3. Challenge the Process – Principle 1: Search for Opportunities

By Michael Sutton posted 10-07-2010 00:42

Your job and role as a leader is to make change happen every day. Change is not something you delegate and wait until it has been completed. Change is an ongoing experience. Most importantly for businesses, it directly involves the customer or internal client. How can E2.0 change the way business is done, making it more efficient and effective, while supporting and enhancing the work of your internal clients? As the team leader you must find a means to express these opportunities and sell it as your newfound goal to “make things better, to grow, innovate, and improve” (Kouzes and Posner, 2007, p. 164). Two activities are essential to searching for opportunities: 1) Seize the Initiative 2) Exercise Outsight. Employees and managers who feel stable and secure are not challenged to do their best. Routine processes and predictability breeds mediocrity and complacency. Experiencing hardships, on the other hand, polishes our rough edges and rounds us out to be able to handle any adversity. And, believe, me, we are surrounded by disruption and uncertainty everywhere we turn today. This is especially true when we have come to realize that North America, and many other parts of the world, are in the midst of a catastrophic recession. A study by Kouzes and Posner and another by Kanter (1983) reported in The Change Masters: Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation arrived at parallel conclusions: “leadership is inextricably connected with the process of innovation, of bringing new ideas, methods, and solutions into use.” This suggests that if you are leading an E2.0 initiative you must capitalize on being proactive with your innovations. You need to inculcate a method that permits you to forecast and for see what needs to be accomplished to signal the start of a successful transformation. You must “stick your neck out,’ something most folks involved in E2.0 initiatives might feel is reckless. Pose the questions that will stimulate new discussion. Encourage others to become involved AND committed. Help those affected to speak up, ask them to offer suggestions for improvement, instead of permitting and acceding to whining and complaining about change. If you can get your team members and stakeholders to speak out, they become further committed to making something happen. Training, modeling, and simulating are the keys to encouraging initiative. If the participants can actually touch and feel something that is otherwise very abstract, they can incorporate it into their model of the work process. This recommendation also infers that coaching and mentoring of staff is a critical success factor. You cannot just “train” them. You need to develop a suite of methods to help them “master” the competencies required to deliver and implement the applications. Coaching is a hands-on activity, not a classroom-based approach. Sit with your target audience; work with each one for 2-3 hours, showing each of them how their critical and important work could be done with the new application. If they see the application in action, they are better prepared to adapt to it, instead of waiting for a “how to” course where they learn strictly about functions and keyboard shortcuts. Stretch your team and stakeholders. If you hear that something is not working, then challenge them with a “why?” When they respond, then again challenge them with a “why?” Continue this one more level down. Usually by the third “why?” you are finally getting at the heart of the matter, and can realistically and pragmatically suggest alternative solutions. According to CEOs, at least two thirds of all innovative ideas are spawned outside the organization (IBM, 2006, Expanding the Innovation Horizons: The Global CEO Study). What does this infer? Kouzes and Posner suggested that leaders must always be listening for the weakest signals and fuzziest signs of positive change, and they call this “outsight”—a capacity for perceiving external things. The exemplary leader must talk to outsiders and must develop the capability to listen for new ideas from those outsiders. For outsight to work, the leader must promote external and internal communication where stakeholders are brought together to debate the changes, benefits, and incentives associated with an E2.0 transformation. If properly facilitated, debate and constructive argumentation is good. Such activities can open the minds of those who have not yet engaged or committed to the predicted changes that have appeared upon the horizon. Promote the influx of ideas from outside. Bring in representatives of organizations that have tried to do what you have in mind. Ask them to present best practices as well as worst practices they discovered on their adventure. Beg them to “witness” to the benefits they discovered in terms of profitability, turnaround time, and customer service. Passion about results is infectious. Create the epidemic of passion for transformative experiences. Finally Kouzes and Posner suggest three actions of the leader who is challenging the process: 1) Treat every job as an adventure, 2) Always question the status quo, and 3) Send everyone shopping for new ideas. In summary, once the above actions have begun to take place, bring together your teams and propose that at least 25% of the status meeting must be spent upon improving the processes and information technologies that will result in the development of new products, customers, and services. That approach has the intrinsic possibility of instilling the passion you need to build momentum to success. Next week we will review the second principle of this practice: Challenge the Process: Experiment and Take Risks. Your feedback would be humbly appreciated.

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