With Martin G. Moore

Episode #41

You're changing...so now what? Q&A with Marty

Every week we get sent great questions from you, our listeners! Today we have a couple of really interesting questions that I’ll cover in a Q&A format with Em.

First, we look at what you need to do with your team when you decide to change your leadership approach, and you have to get their buy-in. This requires explicit, well thought out action, and drawing a ‘line in the sand’.

Our second question has us examining how to work at the right leadership level when your organisation pushes you into staying on the tools way too much, as you move up through the ranks. Some industries love ‘utilisation’ and ‘billable hours’.

What options do you have for dealing with this?

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Episode #41 You're changing...so now what? Q&A with Marty

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Marty: Hey there and welcome to Episode 41 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. This week’s episode, You’re Changing…So Now What? I’m going to do another Q&A with Em. Okay, so we continue to receive some great questions from you, our listeners. Today we have a couple of excellent questions that come up in a variety of different forms, so I’m going to have Em join me to deal with them. First, we’ll look at what you need to do with your team when you decide to change your leadership approach, and you need to get their buy-in. Second, we examine how to work at level when your organisation pushes you into staying on the tools way too much as you move up through the leadership ranks. Let’s get into it.

So, once again, Em’s going to join me to work through some more of the great questions that you’ve been asking. How you going, Em?

Em: Hello. I am really good. As you know, we’re ramping up for another cohort of Leadership Beyond the Theory which I am really excited about. Other than that, we’re all settled into the new house. Royce and I are heading off to Queenstown next month for some snowboarding, which I’m really looking forward to, and you and I have been working on some really fun pieces of business over the past month, so it’s all happening over here. What about you? How’s your shoulder?

Marty: Oh, my shoulder’s okay. For those of you who don’t know, I had a tumble off my Kickbike in early April and I ended up have a dislocated shoulder and some broken ribs and a collapsed lung which really hurts, I don’t recommend it. But the marvels of modern technology, they’ve rebuilt me and I’m going really well, I’m almost back to 100%. Let’s get straight into it, Em. What’s the first question you’ve got for me today?

Em: Okay, so this question is from Jeremy. He sent it through last year and we helped him work through it at the time, you’ll probably remember, but I’ve had a few leaders write in with similar questions over the last few months so I thought we could hash this out on the podcast. Jeremy wrote, “I’ve been at the same company for almost a decade, leading a relatively small team of a dozen, give or take. Over time, you develop a way of doing things and you become comfortable with each other and the way things are. I’ve realised that successful results each year have made me a little complacent in my leadership. Now I’m at the point where I know I need to reset expectations and standards of the team, but I’m unsure of the best way to do this. Do you have any suggestions on how to do this and get team buy-in and results?” Over to you, Marty.

Marty: Thanks Em. I do actually remember this one, it was a really, really good question. The reason I think it’s so good is because many of you out there in listener land will realise that as you decide to pick up these concepts and implement them, you will change and you’ll be doing different things within your team and the question is how do you actually get them to notice the difference and to move with you? This can sometimes be quite challenging.

The first thing is, you better be sure you’re committed to making the change first and foremost. If you actually want to change, you’ve got to be really clear about the fact that you have the commitment and you’re going to see it through. Because the second step is to consciously reset expectations in your team and you don’t want to do that unless you know you’re going to back yourself to go really hard with the change and stick to it.

It takes a level of commitment, you need to think that through before you decide you’re going to do anything. Now, the key thing is, you can’t expect your people to simply notice that you’ve changed because they generally won’t. If they start seeing you doing some things a little bit differently, they’ll either think you’re in a good mood and they’ll put it down to your mood of the day, they’ll think that maybe you’ve had some good news or some bad news, depending on how your demeanour changes, and they won’t really understand what you’re trying to achieve.

This is why a change like that requires you to be really explicit, so be clear with your team on what needs to change and why it needs to change. For a start, you’ll need a compelling reason and a rallying point. Why on Earth would you want to start doing something different now if you’ve been doing things a certain way for a long period of time? People become accustomed to the way things are and it becomes the culture of how you run your part of the organisation.

