for years by doing things a certain way and they aren’t likely to jump into a new way of being because you said so.

It’s going to take leaders getting out there and showing people that behaving in new ways that drive innovation is not only okay; it’s welcome.  They can show and reinforce that these behaviors are welcome by rewarding and recognizing those who exhibit them and not punishing those who try and fail.

Aligning existing systems and processes to incentivize exploration of new behaviors takes very careful thought and effort.

Give it Time

The current ways of doing things in your organization didn’t happen overnight and neither will large changes in behavior.  It will take time for people to be open to experimenting with new behaviors and it will take many iterations of the organization seeing that those new ways of doing things actually yield success.

Over time, as people realize that those new behaviors result in positive outcomes, they will become part of the culture and, in turn, become the accepted way things are done.  Eventually, they will move into the collective subconscious as a way that people behave without needing to even really think about it.

When all is said and done, you can’t force innovation in an organization whose culture doesn’t value it. On its best day, it would be an uphill battle and, on it’s worst day, could leave people frustrated, exhausted and confused.  There is no silver bullet solution when attempting to evolve and organization to be more innovative.  Those organizations that are interested in driving innovative behavior should spend less on outfitting meeting rooms with Koosh Balls and more time understanding their cultures, their values, and how those are driving their performance.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

The Strategic Narrative: A Better Way To Communicate Change

strategic narrative

If you think your company’s strategy conversations should only take place at the most senior level, you could unknowingly be crippling your company’s bottom line. Research shows that companies whose members have a clear understanding of where the organization is headed and how their daily activities contribute to the success of the organization consistently outperform the competition. When communicating change within your organization, senior leaders need to relay company goals and strategy to all employees, and the most effective way to do this is through a strategic narrative. 

What Is A Strategic Narrative?

A strategic narrative centers on a leader’s ability to articulate a clear and compelling vision and strategy for the future of the organization. Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons of CCS Consulting Inc. specializes in helping leaders develop skills in this area. She describes a strategic narrative as “a written and spoken story of an imagined future captured in a ‘before,’ ‘now,’ and ‘to be’ sequence.”  Rather than presenting a series of bullet points and clip art in a PowerPoint deck, a powerful strategic narrative paints a picture of how a company’s past, present, and future fit together in a broader strategy context.

Strategic narratives are a form of storytelling, and like all good stories, they need a compelling plot, characters, a climax, and a conclusion. By telling this story, employees and other stakeholders will understand their place in the larger narrative and how they can take an active role in shaping the future of your organization.

In addition, this approach:

  • Positions the change in a respectful way. Narratives enable leaders to change the direction of the organization without disrespecting the hard work past leaders and employees have invested in it.
  • Helps leaders appear more human. Leadership storytelling through strategic narratives allows company leaders to bring their personal stories into the equation to ensure the messages hit home with others. When stakeholders can relate to you on a personal level, they will be more sympathetic and accepting toward change.
  • Creates an inclusive environment. Engaging other stakeholders in a dialogue surrounding the strategy not only helps align peoples’ efforts, but also sets the stage for an inclusive environment they can comfortably connect with.
  • Reinforces company values. By taking this approach, you will drive home the values you want to embed in the fabric of the organization moving forward.
  • Helps employees retain the information. Telling your company’s strategic narrative is more likely to inspire, motivate, and be retained than a dry PowerPoint presentation or report. And because stories engage multiple regions of the brain, stakeholders will absorb the message and see themselves in the bigger context.

Crafting An Effective Strategic Narrative

You should always consider using a strategic narrative to help communicate and engage stakeholders in any big-picture discussion. In situations when you might be asking others to uproot old habits or mentalities, this approach can ease the transition.

Inspirational and motivational strategic narratives aren’t made up on the fly — crafting a powerful narrative is an intensive process. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Invite all stakeholder perspectives. Bring your team together to discuss their assumptions and beliefs about what they’ve seen happening within the organization. By tapping them for information, you’ll gain insider knowledge you can use to refine your strategy and make it more relatable.
  2. Collaborate with your team to create a first draft. Work with your team to outline an initial draft, and seek input from other stakeholders involved in the strategy to make sure everyone’s needs and perspectives are accounted for.
  3. Refine your message. Forming a strategic narrative is about helping the group collectively make sense of the company’s current state and future possibilities. Identify the most appropriate delivery vehicle and situations for sharing the message, and complete a thorough audience analysis to understand their enduring mindsets and readiness. Most importantly, be prepared to iterate.
  4. Measure its success. Always measure and monitor progress after delivering your narrative to determine its effectiveness and refine your strategy for the future.

