LeadershipWatch

Leading Change: The 4 Levels of Ownership

Four-Leaf Clover on Wooden Table, Ownership

We all know that when people feel responsible and take ownership of a change process it drastically increases the success rate. But did you know that ownership has 4 levels? Four levels that will have a different impact on the results you and your team achieve!

Successful leaders know how to stimulate a culture of ownership by paying special attention to these 4 levels. Let me share them here with you.

Level 1: Ownership of My Tasks

At this level people feel responsible for their tasks. They want to understand their tasks. They want to know exactly what they have to do, and they want to do it well.

Typical examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know how they can do their personal tasks successfully
  • Focusing on how to grow their skills and competencies
  • Asking for clear rules and instructions
  • Seeking coaching and feedback about how they perform their tasks
  • Finding motivation in becoming expert in their job
Level 2: Ownership of My Results

People feel responsible for the results of their work. They want to understand what needs to be the outcomes of their work and how they can achieve these.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to know what results they need to achieve to be successful
  • Focusing on finding effective ways to create the desired outcomes
  • Asking for clear goals and targets
  • Seeking for feedback and measurement of the results they achieve
  • Finding motivation in outperforming standards and targets
Level 3: Ownership of My Work’s Impact on Other Team Members

At this level people feel responsible for having a positive impact on other people’s work. They see their work as part of a team effort. As part of a chain of activities and results, in which each team member plays an important role. They feel their work needs to add to the team’s success.

Examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand how their role contributes to the team’s results
  • Focusing on knowing the interdependencies between team members
  • Asking for clarity about team processes and operating rules
  • Seeking feedback about how to improve collaboration and processes
  • Finding motivation in contributing to becoming a high-performance team
Level 4: Ownership of My Contribution to the Organization’s Success

Level 4 ownership means that people feel part of a journey to achieve a bigger cause, which supersedes their personal or their team’s work. They want to contribute to the broader picture, to the organization’s success, and feel responsible for this.

Some examples of the mindset of people who take this level of ownership:

  • Wanting to understand in-depth the vision and strategy of the organization
  • Focusing on knowing the strategic objectives of the organization
  • Asking for clarity about the relationship between the team’s objectives and the strategic objectives
  • Seeking feedback and measurement of the team’s contribution to the company’s strategic objectives
  • Feeling co-owner of the company and its success

Mind you! These 4 levels might come across as almost obvious. But don’t interpret these four levels the wrong way!

“Each level of ownership has its merit depending on the situation in which you and your team are. Pushing the wrong level of ownership at the wrong moment can confuse people and will have a counterproductive effect.“

Let me explain:

Level 1: Especially at the beginning of a change process, when new change initiatives are initiated in the organization, you want to pay attention to this level of ownership. Probably there is uncertainty and lack of clarity about the details of what exactly needs to be done. Especially in this phase of the change process your team is looking for guidance, structure, and clear distribution of roles. Establishing ownership of tasks is important under these circumstances.

Level 2: When the change process has started, and your team starts to recognize a structure in what they are doing, then people want to get a clear view on how they are progressing. They will need to understand whether they are moving in the right direction, whether their work needs a few adjustments. This situation makes you want to shift focus from task to results, and on guiding your people to take ownership of results.

“People who do not understand and own the results of their work cannot collaborate effectively with others!”

Level 3: In each change process, not long after the start, there is an important shift that is often underestimated. It is the shift from ‘starting’ to ‘speeding up’. This is the phase in which the team needs to create rhythm and momentum, and often starts to feel outside pressure. At this moment you want to focus your team on ‘how do we collaborate, and how can we improve this’. Establishing level 3 ownership will be a vital prerequisite for successful change and it will probably take more time and energy than anticipated.

“Under pressure we tend to focus on our own job (level 1 & 2 ownership), while improving our collaboration is likely more effective (level 3 ownership).”

