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How to Lead Change in Your Organization

How to Lead Change in Your Organization

Lead Change

    Change is the biggest constant in today’s business world. Even charities and educational organizations are finding that they need to constantly innovate not only to compete for donation dollars, clients, and members, but to remain relevant to the changing social landscape around them as well.

    But people hate change. Right? The management literature is loaded with tales of corporate innovation gone awry – product launches flubbed, reorganizations that caused productivity to plummet and workers to flee en masses, hideously stupid morale programs that mandated chipperness and received resignations in return, and so on. When workers at any organization get together, they swap stories of corporate inanity, laughing at each other’s tales of programs too stupid to have been thought of in the first place, let alone implemented – yet they were.

    No, the common wisdom goes, people don’t want change. They want the steady footing of corporate constancy.

    A vast number of books have been written about how to resolve this problem: companies need change, but workers hate it. Graduate management programs dedicate countless semester-hours to coping with this conflict. Executives wring their hands over the tension between their needs and employees’ unwillingness.

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    All for nothing.

    As Michael Kanazawa, author of Big Ideas to Big Results points out in the title of his new e-book at ChangeThis, people don’t hate change, they hate how you’re trying to change them.

    People LOVE change

    People don’t hate change, they love it. Workers constantly seek promotions and new job responsibilities. They buy self-help books and personal development books seeking to become better at their jobs. They launch their own businesses. They change companies and jobs, they even change careers, all for the sake of breaking out of unsatisfying routines and gaining control over the conditions of their own labor.

    People love change, they just hate having change rammed down their throats. They hate being sold a bill of goods, and too many corporate innovations feel like a bill of goods to the workers expected to implement them.

    Three principles for change people love

    Kanazawa got his start as a corporate strategist at the same company where Scott Adams gave birth to Dilbert. I think it’s safe to say that Pacific Telesis was a company that got change wrong. Repeatedly. Much to our general amusement.

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    Frustrated by the ham-handed – and almost always unsuccessful — way that change was managed there, Kanazawa sought out a different way of approaching change. In People Don’t Hate Change, he lays out the three principles companies need to embrace to create real innovation that their employees will get behind:

    Do more on less

    Workers fear the latest new program to come across their desk because they’ve learned that change means more work – for them. These fears are confirmed when management invites them into the conference room or meeting hall for the inevitable “pep rally” and gushes about the new program – and then tells them that they must “do more with less”.

    It appeals to our core values of thrift and efficiency, this idea of doing more with less. It sells us – a little. But in the end doing more with less is impractical. Employees end up overtaxed by new responsibilities, frustrated by lack of resources, and resentful about all the work they’re doing with no extra compensation.

    Instead, Kanazawa suggests that management demonstrate clearly what the new priorities are, and what is no longer a priority. Give workers a clear sense of what they should be focusing on, and get rid of the rest. Outsource it, or better yet cut it entirely.

    Doing more on less means doing more work, more thinking, and more activity on less stuff. It means focusing employees’ efforts where they count, instead of splitting their attention twenty different ways.

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    There’s no such thing as buy-in

    Companies know the value of “buy-in” when pushing radical new programs. Buy-in is that sense among workers that they hold a stake in the success of a project, that it’s theirs, somehow – they’ve “bought into” the new program.

    Typically, companies will assign a leadership team, outside consultants, or project group in a division to design a new program. Once the plan is finalized, they’ll go to the employees who will be responsible for implementing the new plan for a buy-in meeting. They “sell” the plan, and employees “buy in”.

    Except, they don’t. They may think it’s a great idea, they may be enthusiastic about it, but in the end, it’s not their plan.

    Kanazawa advocates a different approach to innovation – bring employees in from the start, rely on their practical experience and expertise and incorporate their ideas into the plan. Follow their lead.

    When workers are instrumental in creating change in their organization, there is no need for buy-in because the ideas are already theirs.

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    Leadership is not about you

    A year ago, I debuted at Lifehack with a post on leadership, saying that leadership wasn’t about power, it was about empowering others. Kanazawa concurs, writing, “Leadership impact is not about how aggressive, decisive, and visionary you are, it is about how you bring that out in others.”

    By empowering those around them to do more, true leaders drastically increase their own leadership power – their power scales with the ability of those around them.

