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Carl Robinson, Ph.D. on Leadership Book Store Click Here May 8, 2012
 
We help maximize the effectiveness of individuals and organizations by helping them improve their ability to lead, work together, select and develop their people.  Some of our related business services include: executive coaching, executive team coaching and executive assessments for development and selection.


Carl Robinson, Ph.D., Managing Principal
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Seattle, Washington
206-545-1990
carl@leadershipconsulting.com

In This Issue:

Mastering the Difficult Conversation

Controlling Corporate Change

Three Great Performance Improvement Tips


Book Report - Systems Thinking: The New Frontier

As author Stephen Haines sees it, Systems thinking can be visualized Hollywood-style.
 
Panning from a view of people, to buildings filled with organizations, to countries, and beyond expanding out into space to see earth as a small part of a much larger solar system and galaxy he brings the swirling colors of earth laid on the background of the ever-expanding blackness of space by saying
 
“The world is complex. But simplicity wins the game every time.”
 
Haines, the Guru behind the Systems Thinking movement has now brought the overwhelming prospect of understanding his approaches into a single book, distilled down to the simplest level without sacrificing the power of his approaches.
 
At its essence, Systems Thinking epitomizes the adage of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”, and looks to form processes to embrace the interconnectedness of our workspaces, and the larger systems that allow them to exist and thrive.
 
In a readably brief 140-pages he has built a three section work that covers everything from the foundational research of his approach, to applying tools designed to simplify systems thinking for leaders, to bringing these high-impact approaches to the mainstream.
 
The book itself is a testament to making the complex simple - so we advise you pick up a copy today!
>Buy from the author - downloadable ebook

The Situation Room: Policy Changes

As part of your expanding product lineup the company has begun to offer software solutions for products that have traditionally been available as hard goods. You were able to keep the costs down but now realize that the amount of support being given to customers has become quite costly.
 
In an effort to make the product line viable you researched what other companies have done is a similar situation and learn that most of them charge for any customer support given.
 
Your product comes with an extensive users manual and is supported by online FAQ’s. Most of the questions you have been getting are from existing customers who used the previous version of the product. The new customers seem to be more accepting, or more able, to use the automated support materials.
 
In an effort to cut down on customer service time you announced 6 months ago that a new service charge would be added for telephone support for questions that could be answered in either the manual or your growing list of FAQ’s. You were comfortable with the timeline and sent out 3 reminders of it to your current client base with links and instructions for your support options.
 
However, your biggest customer has just called and is furious. They received a sizable bill for more than 50 support calls, and now are claiming that they were never notified. Your support department notifies of the charge with each call that comes in, both before and during the conversation.
 
Detailed records of such calls are logged and in this case are all properly documented. The bill is right.
 
You mention the notice of policy change and that service records are kept and seem appropriate. The customer becomes more agitated and voices displeasure with the policy, stating that they purchased the program before service payments were mandated. They threaten to walk away if you force them to pay the bill, which you don’t want, but the amount of service time they have used brings their account to a reduced but still significant profit level.
 
What do you tell them?

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Mastering the Difficult Conversation

Difficult conversations are a normal part of life. No matter what personal or professional subject you discuss, these conversations are going to occur eventually. 
 
Handing difficult conversations successfully is a matter of taking the proper approach. Here is one alternative, devised in a collaboration of the Family Institute of Cambridge and Harvard Law School that you may want to consider.
   
Let’s assume you have a difficult conversation on the horizon. Perhaps the old friend you hired has become a liability to the company. Or maybe the project you are working on took twice as long as you told the client it would, but you can’t afford not to charge for the extra time.
 
The Harvard Negotiation Project teaches us that during each difficult conversation, there are actually three conversations happening simultaneously. That is, there are three undercurrents driving the energy behind the conversation.
 
1. The “What Happened” Conversation
This is the disparity between each parties’ interpretation of what has happened. Who is right? Who is to blame?
 
2. The Feelings Conversation
Whose feelings are valid? Should they be acknowledged, or peeled off of the conversation? How can that happen? How should you address feelings without walking into a landmine?
 
3. The Identity Conversation
What does this situation mean to each of us? What judgments are we likely making about each other? How is this affecting self-esteem?
  
Typical, during the “What Happened” conversation, no matter how we phrase it, we are usually telling the other side that they are to blame. The fact is that there isn’t a right or wrong.
 