Level 4: When the change process is delivering results and objectives are being achieved you want to embed these in the your team’s daily reality. You want it to become the foundation on which future changes can be built. A mistake that often occurs is to pay too little attention to this phase of thoroughly embedding what is achieved. The consequence is that most of what your team learned will be lost after a while. Level 4 ownership is vital for the organization’s success and will only emerge when your team truly understands what it achieved, and is recognized for it. Take time to celebrate and to let sink in what is achieved together.

 

Interesting Readings and Videos:

Harvard Business Review: Francesca Gino’s take on How to Make Employees Feel Like They Own Their Work.

MIT Sloan: An interesting film ‘We the Owners’. In ‘We the Owners’, craft beer, solar, and construction companies show the benefits and challenges of ownership culture.

Nature.org: Sharing an intriguing interview with Jack Ma (Chairman and CEO of the Alibaba Group) about taking ownership of China’s environment.

SmartBrief: Julie Winkle Giulioni’s article ‘The promise of high-ownership teams’.

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Photo: Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Leading Change: We Need More Transparency

Leading Change, We need more Transparency: drops of water on a green leaf against a green background

When you are leading your business team through complex change your team’s success will to a large extent depend on the level of transparency you are able to establish. The power of transparency is often underestimated. The true meaning of transparency is often misunderstood. Therefore: some experience-based thoughts about transparency, and how to stimulate it in your team.

Transparency accelerates teamwork

Why? Because it creates trust! In our current VUCA business environment this is becoming increasingly important.

The more transparent we are to ourselves and to others, the better we understand what we want to achieve as a team. Teams who experience transparency generate a stronger mutual focus, as well as a higher level of mutual trust.

Teams who experience transparency generate a stronger mutual focus, as well as a higher level of mutual trust.

Transparency starts with you

Creating an atmosphere of transparency starts with you being transparent yourself. Transparent about your intentions, about who you are, about how you work, what you value in life and believe to be important. Transparency about your habits, about your qualities, and your weak points.

Transparency has a lot to do with being open, honest, and authentic. Especially when you are working with people with different cultural backgrounds and nationalities your transparency will help your team to develop trust despite the cultural differences.

Quote from Thomas Jefferson on blue background

Transparency does not mean you always have to know the answers. When you don’t know the exact end result yet, just say so, and focus your team on what needs to be done to move forward and to find the answers together.

Read more here about how to be transparent yourself.

Not being open to others because you do not have all the answers yet has often a counterproductive effect. It will undermine trust.

Listening creates transparency

No, this is not an obvious statement. Letting other people speak is not creating transparency by itself. It is the way we listen that makes the difference. Listen to learn! Listen between the lines, to what is unsaid. When people feel you are really listening and tapping into what they feel, believe, and think they will become more open and share more.

When you are willing not only to hear them out, but also to learn from them, to change your own way of looking at things, then transparency starts to grow.

Read more here about how to stimulate transparency, especially when working with Asian team members.

Transparency is about clarity, not about micro-management

Transparency is also about being clear about what you expect from other team members. This is not the same as telling them in detail what they must do. Trying to create transparency by micro-managing people will result in a lack of motivation, in complacency, and eventually in a lack of transparency. 

Instead, stimulate transparency by keeping the focus on the desired end-result. Here is a question that works well in my experience: ‘How do you think this can contribute to achieving our end-result?’

You stimulate transparency by making people aware of the bigger picture, and of their contribution. True teamwork originates when team members take ownership for the end-result, see beyond their own tasks, and see how their work impacts others.

Related article: How to Stimulate People to Think Impact.

What are your thoughts about transparency? I’d love to read your comments below!

Are you leading global change programs? Find more detailed tips and insights on how to create openness here:

Leading cross-cultural teams: how to create openness – part 1

Leading cross-cultural teams: how to create openness – part 2


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Photo: Jenny Downing/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Skills of the Future: The Best Expert Advice on Creativity

Woman in black dress standing in business office with iPad in her hand watching out of the window over downtown Hong Kong

By 2020, creativity will be one of the top 3 skills anyone who wants to be successful in the economy of the future will need, according to the Future of Jobs report. We looked for the best expert advice on creativity – and found it.

