Ilja Grzeskowitz

Let's Talk about Change, Baby! How to Dream Big, Act Bold, and Get the Results You Want (Ilja Grzeskowitz)

WINNING WELL CONNECTION

I (David) first met Ilja when we both happened to be visiting Manhattan. He had just released his latest book on change and I was sharing a leadership keynote with a business headquartered in Long Island. On a chilly spring evening, we shared drinks on a roof-top patio overlooking the Empire State building and talked about his favorite places in Germany, changes in the world economy, and leadership. Ilja invited Karin and me to join him in Phoenix, AZ as his guests for the National Speaker’s Association Council of Peers Award for Excellence gala (it’s like the Academy Awards for professional speakers) and we look forward to reconnecting in Singapore where the three of us are presenting at the same conference. As an expert in change and change management, Ilja embodies his message with an energetic, upbeat, and positive response to whatever comes his way.

A while ago, I read an interview with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, where he made a fascinating observation. He said: “Today, mankind produces more information, data and ideas than from the stone age until the year 2003 together.“ And he nailed it with that statement. Because the changes around us are getting more and more intense. Everything changes. Permanently. The economy, the organizational structures in our companies, our very own working space. As a keynote speaker and change coach, I have the privilege of working with a lot of awesome organizations. And it doesn’t matter which industry I look at, whether it’s a big brand or a small company with just a hundred employees. There is one thing they all have in common: The rules have changed and constant change has become the new normal.

Click on the image for more information about Ilja’s book.

The Rules Have Changed

Especially disruptive technologies, the demographic trend and the digitalization are the main reasons that markets change dramatically and the customers are behaving completely different than they used to do just a few years ago. And that means that our ability to deal with this new complexity around us will be the most important factor if we will still be successful in the future or if we become obsolete. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about change for change’s sake, but about change with a purpose. Change with intention. Change to reach your goals, to become more profitable and to grow as a person. In the upcoming years, nothing will be more important, than to adapt to these new circumstances.

Use Your Mindset as Your #1 Asset

What does all that mean to your jobs as a leader? First, you need to quickly adapt to all of the changes going on around you and adjust your own mindset. Even more importantly, you need to lead the changes in your team. Organizations only change when the people change. And it is your job to make sure they do. Not by telling them or giving orders, but by reaching their hearts and leading with your actions. And believe me, I know what I am talking about. In my own career, I started out as the youngest store manager in Germany’s largest department store corporation and overall, I was responsible for ten different stores all over the country. Back then, not only did I have to deal with tough competition, changing markets and the upcoming phenomena of online shopping but also with a huge crisis within the company itself. Locations were shut down, profits were decreasing and thousands of employees were facing the fear of unemployment. During these tough times, I learned the biggest lesson of my life: Change is not what happens around you, but how you deal with it. It is your mindset that makes all the difference. Your attitude. And after all, the culture in your organization. Let me share one of my deepest beliefs with you: A company culture of openness, flexibility, and courage beats every sophisticated business strategy by far. Because there’s one thing you can be sure of: If you are good, your competition will copy everything. They will copy your products, your prices, maybe even your marketing. But they will never be able to copy your culture.

Create a Culture of Change in Your Company

In my book “Think it. Do it. Change it.”, I explained how to develop this special attitude of change. If you know how motivation really works, why the fear of going new ways is actually your best friend, and how to use your own uniqueness to lead the changes in your company, your community and most importantly, in your family, you will be able to make a huge difference. At the end of the day, dealing with change is a mindset. A certain way of thinking, deciding and taking action, that we have to adjust not only once, but on a daily basis. The more you use that special attitude, the sooner you will develop strong habits. And that’s important because changes never happen overnight. They are a process with successes and failures. With ups and downs. You have to work hard to make it happen every single day. Isn’t it true? It’s never the one with the best abilities who wins, but always the one who is well prepared, the one who takes massive action and changes actively. Because under the same circumstances it’s always the attitude, the mindset, the company culture that makes all the difference in the world. So dream big. Act bold. And you will get the results you want.