    It is important for leaders to have vision, authority, and ambition, but it is more important for them to reach out to others all along the chain of command to make sure that everyone feels involved in the process of change. Leaders who don’t do this, who attempt to impose their vision from the top-down, might manage to achieve something that looks like their vision, but which is hollow and empty.

    Make change lovable

    I’ve had Kanazawa’s book in my “to read” pile for a while, and I’m anxious to make time to read it. In the meantime, though, People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them gives a good introduction to the approach to change that Kanazawa has developed since leaving Dilbert-land. Keeping Kanazawa’s principles in mind can help any organization to leverage the love that people already have for true, meaningful change – instead of working against that love and forcing their employees into a reactionary, self-defensive position.

    And that dissolves entirely the tension between companies’ need for change and workers’ distrust of it. When you make change lovable, there’s no need for hand-wringing.

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    Last Updated on June 12, 2019

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Humor and laughter provide so many rewards. Studies have shown 20 seconds of laughter yield the same benefits as 3 minutes of hard rowing. A Robert Half International study reported 84% of executives believe a worker with a good sense of humor does a better job. Incorporating humor more effectively in the workplace allows you to defuse difficult situations, reduce stress, create attention for new ideas, build rapport, and be a more approachable and memorable leader.

    With those benefits, it behooves you to hone your workplace comedic skills. So in the tradition of David Letterman, here are the top 10 ways to more effectively lead with humor!

    #10. Look for Joy in Life

    An important step is continually looking for joy throughout your life. This happens in a variety of ways:

    • Focus less on yourself and more on helping others. Need help? Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the classic by Dale Carnegie.
    • Laugh more – kids reportedly laugh 400 times per day vs. 15 times for adults. Aim for laughing 40 times daily to be at least 10% of your former self!
    • Regularly read humorous comic strips and look for quips and funny comments in your reading.
    • Even in challenging situations, hunt for something funny or humorous you can take away.

    #9. Learn What Makes You Laugh

    If you’re trying to laugh 40 times daily, it’s important to know what makes you laugh and have ready access to laugh-provokers. Figure out 107 things which make you laugh. Unrealistic? Hardly! Why 107? Because 107 is funnier than 100! Here’s a recipe for listing what makes you laugh by simply identifying:

    • 13 Movies
    • 11 TV Shows
    • 5 Words or Phrases
    • 19 Personal Stories
    • 5 Cartoons
    • 7 Audio or Video Pieces
    • 11 Comedians
    • 7 TV Personalities
    • 7 Funny Photos
    • 7 People You Know
    • 15 of Anything Else
    • TOTAL = 107 Funny Things

    Collect & save these humor starters in a “Smile File” when you quickly need a laugh or comedic inspiration.

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    #8. Use Your Own Comedic Material

    Personal experiences are the most genuine humor sources for effective leadership. Look for humor in situations from your own life:

    • Funny things you have said or others have said to you
    • Pratfalls, be they mental, interpersonal, & physical
    • Embarrassing moments or unexpected happenings
    • Times of change or learning
    • Difficult life events (yes, even these can be humor sources)

    When turning personal situations into comedic material, remember lessons learned from a childhood humor staple: Knock-Knock Jokes. These simple jokes work because the knock-knock structure highlights familiar situations, uses only essential words and phrases, and clearly signals a laughing opportunity. They also demonstrate how humor springs from surprise. The laughs come from not knowing who or what exactly is behind the door based on the initial response to “Who’s there?”

    #7. Adapt Somebody Else’s Material

    Beyond your own experiences, there’s a tradition of “borrowing & adapting” (I didn’t say stealing) funny stuff from others. That’s why old-time comedian Milton Berle was called the “Thief of Bad Gags.”

    Part of borrowing successfully is using easily accessible humor sources in ways many don’t consider. Beyond simply Googling “funny” in front of quotes, one-liners, definitions, pictures, or videos, here are two other common sources you can adapt:

    • Cartoons – You can use cartoons in various ways by showing one in a presentation, telling the cartoon’s story (potentially making yourself a character) without any images, or using its punch line as a starting point for new humor.
    • Comedians – Mainstream comedians’ jokes or catch phrases are another source to modify and adapt to your personality or work situation. Watch lots of comedians and learn how professionals do it so well.