I’ve found strategic narratives to be an excellent way to help illustrate why extensive changes are important to us as a company.

For example, we recently had to implement sweeping changes to the way we operated to align with the current business landscape. Instead of focusing on one-way messaging, we crafted a narrative to help people understand that the old way wasn’t necessary wrong; the market was simply shifting, and we needed to stay relevant. I used examples everyone could connect with and shared the rationale for the pending changes.

While it was far from perfect, it went a long way in helping people understand the why behind the change and prompted an honest two-way dialogue about our collective success moving forward.

Facts and figures simply aren’t meaningful enough to rally employees and stakeholders around a significant change. If you open the floor and invite employees to take part in the narrative, they’ll respect your initiative and do everything in their power to make it a reality.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

5 Signs Your Organization Has Outgrown You

organization outgrown you

Think back to when your child was young. What’s changed as she’s matured? She’s likely swapped naptime for overtime and a dollhouse for a down payment — and she’s grown into a personality all her own.

Like our kids, companies also grow up. Although they may not swap carefree childhoods for adult responsibilities, they still change and mature with time. Growing old with a company is like a relationship: Sometimes, you grow together; other times, you grow apart.

I recently spoke with a friend and mentor, Bruce Eckfeldt, a former Inc. 500 CEO and current entrepreneur, about leaving his former company. Together, we outlined the following five signs that signal that you and your organization have grown apart:

  1. The passion is gone. Do a quick gut check. Are you still jumping out of bed in the morning ready to take on the day, or is your snooze button getting a daily workout? Is your team energized, or does your office share the excitement level of a meat locker? No one can be fired up about a job 24/7, but if you can’t remember the last time you got excited about work, it might be a sign that your job has outgrown you.
  2. You constantly feel “the rub.” One surefire sign that your organization is evolving away from you is “the rub” — the friction between you and day-to-day life in your work environment. Too much frustration with co-workers, vendors, or clients can lead to uncomfortable chafing.
  3. The cylinders aren’t firing like they used to. Do you feel like the behaviors that have always worked for you are no longer hitting the mark? The issue might be turnover, client relationships, or budget, and you can’t shake that feeling of drowning. If the team’s terminology is leaving you behind in meetings or it seems like you have to work twice as hard as you used to just to keep your head above water, you should assess your situation.
  4. Your company is scaling rapidly. As your company matures, you may find that you can’t (or don’t want to) develop the skills you’ll need to lead in the new environment. If you aren’t willing or able to adapt to the new reality, then you’ll experience more problems as the organization continues to demand things that you can’t provide.
  5. A disconnection arises between you and the company. If you wrote a job description for the leader of your company, would you apply for the role? Your business will likely begin to value new skills and devalue old ones over time, particularly when moving out of startup mode — where flexibility and innovation take precedence — to become a more mature organization that’s focused on following established processes. You may feel responsible for leading the organization, but are you still connected to its changing needs? 

How to Hand Over the Reins

Once you know that your company has evolved away from you, you have an important decision to make: You can either sell your company or hand off your leadership role. This process is all about how you want to be remembered in your company’s collective history.

Do you want to be remembered as the boss who stayed beyond his ability to manage effectively, the executive who stopped showing up one day, or the leader who realized his personal limitations and ensured the organization was left in good hands?

First and foremost, you must decide whether your ego can take admitting that the company has evolved to the point where someone with a different skill set could do a better job. Are you the most qualified for the current needs of the role? Are you willing to adapt your leadership style to your changing business?

If you no longer feel like your leadership is what’s best for the company, pass the torch. Find and integrate the right person to lead the company under your guidance. If you have a good talent planning process in place, you may already have replacement options.

Hopefully, you caught the signs early enough that the performance of the organization hadn’t taken a nosedive. Recognizing the changing currents as they happen helps you be more intentional about identifying a successor and integrating her into the organization in a productive way.

Leading a rapidly growing organization is full of high and low points, and it’s never short on challenges. For Bruce, it was less of an “outgrown” situation and more about growing apart: “Being a founder and operator puts unique pressure on your sense of self and ties up your professional and personal identity in that of the company. For me, I felt like I was fighting to get the organization to go in the direction I wanted to go in personally.”

I realized fairly early on that in order to be most effective over the long term, I would have to continuously evaluate the needs of my organization and adapt my behaviors. This required me to develop new skills over time and be very intentional about my willingness to change to be of service to my team.

If you’re giving your organization everything you have and still sense that it has evolved beyond you, you owe it to yourself and your company to consider taking action.


This article originally appeared on Forbes