Winning Well Reflection

We were struck by Ilja’s observations that “organizations only change when people change.” As leaders, it’s all-too-easy to fall into the “they-game”e.g. I’ll lead well … when “they” get their act together… when “they” fix the problem … when “they” give us a better system. But that’s not leadership. Leaders take responsibility and create the change that needs to happen. We love the way Ilja reminds us that “change is a mindset” – you often don’t know what you’ll show up to – but you have 100% control over how you show up.

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5 Signs Diaper Drama Is Destroying Your Culture

Diaper Genies are a FABULOUS invention– for parents and nurseries. They hide the stink of a poopie diaper and exponentially increase the interval necessary to empty the trash. The stink stays conveniently wrapped tightly in plastic so no one can smell it. The stink is unavoidable and the Diaper Genie provides a welcome reprieve.

But sadly, in so many companies around the world, I see a similar effect. Employees take the stinky issues, and disguise them so cleverly with spin, sandwiched feedback and carefully crafted Power Points, that no one can smell the real problem.

The Diaper Drama Includes…

  • Spinning the truth
  • Watering down feedback
  • Omitting information that may trigger alarm
  • Manipulating data

Signs You May Have a Diaper Drama Culture (and what to do about it)

The minute I pull out the Diaper Genie in one of my keynotes, the heads start to nod. Ahh, yes. We do that here. So if this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

Here are few signs, you may have a diaper genie culture.

  1. Meetings are readouts, not discussions.
    If meetings are more of a one-way information dump, it’s likely you’re not having the tough conversations that would up your game. Ask questions. “What else do I need to know?” “What are you most worried about? What’s making you nervous?” “What could possibly go wrong…. and how can I help?” See also our thinking on how to “own the ugly.”
  2. You spend more time crafting the communication than having the conversation.
    I once worked for a boss where we would have at least 27 rehearsals before any executive presentation. We were all coached on exactly which topics to avoid at all costs– lest we draw attention to our challenge areas. If you’re more worried about font size than fixing problems, you’re likely in a diaper genie culture. Even if you’re working in such a culture, stop that crap on your own team. Encourage your team to focus on substance over form at least in their readouts to you.
  3. Bad news is a powder keg.
    If you’ve got bosses running around that react poorly to bad news, check closely for diaper genies. They’re probably filled to the brim. It doesn’t take long to train your people to lay low and avoid the tough conversations. If you want a diaper-genie free culture, encourage bad news and respond with supportive solutions, not anxiety-laced freak outs.
  4. It’s “Groundhog Day” all over again.
    Like in the movie Groundhog Day, if you’re constantly “fixing” issues only to have them pop up again, you may be in a diaper genie culture. Be sure you’re asking the strategic questions to get to the heart of the problem. Are there performance/job fit issues that need to be addressed? Are there processes that need to be changed? Rip through the plastic and smell what stinks so you can address it.
  5. Don’t ask, don’t tell, is the norm.
    I’ve worked with companies where the employees tell me the unspoken rule… “Never ever bring up the the truth in a focus group.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about employees being coached (and in some cases even “bribed” with extra treats to paint a rosy picture on an employee survey or in a focus group.) Nothing crushes morale faster than feeling you don’t have a voice. This is one of the worst examples of gaming the score.

More About The Diaper Genie Syndrome (an excerpt from one of our Winning Well workshops)

If you’re living in a diaper drama culture, you may not be able to fix the scene over night, but you can focus on your team and cutting through facade and exposing the stink at least in your sphere of influence. When the results start to soar, spread the word. One secret to success: eliminating the diaper genie effect.

5 Reasons Your Peers Are Getting Snarky

He’s driven, ambitious and successful. His boss loves him and he’s on the fast track. His peers are getting snarky, but he doesn’t have time to worry about that crap. They’re just jealous.

  • “They’re not as serious about performance as I am.”
  • “I’ve got a job to do, I don’t have time to make friends.”
  • “I don’t care if they like me, this is business.”
  • “My boss thinks I’m doing a great job, that’s what counts.”
  • “Just look at the scoreboard.”

Plus, snarky is childish. One more reason to assume it’s not his problem. Snarky peers are a leading indicator of short-sighted leadership.