When the World Economic Forum released its Future of Jobs report in Davos, one specific image jumped out:

The image listing the Top 10 skills business leaders, managers and anyone who wants to thrive in the industries of the future will need. Here it is:

World Economic Forum: Top 10 Skills for the Future

Complex problem solving, critical thinking, managing people and complex change: we have written loads of articles on those important qualities and skills (You can take a peek at our best-read articles of 2015 here), and shared our own experience.

But not on creativity – and wrongly so. Creativity jumps up from tenth (2015) to third (2020) in the ‘Skills of the Future’ list. Creativity is not just a nice-to-have, a source of inspiration visiting the lucky few. It’s a skill we’ll all need more of if we want to stand out in a workplace filled with robots, and find innovative answers to increasingly complex business questions.

So we looked for solid creativity advice, and turned to the best experts we could find: American writer Elizabeth Gilbert and Dutch designer and entrepreneur Daan Roosegaarde. Both spent their entire lives being creative. Both built a successful business (see here, and here). Both manage to inspire people worldwide: Gilbert with her bestsellers Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear and Eat Pray Love, Roosegaarde with cool projects like a smog filtering tower and smart highways, amongst others.

What did their creative journeys teach them? What are their insights and best tips?

Creativity Tips from Elizabeth Gilbert (@GilbertLiz):
Stimulate your curiosity

Gilbert: ‘I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion. Passion makes you get divorced and sell all your possessions and shave your head and move to Nepal. Curiosity doesn’t ask nearly so much of you. In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?”

“Creative living is living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Elizabeth Gilbert

Forget about perfect, just start

Gilbert: ‘Creativity starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable. Perfection stops people from completing their work, yes – but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work… I think perfection is often a high-end, haute couture version of fear.’


Recommended reading:


Creativity Tips from Daan Roosegaarde (@SRoosegaarde):
Turn your idea into reality by playing ping pong, not bowling

Roosegaarde: ‘There are two ways to turn an idea into reality. You can play bowling, or you can play ping pong. The old way, at least that is what I think, is bowling. You have that ball in your hand and it’s so big, it is so heavy, it shines so beautifully. Then you throw that bowling ball and pray it will hit target.

I no longer believe this is a good way to create and innovate. I believe in playing ping pong: you take a tiny little ball, not expensive, and there you go: poek poek poek poek … and you create something together. And THAT is nice, this is how I create, this is how I learn.

Don’t push away people criticizing your ideas, but try pulling them aboard

Roosegaarde: ‘Dare to act, even when people tell you: “That’s not possible”, or: “What you have drawn is not allowed, it is against the rules.” You will always meet resistance.   I generally try to involve people criticizing my ideas. I try pulling them aboard. If that proves to be impossible, here is my advice: ignore them. And just get to work.’

‘Creativity will be our most important export product.’ Daan Roosegaarde

‘Most of the breakthrough ideas come from people in their 20s,’ Bill Gates recently said when he was quizzed on innovation.

So what if your son and prospective scientist (like mine is) spends many hours acting, playing music and exploring unfamiliar cultures – when he could in fact be studying?

You guessed it. Encourage him (or her). To be successful in the economy of the future, creativity is key.

Where do you find creative inspiration? How do you turn ideas into innovative results? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Source and more tips from Liz and Daan:

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book ‘Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear’ (2015), Daan Roosegaarde in College Tour, Liz Gilbert TED talks and Daan Roosegaarde TED talks.

You can read the full Future of Jobs report here.

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our ‘Skills of the future’ Expert Series in which we share valuable insights, pointers and lessons from a list of business leaders, experts and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink. Find previous Expert Series articles here.

Liked this article? Use the subscription button (PC: see right-hand sidebar; Mobile: find button below this article) to stay up to date with LeadershipWatch articles and news. Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential.

