I Forgot to Share My Why…

In 2015, I walked away from a steady job and an awesome team. People said I was crazy. Hell, I questioned at times whether or not I was crazy. In many ways, it broke my heart to leave Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. And at the same time, it was completely necessary ...

To be honest, I wasn’t at an intersection of walk or don’t walk. Rather, the choice I was facing was, “How fast should I run?”

Everyday, we hear the world is changing. But the strategies we use to lead our companies through change and innovation don’t seem to be changing at the same speed. There are plenty of battle scars to prove it: Gallup reports 70% of all change initiatives fail and that the US economy loses up to $150 billion a year due to failed IT projects. For me, this reality created a burning desire to help.

It wasn’t just about the stats though—I was also focused on the hard-working, well-intentioned people who are hurt when things go wrong. All they want to do is make a difference, and all I want to do is support them in their pursuit.

So, I left. Convinced that many of the conventional methods for supporting change were missing the mark, I set out on a journey to write a book and build my own Change Leadership company. To kick things off, I felt it was important that I get vulnerable by sharing a journal of stories and experiences about my own successes and failures. This is how People Before Things was born.

In the spirit of being vulnerable: I had no clue how hard it was going to be to write a book.

It’s not that I routinely suffered from writer’s block; those that know me would tell you I’m never at a loss for words. Instead, I had so much to say. This made it extremely difficult to organize my ideas and explain myself fully, without developing a doorstop of a manuscript.

The rewriting process was painful. I definitely threw away more than I ever expected I would.  And if I'm honest, I have a bit of insecurity about the book not making a difference. I know there are many brave authors who say, “I don’t really care if readers like it or not.” For me, the stakes are much higher so I can't take this position. Change is hurting many organizations and people, and I want to help.

So, here we are ... People Before Things is finally done! The book is a reminder that our customers will never love us if our team members don’t love us first. And how we treat people during disruptive change determines if they’ll love us. This disruption comes in many forms, ranging from technology implementations to redesigned organizations to new policies and procedures.

I believe that change isn’t an end-user problem; it’s a leadership opportunity.

An English poet and writer, G.K. Chesterton, was once asked, “What’s wrong with the world today?” His answer was, “Dear sir, I am!” That’s what People Before Things is all about. It starts with leaders who are willing to accept responsibility for the conditions needed to be successful with change.

I hope you enjoy the book. More importantly, I hope it makes a positive impact on your organization. Onwards and upwards.

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Smart Enough, Healthy Enough

“We rise by lifting others.” —Robert Ingersoll

July is always my favorite time of year. In my opinion, the world’s greatest sporting event takes place, the Tour De France. For those of you unfamiliar or uninterested in cycling, let me share a few headlines with you: 1) The race has 21 stages over a 3 week period (2 rest days). 2) In total, the riders will cover approximately 2,100 miles. 3) Daily stages take 3.5 - 6 hours to complete. 4) Each world-class team has 9 riders. 5) 198 riders total. 6) The rider with the lowest time across all stages combined wins the overall race!

The most exciting part of the race is that only 1-2 riders on each team actually have a chance to win. Everyone else is expected to be a domestique. What does that mean? Well, domestiques have two main responsibilities: 1) Ride on the front of the group, which shields the leader from the brutal winds that can occur in the French countryside. 2) Drop to the back of the pack to meet the team car and pick up provisions such as water and food.

I will contend that you will find no other demonstration in any other sport of teammates that put it all on the line without any expectation of winning a stage or the overall race.

Communication and clarity has to be at its finest; no one can act selfishly and; everyone must be moving at the same pace.

All of these facts quickly cause me to think about Patrick Lencioni. He has authored books like The Advantage, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and Death by Meeting. I believe he is an important thought leader of our generation who reminds us that to be successful, companies have to be SMART and HEALTHY. SMART includes finance, marketing, strategy, IT, etc. HEALTHY includes minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity and low turnover. In all his years as a corporate executive and strategist, as well as his management consulting work, he’s stated that companies rarely fail because they aren’t SMART enough. Therefore, Pat has dedicated his life mission to helping organizations build healthy, cohesive teams.

I think the same is true of Change Leadership. For technology change to be successful, it has to be SMART and HEALTHY. SMART includes disciplines like comprehensive solution selection or design, strong project management, solid quality assurance, and consistent IT operations and support. HEALTHY is all the people-related groundwork that needs to be done to ensure end-users are prepared, nurtured, and supported during a major technology change. In all my experiences, the epic failures didn’t come from projects that weren’t SMART enough.

If you work in IT, it is likely that you support and push more change than most anyone else in the organization. Many times, you do that for an Executive Sponsor, who you don’t even report to. However, like the great sport of cycling, you work as a domestique, and you block the winds of change for a team that is greatly impacted by new technology. And just like cycling, communication and clarity has to be at its finest; no one can act selfishly; and everyone must be moving at the same pace. All of these things, you impact.