5 Behaviors that Tick Off Your Peers

Peers impact your performance more than your boss. Your boss is one person. Your peers are an army of potential support, with diverse skills and talent. They’ve got resources and best practices that can save vital time. They’re facing similar challenges. Some of them are working together with beautiful synergy.

Good intentions sabotage relationships. The highest performers I know unknowingly fall into these traps. I learned this list the hard way.

If you’re in a vacuum, you’re the one at a disadvantage. I’ll start with 5, please add to the list.

  1. Never Ask For Help – You’re not cocky, just busy. You know they’re busy too. But your lack of reaching out is easily viewed as arrogance. You’re sending signs you’re “too busy”, so your peers don’t bother. Ask for advice now and then. Be sure to really listen to the response. When you do get help, publicly express your gratitude. If you doubt they have much to offer, I can’t help you. Prepare for an extra dose of snarky.
  2. Challenge them in front of the boss – Your peer feels belittled and bruised as he climbs from under the bus you didn’t even know you were driving. You didn’t mean to be a jerk. It’s just you weren’t paying attention until now. The first time you expressed your concerns was in front of the boss (or worse yet, the boss and others). The boss agrees and once again praises your quick thinking. Peer feedback is best given off-line. Give your input early, and then you can nod in full support of the enhanced plan.
  3. Withhold Best Practices – You’re trying some wild and crazy ideas, and you don’t want to share before you know they’ll work. Or you got busy and forgot to share. I know you’d never purposely withhold your great ideas, but your peers may not have the same interpretation. Let folks know what you’re up to. If it’s half-baked, describe the batter and promise updates. Peers trust peers who share what they’re doing.
  4. Take the Credit – When the praise is coming your way, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion. At your level you did not do this alone. Pause, consider, and deflect the praise. Your peers will appreciate the gesture, and all will respect your confident, humility.
  5. React Poorly to Feedback – The surest way to lose friends and alienate people is to reject their feedback. If you stop hearing, they’ll stop talking (well, at least to your face). Be gracious and open to what they have to say. Pause to consider. If it’s stupid, shake it off. But always take the high-road and thank them for their input.

Culture Matters: Build Your Own Oasis (BYOO)

It’s tempting to blame your leadership problems on the bigger culture. You may even be tempted to let the “if onlys” creep it.

My Team Would Be

  • More engaged: “if only we paid our part-timers like Starbucks
  • Able to delight customers: “if only we had more lenient satisfaction policies like Zappos”
  • More creative: “If only I could give them 20% of their time to work on anything they want like Google.”
  • Absent less: “if only we let them where shorts and sing silly songs like Southwest.”

Create A Cultural Oasis

Learn about great cultures, but then get to work right where you are. You can create a cultural oasis within the most challenging contexts.

After reading Leading The Starbucks way, I called Joseph Michelli to get his view. I asked, what if you’re not the CEO, or even head of HR. Is it possible to create an oasis of great culture within the larger context. His response, a resounding YES!

“Take your small spot in the organization and make it great. Do the right thing despite the organization’s weak points. Your great results will make a difference. People will notice what works and seek to replicate it.”

Many of the principles that made Starbucks a great cultural and financial success will work for teams and departments as well no matter if you’re working with external or internal customers. Here’s a few:

  • Observe and interact with your perspective employee to determine whether they are eager, teachable, and authentically interested in others. Look beyond the normal interview and watch how they interact as a human being.
  • When front-line staff members are passionate about your products, they build interest and excitement on the part of your customers. Get your products in the hands of your people and let them play.
  • Rituals are powerful ways to create a common bond, inspire commitment and innovation. Ccreate unique rituals that make team members feel they are part of something magical.
  • Complaints are opportunities to both re-engage customers/employees and demonstrate integrity; strong leaders look for ways to encourage customers/employees to share their concerns (be a role model for seeking out constructive feedback from customers and employees).
  • Good leaders provide uplifting moments for those who uplift customers. Make a big deal over the right behaviors.
  • Seek to be in relationships (not transactions) with customers and employees– take a long-term view
  • Make work an experience.

