August in Iowa is a traditionally hot month with more than it’s fair share of humidity. Farmers love it because it is good for the corn and the beans. People struggle with it, but manage well enough if they have access to a good fan or an air conditioner. But in the world of leadership, assessing temperature has less to do with what is outside the organization and much more to do with what is happening inside the company.
When instituting organized change or transformation, all leaders know there will be problems. Some will be technical and some will be adaptive. Most people will respond normally to these problem, namely that they will want a clear and uninterrupted pathway back to status quo or normalcy. And the best leaders understand that status quo is dangerous if not organizationally fatal in some situations. Therefore, they will, over time, raise or lower the temperature around change.
First, this has nothing to do with the temperature within the room where people work. Instead, it is all about raising or lower the awareness and urgency factors within a group or organization to address issues where there is conflict or disagreements. As Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) note, “Your goal is to keep the temperature - that is, the intensity of the disequilibrium created by discussion of the conflict - high enough to motivate people to arrive at creative next steps and potentially useful solutions, but not so high that it drives them away or makes it impossible for them to function.”
As the above authors explain, to raise the “temperature” within a group or organization, a leader will “draw attention to the tough questions” or “bring conflicts to the surface.” In order to lower the temperature, a leader might “provide structure by breaking the problem down into parts and creating time frames, decision rules, and role assignments” or “slow down the process of challenging norms and expectations.” Whatever the choice, the key is carefully assess the temperature within the organization or the group on a regular basis.
This week, take stock of the temperature and then consciously choose to raise or lower it in order for the group to be more effective.