For most executives we know, embarking on a transformation journey at the helm of an organization is thrilling. It’s nothing short of an adrenaline rush, like the climbing expedition we’ve been comparing it to over the last few weeks. However, journeys come to an end, and life -as well as business- goes on. Business as usual, they say. At the foot of the mountain, the heroes of the hike blend with ordinary folks and continue onward. That part of the story typically gets left out of the books because… who wants to hear about the ‘normal’? We revive that story here, in the final article of the series, The Next Normal of a New CEO.
In the first article, we laid out a roadmap for the first 100 days of a CEO and the ‘new’ leadership team that results from that appointment (from A to B in the illustration above). We continued with a second article where we explained the focus of the team’s next 100 days in its safe descent back to base camp (from B to C). We finish the series with the ‘next normal’ of this team (‘new normal’ sounds too definitive for a VUCA world).
The Next Normal of a New CEOBeginnings, or new beginnings, are exciting. They create momentum, but it’s a hard job to keep the flame alive. If the leadership team does an excellent job with the four D’s mentioned in article two, there’s a higher chance that the flame will last longer. However, they will need a sustainable fuel source for that flame because eventually, it will die out. No matter how well-intended the leaders are, their behaviors are not enough to consolidate an evolving or transforming culture. Culture needs to be hinged on systems to endure.
 

Systems and Symbols

What are systems? For us, systems are to the organization what behaviors are to individuals. They are the workflows, procedures, policies, practices (you name it) that shape collective actions. As such, they can be powerful symbols of what the company values, regardless of the words on their posters.
An example of the power of systems and symbols is how top leadership deals with ‘airtime’. What they spend time on, or whom they spend time with, sends a loud message to the organization. Take one of our clients. They decided to end their hierarchical, command-and-control leadership style because their business strategy called for swifter moves that they believed would happen with more autonomous, empowered, and customer-centric teams.
Their leadership manifesto called for them to be ‘servant leaders’. Some took on the challenge of transforming their mindsets and behaviors to become that type of leader. However, their meeting protocols remained unchanged. Front-line employees were still called to provide status updates to top leadership, which meant taking an elevator to the ‘noble’ floor, projecting the same lifeless PPTs as always, as if they were making a case in front of a tribunal waiting for the verdict.
The culture only started shifting when the executives brought the change to another level. No more status updates at the top of the high-rise corporate headquarters. They systematically took the same elevator down, attended the forums where teams did the actual work and asked questions when their turn came. Their leadership manifesto got grounded in their collective rituals, which had a compounding effect on their behaviors.
 

The Road Ahead

Other systems and symbols in an organization are how the budget is allocated (what do they spend their money on?), whom they hire, who gets promoted, what gets celebrated and punished, and how they reward and discipline. These are the infrastructure on which the leaders keep traveling when they return from their climbing expedition. They arrive eager to reach milestones on their ongoing journey toward long-term, sustainable success in the form of robust business results, healthy relationships, and personal fulfillment. Excellent leadership teams realize that:

    1. The road ahead is full of curves. They will arrive at crossroads where the tools they gathered on their way to the peak will come in handy. The good news is that, after a climb, a curvy road pales in comparison.
    2. They can’t let their guard down. Continuing to measure how the team is doing on their levels of trust, conflict management, commitment, accountability, and results is paramount for them to keep working out where they are weaker. No matter how well they’re doing, they know that the moment they quit going to the gym, they’ll get out of shape. Staying at the top of their game is a life-long sport.
    3. They need to get rid of the inappropriate infrastructure that slows their momentum, sometimes to a halt.
    4. They found their fuel – a healthy fuel that keeps the fire (the one they kindled at the fireside chat at base camp) burning and lighting the way. Holding on to their purpose, their true North, they move not for themselves, but for something that transcends them.
    5. There is a legacy to leave behind, and they have decided what they want that to be.

We hope you enjoyed the journey alongside this new CEO and leadership team. Let us know in the comments which part of the journey you found most helpful for your own!

