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Teach people to think differently

  • I met yesterday with a relatively new leader of an organization. His charter is to shift the company to a championship team mentality. He comes from an entire career in high productivity, high growth organizations. Of course first thing, he set up an organizational structure that will support his vision of the future. That’s the easy part.

    His biggest challenge and number one priority – teaching people to think differently. Think differently about big picture items like what business we’re in, but also in small things like who takes the main responsibility in customer transactions.

    The only way for this executive to shift the culture of his new organization is to shift the way people think in order to establish a new normal way of interacting and operating.

    How do you do this?

    Model Behavior

    For change to occur from a leadership perspective the energy of the leader is critical. Much was made about the decision of NFL’s Tampa Bay football coach Greg Schiano this past weekend.  In the last seconds of the game when the winning team kneels down in order to allow the clock to run out and both teams simply go through the motions, the new coach aggressively had his defense play full speed to try to cause a fumble and perhaps win the game. Even though chances of  success were remote, the tone was set that his team doesn’t give up. The leader modeled and showed a new way of thinking that he hopes will shift the culture from one of losing to one of winning.

    It’s necessary to show people a different thought pattern. It’s not obvious. Bold strokes are sometimes necessary. The new executive told me he actually had his sales team turn down business because the delivery people weren’t thinking properly yet about how to get the work done long-term.

    Give Permission

    Through past teaching and habit people may not realize you expect them to make decisions a certain way or that they are allowed to make certain decisions. Don’t take anything for granted. Explain your expectations. Walk through scenarios so your leaders can see how their interaction with the process will work. Follow-up. This is new. Treat it like delegating to a teenager who has never done the job before until progress begins.

    Change Accountability Rules

    In your new structure you are likely increasing responsibility for people who aren’t used to this responsibility. Make authority clear. Be explicit. Reinforce these responsibilities in great detail. “How can I be responsible for that, it’s Joe’s area?” Explain how to think differently- how to collaborate and cross boundaries. And don’t forget to explain what responsibility means – your budget will be affected, you’ll be fired, you’ll get a bonus, etc.

    Reward Failure – If they get it.

    If someone is getting the new way but makes a mistake be sure to celebrate that mistake. Certainly don’t punish it. If the mistake is because the person doesn’t yet get it, go back to the drawing board with patient urgency.

    Don’t Wait – The Employee Review is too late.

    Feedback is crucial and business as usual annual reviews are much too infrequent. Instantaneous and consistent feedback is necessary to shift the thinking.

    Tell Stories

    Replicate every lesson for the entire team by telling stories of success and failures so that everyone can learn as quickly as possible what the new rules are and how they work. Look for stories like a magazine editor and incorporate these stories into every conversation you have. Get people to tell their own stories as well.

    Remember – The Leader as Teacher

    Photo credit: Slack pics


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