Creating alignment

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Review the “six-pack approach” at the beginning of Part III, Chapter 8, of Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change (linked in Resources) and pay attention to the three steps of finding common ground, finding common metrics, and creating a sense of urgency. Also, choose one of the four models for implementing change in Table 9.2 on page 305 of your Organizational Change: An Action-Oriented Toolkit text. For this discussion, compare and contrast an approach for managing group dynamics with a model of change, and respond to the following:

  • What are the similarities and differences?
  • Which of the approaches for creating alignment or engaging others is best for leading change in your organization?
  • What opportunities exist to infuse social media into the process?

Chapter 8
Alignment and Group Dynamics
I shared earlier that people hate the word standardize. The truth is that people like standards
just fine—as long as they’re theirs. Yet at some point in most change initiatives, some degree of
standardization is necessary. It’s how you achieve the new normal. Getting there requires
alignment—not only as the initiative launches, but also as you plow through the sometimes
messy business of implementation. Otherwise, your initiative can end up like the United States’
conversion to the metric system: You support multiple solutions, with the confusion and
inefficiency that inevitably result.

In Part II, Politics, I covered communication strategies for alignment at the launch of
initiatives. Now I’m going to focus on tactical strategies for managing group dynamics. This is
how you align and realign, and align and realign, your people over the course of an initiative.

I call my general approach to this the “Six-Pack Approach.” I came up with the phrase one day
when someone took a shot at me in a meeting by asking, “James, what is it that you do?” I was
a senior vice president at the time, and apparently doing too good a job of leading from behind.
I was making it look easy! (It isn’t.) Fortunately, I was thinking on my toes that day.

“I’m like that little plastic thing that holds a six-pack together,” I said. “People don’t think it’s
worth much until they try to carry six cans without it.”

The Six-Pack Approach
An organization is not a Super Big Gulp, it’s a six-pack. And alignment isn’t opening up all the
cans—the many various business units, functional divisions, and even individual employees—
and dumping them into one container, it’s getting them lined up and moving in the same
direction.

My approach has three steps, all of which are repeated as needed over the course of an
initiative as differences arise, politics flare, and challenges are met.

Find Common Ground
I’m a firm believer that no matter how different the players are, they always share some kind of
common ground. As I’ve said before, common ground, not compromise, is your friend. But the
way to find it isn’t to bring everyone together right at the outset. When change is making people
feel insecure, they act first and foremost to protect their own boundaries. Bring them together
in a group, and they’ll focus on their differences and adopt a “my turf, your turf” attitude.

The business units at Medtronic provide a great example. Another hurdle we jumped during my
time was related to regulatory oversight, which had evolved such that problems in one
business unit could lead to greater scrutiny of all the others. As a result, for the first time, we

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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needed to create and enforce best practices for quality management across all the units. I’ve
mentioned before that each business unit regarded itself as its own “state.” Each thought it
followed the best practice and argued that standardization was impossible because they
weren’t making the same products.

Our first meeting was a complete waste of time. People from each unit spent the entire meeting
explaining to me how they were different—which was obvious before they ever started talking.
But the fact was, regulatory assessment of quality management was identical across all
products, so it was clear that standard best practices were possible, too.

The approach I took next is the one I recommend to all of you. I met with each BU head
individually and asked them to review their quality standards with me. What I quickly
discovered was that they all shared a need for a new IT system to support quality management.
Infrastructure is often a source of common ground. In this case it was software, but physical
infrastructure or new personnel and roles are often like needs that have gone unfunded.

When I brought the VPs together to talk about IT, alignment around that issue came quickly.
Everyone settled on a common system, which got the ball rolling toward a conversation about
metrics, bringing us a step closer to our ultimate goal.

When looking for alignment, meet with each stakeholder individually to find the common
ground that provides the opportunity for movement.

Bring People Together to Develop Common Metrics
Metrics provide a unique opportunity. They are the start of a common language in that they
require people to agree on the words, and the exact meaning of the words, to describe the
metrics. Once a common language develops, boundaries naturally shift and expand, and the
idea of a common culture (and shared standards) begins to sound believable.

Metrics are needed for all change initiatives regardless of the function or business. For
example, in operations, metrics might be on-time delivery, first-time quality, lead time, and so
on. In customer care, you might see metrics to measure customer satisfaction, “no touch”
orders, and the performance of our representatives. Whatever the business or function, use
metrics that can be benchmarked against other companies.

Common metrics represent a giant leap, so it’s no surprise that here, too, standardization is a
struggle. Everyone wants their own metrics to become the common ones. Still, you give them a
chance to try to figure it out on their own. Set a target date for their delivery of the new metrics
and be willing to offer one extension.

In most cases, even after the extension, they’ll be log jammed. Now you step up the heat. Bring
them together for a two-day workshop, and let them know they can’t leave until they finalize
metrics. Add heat by scheduling it on a Thursday; no one will want to have to convene on
Saturday if they haven’t met their objective.

