Author and keynote speaker Chris Laping recently shared his thoughts on the challenges of leading through change. This is a summary of his presentation from 3Cloud’s Envision Summit.
Gallup reports that 70% of all change initiatives are unsuccessful. Why do some organizations succeed at delivering change while others don’t? Quite simply, their leaders put people before things. Using concepts from my best-selling book, I’ll take you on a journey to help you visualize how you can become CHANGE leaders.
During a recent book tour, I had the opportunity to meet around 200,000 tech leaders who all shared a common concern: misalignment in priorities within their organizations. They felt that executives and board members were not on the same page, making it challenging to rally everyone towards a common goal, especially with limited resources. Many of these leaders expressed a desire to have a seat at the table, not necessarily to control everything but to be a part of the decision-making conversation. I realized that these struggles were symptoms of larger issues related to alignment and communication. In this discussion, I aim to introduce a concept that serves as a remedy for these dysfunctions, emphasizing the need for tech leaders to be “unignorable” when working with peers, superiors, and boards that they don’t directly control.
To become an unignorable tech leader, there are two key tactics that every leader must hone: persuasion and conflict management. Persuasion is essential for motivating people to take action, even when tech leaders may prefer not to have to persuade others constantly. The reality is that compelling people to act is often necessary, and tech leaders must excel in this skill. The second crucial skill is conflict management, which involves navigating productive conflict to ensure that everyone is aligned and moving in the right direction. Misalignments and communication breakdowns often stem from a lack of persuasion or unresolved conflicts, leading to issues like priority dysfunction. Strengthening these two skills is vital for tech leaders to excel.
In the subsequent discussion, we will dive deeper into these two key tactics, starting with persuasion. By understanding and mastering these skills, tech leaders can become unignorable influencers, driving alignment and cohesion within their organizations.
Persuasion is a critical skill for tech leaders, and it involves a multi-step process including creating awareness, understanding and preference.
- Awareness: Persuasion is about more than words, it’s about building buy-in, and this process starts with awareness. In the awareness phase, people first hear about a concept or idea, often through presentations, emails, or announcements. However, many tech leaders tend to stop at this stage, assuming that just making people aware is enough. To illustrate, imagine introducing a new technology or concept, like AI-powered apps. Initially, people might only be aware of its existence.
- Understanding: The next crucial step in persuasion is understanding. Here, individuals need to fully grasp the impact of what they’ve heard on their day-to-day work or life. For example, if you’re introducing AI-powered apps, it’s not enough for people to know they exist; they must understand how these apps can improve their daily tasks. This often requires experiential learning, where users can interact with the technology in a safe environment. Tech leaders often fall short at this stage, relying on documentation or presentations instead of hands-on experiences.
- Preference: The ultimate goal of persuasion is to build preference. This means that individuals not only understand but also appreciate and prefer the concept or technology being introduced. In the context of tech leadership, this translates to people acknowledging that their lives or work have improved because of the technology. Achieving preference is challenging because it requires people to genuinely love and value what’s being presented. To succeed, tech leaders must actively solicit feedback and input from their teams, ensuring that the technology aligns with users’ needs and preferences.
Tech leaders should avoid relying solely on surveys for feedback, as they often yield limited results in terms of actionable insights. Instead, open-ended questions that encourage people to express their thoughts and concerns are more effective. Asking for feedback after hands-on experiences, such as testing sessions or after using the technology for a certain period, provides valuable insights. It’s crucial to take action based on the feedback received, even if it means explaining why some suggestions are not feasible. This demonstrates that people’s input is valued and heard.
Furthermore, when requesting feedback, using the “one thing” format can help prioritize and focus on the most critical issues. This method encourages individuals to identify their most pressing concerns and allows tech leaders to address them effectively. Ultimately, persuasion is not about words alone; it’s about actions, experiential learning, and the genuine improvement of people’s lives or work through technology.
Tech leaders must master the art of persuasion to drive alignment and successful adoption of new technologies or ideas within their organizations. This involves moving beyond mere awareness to ensure understanding and, ultimately, building preference. By actively seeking feedback, prioritizing concerns, and taking action, tech leaders can become more effective influencers and drive positive change within their teams and organizations.
Now let’s talk about leadership skills around managing conflict. Conflict resolution involves problem-solving and the pursuit of truth when faced with differing opinions or viewpoints. To effectively address conflict, tech leaders should employ a three-step model:
- Observations: This initial step revolves around presenting factual data without personal bias. It involves sharing objective information with stakeholders, ensuring everyone has access to the same set of facts. For example, if you’re burdened with too many priorities and your team lacks resources, you would communicate the five existing projects your team is handling and the addition of a sixth project. The emphasis here is on providing uncolored facts to allow stakeholders to form their conclusions.
- Sharing Impact: The second step entails linking the observations to the impact on key business metrics that matter most to the organization. This step helps stakeholders understand the real consequences of the conflict. For instance, you might express concern about the increased workload affecting your team’s productivity and its potential impact on employee retention. By connecting the conflict to tangible metrics, such as turnover rates or revenue figures, you make it relatable and significant for your audience.
- Solutions: In the final step, tech leaders should propose alternatives or solutions to address the conflict. This is particularly important when dealing with leaders who prefer solutions over problem discussions. Offering potential remedies demonstrates your proactive approach to resolving the issue. Continuing with the example of competing priorities, you could present two alternatives. The first might involve collaboratively selecting the top five priorities and deprioritizing the sixth. The second alternative might entail augmenting the team with external support or outsourcing less critical tasks to maintain productivity.
Throughout this process, it’s essential to keep the focus on business impacts rather than personal consequences. Framing the discussion in terms of how the conflict affects the organization or the team’s objectives encourages stakeholders to engage in problem-solving and decision-making.
Presenting alternative solutions provides stakeholders with a sense of agency, allowing them to participate actively in resolving the conflict. While you should come prepared with a few options, leaving room for stakeholders to propose additional alternatives fosters collaboration and increases the likelihood of finding a mutually acceptable solution.
Incorporating this three-step conflict resolution model into your leadership approach can help you navigate and address conflicts effectively. By providing clear and uncolored information, highlighting business impacts, and offering viable solutions, tech leaders can foster constructive discussions and promote alignment among stakeholders.
We’ve seen how persuasion AND conflict management are both key skill sets for successful change leaders. Persuasion is essential for motivating people to take action and conflict management is a productive means for finding truth and achieving team alignment.
Watch the People Before Things video on the 3Cloud YouTube channel.