If you’re going to change that, there’s got to be a clear line in the sand and a turning point that says, “We’re going to start doing things differently and we’re going to start doing things differently for this reason.” To start off I’d say make sure that whatever the reason for change is that it’s just a little aspirational. Because your people are going to be thinking to themselves, “Why don’t we just trundle along doing what we’ve been doing? We’re all doing well, we’re making money, things are good, we’re all getting on well as a team. We’re doing great. Why do we need to change?”

Answering that first question about why you might need to change is really important. Just as a clue, if you’re not on this already, it will actually be the case probably in almost every industry and organisation, that the future competitive environment is going to be different and it’s going to be tougher than it is today. Tapping into this, tapping into people’s desire to be their best, and tapping into people’s desire to actually be a sustainable part of the business and to improve faster than your competitors is sometimes something that can get them excited.

As a leader, you have to take accountability for the current state so the first thing is to say, for example, in Jeremy’s case, “Look, over the last couple of years, I feel as though as a leader, I failed you guys because I’ve become a little complacent. We’ve developed some bad habits along the way but I realise that’s not good enough going forward, and I want to change it. I need you guys to help me change it.”

It’s about taking accountability for the current state and also taking personal ownership of the change going forward, and saying, “I’m going to own this change and I’m going to take you people along with me and I need you behind me.” To do this I would generally say meet with the team, both in a one on one capacity and collectively, and ask them to help you change. Ask them to keep you honest, to let you know when you’re slipping back into your old habits and make sure that you have their commitment to come along that journey with you.

Em: Marty, what do you do if people are resistant to the change? We know that change is pretty uncomfortable for most people, especially those who are riding the wave of your complacency.

Marty: Yeah, I think it’s all in the why. So, it’s got to come back to why can’t we just keep going the way we’re going? What will be the end result if we just keep going the way we’re going? For most leaders who actually become exposed to some of the concepts we deal with in No Bullsh!t Leadership, it’s really about realising how much better you could be, how much better your team could be, how much better your organisation could be, and how much better off it is for every single individual when they realise they can have impact, when they get more empowerment, and more accountability, and when they can truly drive some outstanding results. That’s what really motivates people and makes them happy in the long term.

Em: Yeah, that’s really good advice. Do you have any ideas on how we can catch ourselves becoming complacent before we get there? I guess I’m the kind of person who prefers a prevention strategy to a cure.

Marty: Yeah, complacency is called complacency for a reason. It just creeps up on you over a long period of time and you don’t even realise it’s happening. For example, when I’d have new people come into an organisation working for me, I’d say you’ve probably got about three months before you become corrupted, and by corrupted I mean, you become very accustomed to the culture and to the people around you. What used to look quite shocking when you first came in then becomes quite accepted over time, and so in that first three months, you become accustomed to the organisation, the organisation assimilates you.

For example, when I was at CS Energy, we’d have people come in from the oil and gas sector. In the oil and gas sector, they have extraordinarily high standards of process control and process safety, and in the first week or two, I’d always try and catch one of these people to ask them what their initial impression was, and quite often they’d say, “I’m really concerned about some of these processes we have there. They’re just not tight enough. Coming from oil and gas, I can see there’s this massive gap.”

And then going back to the same person 3-4 months later and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” They go, “Oh yeah, it’s going pretty well.” Now, knowing full well that nothing much had changed in the terms of the processes that we had in place, but they had just become more accustomed to the way we do things around here, and so the culture does absorb people over time.

The only way I can suggest coming back to your question Em, in terms of guarding against that, is to be constantly on the lookout for improvement. Better, faster, cheaper. Constant improvement in everything we do, so streamlining things, stripping away activity and putting more value accretive things in play, and making sure that you’re focused all the time on being better today than you were yesterday.

Em: Do you think there’s anything in the timing around when you communicate this to your people? I’m just thinking, would it work best if you communicated these changes, for example, when there’s a new strategy coming into play? Or, do you think it’s better to talk to your team as soon as you realise it?

Marty: I think almost as soon as you realise it, but certainly when you realise it and you’ve had enough time to think about it and formulate a plan, and talk to your boss about it. Because you want to have your boss onboard first. There’s going to be a way to articulate it and you need to create some symbols of what you’re going to do differently.

