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phil buckley

3 Types of Change Leader: Engaged; Staged; and Disengaged

It’s no surprise that leaders play an important role in the success of change initiatives. In fact, they play the most important role. Most research cite lack of visible and active executive sponsorship as the primary source of change failure. 

I have observed that leaders approach their change sponsor roles in three ways: engaged; staged; and disengaged.

Engaged leader are active participants in defining their roles. They:
– View change initiatives as business projects critical to current and future success
–  Are engaged in planning and briefing meetings
– Ask questions to gain clarity on their role and test the quality of thinking and rigour behind transition plans
– Get excited by the roles they will play
– Edit their communication
– Say things like “we have to get this right” and “what do you need from me”?

Staged leaders are attentive participants in defining their roles. They:
– View change initiatives as necessary, but not always a priority
– Are good listeners in briefing meetings
– Ask questions to gain clarity on tasks
– Accepts the roles they are given
– Review their communication and make minor adjustments
– Say things like, “just tell me what to do and I will do it” 

Disengaged leaders are passive participants in defining their roles. They: 
– View change initiatives as necessary, but not priorities
– Are efficient in briefing meetings
– Ask questions to understand commitments and may negotiate lesser roles than the one proposed
– Are resigned of the roles they will play
– Say things like, “other commitments may change my availability” and “we also have a business to run”

When I first meet executives, I watch for clues on what type of change leader they want to be. It is an early indication of how successful the change will be. Engaged leaders usually do well because their skills are fully leveraged and high level of commitment is known by all. They are invested and will do what it takes to ensure success.

Staged leaders are often successful too. As long as they stick to the script and their behaviours reinforce key messages, they usually do well.  If not, trust in them evaporates and employees retaliate by not supporting the change.

Disengaged leaders rarely lead change well. Their focus is on other things and people know it. Since people’s actions follow those of their leader, they also focus on other things. Project teams have difficulty gaining momentum and execution suffers. Eventually the project fails to deliver benefits or it is shelved.

A change manager’s role is to build the skill, behaviour and confidence of leaders so they are at their best during times of change. One way to do so is by shaping how they perceive their sponsor role. Increasing their level of engagement is a good start.


When Every Second Counts, Each Minute Has 60 Possible Victories

My doctor, a fellow runner, said that you run your first marathon to see if you finish, you run your second to see if you can beat your first time and who knows why you run your third. 

Last Sunday, I ran my third marathon. I signed up because my wife, Barb, was keen to run her second. It didn’t take long for me to think about how I could beat my best time. There is something addictive about making progress, especially when measurement is in seconds.

I knew I had to run differently if I wanted to beat my last time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 12 seconds – my goal was under 4 hours. My first two marathons were plagued with leg cramps and lost time seized up in thesecond half. Training harder would have made things worse.

My plan was to run smarter with a lighter stride to save my legs, to run continuously for the first half and save my breaks for when I needed them, and to better fuel and rest before the race.

The race started well and I exceeded my half-time goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes by 40 seconds (every second counts).  Another good sign was that I had no cramping. Things were going as planned.

At the 15 mile mark, I got my first tingle in my left leg. It happened 6 miles after it did in past marathons, which was a good omen, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get worse. I started taking 60 second breaks to stretch and walk. It felt counterproductive knowing the clock was ticking but I knew from past experience what would happen if I didn’t. 

By 20 miles, both legs were intermittently tightening but I could still run. By 22 miles I felt like I had to walk. Slowing down, however, made them cramp (and hurt) more. I realized that to avoid more intense pain and seizing I had to run on medium pained legs. It was a strange feeling knowing that staying in pain would save me being in greater pain.

At 24 miles, my right leg locked. I knew that if I stopped moving it would spasm so I kept running with one normal leg bending and the other tapping on the ground like a broomstick. I heard one onlooker say, “Get it going, get it going!” Within 30 seconds I was back to running with medium pain – a relief. 

