Change, Priorities, and Possibility Walk Into a Bar…

close up of water splashing in drinking glass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But in this scenario there is no punch line, there is just a punch to the gut. You see, for the last year and a half I have worked for an unbelievable leader, done meaningful work, and been part of a supportive and flexible team. Then last week it was announced we are merging with one of our competitors and our headquarters is moving to Texas. The good news is I have been in this scenario/bar before – the bad news is I hadn’t planned on returning, and definitely not so soon. So as I look to the new year, I will be raising my glass to change, priorities, and possibilities and making the most of this cocktail.

Managing Change.  You can’t actually manage change- you can only manage how you show up in it. I had the opportunity in my last acquisition to create a leadership blog and training series on Leading Through Transition. I am grateful I can dust that off and share it with Abra leaders.  I am excited to be part of our integration team and to learn some new skills through this merger. I am appreciative that I have time to figure out what’s next for me. I don’t believe things happen for a reason but I do believe you can be the reason opportunities happen when the unexpected comes your way.

Prioritize Priorities. I had already been toying with making “Important” my word for 2019. What is really important to me? Is that where I am spending my time? Did I treat each day and each person with importance? I love the 7F Wheel by Paul Batz and the Good Leadership team, and rely on my family, friends, and fitness to make my wheel- and life- roll. This change may cause a bump to my finances and my future, but if I have faith, have fun, and have my family, friends, and fitness I know I will be ok. As Stephen Covey wisely said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Invite Possibility.  It has only been 7 days since the merger was announced. There are many possible possibilities ahead. As a planner – and let’s face it, control freak- I like to know the options so I can start building around them. I rationally know the short term will be ambiguous, so am choosing to focus on the long term. What do I want to do 5 to 10 years from now? What can I be doing today to start that journey? Who can I connect to and learn from?  The new year is always a good time to invite possibility and to imagine what else can be ahead.

My husband and I love wine and love touring vineyards. I really like this quote by wine maker Allen Sichel: “Wine is a living thing. It is made, not only of grapes and yeasts, but of skill and patience. When drinking it, remember that to the making of that wine has gone, not only the labor and care of years, but the experience of centuries.” Magic happens when you can combine skill, patience, and care. So here is a toast to change and to resetting priorities and reimagining possibilities in the new year.

 

Excellent Integrations Start with EI

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Most of us have had the experience of working on some kind of integration – a system integration, a process integration, or a business integration. Usually we are focused on our intelligence pieces – our project plans, our schedule, and our time/cost savings. As a result, we often miss the emotional piece at the heart of this endeavor – the questions, concerns, and experiences of the team receiving our “intelligence.”  A recent Price Waterhouse survey found that gaining people’s confidence and commitment during acquisitions are the biggest challenge to successful integration. Yet only 45% of respondents said they were “completely committed” to integrating staff during the acquisition process. Improving our self awareness, managing emotions, and having empathy are the missing pieces to most integrations- and are needed to complete a project successfully.

Improving Self Awareness. In the Harvard Business Journal article, What Self Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), self awareness is like a two way mirror: it’s what you see and reflect internally and externally. Self awareness, not surprisingly, starts with self. It is understanding our values, motives, and behaviors, and how they impact others. It also means understanding how others view us.  Before charging in with your “intelligence,” stop and do some self reflection. Add the following to your project plan: How can my strengths help the team during integration? How could my development area impact the team? How am I viewed? How might that impact the project? Taking time to ask – and honestly answer- these question can have a huge impact to your integration.

Managing Emotions. Quick word association: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Bobby Knight? Guessing chair thrower, yeller, maybe basketball came to mind. Winningest coach of all time (at the time of his retirement -902 NCAA Division I games) sadly is not usually our first association with Coach Knight. We all have emotions, and they are important to acknowledge. Managing emotions isn’t stuffing our emotions. It is creating a space between stimulus and response. We want Bobby Knight to be passionate. We just want him to keep four on the floor. We all have things that trigger us- that elicit a deep emotional reaction in us. The trick is not immediately responding to that stimulus. During an integration there may be a sense that the new team is resistant. That you are behind schedule. That the process/system changed, but you don’t see the expected improvement. Instead of charging forward, pause and practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness allows you to recognize what you are feeling – mad, frustrated, upset – which creates the space for you to take a deep breath and reset your approach. Add the following to your project plan: What emotions might I experience during this integration? How would I like to handle them? What will it take for me to do that? Creating awareness of your triggers before the heat of the moment can keep the integration from going up in flames.

Having empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. So try it. If you were on the other side of the integration, what would you be thinking, feeling, and/or worried about? What might help you move forward? The word might is important — empathy is not based on the golden rule but rather the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated.  How will you know what they want? Ask and listen. Ask the team what is important to team. What is on their mind? How can you be most helpful? You don’t need to agree with what the other person says — this is not about you, it’s about understanding them. Next listen to their verbal and non-verbal cues during the project and adjust your approach. Add the following to your project plan: How can I find out what this team wants and needs? Add a listening session to the project up front, and check-ins along the way, to be sure you continue to look at progress through their eyes, not just your checklist.

Integrations tend to be a GSD exercise. Successful integrations shift their perspective from Getting Shit Done to Solving Goals Together. Adding emotional intelligence to your integration puzzle will improve both your project and people results- and keep those pieces together.

Leading Through Change- Put Your Own Oxygen Mask First

“Self care is not selfish. You can’t serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brownn.

Embedded in every change initiative is the intent to breathe new life into the organization―to revitalize ways of thinking, behaving and working. But as leaders we often find ourselves in the crosswinds of multiple changes, caught between a team choking on the pace of change and wheezing on our own change fatigue. To successfully lead through change the first step is to take care of ourselves. I know, you’re thinking that’s funny – I am subsisting on coffee and my kid’s fruit snacks right now. But it’s not funny- it’s actually very serious. According to the July 12, 2016 Harvard Gazette, data show that 36 percent of workers suffer from work-related stress that costs U.S. businesses $30 billion a year in lost workdays. That does not include all the employees filled with stress and anxiety who are still at work but not fully productive. So what can you do?  I suggest taking a page from the airlines. On every flight we are reminded that in case of emergency we should put on our own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. Change is bumpy. We can’t navigate it safely if we are passed out. This Leading Through Change Self Assessment can serve as your oxygen mask. Take the assessment. Then commit to LEAD through change:

Look/Listen. Reflect on your results. What are they telling you?  How is that impacting your effectiveness at work? At home?

Engage.  Share the results with someone that can help support you in making changes in your current routines.

Act. What one thing will you do differently so you can lead your team through this change?  What does that look like? What is your next step? What is your timeline?

Dedicate Yourself. Then go do it and stick with it. Encourage your team to take this assessment and share their goals and results.

It’s a lot easier to talk about transformation than to actually do it – whether it is for ourselves or for our business. The good news is if we look at what we have learned, make course corrections, and focus on continuous learning, we will have the fuel needed to make positive change over the long haul.