For example, you might want to increase the transparency of reporting that comes through. You might want to reset some targets to make them more stretch targets, and you might want to put some mechanisms in place for holding each other to account for your language and behaviours. There’s a number of symbols that you can create that mark the change and draw that line in the sand but you don’t necessarily have to wait for a new strategy release, because that could be a 12 month cycle.

Em: Okay. Cool. I think you’ve answered that pretty well. Is there anything else you want to add?

Marty: No. Look, except to say that if you do want to make changes as a leader, you’ve got to be explicit about it and you’ve got to be very open and transparent and talk to your team in a way that says, “I’m going to do some things differently because I haven’t been at my best and I want you guys to come along with me.” I think that’s really the key to it.

Em: Yeah, perfect. You’ve wrapped that one up really nicely, Marty. The second question that I wanted us to cover in today’s episode actually came out of one of the Leadership Beyond The Theory case study interviews that we did last month. We were chatting with one of our students, he’s a technical expert, an engineer, and he has been for many years. Since doing the program, he’s realised that he wants to become a professional leader and get “off the tools” so to speak, so that he can really focus on the job of leadership, but the company and the industry that he’s in still expects a really high level of technical output, even for their leaders.

We found this to be very similar with other Leadership Beyond The Theory students who were in say the finance, education, and communication industries. Marty, do you have any tips of strategies for people who are technical experts and they love being in the detail, they’re super comfortable there but ultimately they want to make the transition to being an exceptional leader, and they need the support of their boss to do so? What are your thoughts?

Marty: Yeah, okay, Em. This is another really good question. I think the issue here, there’s two parts. The first part is for an individual, how do you actually let go of the technical work and let go of your comfort zone? There’s a whole lot of psychological stuff tied up in that. I don’t want to go into that too deeply right now, but making that decision internally for yourself that you’re going to let go of some of those technical skills, when really your whole perceived value and worth comes from having honed those skills over a number of years, and they can be quite tricky.

But let’s assume that you can get over that. We have a slightly different issue here that he’s articulated which is that in his industry and organisation, there’s a very strong focus on billable hours. There are a number of industries like this and so what they like to do is push billable hours sometimes all the way up to partner level, in an organisation like this, to make sure that utilisation of resources, and of course in those service industries, resources equals people, that utilisation of those resources is optimised.

Now, it’s interesting, this is classic in industries like the legal profession or in consulting firms and other service firms like engineering and construction services. But if you don’t build the maximum amount possible, it can hurt profitability and that’s what budgets are cast upon. The first thing to note is that this rewards activity and not value. It’s already at odds with the stuff that we really believe in. How much value is actually delivered to a client for the hours billed? This isn’t a question that many people ask.

It’s almost an accepted practise and it’s really hard to change. So, this is going to push those people at the top of these organisations to expect billing from quite senior leaders, and as you go up through the leadership ranks, you should be dedicating an increasing amount of time to leadership activities and moving away from the tools as much as you can.

Some industries such as education still expect that the most senior educators, whether it’s a Dean of a faculty in a university, or the Principal of a high school, engage in their own research and/or face-to-face teaching time. They’re actually expected to stay current with the technology and the techniques of those methods. The first point is you probably can’t change an entire industry’s structure but there are things you can do inside your own organisation to try and get a more sensible outcome.

The first thing is get your CEO or executive leader to look at this through the eyes of the customer. Now, if we’re just billing and not adding value, this can’t be sustainable. It doesn’t matter whether all our competitors are doing the same thing, we will be disrupted at some point, as the structure of the markets change. But what if we could deliver better results at lower effort and cost? Wouldn’t that give us the opportunity to either increase customer loyalty and satisfaction, to lead the charge on industry disruption, to free up our own resources, to take on more customers, and to deliver results at a lower price point because we’re more efficient?

All of those could be an outcome of not just focusing on the activity and the billable hour. The second thing is you need to ensure that your executive leader understands the economics of having senior leaders churning throughput as opposed to creating a high performing team. For example, I’ve said in the past to people, “Look, I can lift my productivity by 10% if I absolutely kill myself, but wouldn’t it be so much better if I could concentrate on lifting the productivity of every person in my team by 10%? How much would that be worth?”

There is a massive value multiplier for a leader and sometimes it can be exponential if you have a big team. It’s just a difficult scenario when you have people in the organisation whose only focus is making money through billing and that drives behaviours and outcomes that are inherently poor.

