Archive for June, 2014

The snake that swallowed the elephant: The change/innovation adoption curve

June 27, 2014

Do you remember reading Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince? Who thought he’d ever be relevant for business? Yet if you can remember the story and the image of the snake that swallowed the elephant, it’ll help you remember for ever the shape of Roger’s change/innovation adoption curve. If you are yet more informed, you may remember it from Geoffrey Moore’s much-quoted 1991 business bestseller ’Crossing the Chasm.

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The change/innovation curve first sees the innovators (risk takers who desire to try new things, even if they fail) and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. You will notice there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are attracted to change and want the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the change/innovation actually offers improvements worth their while. The challenge for innovators, change agents and communicators/marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption.

Rogers explained already in 1962 that there are four main elements that influence the spread of a new idea:

the innovation – communication channels – time – and … a social system.

Achieving acceptance and adoption tends to be much harder with the late majority: They will usually only adopt in reaction to peer pressure or economic necessity. Most of the uncertainty around an idea must have been resolved for them to adopt. All the while, the laggards simply prefer to rely on past experience.

Think of different scenarios for this concept – I, for example, am an early adopter where it comes to social change; however, with certain new technologies, count me amongst the laggards … For those of us working in Corporate Responsibility, we certainly experienced the companies that only came around to it through stakeholder pressure, or being left behind in the market.
What is it like for you? In what areas of professional or personal life do you count yourself among the early adopters or early majority – and where do you tend to be a laggard?

A note on not wasting your time: For effective change, invest your energy into the early half of this model, up to including the early majority. They will be your multipliers to eventually convince the other half – while you and your energy are already on to the next change/innovation project. Convincing the late majority and the laggards would simply take too much of your creative, innovative energy and time and would be too much hard Sisyphus work.

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Do you give feedback constructively? Here’s how …

June 18, 2014

Giving feedback is not always easy – or welcome. It can look like a tricky endeavor that involves many potential traps and could trigger defense, denial, rage or even tears. Yet, as learned from my mentor, the wise consultant and coach Jane Linklater, already years ago, there is a safe technique for both sides – a tried and tested seven-step formula you can follow for success.

First of all, always start with something positive. No, I mean it: Always start with something positive about the person’s actions or behavior – no matter how impatient or worked up you might be in the moment! E.g., say “I really enjoy working with you”, or “Such and such piece of work was really great”.

Second, please don’t follow with a ’but’. The moment you start with ’but’, the other person is on their inner guard – and that’s not what you want, right? You want to keep the feedback doors open, don’t you? So use the trick: Say ’and’. That way, there are no defenses going up. Instead, the doors remain wide open.

Thirdly, use constructive wording, e.g. ’This has been great – and if you could still optimize that other thing …’ Or: ’This has been great – and at the same time, there is one other aspect that I personally find difficult … could we talk about that one?’

Now the most important part starts:
Rather than saying something like: ’Everybody thinks you always are …’, stay away from the three traps that are right in those 5 little words: stay away from
4) characterizing the person (“you are“)
5) generalizing (“you always …”)
6) from giving them the impression that people are talking about them behind their back (“everybody thinks …”, “everybody else says that, too …”)

Instead, please

4) focus on their behavior only
5) quote specific situations
6) that you observed, with the effect that had on you

E.g. ’When you do such and such, like in yesterday’s meeting, I find that difficult, because this is the effect it has on me …’

7) Then, please do not end this before having given the person a clear recommendation of what behavior you would rather see, e.g.: ’I personally would much prefer if you could …’, or ‘I would find it more helpful if you did …’

These seven steps should get you through safely, and hopefully make your feedback ‘land’ more constructively with the recipient.

Now, in case you need to give extended feedback or clarify a whole working relationship, there is also a tool that provides a ‘holding structure’ that can make both attending parties feel safe during a difficult conversation.

Ideally, for that purpose, you don’t have your conversation in the office, but the two of you go somewhere offsite, e.g. to a quiet café. (And put your laptops and mobile phones away and on silent, for full attention to each other. Plan between one and two hours for your session.)

Please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be advisable to actually book a small meeting room e.g. at a hotel, as they may feel exposed if they have to assume that other people could listen in on your conversation, even if you talk quietly.

The important thing now is to have a mutual feedback conversation.

For that, you can use the four quadrants below:

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Once again, please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be helpful to share the four quadrants sheet prior to meeting up, so each of you can prepare your answers to the four questions. People with a preference for introversion don’t like having to ‘shoot from the hip’ – they prefer to think and reflect for a while before they actually speak out.

Now take turns answering each quadrant – so both of you answer quadrant 1 first, and then move on to quadrant 2. And please stick to the order and stay with it. Don’t jump into quadrant 4 when you’re supposed to talk about quadrant 2 only (please point it out to each other in case one of you does). And please don’t interrupt each other – hear each other out. Then, if you are on the receiving end, maybe ask a couple of questions to clarify, like ’You mean if I do such and such, this is how it lands with you?’ or ’So you mean if I do such and such instead, that would help?’

Sticking to that discipline, you can have really constructive and safe conversations also about difficult topics that may previously have seemed off limits. Many of my clients have made that experience, and they worked more effectively together after their feedback session.

However, if you still find it challenging to have such a conversation, you can ask a qualified facilitator to come in, sit with you two and help you through the conversation. Your HR department should be able to help you with recommending such a person.

In summary, a constructive feedback process can help the two of you towards new soft contracting between you, as a solid foundation for how you want to go on together in your work relationship.

Do you still talk CSR, or ESG impact?

June 11, 2014

ESG are ‘Environmental, Social And Governance Criteria‘ – a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen investments. We have heard of the Triple Bottom Line before, and of the 3Ps – people, planet, and profit. Here’s ESG: Environmental criteria determine how a company performs as a steward of the natural environment. Social criteria examine how a company manages relationships with its stakeholders: e.g. its employees, suppliers, customers, local governments, NGOs, unions, and the communities where the company operates and where its employees work and live. Governance criteria deal with, for example, a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits and internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Goldman Sachs writes: ‘In our Environmental, Social and Governance Impact Report we illustrate how our work with clients helps to drive broader economic and social value. We also highlight our active engagement in the communities where we live and work and our support of an array of initiatives to promote environmental sustainability and community development.’

E.ON writes: ‘Standardized indicators from the areas of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) are gaining in importance in the capital market for evaluating companies, which is why we structure the reporting of our sustainability performance along material ESG criteria over the past several years.’

So, from the first Environmental Reports in the late 1980s, to then CSR Reports around the year 2000, soon to be followed by CR Reports, to Sustainability Reports as of around 2005, to now ESG Reports for the past couple of years – the field keeps evolving, and as practitioners, we need to evolve with it … The important thing to remember: it remains all about impact.