Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Legal Minimum?

There are few businesses out there that have not had to restructure at some time or another. Sometimes its because their market has gone downhill and they need to ‘retrench’ and at other times its because they need to grow and re-invest in technology. Either way jobs change and some jobs are removed or ‘dis-established’.

When these situations occur good companies have always worked things through with their employees and managed the change with integrity and with respect for those whose lives will change. Of course, not everyone does it well and in my ‘leading through transition’ workshops I give a few examples that I have seen where distinct lack of empathy was shown.
Its because of those businesses who don't see the benefit of managing change well (and there are many), that laws are put in place. Whatever country you are reading this from I know that you will be subject to some laws that are meant to protect employees from poor management practice. In New Zealand we are no different and have laws that require us to consult with our employees on the proposed changes that an employer wants to put in place. I can see the good intentions behind that idea. A good employer should want to engage with their workforce to work the changes through and would want their ideas in how best to implement the change. In the past, before such legislation, I have tried that approach and honestly explained the problem and opened up discussions with the workforce. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work and that is the first of the two problems with the legislative approach to managing restructuring.
The first thing that crosses anyones mind when you say that you have to bring about change in the business and that means some jobs have to go or change is that people are immediately concerned about ‘me’. What do you think would happen if you tried engaging in a decent wide ranging conversation to explore all ideas and options when you are thinking ‘this could mean I lose my job’ or ‘this could be a nice tidy sum and early retirement’? Natural human instincts of self preservation come in and you don’t have an honest conversation at all. The only person that you have such a conversation with is someone who is not affected. What happens when engage with the workforce in this way is that they soon say ‘You are management! Its your job to sort these things, why haven’t you done it?’
And soon you are back to the original approach of management coming up with a proposal and then talking it through with the workforce.
And then the second problem with the legislative approach comes in. The thing about the law is that it is open to interpretation. In fact there are people whose whole livelihood depends on their ability to interpret it differently and win. That means the law is never truly fixed and you are always looking at the last case and the last interpretation. This means that every time you start a consult you are spending a lot of your time trying to avoid being the next test case because going to court costs a lot of money with those guys who enjoy debating the law that you didn’t intend to break in the first place.
And how do you avoid being another case? By managing your proposal and process as tightly as possible. In fact in many cases the employer choses to follow a line of doing the legal minimum. Its often easier, as the less you say the less likely you are to get in to trouble. In addition you minimise risk by working the possible restructuring down to the tightest option. That means there is not a lot to discuss with the workforce as there are no real options. In fact I have sat with employers who have moved away from the smartest decision for the business, and in the long run their people, because that choice could result in a challenge in court.

Simplistically the less you say and the tighter the options you offer, the less likely you are to be really consulting and that defeats the higher intent of the reason for the legislation in the first place.
Why has this happened? Well, the courts have got wary of people who use restructuring as a way of managing performance and that means many of the actions in court and the decisions being made are to make it tougher on employers who may be trying this. Of course it is another story to consider why it could be easier to manage a restructuring than to manage poor performance but lets leave that aside. The point is that some employers try this route and the more they do so, the tougher the courts will make their testing of cases to see if it was a true consult.
Can we change it? I’m not sure whether we can unless the legislation is overhauled, but it may help if employers restructure when they need to restructure and manage performance when that is required!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Strategies for sameness

Let me ask you a question. 'How unique is your business/division?'
If you could rate your business/division out of 10 for uniqueness what score would you give it?.
When I talk uniqueness I mean the kind of uniqueness that gets you market-place advantage over anyone else.

Unless you are one of the few products in the world that has a complete monopoly, you are likely to have someone who competes with you in the market. Your product may look different, taste a little different, be presented differently, named differently, but at a basic level its still something that someone else can make. In fact the consumer choice of your product over another is a preference. A car is still a car however well you market it.
So is there much true uniqueness there in your product?
If you are offering a service it's likely that many other people will be offering that service too.
The conditions that surround your business are likely to be the same as your competition. The same marketplace, same customers to target, same environment, same labour pool opportunities. So no real uniqueness there. In fact a pretty level playing field.

The things that make your business unique or not must therefore be within your control. That means that they must be within your business/division and not in the context around you.
So how unique is your business inside? You think you score close to 10?

Do you have a unique vision, mission and values set? Really?
Is your strategising process commonly used?
Do you follow commonly methodologies to develop business plans?
Do you demand consistency on a daily basis but ask for innovation on that one strategy day?
So is your strategic start point really unique? Does your strategy give you advantage?

