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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

Blog

Filtering by Category: Leadership

The Top Table

Delta7 Change

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When an organisation is going through a potentially uncertain period of change there can be a tendency for a distance to arise between leadership and staff. Decision-making in such volatile environments can be fraught with disagreements and ambiguities, with leaders finding themselves debating more and more on which course of action to take. Sometimes there is just too much input to consider and the temptation is to limit the options and control the situation.

From the point of view of those not sitting in the decision-making circle it can feel difficult to influence or even be heard by the top table - leading to widespread frustration. A communication void further exacerbates the situation, with people filling it with rumour and speculation about what is going on “up there”.

The onus is on the leadership to be aware of this dynamic in times of uncertainty and do what it can to include, involve and listen to employees’ concerns and perspectives. Getting a broader viewpoint on a problem is rarely a bad thing and often the solution lies with those who do the work.

How can we stop HiPPOs turning into elephants?

julian burton

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Have you come across a HiPPO in a recent meeting? I was at a fantastic Corporate Rebels workshop this weekend where I first heard the term HiPPO. Created by Avinash Kaushik, the acronym stands for ‘The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’. This refers to the impact of hierarchy in a meeting where people sometimes defer, for various reasons, to the opinion of the person with the most power, experience or salary. 

HiPPOs can get in the way of good decision-making. Having a HiPPO in the room can dominate a meeting as it often carries a lot more weight than other voices. People may feel too scared to challenge a dominant opinion, even though they may fundamentally disagree with it, while others may pay lip service and be eager to please and toe the line. The owner of the dominant voice runs the risk of believing they alone have the best ideas and miss the opportunity of hearing the valuable insights or ideas that come from different voices in the room. A leader may be aware of the impact they have on others but it’s not easy to create a culture where people feel its safe to question a HiPPO without fear of reprisal.

The interesting thing for me is that HiPPOs only exist because of the relationships in the room, with everyone in a sort of collusion in keeping them present. It seems to me that it is vitally important for everyone to be aware of the impact they have on others and how one reacts in silencing oneself in these dynamics.

Taking ownership of the parts we play in creating HiPPOs is the only way to stop them turning into elephants.

Was there a HiPPO in the room today? What was the part you played in keeping it alive?

 

 

So, you think you're collaborative?

Delta7 Change

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We like to believe we’re collaborative - yet it’s all too easy to lose sight of other people you should be having more collaborative relationships with. Do you know how they feel about it? Are you really listening to your people?

Power relationships can make it almost impossible to speak up to someone in charge. As a leader, if you’re not hearing feedback then you're missing an opportunity to learn and demonstrate the new behaviours you want to see in the culture. Just by saying you’re going to be collaborative doesn’t mean you will be, and there may be no one with the courage to hold you accountable. How collaborative do those working around you really think you are?

Why isn't our new strategy taking off?

julian burton

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We often hear leaders’ frustration that the frontline don’t get the new strategy. And we hear from those people that they are being asked to implement a new change strategy they don’t understand, don’t feel connected to, or don’t believe in. 

However brilliant a strategy looks in Powerpoint, it may not be worth much if it’s created at the top and cascaded down onto the people who will be delivering it. The one-way nature of traditional "comms" can create alienation, confusion and lack of meaning if it doesn't encourage the dialogue necessary for people to make sense of and fully understand the changes being asked of them.

This separation between strategy development and its implementation is often cited as a major cause of failed change programmes. The frontline should be involved in the strategy development process. Listening to what they have to say and taking their ideas, concerns and objections seriously can go a long way to creating a genuinely shared narrative that everyone can feel part of and committed to.

How much do you trust your people?

Delta7 Change

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In organisations with a ‘command and control’ culture there is the expectation that orders should be followed to achieve a desired result – rather like following the instructions from a sat nav to reach a destination. This may usually work well, but learning is limited, and the dependency on the sat nav can leave the driver lost or stuck if anything goes wrong with it.

In organisations where individuals are trusted to take more responsibility for their work people have an incentive to take more care, and can become more invested in their outcomes. They are reading the map and charting the route, and having to be alert to their surroundings. Things will go wrong from time to time, but then lessons can be learnt and better solutions found. Sometimes taking a new turning will lead to discoveries and opportunities that would never have appeared on the sat nav.

Going to the moon and back

Delta7 Change

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The well-worn tale of the Apollo Program, the visiting president, and the helpful janitor serves as a memorable illustration of team engagement and an apocryphal narrative about storytelling. After all these years it still stands out as a great example of the motivating effect of an inspiring vision.

 “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.” John F Kennedy, 1962

Stories invite us to go on a journey and are so effective at delivering a message because they give the audience a way of engaging with the details and caring about the outcome. We are drawn in by being able to relate to the characters, their motivations and needs. We also recognise the challenge in the current state and become curious about how it can be resolved. The challenge may demand a journey or quest, which we hope will have a fitting outcome.

Every organisation has it’s own narrative and while not all projects and stories can be as uplifting or as clear-cut as a mission to the moon, seeing our place in a bigger picture can invest work with more significance and be emotionally compelling. Having the opportunity to reflect upon a narrative and make sense of our role within it allows us to consider new possibilities, inspire us to take on new responsibilities and conduct our daily work mindful of a long-term strategic vision.

Most of all it helps us take ownership of the challenge and consider what we can do differently to help overcome it. The scale and status of one’s role does not necessarily define the value of each contribution.

Even though we may have little influence in the grander scheme of things, by taking personal responsibility to manage the quality of our work we can maximise the positive effect we have. And if everyone has this same personal investment in the outcome of the story there’s no limit to what can be achieved.

The Eve of Disruption

paul stroud

Transformation programmes can be challenging and disruptive, especially when staff are expected to get on with their business as usual efficiently throughout. Hunkering down to try to focus on what they need to get done, with a dull ache of change fatigue, they’re not at their most receptive.

To break out of this defensive position people must feel that they are actively involved in a programme, not merely on the receiving end of the latest salvo from the leadership. A chance to be listened to, to contribute, to influence. That the issues they have experienced personally can be recognised more widely, and addressed. In that way they can become active participants, playing a part in driving a change rather than just being observing passengers.

Without this meaningful involvement a transformation programme risks being hobbled from the start - regarded by employees as the latest attack on the order they’d carefully established, and something to be resisted or quietly subverted.

It should be an opportunity to embrace, as the route to changes that could make a positive difference for them and their organisation. One way or the other they will find a role to play: it all depends on whether the transformation is done with them, or to them.