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Hanneke SiebelinkHanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

Leadership Introspection: The Only Person You Can Actually Change Is Yourself

Leader meditating on a mountain top in the sun

Leading change means dealing with resistance. Whether in organizations or in our personal lives. Many change initiatives fail because people are not willing or not able to follow the new direction. A huge amount of energy goes into trying to manage the resistance and trying to convince, motivate, encourage, stimulate, or force people to follow the change. And often only with mediocre results! How can we do better? What are we missing?

There is a crucial ground rule in change management that defines our success as a leader of change. And it is very easily neglected!

LeadershipWatch Leadership QuoteTake some time to let this sink in…

‘People do not resist change, they resist being changed.’ Why? Because you and me, we all, we like to be able to lead our own lives. We like to have the ‘steering wheel’ in our own hands. We like to feel that we accomplish things by our own doing. We like to be recognized for it, it makes us feel good and successful. It gives us confidence, and motivates us to explore new changes. Being able to hold our own steering wheel gives us identity and allows us to develop ourselves, allows us to grow.

This statement may seem logical, but applying it will have a profound impact on your daily actions.

If you want people to change without taking over their steering wheel, you will need to help them to steer differently themselves, individually and collectively.

Don’t steer for them, but create a context in which they will take up the responsibility to change themselves. And this almost always means that you need to change yourself. By changing your focus, your communication, your instructions and guidance, your facilitation and coaching. By changing the way you set the context and the boundaries, and the way you respond to resistance.

You cannot force people to change, but you can change yourself and by doing that you can stimulate others to change too.

So if you are confronted with resistance or unexpected unpleasant behavior of others:

  • Don’t look for the problem in their behavior – Look for the solution in your own behavior and the way you will respond
  • Never blame others, it will change nor solve anything
  • Take criticism seriously, but not personally – You can learn from criticism without having to beat yourself up about it
  • Be open and transparent to others about what you value – If you do not know yet, make it clear to yourself first
  • Be inclusive in your thinking and acting – Always aim for win-win, even if you do not feel a positive click with the other … yet
  • Allow people, including yourself, to make mistakes – As long as we learn from it
  • … and last but not least … if you truly believe this change will benefit us all? … NEVER GIVE UP!

What are your thoughts about this? I’d love to read your comments below!

Liked this article? Use the subscription button (PC: see right-hand sidebar; Mobile: find button below this article) to stay up to date with LeadershipWatch articles and news. Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential.

Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door post Aad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

When East Meets West: Peter Hessler Shares His 3 Best Tips for 2016

Chinese Gate at the Tiananmen square in Beijing

When the American journalist and writer Peter Hessler (Peter is staff writer at the New Yorker and contributing writer for the National Geographic) moved to China to teach and write, he discovered that things were almost diametrically opposed to what he had been used to in the U.S. He was surprised, confused, often annoyed, sometimes amused. Most of the time he felt lost (‘During those early weeks I would have felt even more disjointed if it hadn’t been for the steady routines that surrounded me.’)

Here’s what he did. Every day after his Chinese language class (he found an excellent teacher) he picked up a newspaper and walked down to the local tea house. There he sat down and observed, until the people in his village started to approach this odd ‘waiguoiren’ (外国人, foreigner) and started to ask him questions.

Hessler: ‘I wanted to overcome these language and cultural barriers that made things so difficult at first. I believed that, next to teaching English literature, it was my job to develop a mutual respect and understanding that would allow me and my Chinese students and friends to exchange ideas comfortably.‘

Needless to say: he succeeded, and while your own exchanges with Chinese/Asian people are likely to take place in meeting rooms and under time constraints, Peter learned some lessons you could benefit from too:

1) A Chinese/Eastern smile can hide many emotions

People born and raised in China, or more broadly the East, are not the open books that many Western people are. A Chinese smile, for instance, often serves as a mask against deeper feelings.

Hessler: ‘Those smiles could hide many emotions – embarrassment, anger, sadness. When the people smiled like that, it was as if all of the emotion was wound tightly and displaced; sometimes you could get a glimpse of it in the eyes, or at the corner of a mouth, or perhaps in a single wrinkle stretching sadly across a forehead.’

