Try these four tactics the next time you have to change direction.
by Doug Glener, Jay Campbell
April 20, 2021
The pandemic has caused countless businesses to reinvent themselves at a speed once thought impossible.
It’s like the retailer that launched curbside delivery in two days instead of the planned 18 months, the engineering company that designed and manufactured ventilators in only a week or the global telco that retrained 1,000 store employees to be inside salespeople in just three weeks.
These seismic shifts happened because thousands of managers and their teams successfully pivoted. One moment they were working to achieve familiar goals, and the next, they were tackling daunting new challenges.
Pivoting is challenging. Even under the best circumstances it often causes confusion, anger and resistance. So how can leaders help their people pivot in these difficult times? Here are four tactics you can use.
Lead situationally. Pivoting usually requires your people to take on new tasks. Some will be adept at their new assignments by relying on past skills, but others will struggle. Leading situationally — giving people just the right amount of direction and support at the right moment — will build their trust and self-confidence. This makes everyone more agile.
Encourage experimentation. Pivoting often requires stepping into uncharted territory. Cultivating a mindset of experimentation lets you move forward quickly. This means changing people’s behaviors from execution-focused to experimentation-focused. It starts with setting goals for them and modeling the new behaviors. It means checking on the status of their experiments and what they’re learning from them. It means celebrating their efforts and learning from false starts and failures.
Experimentation is at the heart of this. It flourishes in an environment of psychological safety. We need to feel safe if we are to share ideas. A judgmental attitude — criticism, scorn and all its unpleasant variations — is the death of experimentation. Be like a parent encouraging a child to walk: careful not to show any disappointment about inevitable stumbles and falls.
Play the frame game. When pivoting, people will want to know about the new destination and why it’s important to reach it. This is the time to use framing. Businessman and writer Max DePree said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality,” meaning that leaders must paint a picture by conveying the implications and emotions of a situation.
The ”first pancake” metaphor — a test to see if the batter and heat are just right — is an example of framing. The results are informative, but not pretty. Framing an experiment as a first pancake lowers the stress and pressure while simultaneously making the experiment fun and playful. Leaders who successfully frame a situation can shift people’s attitudes about even the most intimidating changes.
Act like you don’t have the answer. Innovation is a team sport. Odds are, you don’t have all the ideas needed to pivot, making humility mandatory. Share the challenges with the team and encourage people to problem-solve. Verbalize solutions so others can see how you think, question your assumptions and build on the best ideas. Cultivate an attitude of open-mindedness and gratitude. Give credit to your people. A quote by Ken Blanchard, chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos., sums up the reason: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
We are in a time of dramatic change. Pivoting will only become more important. Try these tactics the next time you have to change direction. They’ll help you and your people pivot.