With 500 metres to go and the finish line in sight, I though to myself, savour this moment, it might be your last marathon. I did my best to look around at the wonderfully supportive crowd. I even managed to sprint for the last 50 metres, something I couldn’t do in my first two races.

I crossed the line at the 4 hour, 6 minute and 44 second mark; I had knocked 90 seconds off of my personal best time. I didn’t reach my goal but I made significant progress. 

After recovering for a few hours, I assessed the changes I had made to get a better result. Here is what I wrote down:

  • Changing my stride – it helped preserve my legs but it didn’t eliminate my cramping problem 
  • Running continuously versus intervals – It was more fun, not sure if it helped me
  • Limiting weekly training miles – I didn’t get injured prior to the marathon, but I probably cut too many miles
  • Running more preparation races – this helped with first half speed
  • Seeing a physiotherapist – hard to tell
  • Managing what I eat – who knows?
  • Getting more rest – didn’t happen

Barb achieved a personal best too (16 minutes!). It took us about 20 minutes before we committed to running this race again next year. There are more changes to come and many seconds to be won. 


When Free is the Price of Success: Thriving in the Connection Economy

My introduction to how business works was in my first year university economics course. The assigned textbook was called Economics by Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner. It is hard to forget since it was the first business tome we were exposed to, cost a fortune and weighed a ton. Over the years I have asked people who took the same program if they remember Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner. They all do.

New economic models have been created since then. For example, the internet has changed the rules of the game on marketing. Social media has provided opportunities for small business to earn the exposure and influence once reserved for large and better resourced companies. 

Customer relationships are changing too. Seth Godin coined the term “connection economy” to describe the connectivity provided by the internet and how spreading ideas across communities of like-minded people is the pathway to success. Valuable Ideas make strong connections that lead to trust and loyalty. Other business leaders, including Chris Brogan and Michael Hyatt, have expanded on this concept and proven its success. 

Seth Godin’s ‘Free Stuff!’ Web Page Invitation

A core belief of the connection economy is that the most effective way to spread your ideas is to give your content away for free; the more you share, the more value you create and the greater trust and loyalty you earn. When you do offer something for sale, people in your community will buy it because they are confident in its value and want to support the relationship.

I have had the opportunity to practice this belief, both with Change with Confidence and my speaking engagements. Blank templates of the tools I included in my book are available for free downloading on my web site.  Also, the slides I use in presentations are available for free to all participants and are posted on Slideshare

My latest give-away will be an ebook of “how-to” articles and blog posts on change management. Topics will include “The First Thing Leaders Need to Do When Leading a Big Change” and “Why Confidence is so Important When Leading Change and How to Build It”. 

The creative process has already begun. My next steps are to: 

  1. Reread the 170 articles I have written and select the ones for the e-book
  2. Create an outline to organize the articles into a logical order
  3. Work with Krishan Jayatunge and Laurie Barnett to create the design and layout. I am looking forward to working with them, especially after seeing their work on An Honest Living, an excellent book by Melodie Barnett and Luisa Girotto.

My e-book will be given to everyone who signs up for the Change with Confidence newsletter. It will also be a gift to everyone who is receiving it now or who reads my blog. It could be available for participants who attend my speaking engagements too. The possibilities seem endless.

I am excited by my new project. It’s a chance to build something new, which is always thrilling. It’s also a chance to grow a community of like-minded people who value what I have to say. 

That sounds like success to me. Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner might also agree.


How do you know if people understand a change initiative?

I was talking with someone who was going through a large change at her organization. She described the communication materials that had been developed to build awareness about the change. It was important to explain why the change was necessary and what was going to be new for employees.

I asked, “Did people understand the communication?” She said, “Yes.” I then asked, “How do you know?”
Often, project teams focus their efforts on building and executing change plans without thinking about how they will test if their activities achieved what they were intended to do. 

For this project, checking online access to presentations would confirm if people actually viewed the communication. Also, asking a few people about what they learned would provide a proxy for levels of awareness. A couple of simple questions such as “Why are we making the change?” and “What is the change about?” is all that is needed.