The first 100 days of any CEO are usually a watershed moment for the new incumbent, the leadership team, and the company. In this article, first in a series of three, we lay out what we believe makes a clear roadmap to success. We have accompanied numerous executive committees through this new leadership team journey. Their powerful testimonials about its contribution to achieving extraordinary business results, improving team cohesiveness, and growing as individual leaders, inspired us to share the approach more broadly for others who may benefit from the lessons learned.
This unique journey is like a climbing voyage, with all eyes on the summit. However, the climb starts at base camp, that meeting place where we begin the expedition and prepare for a daring feat. Here is where we encourage them to discuss crucial questions in a metaphorical fireside chat:
▶️ To whom are we roped? new leadership team journey
▶️ What are we climbing for?
▶️ What unnecessary weight can we leave at the foot of the mountain?
▶️ What will we hang on to when things go awry?
The answers to these questions set up the expedition for success. But before they start, the team needs to carefully choose what they will take in their backpacks and what to leave behind. So load doesn’t turn to burden, each member of the team needs to ask themselves the following:
▶️ What skill sets can I contribute to this expedition?
▶️ Which abilities should I acquire or enhance?
▶️ What baggage am I carrying that can become a liability?
▶️ Which frameworks, experiences, and techniques can be helpful?
Once the leader’s backpack is ready, it is vital to help the team get their own ready as well. This may be the moment to consider finding trustworthy guides to lighten the load and get well equipped for the climb. At Axialent, you will find seasoned ‘Sherpas’ for journeys like this, who ascend alongside each individual participant and equip them with the necessary tools that will help them identify their own assets and liabilities as climbers.
 

Then they are ready to climb!

At Axialent, we’ve increasingly set out to reach the leadership team summit in five stages, inspired by the work of Patrick Lencioni on cohesive teams:

  1. We always begin with trust. Without it, the way forward will be overly cumbersome. Building trust will help us every step of the way.
  2. When there is trust, we can deal with conflict constructively. We see conflict on a spectrum, where both extremes (denying conflict out of avoidance, to downright explosion) are unhealthy.
  3. A team that manages conflict constructively can truly commit. Authentic commitments require a clear request, an equally explicit acceptance of the request, and all team members’ buy-in.
  4. Practicing accountability is the next stage. The team embraces it to ensure their commitments are honored, even (or especially) when they cannot fulfill them.
  5. The expedition reaches the peak when it can focus on its collective results rather than the individual goals of its members.

 

Two tracks across the five stages of the leadership team journey

We like to say that we climb these stages with the CEO and their team following two distinct, yet interwoven paths: the individual and the collective tracks. Each leader works individually with a personal coach (who we called Sherpa above) on their development goals. In the collective track, the leadership group participates in team coaching to work on their dynamics and interactions as a group. These collective sessions are often co-facilitated by the different Sherpas assigned to the various members of the team to allow for diverse vantage points for richer observation and broader context.
We approach each of the five stages based on the following premise: as experts, we reserve the professional judgment to draw on the frameworks, distinctions, and techniques that will build the skills and capability that each team requires at a given point in time. How do we know? By running individual and group diagnostics upfront and at the end of each journey. This provides rich context to draw on, thus shaping the content to fit this particular team like no other.
At Axialent, one of our deeply held principles is believing in context before content. We go one step further. We also believe in connection before context. Therefore, when we accompany a leadership team in their first 100 days to the summit, we make it a point to start with a virtual coffee where each expedition member meets and greets the Sherpa who will be ‘climbing’ with them.
In the next couple of weeks, we will share the next article of this series, where we explain what happens at the peak and how the new CEO can tackle the leadership team’s safe descent back to base camp. Stay tuned for the Next 100 Days of a new CEO!

Innovation sounds good, looks good, but it doesn’t always feel good. Why? Because making innovation happen in a large organization is an arduous process. The story we usually hear about this topic is like a mediocre superhero movie. It shows a character that finds a superpower, struggles just a little bit, and then is victorious. By the end of the film, we know we didn’t like it, but we don’t understand why. There were endless fighting scenes and the hero was too tough. What is the problem with this? It doesn’t feel real. We need to see the pain, the characters’ real suffering to believe their journey and value their victories. Embedding innovation into an organization is a lot like this. I used to think that being an innovator was a matter of toughness or inventiveness, but it is not.
 

How is innovation like a flat tire?