Lets look at the processes and tools you use to deliver strategy:
Do you use a commonly available I.T platform?
Do you use a commonly available data management tool?
Do you use a commonly available CRM system?
Do you buy and use commonly available equipment?
Is the machinery you use for manufacturing commonly available?
Is your office/factory any different from those around you?
Do your suppliers supply other people?
Do you have much uniqueness there? Are you using process, systems and tools that are unique to your business? So is there much competitive advantage in those?

Its a fact of the modern world that many of the platforms of business are commonly available. I often say to clients ‘anyone can buy the latest version of Microsoft windows, so is that something to hang your hat on as a competitive advantage?’ Yet many companies spend a vast fortune on new systems as if they will give them an advantage when in fact the system or tool just keeps them
in the market

So by now you will be saying ’My people are my advantage!’.
Every business says that, but have you tested that against the uniqueness question?
Do you use commonly available HR ideas and approaches? e.g. competency maps.
Do you buy and use commonly available HR tools?
Do you use commonly accepted remuneration policies?
Do you follow commonly adopted appraisal approaches?
Do you follow commonly adopted selection processes?
Do your training and development approaches differ significantly from anyone else’s?
Do you have a tolerance for people who don’t make life easy?

It’s another fact of the modern world that many of the HR systems and processes adopted in the last decade have been designed to manage consistency and to provide certainty for the business. Business has demanded that of the HR community.
So the best approach to managing HR has been to ‘follow best practice’. Unfortunately following best practice means doing what someone else has already done.
There is nothing unique in following best practice. There is unfortunately no competitive advantage in best practice. Best practice is like benchmarking. It has a built in second place mentality.

My question for you this week is ‘how often do you ask your business to find you uniqueness?’ How often do you support the trying of something different? How often do you ask a supplier the question ‘who else have you delivered this for?' Not because you want to be sure that it is already proven, but because you want to do something different to anyone else. Do you actively recruit people who will challenge the business? Do you tolerate the ‘deviant thinkers’ who go against the norm (but are difficult to manage). Do you review your best practices and say ‘tear them down because everyone else is doing that’ or ask the question ‘is that best practice doing anything for me other than keep us safe and second place?’

Let me ask you do you strategise for sameness or uniqueness?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Quake Test

In the last month New Zealand has seen some of its biggest earthquake damage in over 80 years. The impact in Christchurch has been significant and many buildings have come down, homes have been ruined, businesses destroyed and many lives changed forever.
Earthquakes are not unusual around the world so it was not a surprise that Murray McCulley, our minister for foreign affairs, spoke to the UN Assembly and mentioned the fact that, compared to many other countries, our structures and infrastructure did not fail as catastrophically as has been seen in other countries.

You might wonder why a change agent would write about earthquakes!

What occurred to me most, in watching the scenes from Christchurch, was how many of the tales told were about the response of the people and the way that they responded to the disaster, managed the disaster, and supported each other after the disaster.
What I saw was another reminder that when the structures fail, the ability to operate is down to the people. What I also saw was that the structures that did not fail had been designed for the conditions that they operated in. They weren’t designed for downtown London or the Chinese countryside. They were designed to work in New Zealand for the conditions that prevail here. They were designed to work for the people that needed to use them. The structure was for the people and not for itself.

It reminded me that in organisations we spend a lot of time on the way we are structured and we spend a lot of time restructuring, but that the structure itself delivers nothing. People do.

Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t care about the structure of the organisation. What I am saying is that your structure is there to pull people together in to groups or teams of common purpose to enable them to easily and effectively work together. It helps define boundaries where boundaries are needed. It should help define relationships so that people understand the connection between roles.
Organisational structure is not real. It is a self imposed concept and like all concepts it is designed to help give meaning and understanding to the people who need to use it.

Therefore the structure is not there for itself it is there for the people. The structure cannot be right or wrong or have a voice (as in the organisation says). It does not create or deliver. It cannot innovate or design or invent.

Structure shouldn’t be defined to ‘give a manager a job’ or to ‘create hierarchies of power’. It shouldn’t be redefined just to remove numbers from the business, nor should it be an alternative performance management tool. I have unfortunately seen it used for all of these and inevitably it doesn’t reap many benefits

Structure should be there to align, group, connect and make efficient work paths. And the unstated word there is people. Structure is there to support people.

The best test of a structure, and its suitability, is whether it supports the people within the conditions that the organisation finds itself.

Perhaps we can call this the ‘Earthquake test’.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Broom, Soft Bristles?

