Read an Excerpt
Motherhood Is the New MBA
Using Your Parenting Skills to Be a Better Boss
By Shari Storm
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Shari Storm
All rights reserved.
Getting Dressed Can Take All Morning
I tell my daughters, "We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way." The first time I said this, my daughter would not sit still long enough for me to take off her clothes to put on her pajamas. She was not yet two and was determined to jump on the bed rather than get ready for it. I knew I was nearing that point where I would be forced to physically overpower her. Years later, I'm still amazed at how long getting ready for bed, for school, or for an outing can take.
It is human nature to resist that transition from one stage of the day (or life, or career) to the next. Whether we are six or sixty, we resist change.
The reasons we go to battle over transitions with our children are strikingly similar to the reasons we have trouble with our staff during times of change.
There are three important similarities between the parent/child and the manager/employee relationships during transitional periods. As parents and as managers,
We are farther along in the process.
We have a broader understanding of the greater need for the change.
We have more control over our environment.
By the time my children are waking up in the morning, I have been up for at least two hours. I am showered. I've had my coffee. I've planned my day. I am ready to go. They are still rubbing their tired little eyes as I throw open their curtains and sing cheerily, "Let's go!" They don't have the motor skills yet to say, "Slow down. I need a moment to catch up with you." Instead, they pout or brood or ignore my impassioned pleas to hurry.
Our employee situation is no different. If you are the boss of other people, chances are, when a change happens, you have known about it for a longer period of time. You may have sat at the table where the decision to make the change was discussed and made. You have had time to adjust to the change. When you present the change to your staff, never forget that they are several steps behind you in the understanding and acceptance journey. Give them time to catch up with you and be sympathetic to the fact that they, like your children, may not be able to articulate their need to have you slow down.
In addition to being several steps ahead of your kids, you possess a better understanding of the bigger picture. You know why it is important for everyone to be dressed and out the door by seven. What does your two-year-old care about being late for work? Similarly, when you are in management, you often see the broader implications more clearly than those people who report to you. When presented with a change, they may not be able to see past the fact that the change makes their job harder, or more uncomfortable, or less important. You, however, see how the change may save your company a great deal of money, give you a competitive advantage, or improve the overall quality of your organization. In a perfect world, sharing with your employees the strategic reason for the change should be enough. But just like with our kids, sometimes it isn't. When that is the case, figure out a way to make it personally positive.
Nancy Baker, director of education for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the author of the book Globally Gluten Free, is no stranger to change. She has moved her family of five several times, not just from house to house but from country to country. She shared her secret. "I do two things. First, I establish transitional objects. When the kids were little, it was their favorite blankets. No matter where we were or what we were doing, they had their blankets. It was something from the past that comforted them."
Companies can have transitional objects as well. When I went through my first companywide reorganization as an executive, a wise mentor told me to pay close attention to employees' desks. He advised me, "We will go to great pains to explain the reasons for the reorganization and how it will benefit the company and all that, but while we are talking, every employee will be wondering where they will sit."
Without exception, in every reorganization I have ever facilitated, one of the first questions employees ask is, "Where will I sit?" So often, companies spend considerable time communicating organizational changes yet fail to take into consideration employees' desks. Desk space seems to be a nonstrategic item and therefore often overlooked. But just like the blankets for Nancy's children, desks offer a transitional object — something an employee can hold on to during times of change. When guiding your employees through change, make sure to keep a close eye on those things that are staying the same and mention them often.
Keep in mind that, as the person of authority, you have more control over the situation than others do. Truth be told, if you didn't want to get up in the morning, you could call in sick for the whole family. Your child does not have that option. It is human nature to want to control one's environment, particularly during times of uncertainty. Kids will test their ability to exert control through all sorts of ways familiar to parents. Perhaps it's refusing to wear the outfit you picked out for them, or dragging their feet when you urge them to hurry, or insisting on waffles when you give them cereal.
Do give people some control over the situation. Rebekah went through a stage where she insisted on wearing two different shoes — one sneaker and one patent leather. While my mother found this to be unacceptable, I viewed it as a way for her to let her creativity shine, and for her to have a small win in the daily getting-dressed battle. I figured she had her whole life to wear matching shoes, so I let her go crazy. Just because I would never go out in different shoes — at least, not on purpose — doesn't mean my daughter shouldn't. There are times when my employees handle things in a way that I would not. I try to let them exercise as much control over their environment as possible. This is especially helpful in times of change. While this is easier said than done, in both parenting and managing, it can produce far better results.