 
Bear with me while I share a personal anecdote. The other day, I had a flat tire. I remember getting out of my car, seeing the flat tire and thinking: “Why today?! I can’t get a break”. I was tired. I knew I have insurance to help me to change the tire, but my macho ego was telling me:
– Can’t you change a simple tire? You have to change it with no help –
So, I hung up the call to the insurance company, grabbed the tools, and started to change the tire myself. But I couldn’t catch a break because the nuts wouldn’t loosen, so I got angry. I wanted to throw the tools and start crying. You may wonder: What are you making such a big deal out of a simple flat tire? Indeed, it was not a big deal. What was the problem?
The problem was not the tire. The problem was not that I could not find a solution. My problem was the meaning I was giving to my lack of ability to loosen up a nut. The problem was I was feeling weak and inadequate for this simple task. After my short crisis, I called the insurance company again and asked for their help. I remember telling myself: “A guy will come and laugh at me because of my poor handyman skills.” I was even thinking of creative answers to defend myself from his attacks. In other words, I was mad at someone I had not even met.
He arrived 30 minutes later. I had loosened up two nuts, but I had three remaining and a broken ego. I saw this man in his mid-50s approaching my car with no judgment. He tried to loosen them and he couldn’t. I had mixed feelings at that moment (I was kinda happy). He was very considerate and explained the nuts were hard to remove because they were old. Luckily, he had some tools to solve the issue. He took out another lug wrench, a hammer, and a long pipe and used it as a lever to remove the nuts, and voila. All that I needed was some tools and a simple lever.
 

Embedding innovation in your organization

 
Embedding innovationThis is precisely how innovation in a corporation works. It is a hard job, with multiple tasks and things to do. You might be working on designing a new solution, defining the precise value proposition, and trying to get the buy-in from different stakeholders. Suddenly, an apparently simple problem is holding things up, and you might feel like it is the end of the world. You feel shame. You question your value, your capabilities, your management skills, or even your work.
The problem might seem simple from the outside. Again, it is about the meaning we assign to why we are struggling and feeling like there is a massive wall in our way. In these moments, I have learned that the key to moving forward is to master my emotions and be aware of the mindset that I am using to see the problem. For example, being trapped in a knower mindset makes the issue personal. The dialogue in my head is: “I should know this.” Then everything starts to escalate, and things get out of control. This makes things worse because a knower mindset demands control.
But instead, I can choose a different path: The learner mindset. This requires a humble approach that recognizes that I do not have to know everything. That I can ask for help because there might be a skill or a tool that I am missing to solve the problem. That the person from the other department is not going to laugh at me, and instead, they want the opportunity to help me.
In the end, this is the better superhero movie, with a scared character who is brave enough to keep walking in the darkness of vulnerable moments. As an innovation leader, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You do not have to have all the skills to make innovation happen. I believe that is impossible. The nuts in this story may represent an outdated process, a risk-averse mindset, misaligned incentives, or a frustrated team.
If you are developing a new product and feel stuck, don’t panic. Accept vulnerability and ask for help. You might find a person with the perfect innovative lever to loosen up the nuts fixated on an old way of doing things.
 

All organizations are facing disruption within their markets and business models. Most of them are trying to adapt and keep the pace with cutting-edge organizations that are transforming consumer behaviors, creating new wants and needs in the market, introducing exponential technologies, evolving into digital, and raising the bar every day on how to do and conduct business. Transforming a business requires shifting our perception about how we see and understand reality. We need to update our own operating system and cultivate an innovation mindset.
 

Innovation is king in this era, whether we are ready or not

 
When working with leaders and organizations, they often ask: how can we be more innovative? How can we change and transform our business? What will motivate our people to want to try to innovate? How do we develop a culture of innovation in our organization?
Developing an innovation mindsetWhen we start to explore innovation in organizations, we discover that different people have different understandings about what it means and takes to develop a culture of innovation. Digital transformation and innovation are often talked about together, however, innovation is a much broader concept.
There are endless definitions of what innovation is. In the end, what they all have in common is “doing something different that adds value.” In my experience, what organizations mean when talking about innovation is “challenging the status quo.” They are referring to challenging their people to think and do things differently. This can apply to any dimension of an organization. It means bringing to life a disruptive idea that can give them a competitive advantage among the rest of the players in the market.
If you want to embrace a culture of innovation, you have to do more than just communicate it or create a set of initiatives.  It involves creating the right environment for people to believe that they are expected and encouraged to test, learn, adjust, and implement new ideas that will enrich their value proposition.
Innovation begins when leaders successfully adopt an innovation mindset. Mindsets are the set of values and beliefs that underpin our behaviors. They are the filters through which we interpret reality and give meaning to our world.  They guide and condition our behaviors. The first step to innovating is believing we can.
 