Em: Marty, other than doing our program, Leadership Beyond The Theory, which covers transitioning to a leadership level in quite a bit of detail, what would you recommend technical experts do outside of work to improve their leadership capability and prep for those conversations with their bosses?

Marty: That’s a pretty good question, Em, because I think for leaders like that in industries that expect them to have a high level of utilisation even when they’re senior leaders, I think the only way to do it is to say, “I’m going to minimise the amount that I do as direct work, because I’ve got to get off the tools and I’ve got to make my whole team more productive, and even if I have to put for example, 30% of my time into billable hours, it’s the 70% of what I do as a leader that’s really important. I’ve got to maximise that 70%.”

It just means that you refocus your energy so that sure, you do the stuff that’s required by the organisation, but that 70% of leadership work that you do has to be more effective. It’s going to perhaps make you a little bit schizophrenic, but you’ve got to make that mindset shift between being a producer and being a leader and being a leader most of the time, and working out how to get the best out of your people. That’s the real key to it.

Em: From your perspective as an executive, if one of your reports was coming to you to have this conversation, what would you want to see? For example, should they be tracking their time perhaps? So they can say, “Look, I’m spending X% of time on leadership and X% of time on the tools.” What strategies can you give us to help prep for those conversations so that they are successful?

Marty:Diary management is a big thing, and in the past we’ve actually gone through parts of an organisation that I’ve led and said, “All right, I want all leaders to spend at least 40% of your time in one on one meetings with your direct supervisors,” just to get them into the habit of making sure that they’re spending time doing the right things as a leader. There’s also a bunch of other ways to see what they’re doing, though, so for example, you can see in staff turnover statistics, you can see in performance management statistics, you can see the talent pipeline. If you’ve got these processes set up in an organisation, so you can see very clearly who’s doing the work of leadership and who’s just cranking the handle. It becomes very, very obvious from the top level, if you’re looking at the right systems around people, culture, and talent performance.

Em: So Marty, this question is kind of for me, but what if your organisation isn’t structured in a way that enables you to move into a leadership position? I came from a marketing agency background where we were always under-resourced for the work that was required. When I was there, I saw so many people who really wanted to be leaders, and had a huge amount of potential kept in their technical role because the organisation just wasn’t resourced for them to take their hands off the tools, and therefore progress as a leader.

I know from our Leadership Beyond The Theory students and our podcast listeners that a huge number of aspiring leaders are faced with this challenge every day.

Marty:Yeah, that’s another real common one that we get, too. Marketing agencies are just a classic example. In an agency, they’ll flog you to death and they will, they’ll work you as hard as you will work and they don’t mind burning you out because there’s a whole lot of people who are waiting in the wings to take your job.

I think the key thing here to manage your own sanity and time commitment is to really take to heart the excellence over perfection theory. The trouble with a lot of people and I know I’ve suffered from this in the past, and so have you Em, is that you want to do the perfect job. You want everything to be just so for a client and when you’re driven by that, you’ll spend a lot of hours working on that last 5% of a presentation, or of a proposal or a submission, and you could have done it saving 4, 5, 10, 20 hours and doing the 80% job that says, “This is good enough. It’s a strong proposal. I’m happy for it to go the way it is. It’s not perfect, but that’s okay.”

I think the self-management of excellence over perfection is a really key thing here if you are being worked to death and you’re under-resourced.

Em: Okay, awesome. I think that’s going to be really helpful for a lot of people, so thanks so much for covering that, Marty. Anything else to add?

Marty:No, look I think it’s pretty good. Those are two great questions and they’re big questions, so I’ve really only just done a fly over the top, but if listeners are interested in other aspects of that, please just drop us a note and we’ll try and get that into a future podcast episode.

Em: Perfect. Sounds good. That brings us to the end of Episode 41. I love doing Q&A with you Marty. If you haven’t pre-registered for Leadership Beyond The Theory yet, head to yourceomentor.com/register, and get ready to join our awesome community of No Bullsh!t Leaders in the July cohort.

At Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so if you’re enjoying this podcast, please share it with the leaders in your network who you think will benefit, because this is how the world of work improves. I’ll look forward to next week’s episode, ‘First, Create Value’. Until then, I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullshit Leader.

Until then I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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