An acquisition, a change in leadership, a turn in the market, a new business agenda; these are the sorts of triggers that unite leaders and managers in a shared understanding that something must change. Cue a strategic board meeting and ‘What’needs to change is quickly established, but what next?
“Well, let’s roll that change out straight away, cross our fingers and hope for the best.”
Perhaps, we’re being a bit tongue in cheek, we know the gravity of such situations, but there is more than a little truth in our jest. All too often we see leaders and managers adeptly identify ‘What’ they want to do but overlook ‘How’ they can achieve it. Being able to articulate an idea or a strategy is fantastic but if organisations really want to embrace change they need to equip people with the skills to bring that about.
So, what’s so important about the ‘How’?
Let’s take a closer look. We worked with a new CEO of a company who identified a clear need to utilise KPI’s to improve performance. The urgency for change led to the swift introduction of KPI’s across the organisation. In this highly operational business, many people hadn’t utilised KPI’s before. Yet almost overnight, people found themselves flailing to manage against performance indicators they had little understanding of. The CEO was left scratching his head about why such a good solution had been so difficult to implement.
So, ‘What’happened? Essentially, the CEO had rushed to overlay KPI’s onto the existing business and had underestimated the importance of ‘How’ to do that. This presented a significant challenge for managers who didn’t have the opportunity to develop the know-how to engage differently with their teams, yet still felt under pressure to deliver against the new performance measures.
We worked with the CEO to understand what needed to happen to successfully make this change. The CEO quickly came to realise that he had to do more than simply implement new measures. He now needed to focus on ‘How’ to enable his people to perform differently by helping them to develop a new mindset that equipped them with the skills and capabilities needed to thrive in a new environment. They got there in the end, but bringing in the ‘What’ without any of the accompanying ‘How’, was much more painful than it needed to be.
The ‘How’ becomes important when we start thinking about outcomes. Making changes and simply expecting people to adopt them is unlikely to turn out well. A change in behaviour is needed to invite new behaviours in others.
Once outcomes are identified it becomes possible to distinguish the gaps between where you are now and where you need to be. It begs the question, ‘What would people have to be doing to achieve that outcome?’. This enquiry helps us to understand the obstacles, identify useful skills and take steps to acquire any skills still needed. Once we understand what people can do differently then we can start to identify some of the ‘How’.
The ‘How’ might constitute the style in which people engage with others, how they’re encouraged to build new skills or to ask different questions that enable managers to engage their teams in a different pursuit.
By developing a comprehensive understanding of how leaders and managers are engaging the resources and potential in their teams, it’s possible to start understanding what needs to be different to create an environment that will support change.
This isn’t an unusual scenario. We see this chain of events all too frequently. For example, a retail bank had rewarded their staff for many years based on how successfully their managers introduced products to customers. But customer behaviour was changing and it became clear that this approach wasn’t what the customer wanted. Quickly appreciating ‘What’ needed to change, the leadership team, seemingly overnight, communicated to staff that they would now be measured on how well they engaged with their customers.
Unsurprisingly, without any explanation about what engagement looked like and with no training, people were thrown in to a spin. They knew ‘What’ was required but not the ‘How’. People needed to be shown a new mental model and be supported to develop the skills and capabilities to tune in more closely to their customers.
The solution was for the bank to renew its focus on the ‘How’ and identify the changes needed to enable people with the emotional intelligence and relationship building skills required to deliver on the ‘What’.
Typically, when you invite people to change their behaviour, whatever the new organisational agenda, the ‘How’ is critical to successful change. Whether it’s a new organisation structure, a strategic re-alignment, or a take over; with anything other than an iterative change, there will always be a need to develop the ‘How’.
Notion’s Managing Director, Dominic Ashley-Timms explains, “people come to work to do the job they know. There is an element of habitual behaviour that is ingrained by familiarity, expectation and past precedent. If the parameter of their jobs change and they are not engaged in ‘How’ to change, it will be extremely difficult to break those habitual patterns. This can cause unnecessary discomfort and confusion, and a slower pace of learning. These unwelcome symptoms can be minimised and often eradicated if people are enabled with more of the ‘How’.
How do you know that you need to develop the How?
When people are finding it difficult to adapt, or a change feels more difficult than it needs to be, then it’s very probable that there hasn’t been enough focus on the ‘How’. Let’s remember, organisations are simply a collection of people working inside a system, so most change is going to involve people at some level. To achieve a new outcome, it’s important to encourage people to contribute in a different way, to enable them, educate them and give them the skills they need to step to a new beat.
Organisations that find they are facing new commercial environments, increased competition, emerging new products will also find that they need to change and engage differently. In order to capture market opportunities, they will need to be more innovative and rapid in the implementation of change. Nimbleness of this nature will mean that people will have to learn how to embrace change more swiftly and contribute at a higher level.
The change may not always arise from an external pressure. The change may come from within an organisation too. A new leader, leadership team or a change in the ownership of the business is also likely to drive a step change for that organisation. A new leader or owner may advocate a much different commercial orientation.
For example, shorter term goals, a focus on cost savings, and sales growth will feel very different to people who are used to working on longer term objectives. How to communicate effectively, how to clarify expectations and how to enable people to adapt to a new commercial reality will be pivotal to help people more quickly adopt a new strategy which will result in a reduced ‘mean time to contribution’.
How do you develop the How?
Well, there needs to be some methodology or intervention that enables people to build skills, capabilities, and ask different and better questions in a way that will engage people more effectively.
Our experience is that most senior management teams can come up with the ‘What’ but then the conversation seems to dry up. At this juncture, there is no-one in the room saying, ‘how do our people have to change to deliver that?’ We ask that fundamental question and help leadership teams think it through to give them a better chance at developing a robust solution.
We believe that taking an ‘enquiry-led’ approach will enable people to start asking powerful questions that releases the creativity, innovation and knowledge that already exists within the organisation. It will also reveal what else is needed. A good ‘How’ question to start with is, ‘how do the questions we need to ask today need to change?’. This will start an exploration about internal processes, customer value, communication, skills, capabilities and much more.
The wider organisation needs to be engaged too. Enabling the next tier of management to step up their game is critical for a sustainable change to occur. How managers can improve their own commercial contribution and the contribution of their teams is a large part of the ‘How’. This won’t happen overnight. By giving managers the ‘enquiry-led’ skills to ask different and better questions, they will be able to more effectively translate the messages from the senior team into the operational and commercial reality at the grass roots.
And, it’s in this dialogue that the ‘How’ comes to the forefront and gives the organisation a higher chance of bringing people along with the change with less pain and increased engagement.
For more information about How to Develop the How, call us on 01926 889885 or visit our website www.BusinessCoaching.co.uk.