Everyone knows the concept of a ‘new broom’ going in to an organisation and making sweeping changes to how things are done.
For some this starts with a refreshed vision/mission and roles on to new company values, some rebranding, followed by changes to the way the business operates (systems and I.T etc). For other’s it can just be that the new boss does things differently and people get used to the changes over time; the vision, mission and values are still on the walls but gradually fade, gather dust and fall off, while the new boss introduces methods, approaches and systems that they prefer and have delivered for them in the past.

Whether you’ve been part of the ‘Industrial Strength Hoover’ approach or the ‘Urban Decay’ methods of bringing changes to a business (and if you have definitions somewhere in between please share) then you will know that the arrival of a new boss or the leaving of a new boss can be an interesting time for employees.

In recent years I have noted that it is almost impossible for a new CEO/GM/MD to do anything other than adopt a new broom philosophy. In addition it is noticeable that there is an expectation that the sweeping starts very soon after their arrival. This creates some interesting changes scenarios for the business.
Firstly the business often goes in to hiatus when it is clear that a new boss is arriving. This hiatus continues until the new boss announces what they intend to do. The hiatus seems to occur because people ‘just know’ that changes will happen with a new boss, so initiatives that take a lot of effort are ‘delayed’ and changes that were part way through are put on hold. People hunker down and do the basics.
As a change agent this is an interesting time to observe the culture as it is an indication of what is culturally embedded but it is often a ‘lowest common denominator’ impression. At this point the new boss comes in and sees that lowest common denominator and rapidly comes to the conclusion that old vision/mission and values are not working (rapidly because that is the expectation these days) and low and behold they see that a new broom is needed.
If the new manager then acts soon after their arrival and takes the ‘industrial strength hoover’ approach then many good things are swept away and lost. This is sometimes because the manager had not seen them in action because of the hiatus and sometimes because thats what happens with an industrial strength hoover. When this happens people at least know where they stand (big announcements are part of the industrial strength hoover) but often those that have been there a while suffer the ‘we’ve done this before’ feeling as similar things come out in the new vision/ mission values.
If the new manager adopts an urban decay approach people have to be light on their feet and swift to learn what is acceptable and expected. Hiatus is swapped for confusion and concern as people try to work out what bits of the old are acceptable and which aren’t.

There are many other impacts on an organisation as a result of management change, but the real question is ‘how do you reduce the negative and maximise the positive?’

I believe that new leaders need time to observe and learn about their organisation. There are many conversations required before people stop treating them like a new boss and really speak their mind. The new manager has a lot of testing (and often indirect) questions to ask over a number of weeks to find out what parts of the vision are working, whether the organisation is functioning in line with that vision and whether departments/ divisions and teams are aligned, playing their part , etc. They need to stand outside and observe the culture in action and see what is positive about it and what isn’t. They need to assess the capability and fit of their people, the systems, processes and ways of working. They need to signal to the organisation that they are looking and learning and that they want everything to continue as it was before they arrived and that includes initiatives and change programmes.
They need to manage the tension between the board’s desire for swift and immediate action and the need to find out what the right actions are. They cannot take forever to decide but nor can they decide in their first few weeks.

They need to be a new broom with soft bristles.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Restructuring Isn't

At some point every leader considers restructuring their organisation/their division or their team. Getting restructuring right is one of the biggest challenges of any leaders life (and if you are sitting there thinking ‘whys that, just give everyone a new organisational chart and its done’ then we need to talk). In this blog I will share a few quick comments on what restructuring isn't

A Panacea
Structure change isn’t a way of solving all of the organisations problems. It doesn’t dissolve inter-team conflict. It doesn’t improve communication between people or solve interpersonal issues.It doesn’t speed up work flow or improve efficiency. It doesn’t deliver better results, new ideas or new products. It doesn’t make poor performers good performers.
Structure is a just a way of grouping people together to deliver the purpose of the organisation. Each part of the structure should exist to deliver something that contributes to the overall purpose. For the structure to work everyone should be clear what the purpose of their little bit of the organisation is there for. Structure is just another tool in your process armoury. If you have inter-team conflict take a look at the leaders. If you have poor communication between people, take a look at your leader’s and your communication systems. If you have inefficiencies or work flow problems look at the processes that you use. Once you’ve improved processes you may find that your structure needs changed to reflect the change’s to the process. Improved work flow often means a change in purpose for an individual or a group. And that's a good reason for changing structure.