So be prepared to be observant when you are talking to people from the East, and learn to recognize hidden signals.

2) Relationships and individuality are valued differently in East and West

Hessler: ‘The longer I lived in Fuling, the more I was struck by the view of the individual – in my opinion, this was the biggest difference between what I had known in the West and what I saw in China. For people in Fuling, the sense of ‘self’ seemed largely external; you were identified by the way that others viewed you. That had always been the goal of Confucianism, which defined the individual’s place strictly in relation to the people around her (…). Group thought could be a vicious circle: your self-identity came from the group, which was respected even if it became deranged, and thus your sense of self could fall apart instantly. There wasn’t a tradition of anchoring one’s identity to a fixed set of values regardless of what others thought.’

Though young people are finding new ways to bridge this ‘group thought versus individuality’ divide, the difference is still real and can lead to painful misunderstandings in East-West business settings. Find more background on some common mistakes we encounter as well as personalized tips here:

Losing Face, SmileyHow to avoid making people lose face

Intercultural Communication, text balloons in green and orangeHow to stimulate your Asian team members to speak up

3) Be honest and transparent about your own traditions and values

Looking back at all those years he lived and worked in China (Peter currently lives in Egypt), how did he and his Chinese friends and students overcome the countless cultural barriers? How did mutual bewilderment eventually make room for mutual respect and understanding? What one element does he now single out as being crucial to the effort?

Hessler: ‘It required a great deal of patience and effort from everybody involved. But mostly it required honesty. Even if these moments of candor were occasionally unpleasant.’

In other words: it is all right to be different. As long as you try to see things from the other person’s side, and are honest and transparent about your own values and traditions. Read more here:

Chinese New Year cake with symbol of The Year of The HorseWhy learning Chinese business etiquette is not enough

Peter Hessler is very observant. He does not judge. He understands the limits of generalizations (‘This not about China. It’s about a certain small part of China at a certain brief period in time.’) That makes him one of the best China experts I know, even if he disagrees (‘I am not a China expert but one of the foreigners trying to figure things out.’).

And he is a darn good writer too.

Source:

Peter Hessler interview (Capturing the essence of Chinese society, 2014) and books (Country driving, 2010 and River Town, 2001)

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our Expert Series in which we share valuable lessons from a list of business leaders, experts, and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink. Find previous Expert Series articles here.


Hanneke Siebelink of HRS Business Transformation Services at the China-EU conference in BrusselsHanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

The Essence of Successful Executive Teams

Aad Boot interviewed at a wooden table
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor to be interviewed by John Mattone as part of their Expert Interview program.

John Mattone is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership, talent and culture, and the author of seven books. He is currently preparing his next release, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership & Corporate Reinvention from the C-Suite Elite (Wiley, 2016).

John asked me if I would be willing to share some of my ideas and thoughts on Creating Executive and Leadership Team Alignment: Why is alignment so important to the success of an executive team? What are the most common signs that a team is not aligned? What are the biggest culprits for leadership teams failing to align?

Read the interview here:

John Mattone - expert series

“If you want to see real-world examples of effective team alignment, Aad Boot recommends looking at organizations that go through tough times and manage to come out strong.

“It is not in good times that you see the value of team alignment, but in difficult times,” Aad says. “Teams that manage to navigate successfully through difficult situations, that face disruptive changes and find answers, that manage to inspire the organization despite the uncertain and complex changes it has ahead.”

When teams have strong alignment, they are able to respond faster, more effectively, with more confidence and with better results.

We recently checked in with Aad to learn more about his leadership philosophy and approach to aligning leadership teams. Here’s what he had to say:  (read full interview …)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

 

The 10 Most Popular Articles on LeadershipWatch in 2015

Find here the Top 10 articles selected by our readers over 2015

For the fourth year in a row LeadershipWatch has welcomed an amazing amount of new readers, and together they selected the top 10 most popular articles over 2015. A nice blend of topics, tips and real-life stories about ‘How to Lead Complex Change’, ‘Cross-Cultural Leadership’, ‘Building Successful Team Collaboration’, ‘Post Merger Integration’, and more …

Enjoy!