Don’t wait for your world to change, change your world. Learn about great cultures, and then build your cultural oasis. Achieve results and your culture will be contagious.

Strategic Silliness: When To Lighten The Mood

The deal was important and could lead to future work. I was impressed with this company, but had some valid concerns. They brought their Chairman to the table to help close the deal.

“Karin, I know you’ll be very impressed with what you see here today. We’ve got a great track record of results, and numbers to back it up. I can’t wait for the team to share more about our programs. But before that, I’ve written you a little song.”

He pulled out a piece of notebook paper with the song he penned, and began to sing. His a capella serenade included why we should give them a shot. The mood was instantly lightened by his silliness. My guard dropped a bit. He sang, I listened more deeply.

“Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind.”
~ C.S. Lewis

What followed was a highly-professional presentation with data, video, tours, side by sides. They proved they were the best. I hired them. Not because of the song, but not in spite of it either. Silliness has serious benefits.

Well-timed Silliness Can:

  • Break the ice
  • Show you’re real
  • Show you are bold
  • Energize the meeting
  • Showcase creativity
  • Build relationships
  • Create memories

Strategic Silliness Precautions

After my standing ovation to his song, I responded: “Great stuff”. NEVER do that at our corporate headquarters. We both grinned knowingly.

Silliness

  • must be timed well, with a receptive audience
  • works best with kindred spirits
  • can’t stand alone (surround it with great results and execution)
  • works because it’s unusual and infrequent
  • is tasteful
  • What would you add?

50 Shades Of Boring: When Leaders Are Bores

It all looks so sexy. Corporate jets. Dramatic moves. Microphones. When it’s a Cinderella story, it’s even better. It’s easy to romanticize leadership success. To imagine the stroke of genius, the well-timed leap of faith, sitting with the right guy on the plane. No one wants to hear the boring parts, but they’re there. Always.

“The real story is actually probably pretty boring, right? I mean, we just sat at our computers for six years and coded.”
~ Mark Zuckerberg

Sleepless nights figuring it out. Triple checking the deck for the big presentation. Revising the speech 18 times, and practicing 20. Slogging through. The great idea that nobody gets. And the next one and the next.

People reveal their boring once they’ve “made it.’ Then boring becomes an intriguing part of the story. Before that, it’s just, well, boring. Right now, your bosses boss is likely doing something way less cool than you imagine. It’s tedious, but it works. So she invests the time, day after day.

The gymnastics coach has watched her vault 400 times. It’s a yawner, but she’s got potential, so he critiques every move. Tomorrow’s Mark Zuckerberg is revising the code, again. And here you are ___________.

What if you got better at boring?

Practice more. Rehearse that speech 4 more times. Triple check the spreadsheet. Invest in the differentiating monotonous tasks. Correlate the data. Start over. Keep trying.

How To Become A More Energetic Leader

Your team needs you to show up strong, energetic, and ready to go. It’s hard for your team to run out of steam, when the leader they admire keeps showing up strong. Energetic leadership is contagious and inspires results.

I’ve been observing the most energetic leaders I can find, and looking for themes. I’ve also been paying close attention to those who show signs of burn-out (the biggest sign is they tell me so).

4 Causes of Energy

  1. Calling
    Feeling deeply inspired to a passionate calling ignites fires even the worst days can’t extinguish. When you’re connected to a deeper calling, setbacks stoke the flame. Look for the deeper meaning in what you do. Almost all work has meaning when done well. Engage your team in that cause.
  2. Commitment
    Is it a job, or something more? Feeling a deep commitment to outcomes drives energy. Commit to personal goals you must achieve. Committed marathoners train in the rain. Discover what you’re willing to wake up early and slush through puddles to achieve.
  3. Connection
    Energy is contagious. When work sucks, deep relationships save the day. Invest deeply and build lasting relationships. Build professional intimacy. Invest in light connections with every person you encounter. Smile more, help strangers, the energy will multiply.
  4. Comeback
    The most exciting game to watch is the comeback. The underdog leaves it all on the field, and pulls it out. That can be you. Put your rally cap on, garner your resources, and give it another go. Celebrate the small wins, and go for another. Nothing is more energizing than turnaround success.
  5. What would you add as #5?

