The Moment of Truth

The Moment of Truth

The opportunity

This is not an article written with the intention to judge what is good or bad, right or wrong. I am writing this to challenge us all on how we and the people around us, even our team and organization, are responding to the current situation. I think now is the time to move away from practical advice and take this to a deeper level of individual reflection and collective consciousness. Because we either all get out from this together and united, or many people and businesses will go under, creating a huge impact that will probably take years to recover from. 

Many of the leaders I work with think that the time to “work on” culture, and how to better live according to our declared values, is “when we have time for it”. Let me tell you, loudly and clearly: there is no better time to move your culture towards your declared values, than a challenging situation or crisis! People are watching you now more than ever at a deep subconscious level. Culture is not only what you say at corporate events and in official emails, but what you do, and above all what you do in difficult circumstances. Culture is built through the messages you send every day to show people what you really value.

This is the moment of truth

Yes, this is the time. Not when things are going as expected. How you respond will show your values and culture in action. This is the moment to take action and be aligned with the best version of yourself, your team and your organization. This is the time to raise your hand and bring consciousness and positive actions to any ecosystem you belong.

In the past few days, I’ve seen many ways in which people, organizations and governments are responding to the Covid-19 situation. I’ve seen great examples of responses; where organizations and governments are trying to create solutions for the people they are responsible for. From public funds being provided to support the most impacted people, to companies creating new policies to deal with never before seen challenges for their customers, and there have also been many individual demonstrations of support. This is great! 

On the other hand, I’ve also seen many others becoming, from my point of view, more “self-protecting”. They are only focusing on the impact on them. Even if we believe we are doing great, we run the risk of becoming unconscious of the bigger picture. Sometimes we become disconnected from what we have stated and shared; we start functioning more and more on autopilot. I see people in organizations doing things because “I was told to” without challenging whether those requests are aligned or not with who we want to be and our declared values. 

In the last decade or so, organizations have been talking more and more about being conscious of their impact on the environment (which is not just being “greener”!). They have been talking about the need for true “partnerships” and stakeholder integration (taking care of all their value chain, not just shareholders). Organizations have been sharing in the media, and with their employees, values like “empathy”, “responsibility”, “innovation”. The news has been full of statements from CEOs with one or more of these words. Will they leverage this crisis to show how they really do this? Will they be able to look at the bigger picture beyond themselves?

We, as individuals, have been sharing with friends and colleagues what our values are. We all declare things like empathy, respect, freedom of choice, love, among others. If you think of yours something similar, virtuous and positive will come up for sure.

So, the question now is, how are we acting in accordance to these values in the current situation? And let me share once more, the intention of this article is to challenge us to pause and reflect on where we are not living in alignment, and how this could be contributing to possible future problems. This is an invitation to us all to learn new ways in which we can show up as our “best version”, as individuals, through the team we belong to or lead, and through the organization we work at. Will each of us be able to look at the bigger picture beyond ourselves?

Creating alignment

I hope that if you are still reading, you may already have some ideas on how to challenge yourselves to do this. In case it helps, I want to share some of the things that come to my mind as critical actions to take that can help all of us grow as a community.

1. Accept

It might help to start with acknowledging, observing ourselves, becoming aware of any emotions this situation may trigger in us. Fear? Victimization? Opportunity? Only by accepting what is happening, and how we feel about it, can we find a way forward. And if we all do it from a place of gratitude for what we have, if we can focus on how we can respond to make this the best possible situation and what we can learn, I can assure you it will be much easier.

2. Go back to our desired culture and value statements

Take some time with yourself to write down what your values are. How you would like to be seen and recognized by others. This reminds each of us who we are as our “best self”.

If you lead a team (or as a member of it), it’s the time to do the same exercise with your people. Think what are our values as a team and as an organization, and what we should stand for. This is the time to show the way and change the culture for the good.

Create a time to discuss and align on concrete actions to start doing as a team, and what should be stopped.

