When I first began my practice about 15 years ago, one of my first clients was working on a major change programme. The objective was to develop an end to end customer experience. And I was the Program Director. Such a worthy objective and I was extremely excited by the opportunity.
This organisation was the result of two competitor organisations merging about 12 months earlier. The program of work was about putting the finishing touches to that merge process, to create a consistent and unified experience for all customers.
By morning tea time on the first day, I realised this program was never going to deliver.
Because this was not one organisation. There were still two organisations operating. There were two sets of systems. There were two sets of employee agreements. There were two separate cultures, which by the way, did not get along at all. Even the people on the executive team were referenced by the pre-existing organisations. So there was no unity. There was no shared vision. And in fact, it was quite obviously destructive and somewhat toxic in there. Quite a discovery in the first two hours on client site.
I was witnessing things like people sending emails to a colleague sitting adjacent to them, who happened to be from the ‘other’ company, rather than speaking to them. People not sharing information with each other. People clearly turning their backs on colleagues who might want to speak with them. It was quite horrible.
So I approached my key stakeholder, feeling incredibly nervous, and shared my initial impressions that if we were to launch into this programme of work, we didn’t have a high chance of success. That to have any chance of success some significant foundation work was needed first. And that it had to be initiated, role modelled, and led by the executive leaders. The same leaders who so far, clearly, had not been leading a culture change. Who seemed to be accepting the behaviour.
The fact that these leaders were seemingly accepting what was happening in their organisation and still expected to deliver a major transformation was not leadership.
“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”
~ Major General David Morrison
Leaders know that the way to change things for the better is to challenge what is not working. If you simply accept the way it is, nothing will change.It’s like ignoring the elephant in the room. If you do not address it, you can’t move it out of the room.
All change begins with honesty about where you are right now.
Leaders step in. Ask questions. Challenge.
Leaders lead in multiple dimensions:
And whenever they walk past something in the world they operate in, their ecosystem, then that’s tantamount to acceptance. And if that thing they walk past, whatever it is, doesn’t help us, support us, move us forward, create opportunity in our world, then you’re not doing your job as a leader.
What I’ve been noticing at the moment is that it can be easy for leaders to say, ‘it’s out of our control, there’s nothing we can do.’ I disagree.
If you are not challenging, championing, and changing the things that matter in your world, you are not leading, and you will never leave a legacy. You won’t have made an impact as a leader. And worse than that, you won’t have made an impact on the people that you serve.
“Leaders make choices not excuses.”
~ Stacey Ashley
So back to my story. After I gained agreement from my stakeholder about the current situation and that we should not launch the programme with the current conditions, I suggested a way forward. A way to build a common foundation that would set us: the client; the executive; the community of the organisation; the customers, up for success going forward.
I suggested using a simple coaching approach. I would talk to each of the executive team members individually. I would ask them the same three coaching questions. The goal being to create the opportunity to start the right conversations that would enable the executive team to lead the organisation towards becoming a single organisation.
My role was:
- Ask the 3 agreed questions
- Listen to the answers, without judgement
- Share the answers back to the executive team together
- How would you like this organisation to be in six months’ time?
- How is this organisation now?
- What are you doing about it?
Coaching is a great way of creating opportunity for exploration, for sharing ideas, for developing understanding, and through that, for initiating conversations that will be constructive, based in positive intent, to find a way forward.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. And if you want to change ‘the way things happen around here,’ then you cannot walk past, you must challenge it.
So what are some first steps to being able to challenge using a coaching approach?
- Ask open questions
- Withhold judgement
- Ask with the intention of listening to the answers
- Seek to understand, and to create shared understanding
From there you can begin to look for options, opportunities, choices that will move you towards a better version of Your World, for you, your team, your organisation, your customers, and stakeholders.
Leaders do not walk past.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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