Friday, November 18, 2016

Beware the Emotional Effects of Transitions

If your board has term limits, it's likely you say “farewell and thanks” to one, two, or three board members every year. It might surprise you, though, to understand what each of your departing board members are feeling.

In the bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

He adds, "Change is external. Transition is internal."

At a recent board retreat, I challenged board members to pick one major change the organization had negotiated and then to pick one word that described the stage and the feelings that resulted—from their unique perspectives.

Bridges notes that "the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names," and suggests there are three phases of managing a transition: 
   • Ending
   • Neutral Zone
   • New Beginning

The author says it's important for leaders to be alert to the emotions and the psychological impact people experience as they journey through transitions. Perhaps you can reflect on a recent major change you have experienced as a board—and can pinpoint where people are along the journey. According to Bridges, here are the more common emotions in each phase:

   • ENDING: denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, sadness, annoyance/anger, fear, frustration, and cynicism.
   • NEUTRAL ZONE: curiosity, adjustment, exploration, learning.
   • NEW BEGINNING: creative tension, impatience, acceptance, hope or skepticism, relief, excitement, trust, enthusiasm.

One board member at the retreat circled the "sadness" emotion. His board term was ending and he was genuinely sad at the thought of being absent from the table. He spoke warmly of the relationships, the important mission of the organization, and much more.

"Oh, my," I thought. "Other board members often exit with glee—no more meetings, more time for leisure and family, and fewer deadlines. Yet this board member was sad.”

Really—that was wonderful. What a stunning board culture!

By the way, the board did a spectacular job of honoring him and one other departing board member. Well-prepared words. Short thank you videos from staff and clients. Coffee mugs with their top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, framed photo collages, and personalized mementos with the organization’s mission statement.

The presentation was poignant and perfect. Oh, my.

The big changes facing your board may be in another realm: CEO succession, program changes, financial crisis, or other challenges. So this is just a reminder that changes produce transitions, and transitions produce emotions—and all of us may be at different levels of moving from the ending, to the neutral zone, to the new beginning.

Note: To go deeper on this subject, read the 21-page resource on Moses, “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges. Here’s a taste:

“When Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go, some of them surely thought that the Promised Land was just around the corner. But Moses was not so naive, for he saw that he still had two problems. First, he had to draw a line of no return between the ending and the neutral zone. Second, he had to keep people in the neutral zone long enough for them to be fundamentally changed by the wilderness experience.”

QUESTION: How sensitive are your board members, CEO, and senior team members in recognizing that the decisions you make can trigger a variety of emotions and responses among the staff, volunteers, clients/customers, and donors you serve?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The President Gets 100 Days—You Get 90!

Over the next 70 days, our nation will watch and pray that the transition between U.S. presidents will go well. But I’m reminded of the book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins.

Watkins writes, “The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90.” 

He’s writing to anyone transitioning to a new position—and while it’s most applicable to CEOs and senior team members, new board chairs should also read this wisdom.

The first chapter plows new ground with five propositions on transitioning to a new job. “Too often…the new leader behaves more like a virus…”  Really? Why?

Watkins, a Harvard Business School prof, delivers a thoughtful and well-reasoned plan for what he calls succession strategies. It’s the difference between virtuous and vicious. He says, per Proposition #3, “that the overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.”

I’ve recommended this book hundreds of times. The first 90 days of a new job are critical for both first-time CEOs and experienced CEOs recruited to other organizations. But there’s hope! He notes:
“Like swimming, 
transitioning is a teachable skill.”

Perhaps the biggest “Aha!” moment for me was his brilliant segmenting of the four kinds of organizations (or departments). When your board is searching for your next CEO, how would you describe your ministry? Your candidates will want to know! 

The author’s acronym, “STARS,” describes the four: 
     • Start-up
     • Turn-Around
     • Realignment
     • Sustaining Success

This past year, I facilitated a board meeting when the CEO-elect disagreed with the board on their "STARS" status. Whew!

Caution! A successful CEO of a Turn-Around may fail at a Realignment. Chapter 3, “Match Strategy to Situation,” is worth the price of the book. The “STARS” theme oozes out and through all the chapters. Example: rewarding success is easiest in a Start-up, and rarely acknowledged in a Realignment.  He explains why.

Why is this important? If your new CEO (or your new board chair) has only 90 days to begin creating a “virtuous cycle,” then time is very, very important. Psalm 90:12 (TLB) reminds us, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Donald Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford. In Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, he quotes Jack Watson who served President Jimmy Carter. Watson: “The role of White House Chief of Staff is that of a ‘javelin catcher.’” 

Who is the Chief Javelin Catcher in your organization?

Rumsfeld also noted, “Arguably, there is no more consequential staff position in the U.S. government, perhaps even the world, than the position of White House Chief of Staff. At its core, the job is about making sure the President is able to focus on what is important for the country, that he is prepared, on schedule, and safe.” (Who is focusing on those four issues for your CEO?)

QUESTION: How does your board discern where the CEO should invest his/her most valuable resource—time? Where does your board invest its precious time? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Communicating Between Board Meetings to Your “Listeners” and “Readers”

If there’s one common whine from CEOs, it’s this: “My board members don’t read the reports I email them.”

Yet some board members also whine: “We don’t hear much from our CEO in between board meetings. He (or she) doesn’t call and we rarely have lunch together.

Here’s help from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Drucker noted that people are either readers or listeners. And…ditto board members!

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors discuss the boss/subordinate relationship—but the insights are equally valuable for board members, board chairs, and CEOs:

They write, “Subordinates can adjust their styles in response to their bosses’ preferred method for receiving information. Peter Drucker divides bosses into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.’ Some bosses like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. 

“As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your boss is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your boss is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

So ask each board member—“What’s your preferred method of receiving information? Written report or verbal report?”

I can hear the moans now from CEOs: “You expect me to give verbal reports to half my board if that’s their preferred style of receiving information?”

Calm down. There are options. But the big idea here is that emailing pages and pages of written reports to board members who are “listeners” will not be effective. And phoning or Skyping board members with verbal reports will be ineffective if they are “readers.”

With the wide ranges of digital options today, there are solutions. Some CEOs will record a verbal report and email an audio file to the “listeners,” along with the traditional written report. Others will host (and record) a conference call as a nod to the “listeners” on the board. 

Perhaps graciousness and respect means tilting towards what works for board members, not what’s convenient for CEO reporting (or what’s convenient for the CEO’s executive assistant).

One context for Christ-centered governance is from Psalm 139:14, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

Reminder! Our Creator fashioned the minds and learning styles of our board members. One size doesn’t fit all—and we praise Him for that! So what will you do—moving forward—to bless both the “readers” and the “listeners” on your board?

AND ONE MORE QUESTION: What’s your CEO’s preferred method of receiving information? Is he/she a “listener” or a “reader?”