You could see the discomfort on their faces. A group of talented, committed professional sat in the meeting room as their leader – a key company executive – shared the organization’s strategic vision of the future and made it very clear that everyone would have to change to turn the vision into reality. In the executive’s words, the collective willingness and ability to transform the business is the difference between amazing success and disruption.
The specific name of the company or the industry in question is irrelevant. Everyone is operating under the threat of imminent disruption if they don’t change how they operate.
The discomfort that was visible on every attendee’s face had nothing to do with lack of support for the changes that were requested or needed. In fact, everyone expressed recognition and support for what needed to be done. Clearly, everyone was ready and willing to help the company succeed.
A discussion followed the presentation. The group’s reticence came down to how the company and its leadership would answer these questions:
- What happens to us if we make a mistake?
- Can we trust that honest mistakes will not cost us our job?
- Will we be given the time and resources to master the new competencies you expect from us?
There you have it. Maslow was right. Safety, security, and the ability to meet physiologic needs cannot be ignored. People change – or don’t – for their reasons not yours.
Your leadership responsibility is to provide the confidence that people won’t feel punished for honest mistakes resulting from their effort to be innovative and make change work. At the same time, you can’t provide blanket immunity from serious or continued performance or behavior problems.
Nothing you say will mean much without the trust of your team. If people don’t trust you now, they won’t alter their opinion simply because you encourage them to do so.
Assuming that your team trusts you … or at least doesn’t actively mistrust you, here are four ideas for providing your team with the reassurance they need to embrace the innovation and change that you desire in the future.
- Invest in education. If meaningful innovation and creativity only required encouragement from the leader, everyone would be doing it. You can’t realistically hold people accountable for something that they do not know how to do. There are those with the natural ability and business sense to generate an idea and bring it to market. Everyone else can learn to be at least incrementally better with education.
- Determine the boundaries. Every organization has a risk-reward tolerance that establishes the guidelines for what is and isn’t an acceptable idea. Technology start-ups have a very wide tolerance for risk because they know that the potential rewards are great. They want to fail fast and move on to the next potentially big idea. Most government agencies have a very low tolerance for risk. They are dealing with other people’s money in the public domain where avoiding failure may be more important than risking an idea that doesn’t work. The leader’s job is to set and communicate the boundaries. No one likes to hear, “You are empowered to try new ideas. Just don’t screw up.”
- Ensure clarity and alignment on the vision and goals. Your business most likely isn’t an innovation lab churning out random ideas to see what stick. A clear objective focuses the energy and increases the opportunity for meaningful contribution by everyone.
- Separate mistakes of the head and mistakes of the heart. Getting every idea right the first time is exceedingly rare … and perhaps nonexistent. Mistakes of the head are the honest errors made in pursuit of your vision. They are learning opportunities and must be used as such as long as they aren’t continually repeated. Mistakes of the heart, on the other hand, are those conscious acts that don’t contribute to achieving the vision or living your values. They should not be tolerated.
Your organization needs to be more nimble to flourish in the future. You know it, and so does everyone on your team. The vast majority will sign on to help you assuming you answer the questions that are crucial for their commitment to do so.
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 972.980.9857.