Making a culture transformation stick with symbolic actions

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Executive Team / Ledningsgruppsarbete, Leadership / Ledarskap, Strategy implementation / Strategiimplementering on August 15th, 2019 by admin

Elephant in the room: making a culture transformation stick with symbolic actions

Leaders are familiar with the challenge of making a cultural transformation. To signal changing expectations, execute carefully considered symbolic actions.

Why did a leading global agriculture player order small rubber elephants adorned with the company’s logo for its meeting rooms? Far from being mere props, these elephants were symbols to facilitate desired behavior shifts in employees.

The organization was undergoing a cultural transformation to become a higher-performing, more innovative company. Leadership realized that to achieve this goal, employees needed to become more open and comfortable having the candid conversations required to move ideas forward—they needed to be able to put the elephant on the table. To encourage this change, leadership sought a way to signal the beginning of the transformation and role model the new behaviors.

Leaders across industries are familiar with the challenge of making—and sustaining—a cultural transformation. To signal that cultural expectations are changing, leadership should execute one or two carefully considered symbolic actions.

Make expectations clear through role modeling
“Beyond Performance 2.0” discusses the importance of senior leaders employing symbolic actions—highly visible acts or decisions that indicate change in the organization—to demonstrate their commitment to the transformation. Symbolic actions can augment critical, but often less visible, day-to-day behavior shifts among leaders, addressing a common frustration: “I’m doing things differently but no one is noticing.”

Our research shows that transformations are 5.3 times more likely to succeed when leaders model the behavior they want employees to adopt. We also found that nearly 50 percent of employees cite the CEO’s visible engagement and commitment to transformation as the most effective action for engaging frontline employees.

Symbolic actions are most successful when employees connect the dots between the act and the broader change message, facilitating both a mindset and behavioral shift. For example, employees at the agriculture company were initially confused when they discovered the rubber elephants. But their confusion subsided when they saw leaders pick them up and put them on the table as they raised difficult topics others might have felt uncomfortable surfacing. The practice was eventually adopted by other employees when they too needed to call out the elephant in the room.

Develop a portfolio of symbolic actions
Leaders can identify the right symbolic actions for their organization and evolve their approaches by undertaking three key activities:

1. Define the purpose of and audience for potential symbolic actions.
Leaders should identify what specific changes they want to facilitate and which group should be part of the symbolic action. Being clear on what is being symbolized and for what purpose will focus energy on the ideas that will have the greatest impact.

2. Brainstorm symbolic actions.
Go for quantity over quality when generating ideas. Use external examples for inspiration and adopt design-thinking tactics, such as empathy mapping, to better understand the audience. Categorizing the ideas according to design dimensions such as who will execute the action and the frequency of the action (one-time, periodic or ongoing) helps the group iterate.

3. Review and prioritize ideas.
Evaluate the list as a team and identify options that you feel will be the most effective, shifting the focus to quality over quantity. Prioritized actions should be consistent with broader transformation messaging and should be designed to appeal to the different sources of meaning that motivate and inspire employees, such as doing good for society, supporting their working team, or enabling personal gain.

The behavior change and the broader culture change transformation catalyzed by the elephant on the table ultimately paid off for the agriculture company. Its employees now have more open, candid conversations, enabling improved performance and health of the organization. The company climbed to the top decile of organizational health in McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index database—an achievement that our analysis indicates correlates with clear improvements in financial performance. For shareholders, there is nothing symbolic about those returns.

For more on leading successful large-scale change programs, see our book, “Beyond Performance 2.0.”

Source: McKinsey.com, July 2019
Authors: By Jessica Cohen, Matt Schrimper and Emily Taylor
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The negative impact of self-serving, controlling leaders

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on August 13th, 2019 by admin

There are two distinct categories of leaders as perceived by employees, says business author and management consultant Scott Blanchard.

“Employees perceive either that they have a good manager who has their back and is someone they can trust, or that they have a self-oriented leader who sees direct reports as less important, potentially interchangeable parts.”