3. Speak up

Can you help step-up the conversation by raising the difficult topics and inconsistencies? In the last few years, many people and organizations have put “courage” at the core of their behavioral needs, to be more innovative, to test and learn new ways of doing things. This is the best time to practice! What if everyone practiced having the courage to challenge the status quo?

How can we create the time, space and the psychological safety for people to speak up and share the things we might not be seeing that we can do better? What if we all use this situation to practice at each family dinner, in each team meeting, in each small online chat; what we can do differently?

This is a great opportunity to make “courage” and “innovation” part of our culture, and not to wait for the “good times” to do so. That could be too late.

4. Solidarity!

Even if it’s not written as one of your declared values, this is the only way out: Solidarity! Angela Merkel shared this word last week and it got me thinking. Most governments where trying to avoid shutting down activities because of the enormous impact on the economy in general, and mainly on the small and medium businesses where the majority of people work.  But now, with the actions that have been decided for public health reasons, there is no way to avoid the huge impact this will have. The big question now is whether small and medium businesses can be resilient and stay afloat, with the impact of this outcome affecting millions of workers and all the value chains associated.

If you have tickets for a concert (as I do, for at least 2 in the next 2 months) and you ask the organizers to reimburse you instead of waiting and allowing them to reschedule for a later date, you might be contributing to a financial crisis that will impact people around the globe. Yes, every action generates a domino effect in a global economy. And this is the time for us to think beyond ourselves. We will find a way forward, together, and those who do not honor our trust will be impacted in the future. The most important monetary exchange we have is not money, but trust.

In my years working at NGOs, I learned that solidarity is not giving away what we don’t need anymore, but sharing what we have, whatever that is. Solidarity in difficult times is the main asset we have to gain trust and support.

Don’t we have a moral and ethical responsibility in difficult times to use our strength and power to support those in our community who are most vulnerable? What would we do at home for our family in a natural disaster situation? We would take care of the kids and the elderly first, those who need it most. We are in one of those situations now.

So, will you ask for your money back from the theatre? How will you support your employees? And people who might have had temporary work with you for a peak season that will now not happen? Will you ask that little hotel you were going to stay at on vacation or where you were going to hold an event for a full refund, or there is any way in which you can keep the reservation for a later date? There are hotels that have an outlook of only 5% occupation for weeks or even months, artists who will not perform in a theater for a while, and these are just a few examples of something that is reality in many different industries and will affect all their value chain. So, what can we do to be part of the solution?

I don’t have the answers and I don’t know what is possible for each of us and each business. What I do know is that we either take care of each other or we are contributing to the economy collapsing.

One great outcome of starting to think and act this way is that we become more connected. Yes, we are still only one phone call away, and sometimes just reaching out and asking “How are you dealing with all this?”, “Can I help you in any way?” and really engaging in these conversations and taking some small but still significant actions, is a way to share that you really matter to me. You. Your loved ones. Your business. Our togetherness.  

This is a great opportunity, in times in which we could find excuses to be more isolated and disengaged from each other, to connect with our humanity and the best versions of ourselves.

Are you up for the challenge? This is the moment of truth.

This article originally appeared in LinkedIn.  

Disruption, Are You Ready for It?

Disruption, Are You Ready for It?

Disruption here, disruption there, disruption everywhere…It’s the new buzzword, but what does it really mean?

I define disruption as the speed in which change happens, the acceleration it takes, and how fast it impacts other parts of the system. “The butterfly effect at the speed of light” — it alters the way you live, the way you engage with others, and the way you do business.

Disruption can be a threat to your business if you are the “disrupted” (think about Uber toppling the taxi and transportation industry), or it can be an advantage if you are the “disruptor” (at least, for some time). There have been many articles written about disruption, but I have found very few that talk about how to respond to it (especially if others depend on you as a leader).

Let’s refer to  the iceberg model from one of my previous articles 

We believe the key to be able to respond to disruption is to look at our consciousness at the “being” level — gaining awareness of how we respond, when we are triggered or reactive, and how to recover faster when we are being triggered; identifying the triggers and consciously choosing how we will respond when new situations emerge. We will be tempted to think we know the answer, but we might be facing a problem we had not encountered before.

