On a cold Canadian night in November of 1995, I sat in a living room filled with key businessmen whose support would be essential if I was to be successful in Ontario fielding their questions about my ability to do the job. After the obligatory niceties were exchanged, and the obvious questions were answered (Why do you want this job? How does your family feel about moving to Canada? Etc.) one man who hadn’t muttered a word to this point, and had sat crossed like a Philly pretzel finally said, “Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself into?”
Every eye was focused on my answer to this question. It seemed to be the question they were all thinking, but hadn’t wanted to ask. They wanted to know, “Could this American make the cultural adjustment and do the job in Canada?”
Summoning all the self- confidence I could muster I said, “Yes, I think I do.” Of course, nothing was further from the truth. In fact, I had no idea what moving to another country and a different culture was going to be like. But that didn’t matter because what he was really asking was “Are you equipped for the challenges that will come when you move here?” “Do you have the ability to adjust and perform in this cultural context?” He was saying, “This won’t be easy. Are you ready for that?”
The essential question when you take on the task of leading change is: “Are you equipped to handle the challenges that the new situation will bring?” No one can predict all the challenges that a new leadership assignment will face, and it is folly to assume you can know all of the things that will occur as you change the organization. The question is, “Are you equipped to lead the change?”
There are three stages to a change and every leader must lead his team through these stages. They are 1) Clean up the mess, 2) Lay a foundation, and 3) Build on that foundation. In the last newsletter we talked about cleaning up the mess. This month we’ll address laying a foundation for growth.
In the first stage (clean up the mess) you must deal with the obvious problems that can be changed immediately – the systemic problems. In the second phase there are three key issues that must be dealt with to address endemic change. They are 1) Identify Core Values, 2) Set the Vision, and 3) Form a Strategy. The question for leaders of change is: “Are you equipped to address those key issues and take your organization through the second stage?”
I. Core Values: There is a lot of talk today about Core Values, and most organizations have a set of Core Values that they profess to adhere to. Your job is to look at those Core Values and determine if a) those are the right Core Values, b) if in fact they are the right Core Values, then is the organization really living congruently with those Core Values, and c) how will you solidify those Core Values among all facets of the organization.
For example, if your organization has Customer Service as a Core Value, and if it is the right Core Value, are your customers experiencing high levels of service, and how does every person in the organization connect to Customer Service?
II. Set the Vision: It may seem that the vision setting should come in the initial phase of a turnaround, but in reality you don’t know enough when you move into the change leadership position to really set a good vision. When you first take on the job you don’t know what you don’t know. When I moved to Ontario I didn’t know my way into Toronto, didn’t know that Ottawa was the capital of the country (and only has about five weeks when it is worth visiting) or if we should be in Kitchener or London or neither. After I was in Canada about eight months I began to look at the map of Ontario and think about what would be the right vision (yes, we should be in Kitchener). It takes time to come up the learning curve of a new culture and until you have invested the time you can’t set the vision.
As any of you who have been through the Vision For Your Life process know, Vision is about what you see. The vision for the organization is about your pictures. What pictures do you see when you think about the organization once the change has been accomplished? This is the picture you will paint for all the members of the organization and this picture is the vision that will guide your future decisions. The key is to base the picture on the Core Values.
If the Core Value is Customer Service then the Vision must be a picture of serving customers. In order to clarify your picture you must ask questions like: How many customers are in the picture? Where is the picture? What products are in the picture? Who is in the picture (both customers and employees)? The answers to those questions must fit into your vision/picture.
III. Strategy: Once you have established your Core Values and Vision it is time to set a strategy. The strategy is simply the specific steps that will be required to make your picture a reality. Again the right questions are everything: How much money will it take? Who are the key people to make it happen? What plans will be necessary? What has to change? What is your “winning move?”
Once you have worked through these three issues, you have laid the foundation for growth and you are ready for stage three: Building on the Foundation.