A Pay Grade
Structure should never be built around existing leaders to justify their salary or worst still their existence. I’ve seen many structure changes go wrong because a group of employees were added in to the reporting line of someone who ‘needed more to do’ or ‘needed protected from the owners’ etc. If you want to build a shared services area then do so, but understand what comes along with running shared services. But don’t make HR report to your finance director because they ‘need somewhere to live’ or because she only has three other reports. The purpose of a finance director isn’t often compatible with the purpose of HR (unless your people policies are all about compliance and risk). Where teams live in the structure tells them what you think about them. A Sales division is exactly that, a group of people whose role is to sell. Similarly Marketing, Manufacturing, Finance etc. Structure is just a way of grouping people with a common purpose. That commonality means something and to many people it is part of their sense of belonging. Move people to somewhere that they know does not have a shared purpose and it means that you did not care where they belong and watch the performance plummet.

Spring cleaning
Structure change isn’t a way of getting rid of people that are not performing. You have performance management systems for that. I cant tell you how many times I have been given a list of people ‘to go’ as part of a restructuring. These people have apparently been under-performing ‘for years’, but for some reason their annual appraisal says otherwise. All this means is that their manager doesn’t want to have the hard conversation with them or to coach them in the area they aren’t performing in or to follow the due process of performance management according to the company rules and national legislation. Makes you wonder why they get a managers pay doesn’t it!

Structure change isn’t easy. It isn’t about a new organisational chart being handed out and then everyone shuffling desks. You can’t just move people from an under-performing division to one that has been performing and hope that they catch the performance virus. Structure change isn’t something that will ‘sort itself out eventually’.
People need to understand ‘why’ the change. They need to understand that their purpose has changed and not just their boss. They need new expectations. If you don’t give them all this they will keep on doing what they were doing and that will produce the same result (at best) that you had before the structure change.
There are risks in structure change. Go in to one without a risk analysis at your peril.
You need a plan, for no other reason than for your people to see that you are in control of this, you do know what you are doing and you should be trusted to make decisions about them. You also need a plan so that you know where to turn to when there are hiccups (there will be).
You need good, solid, robust communication and feedback channels.
You need patience for the long haul. Structure change takes a while to bed in and to work.
You need empathy for the people whose lives you are throwing up in the air.

In my time I have seen organisational reputation improve as a result of structure change. I’ve seen employee engagement increase immediately after a structure change. I’ve seen increased business results after a structure change. These were nothing to do with the change, but the way the change was managed.

Restructure the right way for the right reasons and I hope that you too can get the right results.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Caught, Taught,Mandate or Free will part 2

In our last blog we talked about culture being caught or taught. In this follow on blog we explore the dilemma of mandating culture or allowing full freedom of choice.

Mandate or Free Will
One of the interesting things about culture is that it will always vary team to team, department to department, division to divisions and region to region.This is inevitable given the varying styles of leadership and the context that surrounds each team etc. The question when you are planning culture change is ‘how acceptable is that?’.
When it comes down to it you cannot mandate all aspects of culture at the individual level (unless you are a totalitarian state or a religion). People will always make their own choice, so lets put that aside and consider your approach to changing the culture you have today.

Some CEO’s gravitate to a mandating approach more than others. It will depend on their natural style or their previous experiences. Those who work in a shared service or business support environment often veer to the mandate because they are the ones who see and suffer from the variations between business units/regions etc. At the other end of the scale is a view that says ‘let each business unit choose’ but then the question is how far does Free will go? Division, department, team? At some point you have to draw a line and say ‘This is the way we do things around here’.

Once again the amount of mandate and where the line of choice is drawn depends on what your business needs and why you are trying to change the culture. If you need a consistent face when you go to market you may need to mandate how that is. If you are investing in a major IT upgrade you cannot afford people to choose whether they adopt or not.

Its the same with culture, look at the needs of the business and then look at the culture you are describing to meet those needs, the values that you are promoting and the behaviours you are looking for. The extent of mandate should be driven by how far away you are from that now, how big an imperative it is to be consistent and how destructive your existing culture is. If you let the business talk, rather than the personal preferences of you and your leaders, then it should tell you how you go about the culture change.

If you get it right, explain it well, demonstrate a need that all can see, help people align, make it easy to live by and get rid of the problems that the old culture had then caught, taught, mandate, free-will will not be a question that you need to ask because no-one in your organisation would want it any other way and they will say to new employees ‘Thats just the way we do things around here’

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Caught, Taught, Mandate or Free-will?

The challenge of culture change and how to bring it about is a topic most CEO’s and GM’s will have to grapple with at some point in their career, if not for all of it. These days, your ability to change an organisations culture is a factor in rising through the ranks of ‘C’ level and GM roles.
It is no surprise that there are therefore many perspectives on the topic of culture change. One of the common ones is whether culture is caught or taught and another is whether you should mandate culture across the business or allow each division, department, team and individual to choose their culture. In this two part blog we will look at both of those perspectives, starting with caught versus taught.

