Big changes happen through a series of small actions. And standing up to the status quo requires bravery.
As I sat peacefully on the warm sands of Myrtle beach, my eyes fixed on the behaviors of the birds. Just offshore I noticed large flocks riding the warm air current southwards. They swooped and swerved in an orderly and carefree manner. The force of the air stream carried them along at a pretty good clip. In terms of birds, all I know is something inside of them triggers the flock to habitually migrate south in the winter. So, what happens when a handful defy their instincts?
There were these three birds. They looked to be from the same flock, but instead of heading south with the rest of the bird tribe, they were flying against the wind. Their heads were bowed low against the force coming at them, their wings moved with slow, determined, deliberate purpose. For minutes, it appeared all the strength they exerted moved them nowhere. They were flying in place, making limited forward progress.
In my quest to change the world of work, that’s how it feels to me some days. Like I’m flapping my wings against a strong headwind and making little progress. But there is a strong internal drive forcing me to fly in a different direction from the flock. And I am pretty committed to my journey.
I while ago I hosted an event for a local group of HR leaders. While the intent of the group is to support innovation in the field of HR, what I experienced that morning was more of the habitual “flying with the current” dialogue. The concept being presented was interesting, yet the underlying assumptions were same-old-same-old. At some point I couldn’t sit quiet anymore and, without being too disruptive, offered another perspective.
The room tensed. What was this? A new member of the flock making a u-turn and flying against the current? I understand how hard it can be to give voice to alternative, perhaps controversial perspective. Yet without doing so, nothing will change. Each time we find the strength to constructively add our voice, it is an opportunity for forward progress.
What’s of particular note is what happened following the event. My inbox was flooded with messages from new peers who expressed gratitude for an alternative way of thinking and an outpouring of offers to connect and extend the conversation. This flock began to question its habits.
We can become so unconscious, numb to what we do. We keep on doing the same-old-same-old without question. One great example of this is performance feedback. I was working with a relatively new senior team in an organization that had been in place for a little over a year. There was a loud uproar from leadership for performance management. So, I held a session and asked a few questions.
How many of them had participated in performance feedback either as an employee or a manager? As you can imagine that was about 100% of the room.
How many of them had found the process helpful?
About 10%; one even spoke about still having some PTSD from the numerous processes of their last big company.
This led to a robust conversation about what was actually needed, for them and for their people. We designed to that point of need. Lightweight light touch, quick uplift, meaningful change.
As managers you are seeing the day-to-day running of your company operations in a way that is more holistic and systemic than many others. You see the impact of what is working and what is not working for the people of your company in a very close and personal way.
So a few opportunities
- See something, say something. Stop assuming others see what you see and share your perspectives with as many others as you can get to listen. Listen to what they have to say. Listen for the kernel of change that could shift things for the better.
- Take initiative. Companies hire problem solvers. Think through the issue. Vet it with others; include conversations with resisters and folks with diverse perspectives and experiences. Make a proposal: clearly outlining the issue or pain point, share some new information, disruptions or known risks. And share your proposal with people that can make it happen.
- Embrace the marketplace of ideas. Know that most ideas get better when other contribute. Hold your idea lightly, realizing the end solution may look different than what you are proposing or even how you began.
Change begins when one person is brave enough to speak up. All change need needs a champion. So be that champion.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s “Five-minute Epiphanies How to Mine the Mess for Success: Tips, Snippets and Stories.” For more information check us out at www.stepupleadership.com and join us next week where I will be talking about breaking up and letting go.