How To Design A Change-Friendly Environment In Your Organization

How To Design A Change-Friendly Environment In Your Organization


Behaviors and relationships in place of titles and stature is the foundation of the Change-Friendly environment. It is based on what I call the power of the Four Ts: Think-Friendly, Talk-Friendly, Trust Friendly and Team-Friendly. These Four Ts inform all the behaviors in the Change-Friendly protocol. 

Think-Friendly: See the World Through a Fresh Lens: Sound thinking is at the center of every effective change effort. It doesn’t necessarily have to be brilliant thinking, although that never hurts. It doesn’t even have to be innovative or breakthrough thinking, although an occasional dose of that can certainly help. But it does need to be sound thinking –– thinking that raises the right questions and elicits a range of reasonable answers. Your brain has a mind of its own. No kidding. On its own accord, the brain tends to act more out of self- preservation than out of rationality. We have a natural tendency to tell ourselves stories that justify what we’re doing or failing to do. We have a natural tendency to allow our stories to masquerade as facts. The good news is that we can teach ourselves a new set of behaviors that serve us better.

Talk-Friendly: Put Your Best Voice Forward: Because it requires honesty and clarity, true dialogue can be uncomfortable. And because people like to avoid discomfort, it’s tempting to allow some topics to remain unaddressed. Most of us have been in situations where there’s a relevant issue that nobody seems willing to talk about. We might even say to ourselves, “There’s an elephant in this room, and I sure wish someone else would tame that animal.” Well, to tame an elephant, you must first acknowledge its existence. Talk-Friendly practitioners understand the difference between implicit and explicit communication. The elephant is implicit. But until the elephant’s presence is made explicit, the quality of true dialogue is limited.

Taming elephants is a three-part process:

1. Identify the elephant. Although you always want to be respectful, identifying the elephant is not the time to mince words.

2. Uncover the underlying assumptions that people have about the elephant. In a spirit of genuine curiosity and discovery, talk openly about your view of the “elephant” and invite the other dialogue participants to share their perspectives. You will be enlightened, and possibly even surprised, by the ways people have constructed their versions of “reality.”

3. Make it safe to talk openly about the elephant. People are afraid of elephants because they don’t want to get stomped on. Good dialogue skills, like listening with empathy and inquiring to discover, can help create an atmosphere of acceptance so people can deal openly with their concerns. Underscore the mutual interests you share with the other players. This is also an important time for participants to relinquish power. Position and status differences have a major effect on people’s readiness to explore different points of view honestly

Trust-Friendly: Make Trust First to Make It Last. When trust is low, you pay a “tax” because everything requires more time to accomplish and everything costs you more. When trust is high, you receive a “dividend” because you’re able to get things done faster and at a lower cost. This dividend is real. It’s not just a feel-good factor. It’s an actual economic dividend and the data on it is overwhelming. For example, a Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust organizations outperformed low-trust organizations by 286 percent in total return to shareholders.

One of the more common Trust Busters is using one’s higher status to compel obedience or obtain privileges. This is guaranteed to spawn resentment. When a boss pulls rank, people respond more out of compliance than out of commitment. Besides, pulling rank often comes across not as a sign of strength, but of weakness. Here are five steps to help you drop the pretense:

1. Question your motives. Are you using your position or authority to browbeat people into doing things your way? Are you trying to stifle open discussion?

2. Examine your case. Are there leaks in the case you’re trying to make for adopting your view?

3. Inspect your language. Are you using words like “Remember that I’m the boss ...” or “Just do what you’re told”? These are blatant examples of pulling rank, with bullying thrown in.

4. Consider the desired outcomes. If mutual purpose and mutual respect are what you really want in your relationships, you’ll realize that pulling rank introduces a tone that’s contrary to mutuality.

5. Practice your Talk-Friendly skills. Remember that true dialogue cannot occur in an atmosphere where one person tries to exert power over another. Stay on the lookout for communication barriers. These sometimes influence people to shift gears from collaboration to command-and-control.

Team-Friendly: Finding Strength in Unity. No doubt about it, teamwork is more common as a buzzword than as an actual practice. Without the benefit of nuance, teamwork is one of those catch-all terms often extended as the magic elixir for the moment’s most pressing execution issue. But when we’re strategic about putting both the team and the work into teamwork, beautiful things can happen. Regardless of their composition, teams don’t function in a vacuum. To help ensure success, it’s critical to establish and maintain the right environment. A team is most likely to be effective when five conditions exist:

  • It’s a real team, not just a team in name only.
  • It has a compelling purpose that kindles the enthusiasm of its members.
  • It has a reinforcing framework that promotes and enables rather than inhibits team achievement.
  • It enjoys a nurturing context, not just lip service.
  • Team members have ready access, individually and collectively, to skillful coaching on teamwork issues.

Effective teamwork is not just a nice-to-have element in change efforts. It’s a DBM –– a Double-Barreled Must. If you’re serious about change, teamwork is not an option. Independence and turf protection are the absolute antithesis of a Change-Friendly environment. As we’re reminded in the Japanese proverb, “a single arrow is easily broken, but not 10 in a bundle.”

Leadership does not require a title. Many people who provide the uplifting and encouraging influence of true leadership do so without authority or position. Change- Friendly leadership is not about ordering people around. It’s about engaging people’s heads, hearts, and hopes. Don’t diminish the importance of this by calling it “soft stuff.” Appropriate engagement of people is absolutely essential to success with all the “hard stuff” of organizational performance. And it must never end. There are brief stopping off points along the way, but it’s a journey, not a destination. 

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