Leading Change? Make Waves!

Leading Change? Make Waves!

Category : 2014

When our friends do neat things, we like to share them with you.  Patti Johnson is the founder and leader of PeopleResults,  Her book, “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life” was released earlier this month.

Following are thoughts from Patti related to leading change and developing Wave Makers in your organization.

If You Want Change & Innovation You’ll Need Wave Makers

You have a change to lead, a transformation in the works, and a need for more innovation. Is the committed circle too small? You, as well as any leader, can’t have all of the answers.

Your change becomes a reality when others – in every part of the organization -look for how they can contribute. They see their role in the change – their wave. They may start small at first, but they start a ripple that grows. Change starts because individuals decide to act and be part of it.
You need what I call Wave Makers™. They know they have a role to play. They ask “what if?’, ‘what can I do?’, and ‘how can I help?’ They spark innovation, drive up performance, accelerate development and shake up the status quo.

Wave Makers don’t just appear, but they can be developed with the right experiences, encouragement and environment. It starts with you and how you develop talent in your organization from the day they join.
Here are four actions you can take to develop more Wave Makers in your organization:

Ask Questions that Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Waves develop not because one person was a creative genius, but often because of taking the time to ask insightful questions and being open to the answer. These questioners have a habit of exploring and being curious about why and how.

You may think that some people are just naturally creative or innovative and others aren’t, but that isn’t really true, according to researchers Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen in their book Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disrupting Innovators.

Dyer andGregersen share, “You learn to see what isn’t there today by habitually asking the right questions: “Why?” “Why must it be that way?” “What if?” “What’s the alternative?”

So what do we learn from (Steve) Jobs’s ability to think differently? Well, first we see that his innovative ideas didn’t spring fully formed from his head, as if they were a gift from the Idea Fairy. When we examine the origins of these ideas, we typically find that the catalyst was:

  • a question that challenged the status quo
  • an observation of a technology, company or customer
  • an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new
  • a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity. “

Even though Jobs’ waves were much grander and more transformational than ours, we can learn from how they started. Jobs’s questions and observation skills caused his perspective to change, as well as those around him. This natural curiosity and openness to new information began the formation of new ideas. I found that most Wave Makers I studied relied on this curiosity in exploring opportunities and problems. And, they were able to connect what even seemed like an unrelated concept from another situation or industry to their world.

Give White Space Assignments

White space is my way of describing work that isn’t fully defined or where more clarity is needed. There is no precedent or clear road map. A new design is needed. The objective or value is defined, but that is all. And the exact outcome may not even be known yet-just the problem.

It’s up to the individuals involved to create what doesn’t exist today using research, insights, and instinct. Of course, waves meet that criteria, but so does a new role that didn’t exist before, a position in a newly formed company or environment, or a dramatic change that renders the old rules obsolete. One of my “go-to” questions when I want to understand the ability of an individual to design and create is, “How effective is he with a blank piece of paper?” It’s another way of asking if that person can thrive in the “white space”-the undefined and the unseen with no obvious path forward.

Put People out of Their Zone

We all have these zones that fit our expertise, where we are most comfortable and confident. Have you ever noticed that when an outsider comes in he will have an observation or insight that those working there for months missed? A fresh perspective can see what others can’t. It’s not that he is wiser; he just doesn’t have the blinders that come after looking at something too long.

You can develop future Wave Makers by proactively looking for stretch roles and assignments. It’s not setting up someone up to fail, but asking her to take on a new role, opportunity, or project that is a big step beyond her comfort zone. This experience helps expand horizons and see the world in a new way. And, it develops a confidence and comfort in stretching, learning and taking on something very new.

Develop Enterprise-wide Thinking

In bigger organizations, it’s easy to slip into roles and teams that are isolated from the others and to define success very narrowly. Silos are one of the most common business problems today, and they serve as invisible roadblocks to innovation and collaboration. Leaders need organizational groups to deliver on their promises and commitments, but not when the group becomes more important than the larger goal. They need to think in panorama for the enterprise – much wider than one role or one group.

Ask individuals to lead a project that is broader than their role and function. It will naturally expand their thinking. It also develops an understanding of needs outside of their own area through firsthand exposure and experience. As a result, they learn to see the business and market more holistically.

To develop more Wave Makers, first, the environment has to be ready for experimentation and new ideas. Knock down reward and recognition obstacles that not only don’t reward waves, but penalize creativity, change and developing a new way. Then, start developing the Wave Makers you’ll need as it will take the ideas from many to make your own waves a reality. You can’t do it alone.

Patti Johnson Bio Information:
Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human capital consulting firm she founded in 2004. She and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay, Cognizant, BNSF, McKesson and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously, Johnson was a Senior Executive at Accenture and held numerous global leadership positions.

Patti is an instructor on Leading Change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Women’s Initiative Fellowship program and a frequent speaker on change, leadership and creating successful organizations. She has been featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fast Company, MONEY Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Entrepreneur, and many more. She was selected as an ongoing expert contributor for SUCCESS Magazine.