Leading Complex Change

Leading Change:

Leading Change: What Does Change Mean to You

Leading Complex Change: How to Balance Strategy Development and Execution

Leading Change: 3 Reasons Why Great Leaders are Reluctant to Compromise

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Cross-Cultural Leadership:

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Build Mutual Trust

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face

Leading Cross-Cultural Teams: Do You Understand the Cultural Differences within Your Team

5 Unusual Statements that Reveal how Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Thinks

Post Merger Integration

Post Merger Integration:

Post Merger Integration: Cultural Alignment is a Prerequisite for Value Creation

Leading Multinational Companies: 3 Significant Changes in the Role of Senior Leaders

4 Tips to Make Your Team Embrace Accountability

We wish you a wonderful New Year, and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back in 2016!

Use the subscription button (PC: see right-hand sidebar; Mobile: find button below this article) to stay up to date with LeadershipWatch articles and news. Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential.

Season’s Greetings!

Season's Greetings card with colored lampsWe wish you and your families an inspiring New Year! 

Hanneke and Aad

 

Leading Complex Change: How to Balance Strategy Development and Execution

Finding the right balance between strategy development and execution has become a vital element in the success of your company. Many leaders struggle to find this balance. In my work I observe organizations getting stuck in a deadlock of what I would call ‘analysis addiction’, preventing the organization from making actual progress happen. On the other hand, I also witness organizations that are led by a ‘compulsion to jump to action’ without having a proper notion of what, why, and how they want to do things.

Maybe you also feel confronted with this challenge? How do you actually create the right balance between strategy development and execution? When is your strategy really finished and ready for execution? How do you set up and roll out corporate change initiatives in such a way that your company is able to follow and recognize the logic of these initiatives, despite the often complex and disruptive circumstances?

Hold on! There are no crystal clear answers to these questions, and I am not able to offer you the golden solution! Today’s business reality is too diverse to claim that one solution would fit all. However, based on practical experience in various business environments I can share some thoughts and guidelines that will help you.

First, be aware of the context in which many organizations find themselves. A few observations:

  • Technology is driving change more than ever before; we live in a digital age, and technological evolutions are fast and disruptive;
  • Leaders try to define appropriate answers to these digital challenges without knowing all the answers upfront;
  • Transformation programs are expected to align the fast moving needs of the business with the fast moving technological evolutions.

Now, with this in mind, there are a few mechanisms that will help you find the right balance between defining your strategy and executing it. Let me briefly highlight them here:

1) Balance ‘learning by analysis’ and ‘learning by doing’

Strategy doesn’t always come before execution! Sometimes a strategy can only become fully clear after having tried things in practice. In today’s business world both are equally important. The traditional sequence of defining strategy, design, build, and deploy is in many situations no longer valid.

Signs of ‘analysis addiction’:

  • Reluctance to implementing things before all the answers are known;
  • Always wanting to have everything under control;
  • Focus on details, interpreting not knowing all the details as lack of competence;
  • Slow decision-making.

Signs of ‘compulsion to jump to action’:

  • Jumping to conclusions during meetings;
  • People getting easily annoyed by details;
  • Interpreting analysis as risk avoidance;
  • Continuously changing the plan based on new ideas.

2) Don’t confuse architecture and design with strategy

Business architects cannot take over the task of business leaders to define the corporate direction and the priorities that it requires! While technology is becoming more and more important for organizations, so are enterprise architecture and design. Many corporate departments have been set up for this, and rightfully so. But enterprise architecture is not the same as strategy development. There needs to be a healthy balance between the two. Architecture and design provides the analysis and the options to choose from. Executives and their management teams always should have the overall ownership over the direction of the organization and the priorities to follow.