Not investing in validating understanding can have disastrous consequences such as people not adopting new ways of working because they don’t make sense or not knowing the benefits that the change will provide and therefore not ensuring they are realized. 

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was not confirming that a supplier had trained its people on how a large systems change would alter processes.
We had developed a rock solid validation plan for all colleagues but neglected to include employees from third-party providers who were acting on the behalf of the company. 

I had asked the transition lead for this group if the training had been successfully delivered. The person said yes and I left it at that. Most of the training had not been shared with the company. Like most mistakes made during big changes, mine cost time, money and credibility. This was a lesson I have not had to learn twice.

Here are some tips on how to assess what people know about a change and their role in making it successful:
  • Establish validation checkpoints at each important milestones or at the beginning of each phase of the initiative
  •  Identify what people must know and be able to do at each checkpoint
  • Ask leaders to sign off on the validation plan, giving them ‘skin in the game’
  • Poll a random sample of individuals from all impacted parts of the organization 
  • Involve leaders in the validation process. Ask them to assess a few of their team members
  • Include your assessment in leadership updates
  • Acknowledge and profile groups that are up to speed
  • Develop a plan to close any gaps 

It is easy to assume that people understand what you have communicated to them, especially when you are working on the project and know the details by heart. Testing your assumptions about what people know is one of the best ways to manage risk and avoid surprises. 

How do you know if people understand a change initiative? Ask them.


How to Lead Change in a Unionized Environment

I met Jamie Gruman, Associate Professor of
Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph last week for coffee. We talked about
current trends in change management and where our field is headed.
Jamie mentioned that his Leadership of
Organizational Change Masters program class was discussing how to lead change within
a unionized environment. We thought this would make a good blog post.
 I worked within a unionized environment at Cadbury
in Canada. Management and the union had good relations and I don’t recall any
union-specific challenges to the merger and cultural initiatives we
I remember a warehouse manager saying he
preferred to work with unions because the rules of engagement are clear and in
writing. He also said that you get the union you deserve, meaning that good
relationships breed good partnerships (and vice versa).
Union leadership is a stakeholder group just like
all others that are impacted by change and have influence over the
direction, evaluation and ultimately the success of it. You need to engage and
motivate these key players as you would anyone else. This will ensure they
visibly support the change and drive the behaviours that enable it, demonstrating
them to their membership. 
The first thing to do is assess how the change will
impact union leadership and what role you need them to play:
  •         How will they (and their membership)
  •         How will they lose?
  •         What support do you need
    from them?
  •         How motivated will they be
    to support the change?
  •         What actions do you need to take to get
    them on side?

Here are some tips on how to align union leadership
with your change initiative:
  • Meet with them prior to communicating
    the change to explain:
    • Why
      the change is necessary for the long-term health of the organization. This is
      the common purpose you will work toward.
    • What other
      options were considered
    • Why it is
    • What it
      will do
    • What needs
      to change and what will stay the same for the change to be successful
    • How people
      will be involved in the planning and transition phases
    • What
      support (training, coaching, etc.) will be provided
    • What will
      happen and when
  • Ask for feedback
  • Discuss the role(s) that union
    leadership will play in the change. It needs to be an important, visible and
    active one
  • Commit to update meetings at key points
    of the transition plan

An excellent example of management and union
partnership through change was in 1984 when Toyota and General Motors created a
joint venture called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) that transformed an ailing GM factory in Fremont, California, into a highly
efficient producer of cars.
Within one year, the ailing plant went from GM’s
worst-quality producer to its highest. Labour relations followed a similar
transformation. Employees and their union embraced the Toyota production system
built on mutual trust and empowerment. Absenteeism dropped from 20% to
So how do you lead change in a unionized
environment? The same way you do in a non-unionized one except for the
acknowledgement, engagement and motivation of another key stakeholder that can influence
the success of the change. This is an important step
that is sometimes missed.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (and Maybe Not Get You Here Again)

On May 4th, I will be running my third marathon. My first was in October 2011 and second in May 2012. I had satisfied my marathon thirst and said that I would only run another one if Barb wanted to run her second. Last September, she became thirsty. 