Some key elements of an innovation mindset:

 

  • We can all innovate. “We are not in the innovative team” or “I am not creative” type of thinking kills ideas before they are even born. It prevents us from harnessing the team’s creativity and coming up with and implementing alternative solutions for everyday challenges. With the right toolbox and a safe environment, we can all learn how to innovate and expand our abilities.
  • Innovation: not just good ideas. Coming up with an idea is just the first step of the process. The hardest part is executing those ideas. When it comes to innovation, there are structured processes and methodologies that will enable execution and guide us in the process: from coming up with an idea, designing an MVP (minimum viable product), testing it, learning from its outcomes, and adapting the learnings into a new version of the product before we are ready to scale it.
  • Take calculated risks. Be ready for setbacks. Innovating implies stepping out of our comfort zone and trying new things that we have never done before. It means taking a risk and the associated cost that comes with failure. But failure brings learnings that are crucial to improving and growing. Fostering curiosity, asking questions to learn from other’s experiences, and failure is imperative for innovation.
  • Dream big, start small with ruthless determination. The sky is the limit when envisioning the future. An inspiring vision will fuel your passion and determination. Starting small makes things easier to achieve and helps us conquer quick wins and learning points to keep going.
  • Progress, not perfection: Strive for continuous improvement through repeated experiment cycles. We are not looking to nail it from day 1, we are looking to pursue continuous improvement.

When we think about developing an innovation mindset, it seems like common sense. However, it is easier said than done. In our experience, the biggest challenge to developing a culture of innovation within an organization is the leaders’ inability to develop an innovation mindset.
When we start shifting our mindsets, we start changing our culture.

“Decision making is an art only until the person understands the science.”
―Pearl Zhu, Decision Master: The Art and Science of Decision Making

The average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions daily (Sahakian & LaBuzetta, 2013). Considering the amount of time we spend on this, have you ever stopped to think how you could be more effective at making conscious decisions? Even the time of day we make a decision can affect the outcome. So, what is the best time and moment to make important decisions?
Let’s consider an excerpt from a study published in 2011, on how the time of day influences our decision-making ability.
 

Decision Making and Time of Day

 

“Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:

    • Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
    • Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
    • Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.”

 

Making Effective Conscious Decisions

 
Our decisions are influenced by external circumstances and the effect these have on us personally.
Making Effective Conscious Decisions
The time of the day is a big one! How rested or tired, how hungry, stressed and/or rushed we are at that time, among other things, are crucial conditions to keep in mind when wanting to make more effective decisions.
Here are my main takeaways about making effective conscious decisions based on different cases, studies, and science:

  • The mental work we do over the course of a day wears down people’s decision-making capacity.
  • As our energy is depleted, the brain will look for shortcuts. One shortcut is to make more impulsive decisions, the other is to postpone decisions. Which do you think is the more effective route?
  • These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. That’s why it’s harder to resist temptations at the end of the day.
  • Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill,” and that loss looms especially large when decision fatigue sets in.
  • Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision-making.
  • Glucose level influences decision-making. Do not make decisions on an empty stomach.

So, what does this all mean for making effective conscious decisions? We may not always be able to control the external factors influencing us, but by being aware of them, we can choose to postpone important decisions or take care of ourselves in a better way to make them more effective.
 

If you would like to know more about effective decision making, meetings, and commitments, check out my webinar, Making things happen: improving the way we make decisions.

 
Sources used in this article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? and “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions” by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso

In the first article of this series, we shared the specific challenges we witnessed when launching an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. At Axialent, we deliberately expose and analyze ‘the gap’ before we intervene. We call it the ‘From-To’. It helps us gain a deep understanding of the problem and empathize with our clients as we embark on co-designing the solution with them. In this second article, we share our thinking around the principles that informed our approach to this Agile leadership journey.