Blanchard explains that it is critical for managers to be perceived by their direct reports as positive leaders. Companies need to make sure they are not allowing or incentivizing managers to do things that are damaging to people’s engagement and performance in the workplace.

“People who perceive that their manager has their back have an overwhelmingly strong positive correlation toward performing at a high level,” says Blanchard. “That means going above and beyond the job description, staying with the organization, endorsing it as a good place to work, and being a good team member.”

“When we looked at the negative impact of leaders who use controlling behavior, we found that self-oriented leaders tend to be more controlling where others-oriented leaders are more facilitating and enabling.”

Blanchard points to research conducted by Dr. Drea Zigarmi and Dr. Taylor Peyton Roberts, who looked at different motivation techniques used by athletic coaches.

“Zigarmi and Roberts found that controlling behavior is most often demonstrated in four different areas. One is a controlling use of rewards. In the study with athletes, this manifested as: My coach tries to motivate me by promising to reward me if I do well; My coach only rewards me to make me train harder; and My coach only uses rewards and praise so I can stay focused on the tasks during training.”

Even though this research was done in a sports coaching environment, Blanchard says it’s not hard to understand how it relates to a workplace environment.

“Another controlling tactic is negative conditional regard, which is: My coach is less friendly with me if I don’t make the effort to see things their way; and My coach is less supportive of me when I’m not training and competing well.”

Intimidation is a third dimension, says Blanchard: “My coach shouts at me in front of others; My coach threatens to punish me; My coach intimidates me into doing things he or she wants me to do; and My coach embarrasses me when I don’t do things that they want.”

The final controlling approach is excessive personal control: “My coach expects my whole life to center around my work; My coach tries to control what I do during my free time; and My coach tries to interfere with the aspects of my life outside of my work.”

Blanchard says that when managers and coaches use controlling behaviors, they crush the positive intentions people would naturally bring to their work or sport. These behaviors also have a negative effect on a direct report’s sense of self accountability, says Blanchard. This is described in academic circles as locus of control.

“A locus of control is the extent to which a person believes they have control over their own outcomes. Here’s the idea: if I have an internal locus of control, I believe that through my efforts, my thoughts, and my determination, I can achieve success in getting the kind of outcomes I’m looking for at work. An external locus of control is where I believe outcomes are determined not by internal forces such as my own grit and determination but by the external environment.”

Encouraging and cultivating a person’s belief in their internal ability to positively influence their environment is important, says Blanchard. He points to research done by hiring consultants at Hireology, which shows that a candidate with an internal locus of control has a 40% greater likelihood of success in a new role.

Blanchard explains that people who work for a manager who is self-oriented and controlling will actually begin to doubt or set aside their belief in their ability to achieve successful outcomes.

“If people experience overly controlling management, they have two choices: they can perform because they have to, which is called controlled regulation; or they can just do the minimum to get by—that’s called amotivation.

“Others-oriented managers support personal industriousness and reinforce a sense of personal accountability. When you engage in positive behaviors, you reinforce the notion of internal locus of control where you take responsibility for your own results. This leads to autonomous regulation—a high quality of motivation—where you perceive you’re doing something deeply connected to who you are and what’s important to you.

“Work becomes more motivating when it aligns with who you are. The old adage is true: ‘If you find a job that you’re really passionate about, you never have to work another day in your life.’ Your work just feels like something that’s natural.”

Others-oriented managers help instill that kind of meaning and accountability in their people, says Blanchard. “It’s about working side by side with people in a way that lets them grow into their autonomy. Managers who overtly control people squash or kill that initiative, which causes their direct reports to be less loyal, accountable, and motivated.

“If you want to have robotic employees who only do what they’re told to do and what they’re rewarded to do, then keep putting controlling managers in front of them. But if you want people who take ownership of their jobs, produce better results, and are eager to stay with the company, you have to hire and prepare managers to be others-oriented.”

Source: Kenblanchard.dom, August 2019
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