If this approach seems Draconian, that’s not by accident. What I’ve found is that they stop
complaining about each other and start complaining about me. Finally they’re thinking like a

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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team, and with the looming deadline, they start to apply that mentality to the work at hand.

My involvement is limited. I kick things off the first morning. If facilitation is needed, I hire
someone. The only limitation I put on the outcomes is a cap on the number of metrics. Then I
check in at the day’s close, reminding them that they’ll be there every day until they are
successful. I come back at noon on the second day and take questions. Finally, I come back
around 3:00 p.m. for a walkthrough of the new metrics. I’ve never arrived and been met with
failure.

Create a Sense of Urgency
While core metrics represent a huge step, the speed at which the organizations adapt to them
can be glacial if you don’t apply pressure.

All change initiatives need boosts along the way. Enthusiasm waxes and wanes, and opponents
to the change act up to slow or stop progress.

The pressure you need arrives in the form of business challenges from customers, investors,
competitors, regulators, or internal operators. Clear-cut threats to the health of the organization
give new energy to the change initiative if you can make a compelling case for how the two are
linked. In the case of quality management best practices at Medtronic, the connection was
obvious: Regulators issued enforcement actions at multiple locations. If this happened at the
corporate level, the company’s ability to do business would be severely restricted for at least
two years.

If you need to drum up urgency on a schedule, have a third party do a benchmarking study.
Without exception, the study will find areas where your company is lagging. Do make sure that
the leaders in the affected areas get a chance to review the report before the COO or CEO,
otherwise they’ll see it as an attack and work the politics of damage control. Any boundaries
you had succeeded in lifting will smack back down.

When creating a sense of urgency, the change leader has to maintain balance. You don’t want to
come across as an alarmist or as someone who sensationalizes events to fit your agenda. Let
your hubs start the conversation, so that the leaders in question come to you to ask about the
situation. There’s your opening.

What’s important is that you’re ready for this moment with a plan of action that operationalizes
the progress toward alignment you’ve made so far. Otherwise the rock you’ve been pushing
uphill could, as people react to a threat, get pushed backward and run you over.

With people’s energy renewed, leadership motivated, and a clear plan at the ready, alignment
finally gets operationalized and turns into action.

Alignment Sessions
Previously I mentioned putting people together in a room so that they can hash out and commit
to a shared solution. There are a few things I always make “right” to ensure that they have a

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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successful session. These tips apply to any kind of group decision-making or problem-solving
process.

First, pick the right room. It should be big and open enough that people can get up and walk
around. If the space is claustrophobic, people close their minds. An open room helps open
minds to new ideas. I can’t provide any scientific proof for that, but I’ve seen it play out many
times.

Second, place the leader (whether it’s you or someone else) in the right position. That’s the
middle of the room, where he or she can see everyone and hear what their mouths and their
bodies are saying. But note that the leader should not facilitate the session. Generally speaking,
the leader shouldn’t contribute much more than opening comments. You can’t facilitate, listen,
watch, and learn all at the same time. Delegate responsibility to a dedicated facilitator to
probe and push during the meetings. Otherwise, people will think that you have taken a
position and it will bias the meeting.

Third, set the right mood. In your opening comments, put everyone in the right mind-set. They
are no longer representatives of their individual functions in the company. They are one team, a
board of directors being asked to make a strategic decision that best serves the company’s
interests. Each person needs to bring an informed point of view and an open mind to the work
at hand. The leader’s role is only to add facts to the discussion as needed and to make a final
decision if the team is unable to reach alignment.

Fourth, keep the people right. Remind everyone that being on the same team doesn’t mean they
won’t have disagreements. Debating different points of view is part of the process. People
should check their egos and be respectful. All discussion should be open to the entire group; no
side meetings.

When and How to Make an Executive Decision
As a leader, you want to hand off decision making to others as much as you can. Giving people
control over the details goes a long way to ease resistance to the overall plans for change.
Again, the leader’s job is to keep the six-pack together, not to micromanage their decision
making.

However, there are times when dysfunction takes over and an executive decision is needed to
keep things moving. For example, if people still haven’t reached alignment after a meeting like
the one outlined previously, step in. The challenge is finding a way to handle it that doesn’t
leave people feeling like you’re ruling by fiat.

I had to make an executive decision once when our tech team at Medtronic was deadlocked in
deciding between two different technologies from two different companies. Initially, I turned
the decision making over to them, but when several sessions over two months failed to result in
a decision, I had to get involved. They had become two warring camps who were wasting
meeting after meeting talking at each other without really listening. Worse, discussions were
devolving into personal attacks. The group was beyond the point where I could lock them in a

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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room and trust that they could reach a resolution.

I could have just met with the suppliers and made an independent decision. That would have
gotten us moving forward, but it would have completely eroded the trust I had been trying to
build and it would have made everyone involved feel powerless.

Instead, I called everyone together. I explained carefully why I was getting involved. I let them
know I’d listen to all their arguments and make the best decision I could, but at that point,
moving forward was more important than the subtleties that were miring them in gridlock.
Over the course of two meetings, I let the two factions make their cases and then I made a
decision.

