Opportunities Taken

Opportunities are those moments when you are presented with a choice, subtle or not, and you can 1) choose to take the opportunity, 2) choose to not take the opportunity, or 3) not choose and lose the opportunity.

In Andrea Shapiro’s Tipping Point model, contact with advocates (e.g., the number and quality of times when someone who believes in the change interacts with someone who is neutral or doesn’t) influences successful organizational change.  You measure contact with advocates as opportunities taken for contact compared to opportunities available.  When organizations recognize (or create) opportunities to connect people with advocates the change happens faster and is more successful.

Since attending Ms. Shapiro’s course in 2005 I have actively looked for opportunities to create the changes I wanted in my professional and personal life. Seeing and taking those opportunities has made all the difference for me.

I’ve noticed three groups of opportunity takers: 1) those that naturally see and take opportunities, 2) those that have practiced at finding and taking opportunities and 3) those that don’t see opportunities for themselves.

I challenge you to take the opportunity to put yourself into one of the groups and consider taking the action I recommend for each group.

If you take the action and it doesn’t do anything for you, feel free to stop back and comment on the flaws in my advice. Or, you can stop back and tell me the story of how great it worked.  Either way  I love the discussion.

The challenge begins now.  Will you choose to act?

1.  If you naturally see opportunities all around you, consider creating opportunities for others around you.  You’ve got a gift that the world can benefit from.  Try finding one opportunity for someone by the end of next week.  Offer them a chance to do something they may never have considered.  What did they say when you offered them the opportunity?  [Note: This is advice targeted at adults dealing with adults.  Children require a different method of seeing, offering and accepting opportunities.]

2. If you have practiced both finding and taking opportunities, choose to tell your story of what creating and taking opportunities has done for you.  Those who hear your story will benefit from your example.  Try telling one person you story by the end of next week.  What did they say once you told them?

3.  If you struggle to see opportunities, find someone who can see them for you.  Look for a person you find yourself saying “Why do they always get the breaks?” about.  Chances are they don’t; they just take the opportunities when they see them.  By the end of next week, ask that person if they’d be willing to share with you, when they find them, opportunities that you could take to get you closer to one or several of your goals.    Were you surprised by the opportunities they found for you?

You can, if you choose, find and take opportunities and change the outcome of your life.

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Involving Employees in a Change Initiative

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” — John Wooden

A colleague recounted an experience implementing a company-wide quality initiative in a multi-national manufacturing firm. The initiative required employees to make significant changes not only in how they did their jobs, but also in their attitudes toward their responsibilities and the outcome of their work. My colleague was outlining to a senior executive the importance of affecting employees’ mindsets, and his plan for doing so. The executive cut him off, saying, “I’ll write them a memo to change their attitudes. Now, where is the project plan?”

We can hope that few managers would admit to such a simplistic belief in the power of a memo, despite how easy that would make change management. If there were a magic wand or a magic memo that could transform people’s attitudes, then the success rate of implementing new ways of working would be greater than the 15-50% reported by researchers.* Getting people to use a new technology or process—not as an overlay to their “real” work, but as an improvement to it—is no trivial task.

When the failure rate for organizational change is more than 50%, apathy is the sensible, rational attitude for an employee who has just learned about a new initiative. If he or she ignores the change, there is a greater than 50/50 chance that it will go away. Strong change management has to correct this reality by recognizing that the best advocates for the merits of a new technology or process are employees with expertise in the area affected, who have experience with the change and appreciation for it. There is no substitute for their know-how and enthusiasm. Find those early adopters, and involve them in implementing the change. Give them opportunities to share their experience and reward their successes.

But even the best advocates cannot  take the place of leadership. No degree of enthusiasm can outweigh the apathy of an employee who lacks the tools to make the change initiative work or has only a vague notion of the business case for it. Employee apathy is increased by leaders who give lip service to the change, but whose attention and budget are elsewhere. Change is successful when everyone has a vision of the end state, the plan to get there includes the needed infrastructure, and results are rewarded along the way. Aligning the management team, the infrastructure, and the reward system with the vision is an ongoing process that is not for the faint-hearted. Perhaps there is some utopia where this sort of active leadership could be done with a simple memo, but I probably don’t need to tell you what happened with my colleague’s quality initiative.