Caught Versus Taught
Ultimately culture is caught. New employees are told ‘how things are around here’ by their colleagues and their team-leaders. But we are talking about culture change. If you are looking to change your culture it means that there is something unwanted about the current culture and
that's the culture people are catching.
In culture change there is a phase where both cultures exist. One will be in reality and the other will be a concept. As a leader your job is to guide people to the culture you are looking for. Yes you can be an icon of the new culture and hope that people will catch it, but if you are in an organisation of hundreds or more you will find that a difficult prospect.
Some CEO’s subscribe to the ‘Build and they shall come’ approach to culture. This approach assumes that if the vision is so compelling and the values so motivating that people will adopt them. The problem with this view is that your existing culture has a life of its own and like all life-forms it
doesn't want to die. It also exists in habits people don’t know they have, expectations that leaders won’t even realise are counter-cultural until they have to explore them, and practices and policies that have been around so long that they aren't in the manual any more.
I call this the culture buffer. Unless you are building a culture for a new business start-up you will be facing this, and the older and more established the business the tougher the buffer is.
So do I say taught over caught for culture change? Well it depends on what you mean by taught. I have seen programmes that seem more like indoctrination because the delivery has gone so far as to define the 24 expected behaviours and 32 competencies that every role is expected to adhere to in order to live the culture. This approach makes it impossible to be the unique person that your were actually employed to be so it is soon ignored as it just too hard.

In my view the amount of catching and the amount of teaching is a balancing act that depends on your existing culture (how entrenched it is, how far removed from the culture you need etc), the degree of change that is required to make it happen and then the stage that you are going through e.g. you will do more teaching in the early stages of rolling out a culture, but less when it is clear that influential people have caught the virus and are out there passing it round.
The teaching should be done in a way that allows people to align the best of themselves, guides them when choices are to be made and encourages them to strive on your behalf. Involvement is everything in the teaching phase. One session on one day will not be enough. You need multiple involvement activities, strong communication channels, managers that change processes to align them to the culture (so that culture truly becomes ‘how we do things around here’) and leaders that live it, integrate it in to every vision, business plan and strategic objective.
Teach it, involve in it, align to it and then you can rely on it being caught.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do you have a hidden agenda?

How many times have you heard that you or your organisation has a hidden agenda? If you are in any form of leadership position I would be surprised if you’d not heard this before. If you are not at the top of your companies tree I am sure you've heard conversations about what 'management' are doing behind the scenes.

It can be really frustrating as a leader when you hear this if you think you don't. Many managers just ignore it when they hear it and dismiss it as the ‘normal scepticism that employees have for management’.

When I hear it I treat it as a clue to the culture of the organisation.

So before you ignore that ‘scepticism’ let me ask you whether it is possible that you actually do have a hidden agenda…….unintentionally?

Many organisations have active yet unofficial ‘information networks’. These networks aren't communication networks, they are more akin to the skin mounted monitors used in hospitals. They don't tell the doctor what the patient thinks but whether the patient’s heart rate has risen or when their breathing changes for example. They let the doctor know how the patient is feeling.
The information networks in your company are extremely sensitive to changes in management activity, just like the hospital monitors. When regular meeting patterns exist and there are no unusual comings and goings they tell the people in your organisation that 'everything is the same'.
But when extra or unusual meetings begin happen, consultants start to arrive, or senior team 'awaydays' take place, they are noted by the networks and the signal that 'something different is happening' goes out.
Especially if you have not said what they are happening for.

Riding on the back of those signals is that most human of conditions; speculation.
In the void of an unintentional hidden agenda people will naturally fill the gap based on past experience e.g. what happened last time the management team disappeared for days and had many closed door meeting (was that a structure change by any chance?).

From your perspective as a manager you are doing management work. You are 'planning' or 'reviewing' or even 'thinking about things', 'haven't decided anything yet' or 'have nothing to declare at this stage'.
What that means to the information network is that activity has increased without a similar increase in communication. If you haven’t said what is going on then what you are doing is, in the truest meaning of the word, ‘hidden’

Be aware that a 'hidden agenda' is often a sign that your people are filling a communication void with speculation. It can therefore be a clue to the health of your routine information channels; it may mean that they are blocked, or too loose with information, not delivering consistently or uninformative, used sporadically when you do have an agenda or a one way transfer of information. You may find that it is a combination of these in different streams of the business.

