Taking action is fundamental to any change process, whether we’re effecting an organization-wide cultural change or a personal change. Often the change efforts that produce the greatest results are not those that are planned to the nth degree and orchestrated on a massive scale. Sometimes the best results are achieved by taking a series of Immediate Steps that produce an immediate impact, on which you can get real-time feedback in order to learn, adapt, and grow.
The driving factor for change may be the feeling of Dissonance—the uncomfortable feeling that signals a difference between where you are and where you need to be, either organizationally or personally. You know you need to change—but how?
The key to Dissonance resolution is taking Immediate Steps to do something that’s within your current capability or Reach. Naturally, you’ll also need a way to Validate progress and to manage the Environment so it works in your favor, but we’ll save those aspects of the D.R.I.V.E. change model for another day. Today we’ll focus on Immediate Steps.
On a personal level, let’s say you learned from your 360-degree feedback report that you don’t manage your time well, and that feedback knocked you for a loop. The facts are you’re an absolute workhorse; you work longer hours than anyone in the office; and, your productivity is legendary. You never expect anyone to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself. You make sure others have work-life balance by picking up the extra work yourself. And this is the thanks you get. How can people say this about you? It’s aggravating and unfair. Major Dissonance, right?
Take a deep breath, and let’s explore what people are trying to tell you. What are they really saying? How does your behavior affect them? And, are you having the impact you want to have on your employees and the business? What Immediate Steps can you take that will help you and them?
For your first Immediate Step, you can dig a little deeper into your 360-degree feedback report to find out what they’re not saying. Let’s say you discover they don’t mean you waste time or that you’re disorganized. They aren’t saying that you don’t follow through or keep your promises. They’re not saying they don’t like you or don’t want to work with you. In fact, each of these shows up as one of your signature strengths. Instead, the comment about time management seems to be related to the long hours you work and that you don’t seem to do anything BUT work. Interesting.
For your second Immediate Step, you can follow up with others who took the time to provide the feedback they hoped would help you become a more effective leader. Meet with them over the next few days. Make it safe and easy for them to tell you what they see, how they experience you, and what one or two things they might do if they were you to demonstrate the ability to use time well—all while maintaining an unwavering commitment to clients. Listen intently, make eye contact, take notes, request helpful examples, ask what else they see and can tell you. Don’t argue or justify. Just listen. Reflect back to them what they’re telling—you want to demonstrate that you are hearing and understanding them exactly as they want to be heard and understood. Thank them and promise to think carefully about what they’ve said. You can get back to them later after you’ve tried a few other Immediate Steps.
For your third Immediate Step, talk to a coach or trusted advisor and tell them what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Explore ideas for how you can leverage your signature strengths into this area of time management, where one of your historic management strengths is now being perceived as being way overdone.
If I was your coach, we’d talk about leveraging your stellar organization and planning skills. For example, you could try time-boxing your workday into 10 hours, and force everything into a 50-hour work week. Sounds frightening, I know, but see if you can make this new schedule work for just one week. Keep track of anything that causes you to work outside your time-boxed schedule. At the end of the week, we’ll talk again. What worked well, what didn’t work, and what got in the way? Then we’ll figure out what to do for next week. We’ll keep after it until we find an approach that feels natural, allows you to keep your commitment to clients and the business, and yet demonstrates to your employees and fellow leaders that you absolutely can and do manage your time well.
As you can see, we’re not talking here about following a full-blown action plan; we’re talking about small changes—Immediate Steps—that can have a huge impact.
The same approach can work at the organizational scale. Leverage strong, positive aspects of the existing culture to tackle areas of Dissonance. Look within your current Reach, or sphere of control and influence to identify Immediate Steps that you think will make a difference right away. Then get started. In our next articles, we’ll discuss how to Validate that your change efforts are achieving the desired results and then focus on how to ensure your Environment allows you to sustain the new practice over time.