Coach’s Challenge for 11/1/10

Good day, team,

This morning I read a quote from Charles Darwin on which I’d like to base this week’s challenge:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

I think it’s safe to say that I have seen more radical change happen to my business clients in the past two years than ever before. In some cases, they’ve had to completely change how they operate to stay in business. In others, they’ve had to downsize their workforce considerably or completely reorganize to meet the demands of their customers. And in some cases, they’ve gone out of business altogether.

This kind of radical change causes a natural response of fear and negativity. Most of us know that change can bring about many new opportunities. But, as creatures of habit, we loathe the actual experience when we’re going through it. The uncertainty as we cross into unknown territory can be paralyzing.

Because I’m often brought into organizations to help support them while they’re going through transitions, I admire what GE did four years ago to teach its senior managers how to lead change via the Leadership, Innovation and Growth program it introduced in 2006.

GE’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, had decided to grow the company by focusing on expanding existing businesses rather than by making acquisitions. Thus his senior managers had to take a good look at their business segment to see what needed to change in order to grow. Here’s what they did:

* The LIG training was delivered to all the senior members of the business management team to give them an opportunity to reach consensus on the barriers to change and how best to attack them.

* Participants were encouraged to consider both the hard barriers to change (organizational structure, capabilities, resources) and the soft (how the leadership team members individually and collectively behave and spend their time).

* The challenge of balancing short-term and long-term goals, that is, simultaneously managing the present and creating the future, was explicitly addressed.

* They created a new and common language of change, words that became part of their daily vocabulary.

* The training was not an academic exercise: It was structured so that a team would emerge with the first draft of an action plan for instituting change in its business.

All participants accomplished three things before attending the training. They updated their three-year business strategy, or what they call their growth playbook. They underwent 360-degree reviews to get feedback about their behaviors and leadership abilities. And they were assessed as to how well they had created an innovative climate for their employees to be creative and evolve.

GE identified the following attributes of an innovative organization:

1) Team members feel connected to and challenged by their work; they are free and encouraged to try new approaches.

2) Team members feel safe sharing ideas and working with one another (trust).

3) Time is made to share new ideas.

4) Team members see their workplace as easy-going, fun and relaxed.

5) Conflict is seen as part of the reality of work, and team members are encouraged to deal with it openly and constructively.

6) Team members are encouraged to share ideas with each other.

7) There is healthy debate between team members.

8) Team members can made decisions and take action in the face of uncertainty (take risks).

In the training, GE’s senior management team spent a week doing in-depth reviews of each of their businesses, examining what they would need to change to become more profitable and how to become better leaders. They asked themselves questions that would help them reset the bar and start to coalesce around the changes that needed to be made: How do we stack up? Are we really as good as we think we are? Are we walking the talk? Are we leading this business the way we think it should be led in order to optimize growth?

As they worked together, GE’s leaders started changing their ideas, their attitudes, the way they saw their business units, and how they could lead further changes throughout their organizations. They started becoming who they needed to be to lead effective change throughout their teams.

This week, take a look at your team, your work group, your company. Are you being forced to make big changes throughout your business and, if so, how will you overcome the natural resistance to change by your team members? Take some of GE’s suggestions and see how you can apply them to your team.

After going through the training with his leaders and watching how it was implemented over the next two years, Immelt observed, “To pursue growth, you have to give some clear no’s and yes’es, and I would say that what we always struggle with—even at high levels in the company—is too many maybes. Decisiveness is one of the core traits of a growth culture.

“I still have to push, and I think that will always be true. But there are now more people pushing with me. When somebody asks me, ‘At your level of the company, what does a leader do?’ I always say, ‘Drive change and develop other leaders.’ Our training gave me a way to do both at the same time.”

This week, think about what you’re doing to get the most out of your business and your people. Chances are some changes need to be made, and your challenge is to find the best way to lead your team through them.

Have a good week!

Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2010 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search, Inc., all rights reserved.

Note: If you want to learn more about this topic, read the article “How GE Teaches Teams to Lead Change” by Steven Prokesch in the Harvard Business Review, January 2009 edition.

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