Darcy Kooiker, principal and director at Berntson Porter & Company, tells of a time when her former company went through a major building remodel. "It was hard on all of us." She laughs. "But we each got to pick the color that our office was going to be painted. We all got four color samples, and it was exciting. Everybody had some bit of choice and everybody had something to look forward to when the project was done. That is what I do with my kids. Every night before bed, we pick out the clothes they are going to wear the next day. They get to pick their outfit (within reason!). It makes things go a lot smoother in the morning. I also try to take that time to get them excited about school the next day. I think those kinds of things work because they give people choices and some control."
By understanding those three key points, there are a few things we can do to make change easier on those we must guide through the process.
First, be sensitive to the fact that change is hardest when it is perceived that something is being lost or taken away.
My teammate, Laurel, was responsible for alerting all of us when our Internet banking system went down. She would compose and send all-staff e-mails with updates.
After a while, the executive team decided that the number of all-staff e-mails we sent regarding various systems outages was excessive. They were distracting everyone when only a handful of employees needed the information. Instead, we decided to post system disruptions on the intranet. Of course, this decision was only one part of a larger discussion about boosting the staff's confidence in our corporation. The discussion spanned a few meetings before action items were assigned. It did not occur to me when I talked to Laurel about the change that she might question it. Since I had been working on it for several days, I was farther along in the acceptance process. I mistakenly expected Laurel to catch up with me with only a short explanation. In addition, I figured Laurel should see the bigger implications as readily as I could (like I sometimes expect my daughters to understand what it means to be late for work). But she wasn't at the table when we talked about how the weekly who-has-left-the-employ-of-the-company e-mail affects morale or how the all-staff e-mails about the elevator being broken in one building or the ATM being down at one site shake confidence in our overall corporate abilities.
For years, Laurel had been the Paul Revere of Internet banking in our organization. It was one of her major responsibilities and her way of connecting with the staff. I failed to consider what taking this away might mean to her.
When I first mentioned it in an offhanded way, her reaction was not the apathetic shoulder shrug I was expecting. The change upset her. So I went back to the drawing board and approached the issue with new sensitivity.
We tackled the issue in a two-part discussion. I reintroduced the idea, emphasizing all of the reasons behind it. I let her mull it over, and then the next day we walked through her questions together. It took a while before she could accurately articulate that it felt like some of her importance was being diminished. Laurel is an extremely competent professional and recognized those feelings for what they were — emotionally based reactions to a change that was made with no input from her. Thankfully, after a quick period of readjustment, Laurel was back to providing the helpful information she always had, only now it was on the corporate intranet rather than an all-staff e-mail.
Second, people want to know what to expect.
Tammy Gallegos, vice president of service quality at America First Credit Union in Utah, talks about one of her twin sons who has high-functioning autism. "When he was about seven years old, he really wanted to play football," she explains. "Playing football would be something that was new, and change is very hard for him. Although he wanted to play, he was afraid of being tackled or hit by another player. He was literally shaking the first time he stepped on the field. I felt so bad for him! But after his first tackle, he stood up and said, 'That wasn't so bad!' After that, he knew what to expect and he loved it. People just want to be prepared for what is coming at them. I think it is easier to overcome their fears if they know what to expect."
When guiding employees through change, communicate with them as often as possible. A vice president of HR once told me, "Just when you think you have overcommunicated something, say it one more time and then you are probably good."
Another good strategy is to make sure there is something to look forward to, something to focus on after the change is complete. During Nancy Baker's last move to Spain, she promised all three of her children new bikes once they were settled. When things got too harried or the kids got anxious, she would ask questions like, "Do you think you want a basket on your bike, or no basket?"