But don’t ignore the clue or the next time you stand up and say something in all honesty you will still be accused of having a hidden agenda.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does your change have a voice?

We live in a world where you cannot escape multiple forms of communication. From TV, radio, roadside adverts, jingles and now social media like twitter, it seems like everyone is communicating. But it doesn't always seem that way in the workplace. One of the biggest issues for most employees, particularly during change, is lack of communication.

When I work with clients on a change programme I always advocate for the creation of a communication strategy. Like all strategies the aim is to give clarity and guidance and to help managers make decisions around their communications through the length of the programme. Wherever I can I take the clients managers through my ‘leading through change’ workshop so that they understand why communication is vital to the success of any change.

Armed with a strategy and tuned to why then need one you always hope that it flows from there.
It often doesn't, so thought I would share some of the things that I have come across that affect or limit the benefit of communication during change.

The ‘Tell’ based strategy:
For some organisations and managers communication style can seem like form of instruction: it goes something like ‘I will tell you something, you will listen to me, then you go off and do it’. This results is a one way approach to building a communication strategy which ends up built around town hall announcements and e-mail notifications. With this form of communication strategy it is often a surprise to the organisation when they don’t get the result they were looking for. I hear ‘but I gave them the new way of working with the announcement, so why aren't they doing it?’
The thing about change is that most people struggle with the lack of control that can come with a feeling that it is being ‘done to you’. That is bad enough without the communication strategy actually saying quite clearly that it is! Change is delivered through the capturing of hearts and minds (we left the whips and chains behind after we finished building the pyramids). Feedback and involvement are therefore vital aspects of your comms strategy to minimise the feeling of lack of control that the individual has, and the engaging of their heart and mind to follow the direction you are giving them.

“There’s nothing to say yet’:
The key to this one is the word ‘yet’. Many managers struggle to communicate unless a decision has been made or when a key milestone has been completed. For some it is a need to be ‘right’ (or maybe not to be wrong) and for others they find it hard to write or talk unless it is ‘factual’. This results in large gaps of non communication. These gaps are filled by rumour, gossip and ultimately with worry. People can imagine the worst very easily. If you've told them that change is about to happen and then say very little it is only natural to assume that what you are planning is not good for them (if it was you’d say, right?).
Change is a journey, so your strategy should reflect that and once you've started to communicate, continue to do so.

The CEO as sole communicator:
In most organisations of any scale there are many managers and lots of hierarchy. Whether the change is structural or cultural it requires leaders to lead at all levels. If the change is structural and across the whole company, every division, department and team will have a leader who needs to make the structure work. If its culture change you are looking for, then its the local leader and their approach that will make the culture work or not.
So why would all the communication come solely from the CEO? Is the CEO the only one with answers? The only one that knows what happens? In control of everything? You've got to hope that's not true, even if they were brought in to make changes.
A good change communication strategy should have a role for every manager and the delivery will role out through every manager. The communication should be from the leadership of the business (with occasional keynotes at key points by the CEO when necessary). That way you re-enforce the managers as managers when the change is complete. If not then it wont be a surprise if nothing ever happens until the CEO says so.

The 'Big Bang & Fizzle'
Some organisations are great at starting things. A big launch, red carpets, fanfares, handouts, lots of promises and then…….well that's it! Nothing else is said. No updates, no debate, no engagement, no recognising quick wins, no celebration of success, no nothing. Needless to say that's often the real result too!
If you get your organisation used to this style they will very soon become sceptical of any big announcement. In fact they become sceptical of any announcement. Why would anyone believe you if you did’t really follow through on the previous one, don’t show the results that you promised and didn't deliver. The stock market wouldn't believe you so why would your internal stake-holders?

The big launch is great if you have something you want to get people excited about so that they take a punt and come on the ride with you. But there has to be a ride to get on to. You need follow through and often that's just reminding people that the change is still happening, that you are getting there and the results are starting to come. Its less fun, less exciting but its sometime’s it's the less thrilling parts of change that make it stick.

So give your change a voice, in fact give it multiple voices, managers and staff, and just like the current social media trend get them all talking all the way from the start of your change until the end.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can Twitter teach you leadership?

I recently got in to a conversation about the Twitter phenomenon and in particular about follower numbers. My colleague wondered about why some people have many followers yet don’t seem to say anything that he thought was useful. It got me thinking about situations that you often see in the workplace where individuals within the organisation can influence the thinking of others without having any positional power or authority. These people can often be a thorn in the leaderships side and I have heard many managers complain about them or try to marginalise their influence in some way. Of course it never works and often backfires.