We need to be resilient (defined as the ability to recover faster and faster) at the “being” level in order to face and respond to disruption, as our egos will be challenged and at risk. How can you build a culture of resilience in your organization where egos or attachment are not getting in the way? Prepare your leaders and employees to face any situation they might encounter.

We will discuss three different “viruses” we see in organizations that work against building this resilience and the ability to respond:

  • Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the status quo. We call this the “knower” or “fixed” mindset.
  • Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond and the speed with which we act. We call this the “victim” mindset.
  • The dangers of multitasking and not valuing the power of focus on a single task at a time. We call this the “multitasker.”

Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the “status quo”

“I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

— Remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of International Business Machines (IBM), 1943

“We don’t like their sound. Group guitars are on their way out.”

— Decca Records on rejecting the Beatles

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

— Harry Warner, Warner Bros. 1927

What did you think when you read those statements? We can’t imagine our lives without computers. The Beatles became one of the biggest music success stories. And can you imagine movies without actors talking?

All of these examples disrupted their industries in a big way. Thankfully, there were others who believed in computers and The Beatles.

These statements all lack curiosity, which can be very dangerous. What if The Beatles had given up after speaking with Decca records?

Have you ever been in a meeting listening to the presenter and think to yourself “Wow, that will never work. What a stupid idea.”?

A good example of this is the Blockbuster story. Remember them? (Because many children today don’t!) Netflix met with Blockbuster executives to propose a partnership, but Blockbuster laughed at the idea and didn’t agree. The rest is history.

Imagine how things would have been different if they had moved away from their “fixed” mindset and had been open to the partnership.

It is very easy to shut down others because we have a belief. That’s why the “knower” is a very dangerous mindset to be in. We believe our own opinion is the truth. We have been telling ourselves stories all our lives, but the danger comes when we start to believe our stories and are no longer open for other ideas to emerge.

Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond, and the speed with which we act

“Mommy, the toy broke.”

“The milk spilled.”

“He started it.”

For those who have children, you are probably very familiar with these statements or can think back to your own childhood. Now read the statements again. How do you think the toy broke? Who spilled the milk? Who started it? These are exactly the same as:

“The project got delayed.”

“The previous meeting ran late.”

“Accounting didn’t get me the report.”

On a bigger scale, this turns into a blame game, where the focus is on who created the problem. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of the different parties not wanting to take responsibility for what happened. And that became a PR disaster.

Blaming external circumstances for something that occurred without you being part of it or having any ownership in it might be a good short-term strategy to keep your ego safe, but it will not help your business at all in the long term.

While you are all discussing whom to blame, someone is looking for the solution you need, and they will probably beat you to it.

This level of complacency can put your organization at a disadvantage.

The dangers of multitasking

In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers use their cellphone while driving

These numbers are very big and very concerning. We all know it, and yet we still do it. How can that be?

In organizations, multitasking has become the norm and is no longer an exception. It’s often even valued as an asset. Do you recall your last meeting? How many people were listening and at the same time looking at their phones? Have you dialed in for a conference call and at the same time responding to emails?

I am afraid I have to burst your bubble. Multitasking might be very good for some things, but you can’t apply it to everything. Effective multitasking is a myth and also very counterproductive.

Take driving for example. At any given time, we need to focus on the road ahead, look in the rearview or side mirrors, control our speed, apply the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal, and maybe even look at the GPS for direction. We may have mastered this art, but adding talking on the phone, texting or having an argument with another passenger in the car is where you push the limit and it becomes counterproductive.

When does your multitasking go too far?

But what next?

My invitation to you is to reflect on these three viruses:

  • Do you observe yourself displaying any of these behaviors? What about people around you?
  • Can you think of any situation in which displaying these behaviors impacted people negatively or hurt the business?

In the next article, we will unpack the antidotes to each of these viruses.

Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

Now that we have busted the belief that you need everyone on board in order to start a culture transformation process, we will add an additional layer to that belief — the belief or myth that you need to start such a process at the top, with the most senior leaders, the CEO or the Executive Committee.

But do you really need them to start?