[The ideas presented here are from my book Creating Contagious Commitment (ISBN 978-0-9741028-1-8, www.CreatingContagiousCommitment.com). *See Creating Contagious Commitment for more on success rates of change.]

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Welcome Andrea!

On Wednesday I’m off for my first vacation in a very, very long time.

For all my Input strength readers (and all the rest), I couldn’t leave you without any delicious new content to devour, so I’ve made arrangements.

I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Andrea Shapiro, author of Creating Contagious Commitment, as the first Engine For Change guest blogger.  Look for Andrea’s first post on Thursday morning.

And though I’ll be gone all weekend, I’ve mastered the delayed publishing feature enough to ensure you still get your Quote of the Week late on Sunday.

Have a great week and keep driving change!

All my best – April

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Book Review: Creating Contagious Commitment

Today I’m excited to post my review of Andrea Shapiro’s second edition of Creating Contagious Commitment.

In 2005 I started my journey through organizational change, with the first edition of Andrea Shapiro’s Creating Contagious Commitment: Applying the Tipping Point to Organizational Change as my implementer’s guide to successful change.  Since 2005 I’ve learned a lot of lessons of what works–and what doesn’t–when driving change.  I’m excited to say the second edition of Creating Contagious Commitment captures and amplifies many of those lessons.

Believe Andrea when she says she wants to help you successfully implement your organization change initiatives.  In my experience, Andrea lives up to her claim that her framework is “general enough to be applied to many initiatives and many organizations and specific enough for action planning.”

The book’s structure with logical chapters, clarifying diagrams and detailed chapter summaries makes it an accessible daily resource while you’re implementing change.  If you start to feel your change’s momentum slowing, turn to Creating Contagious Commitment to find successful change truths  (e.g., pay attention to the people side of change),  organizational system change responses and  explanations of the people of and levers for change. 

Whether you’re an experienced change agent or a novice, you’ll achieve more success with Andrea Shapiro’s Creating Contagious Commitment by your side. 

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Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Seth Godin says, It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative.

Compliance is simple to measure, simple to test for and simple to teach. Punish non-compliance, reward obedience and repeat.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.

To top it off, until recently the customers of a school or training program (the companies that hire workers) were buying compliance by the bushel. Initiative was a red flag, not an asset.

Of course, now that’s all changed. The economy has rewritten the rules, and smart organizations seek out intelligent problem solvers. Everything is different now. Except the part about how much easier it is to teach compliance.

How right he is.  Compliance training is all around us.  Driving change is not about teaching compliance.  But, how can you do the opposite and teach initiative?

I struggle with whether you can teach initiative because we’ve reduced the term teaching to only mean one person forcibly giving something to another, often unwilling person for them to accept and use as directed, or else.  Snore!

In practice, the act of giving someone initiative proves foolish.  I can’t give you something that is already inside you.  And, I can’t make you use your initiative if you refuse.  Ever try to get a teenager to do something they are capable of but patently refuse to do?  You’ve seen the struggles of forcing initiative in others.

But, I can show you how to use your own initiative by using mine.

I’d call that demonstrating initiative and everyone can demonstrate initiative.  How?

Though not limited to the formal classroom, my favorite demonstrations of initiative are classes where the teacher doesn’t give you something, but instead entices you to choose to do something; do something more because you can.

If you asked me for two examples of a course like that, I’d give you Edward Tufte’s one day course or Andrea Shapiro’s Tipping Point Workshop.

Professor Tufte and Dr. Shapiro don’t tell you, “When you leave here you must…” but instead leave you with, “Now what will you do with what you’ve seen?” And they’ve given you powerful images of what you could do, if you choose to engage your own initiative.

Embracing, then acting on, “Now what will you do with what you’ve seen?” is what you must do when driving change, when you’re demonstrating initiative.

Are you demonstrating initiative to those around you?

Are you choosing to do something with what you’ve seen?

Why not?

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