Real leadershipThis post is the 3rd of 4 on Energy, as part of the REAL Leadership Model. Stay tuned by entering your email address to subscribe. Already part of our community, invite 2 friends. Let’s grow the conversation and our leadership together. Namaste.

Why Smart People Do Stupid Work

Despite my best efforts to encourage employees to think, question, and recommend change, on any given day, I know there are people on my team doing tasks they know are stupid.

Stupid work includes…

  • reinforcing policies without thinking
  • making decisions that lose customers
  • generating reports no one uses
  • focusing on trivial matters when the sky is falling around them
  • _______ I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blank.
  •  If you find that cathartic here’s a few more blanks___________, ___________.

Bottom line, If it feels stupid it probably is.

Forest Gump said “stupid is as stupid does.” But I know the truth. Stupid is as stupid leads.

Why Do People Do Stupid Work?

  • fear
  • politics
  • uncertainty
  • overload
  • indecision
  • it’s not their job
  • they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes
  • it’s always been done that way
  • they think I want it done that way
  • their boss thinks I want it done that way
  • their boss’s boss’s boss, thinks my boss wants it done that way.

And so the stupidity continues.

Lead for S.M.A.R.T.

Encourage your team to think beyond their silos, understand the big picture, and question the status quo. Help them to make S.M.A.R.T. choices.

Speak up

If something feels stupid, it probably is. Say something.

get More information

Ask questions. Understand the context. Reach across silos.

accept Accountability

Own the problem. Work to find a solution.

Reprioritize

Determine what’s important. Do that first.

and Try another approach.

Consider alternatives, ask for ideas, try something new.

10,000 Human Beings

Fred’s Story

Fred (not his real name) has a beautiful habit. Every time we discuss a strategy, policy, or project, he stops and asks about the “human beings.” His words are transformative. Fred doesn’t speak of “resources,” “headcount” “people” “employees” or even “team members.” He talks about humans.

Fred Asks…

  • “How will this change impact the human beings in that center?”
  • “Will this system be hard for 400 human beings to learn in 3 days?”
  • “What information do these human beings need to be successful?”
  • “How much time can we give these 800 human beings to look for a new job?”
  • “How will those 12 human beings react to our decision.”
  • “Is this the right thing to do as a human being?

Lessons From Fred

It’s not semantics. It’s people. Words change conversations– every time.

I’m entrusted with 10,000 human beings, not human resources.

I must…

  • slow down
  • ask better questions
  • learn who they are
  • tell them more
  • inspire
  • lead better

We must…

Pause. Think deeper. Put ourselves in their shoes. Think about our friends in similar situations. Personalize our leadership. Be a human being leading human beings.

Entitlement Calls For Great Leadership

Entitlement is thirst for leadership. Entitlement builds over years. You can stop it.

Selfish words deceive.

  • “It’s not in my job description”
  • “That’s not what the contract says”
  • “My shift is over”
  • “I did what the customer asked”
  • “Why did that team get tee-shirts?”
  • “Seriously, they call this recognition?”

Listen deeply for pain, dissapointment, and fear.

 “Fixes” That Drive Entitlement

Before fixing, listen more. Attempt to solve the surface complaints, and aggrevate the deeper pain.

1. “Better” Recognition: “Something must be wrong with our rewards.” Form a committee. Ask the people what they most want. A well-intentioned and potentially useful approach in the right scene. Not if entitlement is your problem. More just reinforces “this for that.” (see, Why Doesn’t My Team Feel Recognized)

2. Benchmarking Communications: “Our rewards are great, employees just don’t understand them.” Create glossy benchmarking brochures. Share market analysis. Show how much we spend on healthcare. If it’s really about the money, this may help. Entitlement is seldom about the money.

3. Straight talk: “They should feel lucky to have a job in this economy.” Enough is enough. The paycheck is their reward. Performance manage those who don’t comply. We need to hire better. Truth in all that. Such talk won’t change culture.