Once, a nonprofit agency I was working for went through an accreditation process that required a great deal of organizational change. The change team agreed we were going to a nice expensive dinner when it was all done. We did the same thing as Nancy. When stress mounted, one of us would pipe in with, "I'm going to have lobster. Yep. Lobster for an appetizer and crème brûlée for dessert," and then we would all chime in with our opinions of the best desserts. It was a way to relieve the tension for a moment and remind ourselves there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Parents also understand the need to stay focused if we are going to facilitate change. We would not dream of walking into our two-year-old's room in the morning, saying, "I'll be back in thirty minutes. Please be dressed, with hair combed and teeth brushed before I return." Well, we may dream of it, but we know it will never work. We know that, when dressing a one-, two-, or even three-year-old, a small distraction can abort the entire process. If the phone rings when you have shirt, pants, and socks on, there is a good chance that socks and shirt will be off again by the time you hang up. (I am the mother of a born streaker. I have literally turned my head for thirty seconds and my naked little darling has whisked past me, all of my morning's work in a pile near the door.)
We should also keep in mind that we cannot have a short meeting, send out an e-mail, or make a quick phone call and expect meaningful change to take place. To help our employees through change, we must provide significant focus on them and their activities. It is no different from dressing the little ones in the morning.
Last, whenever possible, personalize the process. In my household, we learned early on that if we told Rebekah getting ready was a race, she would dress quickly to be the winner. While she didn't care at all about us being late to things, even things she desperately wanted to do, she did care about her sister finishing before her. Turning dressing into a race was the golden ticket for us.
Top 3 Take-Aways
1. When facing change, communicate to your staff as early in the process as possible. Remember that they are a few steps behind you in the acceptance cycle, so give them a reasonable amount of time to adjust.
2. Devise a way to make the need for the change personal to your employees. While you may understand such things as the importance of meeting projected earning figures, some of your employees may not. When communicating the reason for change, speak in terms that all levels of the organization can relate to.
3. Whenever possible, give employees some control over the situation. If there is a major reorganization, consider letting employees choose their new titles. If the office is physically changing, consider letting employees select the color of their surrounding walls. Seek out and find those things for which employees can make a contribution to the change.CHAPTER 2
Rip the Band-Aid Off Fast
According to Paula Spencer in her hilarious book Momfidence! An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting, Band-Aids with cartoon characters or bright colors have been proved to heal boo-boos 50 percent faster. All three of my daughters confirm this fact.
One day, when Lexie was almost three, she walked up to me and quietly handed me a Scotch Tape dispenser.
"What is this for, honey?" I asked her.
She pointed to her three-day-old Dora the Explorer Band-Aid. The Band-Aid was hanging precariously onto her knee by the last remnants of dirty adhesive. The scratch that prompted the placement of the said Band-Aid had long healed.
"Oh, sweetie," I said, kneeling down to look at her lovely face. "Let me take that Band-Aid off. Your ow-wee is all gone."
She shook her head emphatically. "Put tape on it," she insisted.
"I know," I said in my best I've-got-an-idea voice, "let's take that one off and get a new one!"
"No, Mommy. Please? Please put tape on it."
When Lexie says "please" in that sweet little voice, I rarely can resist. I put tape on that dingy old Band-Aid.
The next day, when the tape had dog hairs and dust in it, I put a new piece of tape over it.
And so it went for several days, until Lexie had a leg thick with tape.
When it comes to taking off Band-Aids, there is just one way to do it — fast.
And sometimes, guiding employees through change is the same. Mary Kay Beeby began her career as a software engineer at Boeing in 1976. Anyone who lived in the Pacific Northwest during those decades remembers the fluctuations at the region's biggest employer.
Beeby, who now owns MK Consulting, says, "When I was at Boeing in the '70s and '80s, we used to joke that there wasn't actually enough space for everyone. As long as there was a reorganizaiton taking place, one department or another would be moving and then the company could fit everyone in. At any given time, somebody didn't have a desk." She became well versed in helping employees cope with the stages of organizational change.
It wasn't until her next job, with a California-based publishing company, that she was forced to push people through change quickly. "The publishing house was bought by another company," she recalls, "and they gave us two months to close the Seattle office. I decided we were going to do it in one month and be done with it. People wanted to complain about this other company coming around and 'firing' us all. It just wasn't healthy. People needed to move on. They needed to look for other jobs. It was time to say, 'This is going to sting. Everyone hold on. Here we go!' and plow through it fast. In the end, people thanked me. It was what we all needed to do."
Excerpted from Motherhood Is the New MBA by Shari Storm. Copyright © 2009 Shari Storm. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.