The beginning of each week is a good time to take a deep breath, remember the job at hand, and lean in to a current set of goals. As you start this week, are you thinking about your tasks as a domestique? Are you gritting your teeth and sacrificing your own glory to help elevate your teammates? Are you willing to slow or pick-up the pace based on the needs of others?

Domestiques may not finish on the podium, but they can quietly look up to the winner and confidently say, “I did that.” Welcome to the real world of leadership.

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Overplaying the Power of Communications

“The problem at this point is that there is a problem.” —Captain Obvious

Last week, I had an “incident” at the gym. Before you imagine my scrawny body caught underneath the weight of a heavy barbell, let me just say that this event happened in the parking garage…

While I only live a few blocks away, on occasion I drive to the gym because I’m running late and need to make it on time for a scheduled class. That was the case on this particular day. While I was hurried getting to the gym, I had a solid workout; I felt great and ready for the daybut that feeling would soon change.

As I was leaving the garage, I pulled up to the ticket station and realized that I had misplaced my parking validation. The automated station immediately started to accost me, “PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET ... PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET ... PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET!” Whoever programmed this thing didn’t calculate any give time so that a patron could actually insert a parking ticket in between “asks”, unless you could do that in two nanoseconds.

I was in a mad scramble to find the ticket. No sign of it anywhere. “Ahhh!” Then, a vehicle pulled up behind me, which increased my anxiety level! I quickly tried to recall every step I took from leaving the gym to getting in the car. “Where could it be???” All the while there was a constant onslaught of commands, “PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET ... PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET,” making it increasingly hard to concentrate.

By this time, the guy behind me starting honking. Between the car horn and this insane message loop ringing in my ear, I truly thought I was going to lose my mind. It took me another 30 seconds or so, but finally there it was, in it’s little green glory ... the validated parking ticket was wedged between my seat and the middle console. It must have fallen out of my pocket right when I jumped in the car. Oh, what a relief!

As I pulled away from the garage, I relived this mini-fiasco ten times over. Of course, every time I reprocessed the details, I appended a different endingall ranging from funny to crazy!

Later, as I relived it an 11th time, I couldn’t help to think how this event represented something I’ve experienced (and tried) many times in my career: overplaying the power of communications.

In one particular instance, I was on a software project that went completely sideways. The root cause for this disaster was the grossly understated impact the technology and process changes were having on our people, which had been a recurring theme since the outset of the project. To try to save our budget and timeline, the team had a reset meeting so we could do some action-planning. The meeting started promptly and the team wasted no time brainstorming solutions.

Just as things were getting really productive, the project’s executive sponsor showed up ... 22 minutes late. He interrupted the meeting with a grand entrance that included balancing a bunch of papers and folders in his arms, and hanging from his teeth was a cup of soda! After he got settled, he held up his right hand and said, “Team, failure is not an option.”

The project team looked stunned. We later learned, failure is absolutely an option. Just declaring, “Failure is not an option,” didn’t work because failure wasn’t a choice people were making. Rather, it was actually the result of well-intentioned people putting forth their best efforts while experiencing setbacks and obstacles that a leader could have helped navigate or mitigate.

In a second example, I was talking to someone who worked for a software startup that was significantly missing the expectations of a client. She shared that her company was attempting to balance many conflicting priorities, and there were many differences of opinion across multiple levels on the team, which caused confusion and inaction. For her, it was even more stressful because she was fairly new and trying to learn about the client, product, and team dynamics all at once. Everyone was working crazy hours to manage their workloads, but their efforts were mostly unsuccessful.

After a few weeks of madness, she received an email from her boss’ boss. “Let me be crystal clear, this issue needs to get solved with urgency!” This communication wasn’t helpful because again, failure wasn’t a deliberate choice the team was making. In the end, it only caused more anxiety.

Just like the endless loop of, “PLEASE INSERT YOUR PARKING TICKET” and the horn-honking in the parking garage, communications can be overplayedand create a frenetic, high-anxiety environment. (In my case, those actions didn’t help me find the parking validation any faster.)

Whether it’s a leader who is meeting with his/her team or interactions between peers, Captain Obvious proclamations never help.

And, even as I share this message, I know this is an area I’ve personally failed in over the years. While I try to use communications to provide information, instruction, motivation, or recognition, I know that sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. My mission however is to constantly strive for improvement on this skill.

How are you doing when it comes to communicating? Whether it’s with your peers or your team, are you providing constructive advice that bring people together in a moment of crisis? It’s something to think about, especially because people always talk about the importance and power of communicating.

One last noteif you happen to be involved in the programming of the automated parking station at my gym, will you please, PLEASE calm the attendant down? She has a knack for stressing people out!

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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