Don’t Fix, Listen

Stop talking about the money. Don’t fix your recognition. Listen instead. Grasping for tangible rewards is a sign of a deeper hunger.

Look for signs of…

  • Weak vision
  • Inconsistent values
  • Betrayed trust
  • Broken promises
  • Overwork
  • Depersonalization
  • Fear
  • Insecurity
  • threatening leadership
  • ?

5 Ways to Drive Results Through Fear and Intimidation

You’re on the fast track. You don’t need sustained results, you need quick wins. Results matter. You’ve got a review coming up. With a few simple tactics, you can get your organization performing in no time. You’ll be promoted and someone else can deal with the fall out.

5 Ways to Drive Results Through Fear and Intimidation

1. Prey on their Insecurity

Employees are inherently lazy. They can work harder, they just need the proper motivation. Threaten their jobs (this is easier now in a bad economy). Announce a downsizing, but don’t give any details. That will keep them on their toes.

2. Create Competition

It’s all about the stack rank. Don’t reward behaviors, reward results. When employees help others, take them aside and explain the consequences (see #1).

3. Expand Hours

It’s only common sense. The more they work, the more they will get done. Cancel vacations. Create weekend projects. Sunday mornings are a great time for emergency conference calls.

4. Raise Your Voice

Fear creates adrenaline. It’s better than Red Bull. Raise your voice. This works best when you single out an employee in front of their peers. Yell at one, get everyone moving. You must time it carefully. Keep your calm demeanor when managing up. This will help dispel any potential concerns about your style.

5. Hold Daily Check-Ins

Empowerment is the invention of academicians and sappy bloggers. For fast results, micromanage. Hold daily check-ins with each employee. Never be satisfied. I find it best to practice exacerbated facial expressions on my way to work (a little cosmetic mirror works just fine). If you can’t master the facials, try deep sighs.

Happy April Fools Day from Let’s Grow Leaders. If any of this sounded familiar, attractive (and especially if it ticked you off, please subscribe by entering your email address. We have a growing community of interactive leaders sharing their leadership ideas.

Footnote: Concerned that my International followers would think me insane, I leaned that many countries celebrate similar practical joking days in the Spring, April Fools Day Traditions Around the World.

How Do You Inspire Passion in Others?

What if you’re “skipping to work?,” but are having trouble igniting passion on your team? That’s more difficult, and a vital part of leadership.

Why Passion Matters

Jeremy Kingsley, author of the new book, Inspired People Produce Results shares 7 reasons passion is so important in the workplace.

Passion…

1. intensifies our focus
2. enables innovation and creativity
3. provides the drive to persevere, to avoid cutting corners and to pursue excellence
4. creates energy among colleagues that allows work to be completed more quickly
5. helps people deal with fear
6. makes employees want to stay in their jobs and contribute even when they’re not feeling at their bestv

When I spoke with Jeremy, we talked about why passion is sometimes hard to come by.

“Leaders have put so much focus on leveraging people’s strengths, that they forget about passion.”

For people to function at their very best we need to help them find the work that best leverages their strengths, AND which ignites their passion.

“If you don’t find the passion you might have a strong, miserable person.”

Jeremy suggests it begins in the hiring process. Ask people “what inspires you, what brings you joy?” And then be sure there is a close match with the job you are looking to fill. He also advocates for spending the time to really get to know your team. Talk with them about what they enjoy and their hobbies. Listen actively and see what makes their eyes light up that’s a clue to what can ignite their passion.

Jeremy’s book offers 9 other ways to “inspire people to produce results. Although Jeremy gave me this book, as you know, I am not selling, just sharing insights if fact you can read a free sample chapter.

Jeremy Kingsley is a professional speaker, best-selling author, and the President of OneLife Leadership. Since 1995 he has spoken to over 500,000 people at live events around the world. He has given over 2000 keynote speeches and his messages have reached millions through radio, television, and the internet. Jeremy holds bachelors and masters degrees from Columbia International University. He is the author of four books, his latest is titled: Inspired People Produce Results (McGraw Hill 2013)Jeremy lives in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife and two sons.