3) Focus on learning, not on avoiding mistakes

All successful strategies are built on mistakes and temporary failures! Truly effective strategy development and execution requires an organizational culture in which experimenting, testing and making mistakes are allowed and even encouraged. In order to stay successful organizations need to involve everybody in the organization to embrace a mindset that is focused on learning: Board members, executives, managers, teams, everybody (read more here about how to create a learning culture).

Strategy development and execution cycle in blue and green

This is the second article in a series about how you can increase the success of change programs in today’s business reality. In the previous article I focused on how to stimulate your people to think and communicate in terms of impact (read here).

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Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Lessons for Leaders from China’s Lao Zi

What ancient Chinese wisdom teaches today’s leaders in times of complex change.

“Lao Zi was a native of Chu, a southern state in the Zhou dynasty. His surname was Li; his given name was Er, and he was also called Dan. … Lao Zi cultivated Dao and virtue. His learning was devoted to self-effacement and not having fame. He lived in Zhou for a long time; then witnessed the decline of Zhou and departed. When he reached the northwest border, he met the guard Yin Xi, who asked him to put his teachings into writing. The result was a book consisting of 5000 Chinese characters … Thereafter, Lao Zi disappeared; no one knew where he had gone.” (Source: Sima Qian, Biography of Lao Zi, 100 BCE)

The other day I read that business leaders are obsessed with Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It made me wonder: how many leaders know Lao Zi’s short book – commonly called the Dao de Jing or simply: the Laozi (老子). It’s 2400 years old, and easily the best book I have read this summer.

Are you looking for fresh insights on how to lead and deal with complex change, or just interested in ancient Chinese thinking?

What words of wisdom could China’s Lao Zi (The name Lao Zi is best taken to mean Old (Lao) Master (Zi)) possibly have for you today?

How about these:

Change is the new normal

Or better put: change is nothing new. The way of the Universe, the Old Master says, is change:

“Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short test one another;
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.” (Laozi 2)

Stay flexible

If you stay flexible you are well equipped to lead and deal with complex change:

“Plants and trees, while they are alive, are flexible and soft,
But when they die they become brittle and dry.
Truly, what is inflexible and hard leads us to death.

Flexibility and softness are friends of life.” (Laozi 76)

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Be observant

“To know when one does not know is best.
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.” (Laozi 71)

Be observant. Become a better listener (read a few tips here). Take the time to understand what is behind unfamiliar behavior before making up your mind and voicing your opinion. Particularly in cross-cultural business situations (read more about cross-cultural differences in teams).

Cultivate your inner strength

“To be like water, that’s the highest.
Water benefits all creatures; yet itself does not compete.” (Laozi 8)

Last but not least: watch your health

“Fame or your own body: which matters to you most?
Your possessions or your health: what is worth to you most?”
(Laozi 44)

But how to take care of your health when you are swamped with work and pressed for time already? Here’s what Lao Zi shares in that other delightful book of Taoism, the Zhuangzi:

“These are the rules for staying healthy:

Can you embrace the One? And never lose it?

Can you, without consulting oracles, foretell fortune and misfortune?

Do you know where to stop? Do you know where to let go?

How to not put the blame on others but instead look inside yourself?

Can you be unbridled?

Can you be unsophisticated?

Can you be a like a baby? A baby can howl all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse – harmony at its height! A baby can clench its little fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped – so perfect is its inner strength! A baby can stare all day without once blinking its eyes – so little affected it is by things that do not matter.

To move without knowing where you are going, to stand without knowing why, flexibly trailing about with things, and riding along with them on the same wave – These are the rules for staying healthy.” (Zhuangzi 23:1)

Lao Zi, legend has it, lived to be 160. Should you now decide to print his words and hang them on your mirror: know that I have done the same.

What reflections or thoughts do you have after reading this? Let us know!

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Photo: DonkeyHotey/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our Expert Series in which Hanneke Siebelink shares valuable leadership lessons from a list of experts, researchers and role models she selected. The LaoZi is among the most loved and translated works in world literature. Arthur Waley’s translation into English (1934) is excellent. For Dutch readers we highly recommend Kristofer Schipper’s translation into Dutch (2010).


Hanneke_actief2Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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