Every Leader Should Know What Their People are Thinking About Change
BILL TAYLOR, the co-founder of Fast Company magazine, has devoted his career to studying how the best companies and leaders navigate a world filled with disruptive change: new business models, groundbreaking technology, and so much more. In his three books (the most recent, Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways), Bill highlights the mavericks who have transformed their organizations and become industry disruptors themselves - in banking, in healthcare, in manufacturing, in transportation, in foodservice -- even a parking garage!
Leadership is about doing the hard work of big change. It's about the art of getting from now to next. Bill contends that you don't need to be a Silicon Valley technology firm or a blank-sheet-of-paper start-up to apply the same strategies and tactics that help transform companies in even the most mundane or mature kinds of businesses.
Bill speaks extensively to business audiences all over the world. The question and answer period after the talk is where people look to drill down on some of the ideas that really resonated for them. And most interestingly, the BEST questions get asked of Bill after he leaves the stage. Those are the questions people are too afraid to ask in the open forum. It's vital that leaders know what's really on their people's mind when it comes to making change happen.
I asked Bill to talk about the questions he gets most often during Q&A and to also give the one question people ask after the talk is over. Here are Bill's comments - with a great add-on at the end; Bill's comments on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work in 2019. Leaders everywhere finally understand that culture is no longer considered a "soft" subject when it comes to organizational performance. It's no surprise then that the best places to work are also are top performers as well.
THE RISK OF PLAYING IT SAFE
“Everybody in our company says we need to embrace change. So why is change so slow—and so hard?”
This may be the greatest lesson I’ve learned since the early days of Fast Company: The more things change, the more the worries about change remain the change. True change starts with the conviction that “playing it safe” has become the most dangerous choice of all. People need to recognize that the risk of trying something new today is much lower than the cost of desperately clinging to what’s worked in the past. That’s a big shift in mindset for most organizations, but it’s the mindset that unleashes change.
Here is Bill's HBR essay on the hard work of big change…
The More Things Change, The More Our Objections to Change Stay The Same
BE INSPIRED TO MAKE BIG CHANGE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
WITH FAST COMPANY CO-FOUNDER BILL TAYLOR
BALANCING LONG-TERM CHANGE & WITH SHORT-TERM GOALS
“Our senior leaders urge us to be more creative and disruptive, but they also expect us to deliver short-term results. How can we do both?”
It’s hard to be responsible for “today” and also to help invent “tomorrow,” because all the stuff that feels so urgent—emails, performance reviews, budget meetings—overwhelms that which is truly important. At Quicken Loans, a company I studied for my latest book, Simply Brilliant, every Tuesday afternoon from 1 PM to 5 PM is reserved for tomorrow. Nobody schedules meetings or answers email. Instead, everybody works on future-oriented projects that they choose. At WD-40, CEO Garry Ridge created “Team Tomorrow”—a small vanguard of project managers, technologists, and marketers who were freed from their daily duties to focus on the future. There’s no one right way to face
TAKE THE QUIZ: Bill created this quiz on the four kinds of leaders who create the future:
PARADOX OF EXPERTISE
“The higher I go in the organization, the more I worry about being out of touch, especially with younger colleagues. How do I stay relevant?”
I think of this as the “paradox of expertise”—the more successful you are, the more responsibility you have, the harder it can be to open your eyes to new problems and possibilities. Without ever intending it, senior people let what they know limit what they can imagine. That’s why the most effective leaders are determined to keep learning as fast as the world is changing.
Here’s a short video on why it’s important to keep learning as fast as the world is changing.
LEARNING FROM FAILURE
“Everyone says we need to learn from failure, that we have to accept more risk if we want to innovate. How do we accept failure in cultures that only reward success?”
This may be the question I get most frequently, and my answer starts with an article of faith: In a word of so much disruption, there can be no success without setbacks. Unless you are prepared to fail, you aren’t prepared to learn. My favorite case study of an organization that has won big because it has learned to fail is Domino’s Pizza. Its transformation over the last ten years is one of the great stories of creativity and growth I have ever seen—and it is all driven by the proposition, championed by CEO Patrick Doyle, that failure is an option, so long as it is in the service of leaning.
Here’s a short video on how Domino’s learned to love failure:
LEADERSHIP PARADIGM SHIFT: HUMILITY VS. ARROGANCE
One last note…I usually get the best questions after a talk, in the back of the room or out in the hallway, where folks can share their concerns in private. And here’s the question that comes up time and again:
Our leaders in general, and my boss in
Truth be told, this is a question around which I tread carefully. I recognize the power of the observation and emphasize that leaders at every level can be ambitious and humble at the same time. Indeed, humility in the service of ambition is the defining trait of the best leaders I’ve gotten to know.
NOTE - here is Bill's recent essay on arrogance, humility, and the new logic of leadership:
If Humility Is So Important, Why Are Leaders So Arrogant?
SUPPLEMENTAL READING: 50 REASONS WHY WE CAN'T CHANGE and LEADING INNOVATION AND SUCCESSFUL CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Q&A WITH BILL TAYLOR
Bill comments on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For:
It's interesting—and instructive—to see companies in pretty traditional fields, like hospitality and grocery stores,
About Tony D'Amelio
Tony has spent his career putting talented people and audiences together, first in the music business and later representing the world's leading speakers. After concluding 27 years as Executive Vice President of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Tony launched D'Amelio Network, a boutique firm that manages the speaking activities of a select group of experts on business, management, politics and current events. Clients include: Mike Abrashoff, Geoff Colvin, Katty Kay, Polly LaBarre, Nicole Malachowski, David Meerman Scott, Bill Taylor, Bill Walton, and Bob Woodward.