#1: 4 h. 29 m. 46 s.

Running is a great sport. For those who have a competitive spirit, the goal is continuous improvement and the measure is to beat your personal best time. When you do, the feeling is tremendous. 

I ran my first marathon when I was writing the first draft of Change with Confidence. Running 26.2 miles. Twice the distance of my longest run seemed like an appropriate stretch goal. 

I created a detailed training plan and stuck to it. My big mistake was exceeding it, which gave me shin splints four weeks before the race. I could barely run for two and a half weeks.

The run was tough. My legs started cramping around 9 miles in and they seized at the 15 mile mark. I had experienced slight cramping in my longest training runs, but nothing like this. I got to the finish line but far later than I had planned.

#2: 4 h. 8 m. 26 s.

Two days after the race, I started planning my second marathon that was six months away. This time I was joined by my wife Barb and friend Tim. I learned from my mistake and kept to my training plan. At the starting line I was injury free and confident about my performance.  

I followed my race plan, running ’10 and 1′ intervals and not starting too quickly. To my surprise and horror, my legs started to spasm at the same distances. I relived the progressive decline of my legs, just like watching a movie for the second time – a scary one. 

The good news is that I finished the marathon and beat my first marathon time by over 21 minutes.

This time around, I have completely overhauled how I run and train. I have been:

  • Changing my stride by shortening my steps and lessening the impact on my feet and legs
  •  Running continuously versus ’10 and 1′ intervals – I lost too much time walking when my legs were strong
  • Limiting weekly training miles to 30 versus 45 – was I overtaxing them before? 
  • Running more preparation races prior to the marathon (7 versus 4)
  • Seeing a physiotherapist two weeks before the race to discuss prevention and management strategies and tactics
  • Managing what I eat, especially three days prior to the race – high carbohydrates, low fibre and protein

With 23 days to go, my practise races are a little slower than two years ago, but my form is better. This will be a good test of Marshal Goldsmith’s adage, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The “there” for me is a faster time and stronger legs throughout the race. Either of them will be an improvement and both will be tremendous.


How Change Management is Changing

This week I went to the global Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) Conference in Orlando. I had attended last year’s conference just after the launch of Change with Confidence.

The two conferences are like bookends to a great year. I have never done more public speaking, writing, and consulting. I also have learned a lot about publishing, business ownership and what makes me tick. It’s been a good year.

When I returned home, I reread my blog post about last year’s conference to see if my interests had changed.

My objectives were similar with one exception: This year, I was keen to get clarity on how the profession is changing. I wanted to see if others were noticing a growing demand for strategic leader support beyond developing independent change projects. 

My new objective affected my choice of sessions, the questions I asked, and the conversations I had. There were many views on where our profession needs to go.

Still a thrill to see my book on display

There is a growing need to help leaders navigate their constantly changing environments and constantly reinvent their organizations to compete. 

Two themes emerged over the week: How to effectively manage the ever-growing portfolio of changes that are needed to succeed and how to build resilience and agility capabilities into the mindsets, processes, and culture that shape how work gets done. 

I left the conference with more questions than answers about the future of change management. Bill Taylor, one of the keynote speakers, had the best question of all: Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?


Change Begins When Someone Does Something Differently

Have you noticed that change doesn’t start until someone changes his or her behaviour? There can be many pronouncements about the need for change and how things will be better when they do, but if no one does anything differently, nothing will change. 

This is why leaders’ behaviour is so important. They need to demonstrate the new ways of working. People are watching to assess their personal commitment to the change. They must prove their words by their actions. If the organization must be more fiscally responsible, so must they. If a culture of collaboration is needed then they must be collaborative. Leaders set direction.

Although leaders’ behaviour is a ‘must-have’ success factor, they don’t have to be the first people to do things differently to start a change.  It is best if they do, but change can begin by the behaviours of others.

This recently happened in our family. Our son Sam announced that he was no longer eating junk food. I know, what? He also started working out daily. Barb and I were supportive of his good habits. We complimented his good eating choices and his ever growing muscular physique. We are proud parents.