Of course, it is an ideal scenario to have the top leadership of your organization leading the culture transformation efforts — the leaders who are role-modeling the behaviors of the desired culture and are fully engaged in the process. In our experience helping global companies with culture transformation, this only happen in about half of the cases.

Remember the story in the previous article about the large manufacturing organization and how we engaged with a single team at the time. Other teams took notice and engaged with the HR team to set the teams up with their own leadership development programs, and slowly the culture change in the organization began to grow more and more obvious. After four years of working with different teams, business units and leaders, the CEO started to take notice. The overall performance of the organization kept improving, and he realized the new organizational culture was the driver for this. The organization’s board, including the CEO, is now embarking on their own leadership development journey to take the culture transformation to another level. This program will cascade to other leaders in the organization who have not yet participated. The HR team never lost sight of their ultimate desire to change the culture, but they focused their energy on those willing to engage, eventually impacting the 56,000+ employees.

Instead of focusing on who is not on board (e.g., your CEO), how can you focus on who is? Just like the innovators and early adopters, can you find a leader or a team that has the energy, engagement and appetite to start something new? The more you focus on who is on board instead of focusing on who is not, the more likely you will see those who are, and there are more than you had imaged. You just didn’t see them.

Just think about when you had set the intention of buying a new car, for example. All of a sudden, you are much more conscious about the cars around you — the colors, the ones you want, the ones you don’t like, the model, the make. You see those same cars every day on your commute, but when you actually put your focus on them, you are more aware or conscious of them.

This kind of thinking will allow you to become, what we like to call, a secret agent. Your bigger goal is to engage the organization in a culture transformation process. But not having the top leadership on board might make this seem like an impossible mission. Even if for now you start with one leader, a single team or a business unit, you never lose sight of this ultimate goal.

Here are some questions to reflect on:

  • Where do you focus your attention? Is your attention helping or preventing you from achieving your goals?
  • What is already happening in your organization that is not being highlighted?
  • What stories are critical and not being told?

Culture Change: Make it Simpler. Make it Happen.

Culture Change: Make it Simpler. Make it Happen.

Let’s start by talking about culture and what it means.

Every day, we breathe in order to survive. The air goes in and out of our lungs. We know the air is there, but we never think about it. The air allows us to do everything we do; and at the same time, we don’t even notice it. That’s the same with culture. Culture enables an organization to function. But as the air we breathe, it becomes invisible, and we forget how it affects everything we do.

We define culture as the messages, mostly nonverbal, that people in an organization receive about what is valued. Then people adapt in order to “fit in” (i.e., belong).

How is culture created? As an example, I’d like to refer you to the book “An Italian Education” by Tim Parks. It describes the life of a British expat family in Italy. The parents are starting to notice their children becoming more and more “Italian.” Initially, they are puzzled as to where they are picking it up. So then they tried to understand it: classmates at school, the neighbors, the media, and religion, among other things. In order to fit in, the children started to unconsciously embed some of the behaviors of the influencers that surround them, based on what works for them. Can you think about how all this is at play in any organization?

Think back for a moment to the first day you arrived at the company for which you now work. What did you notice? The way people talk, relate to each other, make decisions? What about the general communications? And the office look and feel? And what the boss does to be successful? And who gets promoted?

Understanding how culture is created and how it influences employees can become a lever as you work on culture change in your organization.

In recent years, culture has become a hot topic. You hear people talk about it often. Most organizations are involved in some kind of culture initiative. This is because we are getting more and more conscious about how important it is to get new strategies to work, to adapt to the new fast changing world, to be aware of the behaviors we are driving, by the context and environment we have created so far and for the strategies that worked in the past to be successful. There is much more consciousness about how the conditions, the environment, the incentives, the values and messages people receive are creating meaning for people to do what they do. The sense of alignment with a common purpose and way of working can become a competitive advantage. If the world is changing and our organizational strategies are changing, then our culture needs to shift to serve this new world of possibilities. We need to recreate the conditions for people to flourish and flow, making sense to a new world.