I saw a classic example of this once in a small chemical producer in Holland. I had been asked to look in to their I.R issues as they had a lot of strikes which caused massive disruptions to production. I spent some time with the managers of the site and every one of them told me stories about an individual who they branded as a 'trouble-maker'. When I dug in to their stories it seemed that this individual unearthed and made public things that the managers
didn’t want him to. He spoke up about things at town hall meetings (which got stopped as a result). He followed up on things that went wrong, asked questions about safety and decisions that had been taken on ‘little things’ (like spending money on production instead of working conditions). If any of the operators asked this guy anything he would always get back to them and everything he told them turned out to be true.

As I listened I liked the sound of this guy. After a day or so of stories I told a meeting of all of the middle managers that they should promote this guy. In fact they should promote him above a lot of them! Needless to say this
didn’t go down well.

I told that that this ‘trouble-maker’ was showing leadership. What he said struck a chord with the people around him. A chord that
wasn’t being struck by the managers. Managers who spent their time in meetings or in front of computers and didn’t walk about their plant to see what was going on, to listen to the troops, to feel the pulse of the organisation. He was also believable because what he said turned out to be true, in plain mans language with no spin. It might not have been sophisticated or complicated but it spoke to what the people needed in a way that they needed. Needless to say the managers didn't.

In twitter, people follow those who say something that resonates with them and they re-tweet (pass on) the things that resonate most. Its a living modern example of leadership and followership at work.

If your workplace had a table of who your people really followed or really listened to, would that table have your leadership team in it? Would you be in it?

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Road to Nowhere

I was recently talking with a senior partner of a renowned Auckland architectural firm about the things they find in their project reviews. I have been lucky to work beside some of their team at the conceptual stage when they are thinking about the cultural impact and intentions of the design (of course the culture side is my interest)

I enjoy their approach as they like to get inside their clients heads & really understand how they think about their business. That means they are very interested in the post project review because there is nothing better than looking at the actual impact of the design and comparing it to the intended impact to help them learn for the future.

In the case of one space they had designed they found that the expected working improvements had not fully materialised because people were using the new spaces the way they had in the old building. Aside from observing that this is culture in action (that's the way we always do things), I was interested in why this was the case. After all the space had been designed to create new thinking by providing opportunities to work differently.

Like all projects this one had a significant front end effort in creating the strategy and setting cultural and performance goals had. However there appeared to be a gap between the strategists strategising and the users using.

It occurred to me that this was not unusual whether it be the business strategy, marketing strategy or in this case a project strategy.

Strategy is meant to guide inform your people as they make decisions, yet in many organisations it doesn't do that as much as it should. Not because the strategy is wrong or the people ignore it but because the strategy isn't properly translated in to plans, reviewed against actual results and, certainly in the case of cultural objectives at least, communicated repetitively and regularly so that it sticks in the hearts & minds (that's where culture lives). Without understanding your intentions people will do what they think is right and that tends to be what they already know.

It's like buying an expensive map before a road trip across the breadth of the country and then navigating by road signs. It's not effective & the risk is you get sidetracked down roads that take you nowhere.

Developing good strategy takes some effort; lots of leadership time, expensive collation of data & market intelligence, weeks of analyst time and a pile of charts, slides & reports. So why waste that all by not following through in the role out as thoroughly?

So is the cost & effort involved in creation of strategy replicated in the role out, the time to explain, clarify, revisit, update, measure & publicise in your business? Your division? Your team?

And do you take a leaf out of the architects book & review the actual impact of the strategy so that you can learn and improve at least & refocus at best?

Or do you start out with a great strategic intent and take the road to nowhere?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Change is like a Creme Egg

I gave up eating chocolate in 2001. When I refuse a piece of chocolate and tell people that some of them ask me if I miss it and I say ‘no’ and they seem surprised. I gave up for health reasons but I didn't find it that hard really because I was brought up in the UK and didn’t like the flavour of New Zealand chocolate. At first I found that strange, after all Cadbury’s chocolate was Cadbury’s chocolate wasn’t it. But i found out it wasn’t made the same way down-under where it is warmer and the chocolate melts easier.

This weekend I read an article in the
New Zealand Herald about Cadbury’s creme eggs. I used to love creme eggs1 at Easter, so you could say that this was the one thing I missed about chocolate. It seems that Cadbury's can no longer make creme eggs here in New Zealand and are bringing them in from the UK.
And people are complaining. They don’t like them.
At first I thought ‘What? the UK eggs are miles better!’ and then it struck me that it was really coming down to what people were used to.