The Journey

Following is an illustration of the Agile leadership journey:
 

It consisted of three collective workshops, each a few weeks apart, and individual coaching sessions in between them. During these 1:1 encounters, the coach and participant worked on the coachee’s commitment to experimenting with his/her behavioral change. Full disclosure: this structure was presented to us as a suggestion based on successful deployment at the Executive level with another business partner. We took it on to adapt, test, and learn further with the remaining top-200 leaders (executives included).
 

The Participants

 
The first aspect of this program was defining the target audience. Traditionally, our client would offer leadership development programs at their corporate university campus, as the location where they ‘built culture’. They liked to mingle leaders from around their geographical footprint, resulting in diverse cohorts that did not necessarily work together daily. This had its pros. However, we wanted to test a new approach: we directed this program at intact teams, meaning leadership teams that worked together every day. We believed that this would allow them to have more earnest conversations around real-life challenges that affected them all directly. The most significant plus for us was that they could make commitments that genuinely mattered to their shared agenda. Participants would be primed for mutual accountability.
 

Cadence

 
agile team workingThe second aspect that made this program different was that it was not designed as the typical immersive, residential, intensive x-day workshop. Instead, we scheduled shorter interventions several weeks apart. This design was deployed before the pandemic, so the sessions were held face-to-face. Nevertheless, this concept has survived to this day as a valid structure for most of our hybrid or purely online leadership development journeys.
 

Test & Learn

 
Another principle we followed was a prototyping approach of sorts. We ran pilots for each group intervention and led retrospectives where feedback was gathered from participants as if our lives depended on it. We moved past the typical satisfaction survey and got extremely curious about the participants’ experiences. Which were their ‘a-ha’ moments and pain points? When did they flow? With whom did they connect? What did they learn? This provided a wealth of feedback that we integrated into the last legs of the journey.
 

Shared Accountability

Lastly, we took a shared responsibility approach to facilitation. Both coaches and participants were responsible for the best use of the group’s time together. This is not a new concept, but it gained even more traction as we added elements to the program that emphasized this approach: each program milestone ended in commitments, draft experiments, individual and collective action plans, and a learning buddy system for participants to hold each other accountable for their learning goals. The burden was not on the facilitator; we equally distributed it among all involved. And in teams where circumstances changed mid-journey, both leaders and their facilitators jointly decided how they would shape the agenda differently moving forward.
 
As you can imagine, some things worked, and some things did not click at first. Far from disappointing us, we confirmed that the approach was valid: prototype, test, gather feedback, integrate it, learn, and share the responsibility to improve iteratively and incrementally. This was an agile learning journey after all. We would not have it any other way. Or would we? In the next and last article of this series, we will share the top lessons we learned alongside our clients as we deployed this leadership journey.
 
We look forward to exchanging points of view and continuing to learn together if you’d like to comment below!
 

At Axialent, we are not experts in Agile. Our expertise lies in helping organizations build the cultures they require, in light of their business strategy, and develop their leaders to be living proxies of that culture. In the last two decades, agile has emerged as an unstoppable practice among organizations, and it is changing their cultures. The question for us is: are you managing the resulting culture change intentionally? Is agile shaping your culture by accident or by design?
agile shaping your cultureAdopting an agile way of working can be fraught with challenges. We experienced this first hand when we launched an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. I’d like to share the lessons we learned behind the scenes of what was probably the most audacious adoption of agile in a non-tech industry. We accompanied the top 200 leaders of this organization, in 24 cohorts, across 11 countries, in a 6-month long journey that combined coaching them individually and as leadership teams. This gave us a privileged vantage point to observe their struggles and the gaps they were trying to bridge.
In this first article of a series, we will focus on the specific challenges we witnessed, because we follow this principle: ‘no gap, no coaching.’ Clarifying the gap before we intervene helps us gain a deep understanding of the problem, empathize with our client, and offer higher chances of finding an adequate solution to prototype, test, and learn.
Here are some of the conclusions we reached after exposing the gap:
 

1. Agile brings about a new leadership paradigm and not just a more effective way of working.

It is hard to imagine companies embarking on an agile transformation and taking it lightly. They aim to become much better in terms of quality, time-to-market, productivity, and, above all, employee engagement. Most believe that adopting agile unleashes talent, makes team members accountable and generates one-team dynamics. Other firms might be driving a similar shift, but they’re not calling it an agile transformation. The name is not what matters. Beyond the rituals and ceremonies they adopt, or the frameworks they embrace, the essence of today’s business transformations lies in changing how leadership is felt, conceived, and performed, in a way that is radically different. This happens in most cultural transformations. The difference that agile brings is the context.

