Balancing Change and Performance Agendas

Getting team members inspired, aligned and on board for the journey ahead is a key priority for most leaders. This is particularly true in those situations where business direction is changing – perhaps entering different markets, offering new products, developing a different organizational culture or shifting leadership behaviour.

change chart leadershipEnsuring that your company’s performance doesn’t suffer, however, can be a challenge during significant change. Space needs to be created to enable staff to learn new ways of doing things, try different approaches, design alternate business processes, and perhaps acquire or change some key behaviours. On the other hand, results matter – launching new products, acquiring new business, realizing sales targets and delivering on existing commitments.

Over the summer, some of this work may have slowed down or been deferred for many companies, but now that most of us are heading back to work and back to the regular routine, there’s likely going to be renewed emphasis on both change and performance. To ensure performance doesn’t take a backseat to the change agenda, here are some suggestions to keep your team engaged and on track to deliver results:

1.) Get committed if you find yourself not fully engaged

  • It’s hard to drive levels of engagement that are higher than your own. If you’re lacking commitment, it shows in your face. It’s apparent in the way you hold yourself. It affects your pace, your demeanor, even the way you communicate. If your “get up and go” has “got up and gone,” people will see right through you.
  • So, get your own house in order. What’s turning you off? Turn it back on. Lost interest? Figure out what will excite you again and get involved.
  • Something niggling away at you? Confront it. Bring it out into the open and get it resolved. Frustrated? Talk to the person who can make a difference in the situation. Find your renewed commitment and bring people along with you.

2.) Be transparent with people, share what’s going on

  • Information is power, particularly during change. Lack of information can be demotivating for people. If they feel you have a hidden agenda, they will draw up their own. Sometimes what they imagine is worse than the truth.
  • If you have bad news, come clean as soon as you are able. Give reasons (if you can) to promote better understanding. Ask for their help. Make decision-making processes as transparent and inclusive as possible.
  • Of course, sometimes conditions and context restrict decisions to a small number of decision makers. You’ll need to respect that, but share what you can and keep people informed. Anticipate their questions and answer those you can ahead of being asked. Make transparency your standard way of operating.

3.) Deal with people fairly, but not equally

  • feedbackEqual is not fair. Fair is what’s appropriate, what’s fitting. Individuals and teams vary in capabilities, motivation, interests, contribution and many other dimensions. It follows, then, that to be fair about it, they should be treated differently. Different levels of support. Different development. Different rewards. Different, but fair.
  • Preventing problems depends on making decisions in an informed and carefully calculated way, with the best intentions in mind for the organization and individuals. Those intentions should be out in the open and clearly communicated. When one project team learns it is not getting the same level of resources that another is, it’s tough to swallow if the intentions are concealed or suspect.
  • On the other hand, the straightforward disclosure of intentions behind the decision makes it more acceptable. Even if the shortchanged team disagrees with the decision, they will appreciate understanding the intent behind it. And trust in the leadership will be preserved, even strengthened.

4.) Deal with objections if you’re getting resistance

  • It’s your job to drive change. You’ve got your resources, your timeline, your plans. Everything looks good – until a key group or person raises objections. Why are we doing this? Why are we changing what we’ve done for so long?
  • The best change leaders don’t get derailed by pushback. They anticipate resistance. They are equipped to handle the heat of controversy. They allow time to hear objections. Individual meetings. Town halls. Phone conferences. They answer objections and make course corrections. But they don’t lose sight of the endgame. The vision. The results.
  • Encourage more objections. If you sense people are holding back, get concerns out on the table. Ask for specifics. Dig deep. Get to the root of the resistance. Understand what’s behind the dissent. See it from their point of view. If you were in their shoes, what would you need to hear to be converted?

5.) Remove the fear of failure

  • Failures are going to occur, particularly during change. The very thought of failure, however, can be crippling to many individuals. Frame failure as an expected part of the larger picture of progress.
  • We tend to learn more from our failures than our successes — innovation and experimentation are best realized if people are allowed to fail. Team members won’t feel comfortable with short-term setbacks if you don’t communicate that they are expected and provide long-term benefits.
  • Share a failure that you experienced during change and what you learned/how you overcame the failure. You will be more respected if you open up and disclose failures as well as successes, and hopefully others will learn from those lessons as well.
  • An important component in disclosing personal setbacks is communicating how those setbacks were ultimately overcome or otherwise ended in a positive way (e.g., “We ended up losing that long-term client, but the lessons learned allowed us to land our next, much bigger client.”).

6.) Refocus and stick with it if you find you’re tempted to quit or coast

  • It may be tempting to reduce your efforts when you’ve been pushing on change and the end is in sight. After all, your customers have been delighted with the new products. Revenues are on track or exceeding expectations. Things are going well, so results are in the bag — right? Not necessarily.
  • targetSurprises happen. Contracts get cancelled. Opportunities and sure things fizzle out. Competitors take some of your clients. If you find your attention flagging, refocus. Winning teams play with the same intensity the whole game, no matter the score.
  • Driving for results means not quitting before the end. Getting results means sticking with the change until success is realized. Review what has been done, what remains to be done and where results will come from.
  • Be persistent. Follow through on every task. Sometimes you’ll head off a disaster. Sometimes you’ll find an unexpected late win. Check the details. It’s not over until it’s over.

7.) Have some fun

  • When the pressure is on and the pace is fast, it’s easy to forget to relax, to let off steam, to breathe. There’s a time and a place for everything and having a bit of fun is no exception. Free your spirit of adventure. Cast aside the serious business of work for a little while.
  • Create the opportunity for people to get to know each other on a personal level. What do they have in common? How are they different? Who are they beyond their day job? What do they really care about? What makes them tick?
  • All these things surface more readily when people step out of a role and become themselves. Learning about people means learning how to engage them. And fun is not just a frivolous waste of time if it helps increase people’s engagement during change.
  • When people are highly engaged, their commitment to stay the course and achieve improved results is enhanced. It pays to have fun!

Balancing the change and performance agendas can be challenging. To ensure that performance continues to improve while making change requires dedicated focus on team inspiration, alignment and engagement.

To learn more about the balance between meaningful change and effective performance in your organization, contact me: scott@cygnusconsultants.com or 250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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