Over the years thousands of Kiwis and Aussies had learned a definition of what a creme egg was and got used to it. It was ‘how a creme egg should be’ according to everyone down-under. It was the culturally accepted definition of creme egg. And then
Cadbury’s tried to change the definition and hit the culture buffer.

The culture buffer comes up in all organisations that are trying to bring about change. The culture buffer is the difference between the way you want the organisation to be and the way it currently is. Its the difference between what you have got your people used to doing and what you would like them to do. Its the old attitudes against the new.

Its called the culture buffer because you have to put effort in to get past it and break through. Its a buffer because it is highly resistant, not because the old is bad and the new is good or that the old is good and the new is bad, but because it’s what we have got used to. Good or bad
doesn’t come in to it.

So when you are planning change, be ready for the culture buffer. Remember that it was your organisation that taught people to accept the current culture and that took years of previous management effort. Just like it will take some time to convert
Australasian creme egg lovers to an UK style egg it will take time to convert your people. And of course some will never convert, whatever you do.

Gump said that 'life was like a box of chocolates' and maybe he was on the right track for culture change......except its just like a different creme egg.

1 For anyone who does not know what a creme egg is here is an
NZ advert from 1992

Thursday, January 21, 2010

So you want to lead change?

As 2010 begins to gear up for action and organisations look to move on and forget about the hard ending of the last decade, the word ‘Change’ will inevitably be part of the agenda.

Improving Performance, Improving Culture, Structuring for Growth, Values role outs, Merger, Acquisition, the list is endless and it is all change. That means that all round the world there will be leaders facing leadership of change. Leaders like Tony, who I met recently and asked me ‘What does it take to lead change?’.

Tony had read all the books about what he had to do to run a change programme, so he was up to his eyeballs in project management theory, low-hanging fruit and Kotters eight steps. He’d done a few leadership courses and was up on motivation and communication too.

But Tony had been through a few change initiatives, as a receiver of change, before he was promoted. He’d observed that some leaders don’t manage changing their operation as well they had managed it before the change. He’d also noted that not all of them had survived leading change on a personal level.

Hence his question ‘what does it take to lead change?’

So I gave him three things (anyone can remember three things)

‘Guts, humility & resilience” I said. If you want to make change happen you will need these in abundance. Let me explain why I chose these three.

Few leaders in the corporate world have total carte-blanche to do what they want in their division or business stream. There are organisational ‘ways of doing things’, company values, vision and mission, standardised training programmes, etc. But when you take over a division or department you are still expected to improve it and make it perform better.
This leaves many leaders a little stuck; ‘How can I change this place if we’ve already done everything that we normally do?’
The answer is that you do what really needs done. What really needs done is often hardest to do. Thats often why its not been done yet. It means taking a risk. It means pushing against the accepted way of doing things. It means dismantling things that may have been put in place by those who have since been promoted to higher levels (they might not like that!). But surely thats why its called change!
Real leaders of change look at their part of the business and see what really needs done and do it, knowing what they up against. That takes guts.

When you start a change programme you will know what you want from it and where you want it to take your business. Even the smallest change needs a Vision doesn’t it. You will also see what needs changed to get there, what systems processes and structures etc need changed. At the beginning you will have a vision and a plan. Once you get started on change you will find that there will be reason’s to change the plan. You will find that the people in your department may have a better idea that still delivers the vision. You will find that at some point you will make a wrong choice or say the wrong thing. You are the leader though. You can keep going on your way, you can ignore the new data, new idea, the mistake you made, the thing you said that was wrong. Or you can have enough humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, can make mistakes, occasionally get your words wrong. The great thing about a bit of humility is that our employees prefer a leader that acknowledges their mistakes more than they prefer working for a robot. Change Leaders need a lot of Humility.

Most people know that real change is never easy. There will be many people who are willing to argue that you are wrong to be even trying it. There will be many hurdles to overcome in getting there (ask anyone who has run an IT project change) and things will go wrong at some point. Some days you will wish you had never started. There will be many days that a leader of change will feel alone. But once you’ve put your vision out there, marshalled your teams and rallied them round the new direction, put the plan in action, you cant stop the change (its like a ripple on a pond).

Some let the change peter out and don’t follow through on everything that is needed. These are the programmes that add up to the large failure statistics for change programmes worldwide. These are the ones that leave staff disillusioned and change weary and ultimately more resistant to future change (why put yourself behind something heart and soul if your leaders don't!).

The one person that has to keep going, has to show faith, has to keep positive, has to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and say “whats next on the plan?’ is the change leader. That takes resilience.

So if you want to lead change, make sure you stock up on Guts, Humility & Resilience.