How Will You Make a Difference in 2010?

What will you do to make a difference in your job this year?

This is a variation on a question that Michigan Radio is asking citizens about how to make things better in 2010. Since Michigan is at the epicenter of the Great Recession, there is no shortage of suggestions about what to do differently. The challenge is in what individuals will do to make a positive difference.

To me this question has relevance for leaders at every level, especially as we head into a new decade. And so I think it is worth asking, as you look at your job and the people for whom you are responsible, what will do you to make things better for them and for your organization?

What you suggest will depend upon your level of responsibility. A CEO may consider initiatives that transform the way the company does business. A middle manager may come up with process improvements to optimize departmental efficiency. Or, a front line supervisor may offer ideas for improving the way employees work with customers.

While the specifics of what you offer will depend upon role and responsibility, there are some things you can do to increase the likelihood that your suggestions are implemented.

Be imaginative. Leaders are responsible for encouraging their followers to think big. Fostering aspiration is a leader's role and so as you consider what you want people to do differently, think in broad terms. The challenge is to encourage employees to think creatively and allow them to implement ideas that merit attention.

Be relevant. Consider your company's mission. Specifically, think about how it delivers value to customers and stakeholders. Ask yourself what you can do to deliver on that mission more effectively. Managers can deliver on relevancy in three ways. First, ensure that everyone knows how their jobs complement the organizational mission. Second, encourage them to find ways to do their jobs more efficiently. And third, recognize them for making positive contributions.

Be specific. While it is necessary to think big, it is also necessary to break the big idea into manageable parts. For example, an HR director challenged to make good on the company's desire to be an employer of choice might consider how the company recruits, how it fills new positions, and how it develops employees once they are hired. Making the aspiration specific is critical.

Be actionable. Specificity opens the door for turning aspirations into actions. This is your opportunity to implement the ideas as objectives. Assign people to carry out the ideas. Provide them with resources as well as timelines. Make certain you do not hand off all responsibility. You need to keep engaged in the change process.

There is one further consideration. As the leader, you need to hold yourself accountable. It is not enough to suggest how others change; you must be ready for change yourself. This advice is something I learned from author and executive coach Mark Goulston. Mark, a psychiatrist by training, always asks senior leaders who push for change if they too are ready to change. It's one thing to ask others to change; it is another thing to make changes yourself.

Your personal sense of accountability will add credibility to your suggestions for improvements this year. People take their cues from those in charge and when followers sense their leaders are willing to make changes, then such changes have a better chance of success. When a leader invests his credibility in his actions, the payoff can be significant.

What advice do you have for people seeking to make changes to their organizations in 2010?

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