Any time that you have to take agency away from the team, take the time to explain why—and
make sure you have a good reason. Once you’ve made a decision, take care in how you
announce it. Start by summarizing the various arguments so it is clear that you heard and
understood them. Then, be clear and transparent about how you made your choice. Most people
will support a decision that is different from theirs if they feel that their points of view were
given serious consideration.

In dealing with our tech team, I also made sure that the team knew that in the future, they
needed to find a way to come to resolution together. If we ever got into a situation again where
people felt so strongly about a supplier that they were looking sideways at their own
teammates, they should go work for that company, not Medtronic.

To bring perspective to the situation, I often close this kind of discussion by sharing my own
approach to the times I’ve had to decide whether to support a decision I didn’t agree with. I
have three criteria:

1. Is the decision an ethical one?

2. Does the decision have the potential to create a disaster that the organization can’t recover
from?

3. Is the leader the type of person who will make adjustments if the decision creates problems
down the line?

If the answer to those three questions is yes, I support the leader and the decision 100 percent.

Brokering Deals
Sometimes making an executive decision isn’t appropriate or within your power. In such cases,
you have to find a way to broker a deal. I’ve often found that I’m more successful when I
approach a negotiation with the understanding that, at the end of the day, what we’re brokering
is trust. What do I need to do so that they trust that I will do my best to meet their needs within
the change I am advocating for?

For example, when we consolidated distribution centers at Medtronic, one of the business unit
operations VPs was concerned because he would no longer control the centers, yet he would

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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still be the one to get the calls from his bosses if shipments were missed. In such a situation,
he’d have to say, “Let me check with James,” which isn’t what you want to have to tell your
boss. I’ve been in that position before, and I can tell you it is not a good position to be in.

Mind you, he didn’t tell any of this to me. He was just doing whatever was in his power to
resist the change. To broker trust, I talked to my hubs and sponsors. They understood the
politics of the organization well enough to know the currency at play. A hub explained to me
the source of the VP’s resistance, and together we came up with a way to broker trust. We’d put
someone in the VP’s group in charge of the shared service that we were creating. That was
enough to give him the control that he needed.

Another tactic I like to use when brokering deals is finding a way to test both solutions: the one
I’m offering and the one proposed by the dissenting party. We then let results determine which
approach is better. This creates trust immediately, especially when I let the other party
establish the success criteria and metrics for our experiment. For example, I once let a
business unit use a different third party to outsource its warehouse operations than what we
chose for the rest of the company. We needed to cut costs while waiting to develop the long-
term plan of consolidating all the warehouses. In the end, it was the right move—it turned out
that their choice suited our requirements much better. It was one of the many times that giving
people latitude to make their own decisions while working toward alignment has paid off.

The Importance of Reaching Up
Every change initiative faces challengers and challenges. The moment you think you have
alignment, the wind shifts and someone has a new concern that seems to throw all your hard
work into jeopardy.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to handle it all alone. You are not all-knowing—far from it.
From the beginning to the end of your work, constantly reach up for advice and direction from
senior-level mentors and sponsors. The dynamics influencing behavior at the top of the
organization are not always visible to you. Furthermore, these people acquired a lot of wisdom
on their way up. Put it into service.

The difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that the former opens your mind by sharing
advice, ideas, and suggestions. The latter opens other’s minds; they advocate for you, opening
doors on your behalf. You need both. I go to my mentors before I start a change initiative and
along the way for fresh ideas and a broader perspective than I can bring to the table. I go to my
sponsors for background on the key players’ bosses and what their perspectives and agendas
might be.

Early in my career, I avoided reaching up for help, usually until it was too late. I was making
the mistake of thinking that I needed to impress my mentors and sponsors by always looking
like I had all the answers and was in total control. That was how I showed them my
importance. In fact, the more important you are in an organization, the more advice you need,
because the stakes are greater and the politics are more complex. Admitting you don’t have all
the answers is a sign of maturity and good sense—the proof that you deserve the responsibility

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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you’ve been given.

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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Chapter 8 in Tweets

Six-pack leadership: A leader is the plastic piece that you barely notice—until you try
to carry six cans without it.

Teams accept executive decisions when they know they’ve been heard. Take the time
to show them.

Common metrics in an organization are the start of a common language.

In negotiations, what’s really on the table is trust. Broker trust and you’ll find
resolution.

Change agents need VIP help. Don’t forget to reach up for advice and support.

Coaching Moments
All “no” answers need to be addressed.

Question Answer
(Yes or
No)

1. Have you developed common, clearly defined metrics for success that everyone
is in agreement with?

2. Did you get advice from the core team and key stakeholders before you made
your last decision, and did they feel like you listened to them? (Have your HR
person ask them this question, because they will be more candid with him or her
than with you.)

3. Did you get advice from your sponsors and mentors prior to the last major
decision you made?

4. Would the last person you brokered a deal with say that he or she trusts you?
(Have HR ask the person this question. If the response is “no,” follow up
personally.)

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-28 20:50:57.

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