2. From rigid, hierarchical ‘command-and-control’ leadership to servant leadership 

In this company’s context, the gap for leaders was shifting from a rigid, hierarchical ‘command-and-control’ leadership style to a servant leadership style. This change required the top-most executives to give up being the center of the organization. They were now expected to be at the service of the teams who worked closer to their clients than the leaders ever were. They were supposed to coach those teams, instead of giving them detailed instructions. Leaders’ main focus now had to be on removing any and all obstacles that prevented those teams from delivering value to the customer as quickly and effectively as possible. Even if those obstacles were the leaders themselves.
Can you see how counter-intuitive this could be for an executive who climbed the ranks by being a good soldier, was promoted for being a great soldier, and just as he or she was about to reach the summit of a 2-decade-or-more climb is told ‘sorry, the glory is down there?’

3. From micromanagement to  autonomy, engagement, and empowerment 

For employees, the central gap was shifting from a culture of micromanagement to one where autonomy, engagement and empowerment are expected, exercised, and promoted. The intention was to evolve from being managed and having linear career expectations to self-managing themselves and their own career. Why? Because this company believed that it would help them shift from feeling resignation, skepticism, and fear of feedback to feeling engaged, empowered, and looking at feedback with openness and acceptance. The logic was attractive. However, change was not automatic.
 

From Do Agile to Be Agile

At Axialent we believe that, for any change that truly matters, it must operate first at the Be-level. It’s in that mushy place where thoughts & feelings, values & beliefs, and needs & wants reside (and that top execs seldom look at from so high above) where we have found the most significant leverage. From there, the leaders and those they lead can shift behaviors more effectively at the Do-level. Training people how to do agile was not enough. They needed to dive deeper and actually be agile.
In that deep side of the pool, there is anxiety, tension, and even fear among leaders and team members alike. “What will happen to me and my career in this company?”, “How can I protect my safe haven?” “Will we increase risk by letting go of control?” “What do you mean that control is ‘bad’? We’re a regulated company! Control is not only good – it’s mandatory!” Reconciling these dilemmas was suddenly part of their job description. They looked at their toolkit and realized they needed a different set of tools to deal with this new reality. So, we set off to replenish them from our stock.
Understanding these gaps helped us walk in our clients’ shoes as we embarked on this journey alongside them. In the following two articles of this series, we will explain the design principles we followed and the most prized lessons we have learned and would apply in the next opportunity that comes our way. Come along for the ride!

After a year of a pandemic that has taken a physical and emotional toll on hundreds of millions of people, the elusive idea of “well-being” is more relevant than ever. Even before the pandemic, it was already a hot topic with an established multi-billion dollar industry. The need for organizations to prioritize their employees’ well-being is more present than it has ever been. Does this mean we have the right tools and resources at our disposal? Not exactly.
 

The Road to “Well-Being”

why organizations need to prioritize their employees’ well-beingOne of my qualms about the idea of “well-being” is that it often follows a prescriptive approach. This is how one “should” eat, workout, rest, work, etc… oh, and here is the evidence for it. As well-intentioned as this might be and as well-substantiated as the proposal may be, I have noticed that many of us find it difficult to fully connect with it beyond just accepting what is proposed.
In many cases, we fall into a loop of feeling we “should” do something or be a certain way. We feel bad when we fail to follow the recommendation or achieve the state we believe we should pursue. We sometimes even reach the conclusion that doing or being a certain way is out of our reach because of __________ (fill in the blank with your favorite response – the one I found most people reference is the lack of willpower or discipline). In many cases, we are either left with the option to “try again” and see if this time we will have the willpower, or try the next new workout class, diet, or meditation app in hopes that this time it will be different. Many of us are familiar with the new “hope-try-drop it-feel disappointed” cycle.
 

Why is it so difficult to adopt changes that are good for us… that we know are good for us?