    #6. Understand Your Audience

    Using humor in a leadership position requires understanding boundaries on its proper use. It all starts with really understanding your audience by:

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    • Paying attention to top management’s attitudes toward humor.
    • Knowing the audience’s composition – this directly affects which humor types are appropriate.
    • Loving your audience as much or more than you poke fun at them.
    • Inviting others into humor since you can’t assume they share your same humor sensibilities.

    In case you’re contemplating using ad lib humor, completely knowing your audience is even more vital. Ad-libs have the potential for going horribly wrong because audience sensibilities have been misjudged. It’s very beneficial to actually plan and rehearse ad libs. It may sound odd, but identify common work situations you encounter and think through what usually goes wrong or provides a source for potential humor. Work out some “safe” funny comebacks to use as “planned” ad libs.

    #5. Know the Rules and Boundaries

    There are blatant humor no-no’s in the workplace which are quite acceptable for an onstage comedian. At work, avoid harmful practical jokes or pranks, heavily sarcastic comments, and humor rooted in religious, sexual, ethnic, or racial themes. Think you know your work setting well enough to tread on this dangerous ground? Here’s some advice: DON’T. The way questionable humor will be perceived by a workplace audience is too much of an unknown to take big risks when your career is at stake.

    Use this checkpoint to actually see if your intended workplace humor is SAFE. To pass the SAFE test, all of these statements need to be true regarding your joke, comment, or image:

    • I can Say/Show this to my mother.
    • It wouldn’t Anger me if I were the butt of the joke.
    • This wouldn’t trigger an FCC violation
    • Everyone in the audience will be able to get it.

    With even a hint of one false answer, dramatically modify your idea or better yet, abandon it and start over.

    #4. Get over Yourself

    Effective leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re comfortable laughing at themselves and letting others be funny as well. Leaders should become adept at appropriately using self-deprecating humor, i.e., self-directed humor downplaying your own talents, stature, or accomplishments

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    You don’t want to use self-deprecating humor on simply any topic, however. It’s most effectively & appropriately used in:

    • Situations where you’re comfortable & self-confident
    • Areas where your credibility & competence are clearly established
    • Ways that fit your known personality & sensibilities

    Remember – when trying to borrow someone else’s self-deprecating humor, you need to share that person’s perspective & situation. If not, it’s simply deprecating! I once heard a decidedly non-technical Marketing VP call out “data geeks” in the audience. While that’s what they called themselves, she wasn’t a part of their group, and her comment, intended to build affiliation, fell completely flat.

    #3. Need Humor Ideas? Just Look Around

    The workplace is filled with situations lending themselves to comedy. Humor springs from exaggeration, wordplay, misunderstandings, ambiguity, contradictions, paradoxes, pain, and inconsistencies. If you work in any type of business or organizational setting, there are plenty of these situations to go around!

    As a leader, it’s your role to use the proper opptunities to encourage and employ humor successfully by ensuring that:

    • Your humor makes others feel good about themselves.
    • Hurtful fun isn’t made of those less tenured than you in the organization.
    • You don’t use humor when agitated since it can lead to apparent meanness.

    #2. Surround Yourself with Joy

    If you’re looking for more joy and levity in leadership, surround yourself with joyful people. These are people who are funny, easily spur laughter, and routinely cheer people up through their presence.

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    Cultivate relationships with these types of people. Spend time with them, learn from their successful uses of humor, and emulate elements of their approaches that work for you.

    Beyond basking in the joy these people create, select 3 or 4 of them to be an informal comedy team. As your comedy team, solicit their opinions to help you generate and refine humor ideas. They can also provide perspectives on potentially questionable humor material that makes it through the SAFE test, but still feels like it might not be right for a workplace audience.

    #1. Dive into the Fun

    Ultimately, the most important part of successfully using humor as a leader is actually sharing it in the workplace. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind:

    • Practice your humor in appropriate, low-risk settings to find out what works before trying it out with a bigger audience.
    • Signal a laughing opportunity through your words, actions, and tone. It’s also a good practice to give people “permission” to laugh in the workplace.
    • Finally, be earnest in using humor; don’t focus on laughs so much as lightening and adding fun into work settings.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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