Almost immediately, Sam’s behaviour affected ours. We cut down on buying sweets and sugary drinks – Charlie was still enjoying them (“Thanks Sam, more for me.”) but was eating less. We were also upping our protein intake (a muscle builder’s friend) and eating more fresh food. Sam’s behaviour was changing what we ate. 

Daily Arm Dips

Sam’s fitness regimen was also affecting mine. My daily exercises became easier to start after I heard his weights hit the floor over my office. It has become a trigger for my work out.

Fitness has become a family activity too. Sam and I have started a daily arm dip exercise in our kitchen. We can’t go to sleep without doing our set, which is fun to do and talk about. In fact, every change our family has made has been fun to talk about. Change doesn’t have to be miserable.

This experience has reinforced that although leader support and behaviour modeling is essential to successful change, it doesn’t have to come first. Others’ examples may even help them to learn what they need to do. Just like Sam did for us.


How to Honour the Past to Make Room for the Future

The World’s Biggest Bookstore opened in downtown Toronto in 1980. It was a sight to be seen: three stories, 64,000 square feet, 20 kilometres of shelves and lots and lots of books. 

It was the go-to place for books and magazines. Before the days of internet shopping, this was the place to go for selection. They seemed to stock everything.

It was also the place for finding gift ideas. I remember the store being packed on December Saturdays as people feverishly hunted for holiday presents. There were even lineups to get on the escalator.

Last November, it was announced that Chapters Indigo Books was not renewing the lease and the store would be closing. The property would be redeveloped and leased to four new restaurants. 

The news was received as another example of change in the publishing industry and the Toronto landscape. I don’t recall anyone saying that it was wrong and should be stopped. It was a sign of the times.

On Tuesday, I visited the World’s Biggest Book Store with a friend before it closes next week. It was exactly how I remembered it. The same signs, the same shelves and the same escalator. What had changed was that most of the books had either been sold or transferred to another store. Many of the shelves were empty.

My experience is similar to what happens in most successful change projects. The past is honoured before people transition to the future. They need to pay tribute to what they know and love before they can let go of it to make room for something new. 

That night, I visited my Dad. When I showed my pictures of the store, his friend remarked with a smile, “It served its purpose.” I thought, what a dignified way of honouring the past.


When a Step Back is the Way Forward

Organizations going through big changes often fall prey to their original change plan because following it suggests that leaders and their project teams have everything worked out. The longer the team stays on track, the greater the confidence that it is the right plan. Conversely, adjusting the plan can make it look flawed and raises doubts about the path forward.

In an environment where changes are seen as mistakes, people focus their efforts on delivering the plan versus testing it to make sure it will still deliver results. This behaviour is reinforced when rewards are tied to plan completion instead of what it delivers.

This is not how change initiatives work; the plan often needs to be modified as new information becomes known. Making real-time adjustments can mitigate risks and focus resources where they will have the greatest impact. 

You need to take a step back when new information becomes known to see if it has any bearing on the change plan. I do this by asking these questions:

1) Why is it important?
This helps me differentiate between important and urgent information. Sometimes things can seem important based on how it is delivered. If it is important, what are the implications of this data? How does it impact the plan, if at all?

2) What do I need to know?
New information requires investigation, which usually creates additional information needs. Asking this question helps me determine what I already know and what I need to source. It also demonstrates to stakeholders that action is being taken. 

3) What experiences can I learn from?
Similar circumstances have most likely occurred in this organization. This question often leads to hypotheses or options to consider. Similar experiences also help identify risks associated with different courses of action.

4) What works and doesn’t work?

In any organization, culture and current business realities influence what leaders and their teams will support or reject. For example, a very hierarchical organization will most likely reject a course of action that requires employee empowerment and decision making. Looking at options through these filters help identify changes that will be effective.

It is easy for your plan to become the goal versus the result it is intended to deliver. Taking a step back to ask a few questions will help define the best path forward, even if it is different from the original one.


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