Monday, April 27, 2015

Communicating with Clarity

Recently a truck was allowed in our plant with serious gaps in safety requirements. The root cause - Clarity in communication. The concerned Manager had asked to change priority for loading a truck. The security sent the vehicle even with the gaps in safety assuming the instruction from the manager could not be questioned. In another organization, at a different time, the same root cause led to charging of a wrong material in a batch resulting in an off-grade.

In the first case, the concerned security person was called and counselled. The incident was shared with all other security people to ensure that learning was not confined to a single person. It was stressed that the safety superseded everything else.

In the second case, the organization incorporated a long clarifying statement in all of their product SOPs. The Panel operator would confirm from the Field operator if he had charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z and the Field operator was required to reconfirm verbatim that he has charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z. This action successfully eliminated the charging of wrong material in any future batches.

Both the organizations learnt from their mistakes and moved on. Many organizations today find themselves spending time on conducting root cause analysis for similar incidents and trying to find corrective ways to seemingly insurmountable problem.

We have very clear understanding of our ideas in our own minds and we think that other person has understood what we have said or what we want. However it is like the game of Tappers and Guessers. 

In this game the tappers are asked to tap a tune of a well-known song and Guessers are supposed to guess it. Since the tappers know the song, as they tap they can clearly hear it in their heads complete with rhythm and lyrics. When asked about their thinking on the probability of Guessers guessing the correct the song and they would respond "Ninety five percent". However the average score of this game is only "Three percent". What is clear as a bell to the tappers is just disconnected dots of sound to Guessers. You need to connect the dots.

One method, that I have found useful in this situation is to confirm the understanding of the other person.

Simply ask “What’s your understanding of what was just discussed?”

Some people resist this idea of asking. They think this displays lack of trust or raises the question on another person’s understanding. It can be easily dealt with if you think that you are actually checking your own ability to explain rather than other person’s ability to understand.

This goes a long way in making our communication clear. It will also take you closer to the art and science of leadership.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Create Sense of Urgency

John Kotter in his book “Leading Change” calls creating a sense of urgency the first step in the change process. Many organizations fail in implementation stage as they have not created enough buy-in among the stakeholders for the need for change. The change could be initiated either to take advantage of an identified opportunity or to overcome a threat. Without urgency, the organization becomes complacent. As the people do not see the need to change, projects take unreasonable amount of time to complete, and at times could lose their relevance by the time they get to see the light of the day.

To motivate people to take immediate action, people need to see the need for change. Having an honest dialogue with all the stakeholders in the organization about the opportunities and issues that need to be addressed in the early stages provides initial understanding for the need to change and can provide solid foundation for it.

A SWOT analysis at this stage is vital to assess the current situation. It will answer the questions related to:

1.       Current organizational performance.
2.       Organization’s strengths and how it can capitalize on them.
3.       Organization’s weakness and how it can improve.
4.       The external and internal factors affect organization in future.

Since any change will impact individuals, it is important to consider how it will impact individuals and to engage both minds and the hearts of the people. Change could initiate an emotional response from the people and therefore must be addressed early on in the process.

It is equally important to understand why status quo is not an option, what will happen if the organization does not change and what will be the benefits of the change.

To create sense of urgency, the leaders need to paint an inspiring picture of how the future could look like.  Communicate the benefits at all levels. Once sense of urgency is established, the organization can move on to next stages of the change.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Changing Behaviors

How behaviors change

In this ever changing world, change is the only constant. When we as leaders identify development plan for our reports, giving them tools to achieve it is equally important. Most of the leaders include antecedents like providing standard operating procedures and training to achieve results. Research has found that these methods yield results but are effective only up to 20%. The 80% of effectiveness comes from the consequences following the behavior. 

Designing an effective consequence requires hard work. Once a specific behavior is pinpointed, consequences that are encouraging or discouraging, delivered immediately, are important and are highly likely to occur will increase or decrease likelihood of that behavior repeating in future. However if the consequences are either delayed, or are not important or is unlikely to occur will not change the behavior.

Like all other processes the behavior change has four stages. The four stages are:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

1      Unconscious Incompetence – The Enthusiastic Beginner

This is a stage when you don’t know what you don’t know. The most often quoted example in literature is that of learning driving. The first time you get on to the driver’s seat, there is lot of excitement but it is extremely difficult to manage hand and leg coordination. The competence level is low but the commitment level is high. This stage is also called The Enthusiastic Beginner. At this stage the leader needs to provide high level of direction but low level of support. It does not take much time for this enthusiastic to get to the next stage.

2      Conscious Incompetence – The Disillusioned Learner

In this stage, you know what you don’t know. You realize how bad you are at driving. You start creating self-doubt if you will ever be able to learn driving. With sustained practice, you start developing some competence but the commitment level drops to low. The leader needs to provide coaching - both high level of direction as well as support. With practice you start getting results and then it is time to move on to next stage.

3      Conscious Competence – An Emerging Contributor

This is the time when you start replacing old behaviors with new behaviors. However you have to think about them. In the driving example you start acquiring skills like talking while driving. If you do not think, you fall back to old behavior. At this stage you have developed moderate level of competence but commitment is variable. Sometimes you would feel like quitting. Another day you would start with renewed vigor. Leaders at this stage should turn down direction but continue to provide high level of support.

4      Unconscious Competence – A High Performer

You are now a professional. You don’t have to think about what you are doing. You can drive and listen to songs. You can talk to your co-passenger. You have acquired high level of competence as well as commitment. The leaders should turn down both direction as well as support. The new behavior is now a habit. The job can now be delegated.

One small advice. You do not want to overwhelm the person. Start small. Focus on a very specific behavior and you are well on your way to getting better at the Art and Science of Leadership.

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