At the same time, the more and more we talk with people in organizations, in HR, Senior Leaders or CEOs, they all feel it’s hard to make all this change happen at the speed they expect. Many times it looks more like a burden than a great opportunity. How can we make culture change simpler? How can we make it happen?

In this series of articles, we will look at five beliefs (stories we tell ourselves as if they were absolutely true) that may even become myths. When it comes to culture change, the myths make it harder and may even impact the way we approach culture change and the tools we use for it. Are you ready to do some myth busting?

Not so fast. Going over the speed limit while trying to change the culture will cause chaos.

Before we dive into the myths, there are some things to consider.

Nobody is a culture expert on day one. Most of us have taken a biology class in school and can name a decent amount of body parts, organs, etc. However, this doesn’t make us capable of performing surgery. Surgery requires a different skill level. The same applies to culture. We have some knowledge, but we are not anywhere near expert level. In our experience, this is something that is being overestimated. An organization will assign someone, often from HR, as the person in charge of culture change. Having the title does not make them an expert, but you can be an expert in the future, by knowing a bit more every day. Can you imagine how much more you can know in one year if you consider everything to be opportunity to learn more about culture?

You can start by acknowledging that you don’t need to know it all on day one. This is hard because in big organizations, people are expected to know. Actually, this is the first step for the change you would like to drive. The danger is when you pretend you know but you don’t. So we suggest, that you just stop pretending!

Start seeking the expertise. Think about what information you need to learn in order to be capable of delivering on this great assignment.

Don’t decide to focus on everything all at once. You can’t eat ice cream in one big bite (brain freeze anyone?), nor can you with culture. It might be overwhelming when you are in the middle of it, like standing in a crowd of people. Imagine what it would be like if you look out of the airplane window, when you are 30,000 feet off the ground, and you see the different landscapes of cities and suburbs. Start by looking at the bigger picture before you zoom in. Where do you want to focus your attention? I like to use the metaphor of the flashlight. If culture is a big, dark room, you can flip the switch and light up the entire room, but that becomes quickly overwhelming. If you take your flashlight, you can focus on a specific item or task without being distracted. But for that, you first need to see the big room; and then the opportunities will come. Because, what you focus on expands.

A new process doesn’t change a culture. Processes help and are an integral part of culture change. But to create real and sustainable change, there is another layer.

We all know what happened to the Titanic. It hit an iceberg. They did not see it coming, partly due to the weather. But they also failed to recognize that there is much more to an iceberg than what is visible above the water line. We use this analogy when we talk about culture change. What you see on the surface is the product or outcome (i.e., business results). This is what we call “have.”

Right below the water line, you will find the processes, systems and symbols that are needed to create change. For example, for a company facing rapid growth, agility is a key competence, but agility does not thrive in a bureaucratic environment. What internal process is causing this, and what can be changed in the process to make things less cumbersome? This is what we call the “do” level. This is where the adaptive change happens.

Now we are diving deeper into the ocean, where the foundation of the iceberg is. Just like your operating system on your computer, you can change the programs or software; but in order to create real change, the hardware needs to change. The ways in which people think and act are the hardware; and unless you change the hardware, you will not be able to create a new way of “doing” to achieve different results in the future.

What mindsets are needed from these individuals to allow for change to happen? Going back to the company that is facing rapid growth and where agility is key not to lose customers against the competitors, let’s say the one thing that creates that is the agility to make decisions. In a command and control environment, where every decision needs to go to the boss and be checked internally, this would be very hard to do. You need to create a mindset of trust and empowerment, believing that fast decisions pay back much more than some of the mistakes that could happen, and believing that you will learn from it. Coming from this mindset, you can create the conditions for this and the conversations needed to make this happen. This is the “be” level. This is where we talk about transformational change.

I have three simple questions for you today:

  • What are the main sources of culture creation in your organization, and what are some of the main culture levers you see to start creating the change you need?
  • As you engage in culture change, where have you started and why?
  • What changes does the organization need to make at the “do” level, then what changes need to be made at the “be” level to make culture change happen?

The next article in this series All Aboard? The culture train doesn’t need to be full to leave the station.

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