I have been passionate about exploring this question for years now. I did so silently as I focused on consulting Fortune 500 companies on topics related to innovation, agility, and digital transformation. A couple of years ago, I realized that there were a series of overarching themes in the space of innovation that actually shed some light on helping us adopt those changes. Coupled with some of the core aspects of behavioral science popularized by many habits books and publications, I found an interesting intersection: behavioral innovation through personal experimentation. This was the starting point for Optimal Me, a program we launched at Axialent in 2019.
Ever since, we have worked with seasoned leaders from over 10 countries, spanning Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. We have asked them to run experiments on a wide range of topics – whether it’s intermittent fasting to increase focus and energy, new workout routines to help with stress reduction, breathing practices, personal productivity methodologies, or team productivity approaches. The most gratifying aspect of this work has not been the direct results of the experiments, but when people reestablish the confidence to playfully experiment with learning something new. Trying out a workout regimen for a couple of weeks, measuring how I feel about it, and trying to learn what works best for me is very different than powering through two weeks of doing something that may not even be the right fit for me, but I have a sense of obligation that I should do it.
 

Conclusion

We have learned that people are much more likely to stick with well-being initiatives if they actually enjoy doing them. Working on discovering this joy through a non-threatening (yet rigorous) personal experimentation process, supported by basic tenets of behavioral science is the core experience we are trying to instill in our Optimal Me participants.
Research has shown the incredible benefit of workplaces that provide well-being initiatives. Eighty-nine percent of employees at companies that support well-being initiatives were more likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work. Organizations with supervisors that supported their well-being plans reported a higher number of workers motivated to do their best, higher job satisfaction, and better relationships with their superiors.
If you are interested in innovation or growth mindset, Optimal Me will offer you a concrete way to embody it in your life. If you are just interested in learning how to be better in key aspects of your life, Optimal Me can offer you tools and approaches for you to test your way into it.
 

If you would like to see the recording of our live Optimal Me webinar with Oseas Ramirez, click here.

If you ask any leader, “What has been one of the most defining moments in your career?” most likely, the answer will be related to leading a significant organizational change.  This is not surprising: our brains are wired to remember peak moments more vividly. These are experiences that capture us at moments of achievement or courage; or moments that change our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.1
Organizations place a lot of value on leaders who can effectively lead others through change.  In fact, effective change leadership is a common competency used to identify and develop high potential employees.2 However, despite the importance that both leaders and organizations place on change leadership, many organizations lack an intentional strategy to help their leaders become effective change-makers.  Many of us are guilty of having used the ‘sink or swim’ approach disguised as ‘on the job learning’.  Intentionally or not, we throw our up-and-coming talent into leading changes in an environment that is increasingly complex and unpredictable without the benefit of a foundation to help them along the way.
For on-the-job learning to be effective, it needs to reinforce the behaviors we are looking to shift or embed. This means that we need to define the guiding principles of how we should lead through change and the experience that we want to provide our change-makers, employees, partners, and clients.  The benefit of talking about ‘how we lead change’ goes beyond leadership development. It sets clear norms of behavior and common expectations of how we will measure success while empowering our change-makers to ask for what they need.
 

How can we best prepare our current and future change-makers? 

It’s useful to think about the actions that we can take preemptively, through more structured leadership development, coaching, and resources. We should also consider the ‘just-in-time’ support we can provide to help leaders navigate a change event.
The good news is that there is significant overlap between what makes an effective change-maker and what makes an effective leader.  Development activities (such as training and coaching) that encourage leaders to increase their self-awareness and growth mindset and help them become more resilient, inclusive, accountable, and collaborative, will also help them be better change-makers.  In addition, change-makers need to be good at storytelling, influencing, and systems thinking. To maximize impact, we need to be intentional in helping them understand how they can apply these leadership skills in a change situation.
 

As they get ready to embark into a large-scale, high-impact change, we can support change-makers in two dimensions:

  • Change acceptance – In order to lead, change-makers need to be willing to move. In many situations, we ask leaders to take on new initiatives on top of their current responsibilities.  You can increase their willingness to lead by creating a space to intentionally discuss how this initiative fits into the broader organizational picture and what’s in it for them personally.  When they intentionally set their personal goals – whether it is to accelerate their development, build their network, gain a broader enterprise view, learn new skills, or do something with impact – they will feel valued and more energized to take on a new challenge.
  • Change-related skills – Leaders need to feel able to lead the change. Beyond the resources and information needed to execute the ‘what’ of the change, they also need access to practical, ‘just-in-time’ change management guidance and tools. Instead of providing theoretical change toolkits and training that few people will use, employ a design thinking approach to uncover what would be most useful for change-makers as they navigate large-scale change.  This may include practical tools, like a change playbook tailored to your organization, and targeted coaching/advice to discuss ideas and overcome challenges.