The only certainty is that you and your counterpart have completely conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values. Move away from the need to prove you are right, to understanding the differing perceptions of each side. Shift the focus away from establishing blame and toward an acknowledgment that we can never truly know other peoples’ intentions.
 
The “Feelings” conversation is taking place at the same time. Regardless of how much you try to check your emotions at the door, there are emotional undercurrents to most difficult conversations. Even more, difficult situations don’t just involve feelings, they are based on feelings. Sometimes a situation is so sensitive that feelings can’t even be broached.
 
Typically, you will benefit from knowing how to acknowledge and talk about the feelings associated with the situation.
 
The “Identity” conversation is often the most subtle and complex. However, it offers leverage in managing anxiety and improving your results in the other two conversations.
 
This conversation asks “What does this say about me?” Even when you are the one who is delivering the bad news, identity still comes into play. How will you be perceived in the future, both by your counterpart and by those who either observe or are peripherally effected?
 
Here is a checklist from Difficult Conversations, by The Harvard Negotiation Project.
  • Prepare by walking through the three conversations.
  • Check your purposes and decide whether to raise the issue at all.
  • Don’t start from your version or your counterpart’s version of the situation. Start from the “third story” of the differences between your stories.
  • Listen carefully to their story, and then tell yours.
  • Problem solve by considering options that meet the most important concerns and interests
A successful outcome of a difficult conversation is realized when the organization wins, regardless of individual wants and needs.

Controlling Corporate Change

No matter how thorough the business analysis job or how complete the project plan, there's always something that needs to be changed or added after the fact. There will be change. So, there needs to be an orderly process for incorporating changes, corrections or fixes.
 
Many leaders have become proficient in managing incremental change and the occasional large-scale transformation. But managers today are facing a flood of continuous, overlapping, and accelerating change that has turned their organizations upside down. And managing people through that kind of change requires every communication and leadership strategy we’ve learned in the past - and then some.
 
The shift from “a change” to “constant change” is more than just semantics. The increased difficulty lies in the fact that most people and processes are set up for continuity, not chaos. We're built to defend the status quo, not annihilate it. But the world is throwing change at us with such intensity that there is hardly enough time to regain our equilibrium or catch our breath. Nor is there much hope that the rate of change will ease in the future.
 
So, what does it take to manage people through continuous change? Here are some suggestions:
 
Realize that resistance to change is inevitable - and highly emotional.
This may not really surprise you, but understand that it is a very real result of our neurological makeup. Change jerks us out of our comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control.
 
But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala (the brain's fear circuitry, which in turn controls our “flight or fight” response). And when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. All of us are then subject to the psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.
 
Give people a stabilizing foundation.
In a constantly changing organization, a sense of stability can still be maintained through corporate identity and collective focus of purpose. “Vision” in this situation is not a pithy or trite catch phrase, but a clearly articulated picture of what the organization is trying to achieve.
 
Remember, change really is the only constant, so make it your goal to convey this and help the people around you feel comfortable with it.
 
Encourage information access and knowledge sharing.
One of the most important functions of management is to act as an informational conduit for the whole organization. But when an organization is willing to publicly present that information, to listen to different interpretations and to encourage the conversation -- the result is a powerful catalyst for change.
 
Acknowledge that you are not in control.
The biggest obstacle to the organizational flexibility that executives say they want may be their unwillingness to give up control. Rather than tighten the reins, leaders need to loosen their grip in order to align the energies and talents of their teams and organizations around the latest changes. Mandated change faces an upward climb to success. Change efforts that include involvement from stakeholders are much more likely to get the resources that are needed for success.

Three Great Performance Improvement Tips

1) Pay Attention to Culture
All too often we hear about training initiatives that didn't "work", only to find out that improvements in knowledge or on-the-job skills weren't the entire answer. Once your employees have the necessary skill and knowledge you must turn your attention to engagement and motivation - and these are driven by culture.
 
2) You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure
Regardless of the area in which you desire to improve performance there must be a measure that includes both where you are now, and where you need to be in order to consider your performance improvement efforts successful. Anything from sales, to production, to IT project completion time can be measured.
 
3) Revisit Your Job Descriptions
Quite possibly the most troublesome area of performance improvement is the inadequate upkeep of job descriptions. In a rapidly changing business environment where task responsibility and "the buck" are never in the same place twice we are reminded with every consulting engagement that the most basic and critical performance measurement tool is also the most neglected.
 
Contact Us Today with your own Performance Improvement Needs!


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http://www.leadershipconsulting.com/
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