Our change-makers can survive a change event, or they can consciously experience and lead the change.  This will not make the change less complex or challenging, but it will help them approach the experience with a different mindset, less fear, and a higher level of confidence.  It will also help advance the business goals that the change is looking to achieve and help build organizational agility and resilience.
 

References
  1. Doll, Karen. (2019). What is Peak-End Theory? A Psychologist Explains How Our Memory Fools Us.com
  2. Fernandez-Araoz, C., Roscoe, A., Aramaki, K. Turning Potential into Success: The Missing Link in Leadership Development. Harvard Business Review, November–December 2017 Issue

When it comes to culture transformation initiatives, complying with change is different from committing to change. For it to be successful, leaders need to be committed to changing how they think, act, and interact. You can’t force this kind of change… at least not sustainably. An essential part of closing the gap between where an organization is now and where they need to be is providing a clear roadmap of the culture plan. This is an important step toward making the necessary changes.
 

Creating the roadmap for culture change

 
The results of the tools we use in Axialent to measure the current and ideal culture (OCI® Organizational Culture Inventory® and OEI® Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) and the leadership styles and behaviors (LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) allow an organization to identify levers for change, so they can establish a detailed action plan for successful change management and measure their progress.
Developing an action plan for culture change requires planning for deeper, longer lasting transformation. It is not your regular change management plan.
It needs to cover the following aspects:

  • People need to understand the change, what it implies, and most importantly, why they should change.
  • They need to overcome any negative emotions associated with the change and connect it with positive emotions.
  • They need to be capable of change.
    The “Shadow of the Leader” is long. People will seek their leaders’ example of what it truly means to change. By using the LSI®(Life Styles Inventory®)tools from Human Synergistics, we provide leaders a powerful roadmap for themselves, that weaves neatly into the organizational roadmap because it is built on a common framework and a shared language.
    Most leaders easily “get” what needs to be done at an intellectual level. However, bridging the gap between knowing what they need to do and actually doing it requires working on a deeper level – what we call at Axialent the “being” level. Leaders have to become the leaders that the new culture needs them to be before we can aspire to achieve any true change and get others on board.
    Traditional training is insufficient for this – adaptive learning is a must in most cases.

Only after addressing these three factors can you expect people to be willing and committed to change.
 

Next steps – some food for thought

  • An action plan CAN be simple. It all boils down to who does what, by when.
  • Think of action planning as a proxy of the culture change you want to see. For example, if you want to foster a culture of greater accountability, empower autonomous teams to lead action planning for culture transformation in their sphere of influence and hold them accountable for progress and outcomes.
  • Consider mapping stakeholders by subcultures instead of the usual employee segments and check if this adds value to your action plan.
  • When you have a powerful suite of tools like the LSI, OEI, and OCI, you remove the guesswork from prioritization. You will have the main causal factors that will move the needle toward your desired culture. Concentrate on the handful of measures that will create the most impact instead of merely scratching the surface with various initiatives.
  • When you plan, test if executing short sprints instead of rolling out a titanic change program adds value. Carve out time in your plan to pause, re-measure, and recalibrate your plan itself.
  • Don’t wait until the end to conduct a post-mortem. Make learning an ‘action’ in your action plan by ensuring you will collect and analyze feedback and, more importantly, make time to integrate feedback.
  • Clearly lay out your options once you receive and analyze feedback (for example: pivot, persist, or pull the plug) to facilitate decision-making when that time comes.

 

Conclusion

Ensure that your roadmap for culture change includes actions that get people to truthfully say: “I understand why I need to change, I feel excited/happy/______ (<- your positive emotion goes here) about this change, I feel capable of changing what I am asked to change, and I’m committed to do so”. A clear roadmap of the culture journey will help to ensure success in implementing real and lasting change.