Thursday, June 16, 2011

Changing your change

I have often blogged about the need for being planful when it comes to change. Of course those that know my approach to plans’ also know that I look upon a culture change plan as a guide rather than a set of hard and fast rules.
This is because I know that when it comes to culture change you are constantly testing the mood of the organisation, seeking feedback, and generally working with what you have in front of you. In the case of culture change your plan will be constantly updated as you learn what worked, what the organisation responded to and of course as the culture begins to change, that in itself will mean that the way you work with the organisation begins to change.

Lets play that last part through again and expand on it. When you begin to engage with your organisation about a change in culture you will inevitably engage in a way that works at that time. If you don’t engage in a culturally appropriate way then it is likely that your people will not grasp the message that you are trying to convey. So for example if you have a very formal organisation with a lot of top down and you want to change to a more flexible organisation with less hierarchy it may seem appropriate to engage with them in a style that matches that flexible ideal doesn’t it?
But that wont work for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if your people are used to formal announcements and you decide to wander round and have casual chats they will see that you are having casual chats and wont see that you are announcing change: because thats not the way that ‘things are done around here’ (which is the simple definition of culture). Secondly, you don’t truly know what a ‘flexible’ culture will mean yet. You may have some ideas and you may think you know what you want, but once you start to engage your organisation in a new idea of culture you cannot be 100% sure what shape that ideal will take in reality. This means that if you say ‘this is how it is going to be from now on’ and you find a couple of months later that its not working then you aren’t going to look good.
This means that you start by engaging in a way that works at the time, but make it clear that this is not what you are looking for in the future ( a perfect way to initiate a change in culture is to hold up the now and say this is not what you want). You engage people in the idea of the culture before the reality of the culture (Unless you are a dictator and we’ve explored that theme before).

As your culture change programme roles out you will then begin to engage in more and more ‘flexible’ ways if flexibility is the theme of your culture change. You will be learning what flexibility means for your business and re-defining it on a day to day basis. You will be engaging with ideas from your people, many of whom will have some great insights into what they need from you in a ‘flexible culture’.If you aren’t then you are not being flexible!

One of the tests that I suggest to my clients is to constantly ask themselves if the new process, new approach, new system, communication etc is in line with their proposed ‘vision’ and ‘culture’. By constantly testing how you do things, you keep your culture change intentions top of mind, but also you are ensuring that the current reality doesn’t stay that way by accident and habit.

Culture change is best seen as a journey, so treat your plan as a road map that is changing and learning as you and your people are.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lost your mojo?

I've written before about the need to engage your people early in the change programme. The need to create momentum through involvement and engagement is also a well established practice. This simple rule of 'engage and involve early' works particularly well if the organisation knows it needs change and has an energetic and engaged population. But what if they aren't. What if your people have had such a long period of stagnation that they think their current reality is normal. What if people are short on ideas and energy. 
What if your organisation has lost it's mojo?

Many organisations become skeptical of change and their leader needs to re-build trust ensuring that this time the change will happen and will deliver what it promises. Teams in this environment will often participate in the debate about what needs to change and have ideas about how to improve the organisation but will do so with a large degree of skepticism. In this case the leader can engage in debate and involve the organisation in the 'how' if they have a determination to follow through and make the outcomes happen. In effect they are tapping in to ideas and energy that the last leader didn't tap in to.

But an organisation that has been doing things the same way for so long that the majority aren't able to see the need for change and can't see past the existing way of doing things, requires a different approach. The question is 'what approach?' 

  • Does the leader not only flesh out the vision but bring to the table how it is accomplished? With all the risks that a 'one man crusade' has?
  • Do you 'have a clear out' and bring in fresh blood? An approach favoured by many but with inherent risks. (lost knowledge, commitment of those remaining, mood of the organisation etc)
  • Do you seek out the few who do aspire to something better and create your guiding coalition from those voices? The risk if they are not current managers, the potential for alienation by their colleagues, their managers and the pressure to conform is obvious here. 

So what's the answer? Well as always in change there is no one route. Everything is contextual to the situation you find yourself in as a leader. The answer will likely rest in a combination of all three, at least:

  • The new leader will certainly have to signal change, and be ready for that to be met with resounding silence at best and outright rejection at worst. Be ready to be on your own here!
  • Assessment of the key post-holders in leadership positions, how invested they are in the current reality versus their willingness to come on a different journey, along with their capability of operating within the new vision, will mean that new blood may be required in key areas that are the drivers of change.
  • Involve those with potential in the redesign and give them roles where they have an opportunity to influence and explain to others. It doesn't matter where they sit in the organisations hierarchy, if they influence those around them then they are gradually going to build a tipping point with you. 
  • Of course you will have to give those who are dead set against the change a chance to get off the bus, whatever level they sit at. Some may self select by request and some by action. If this is managed well by the new leader with empathy and respect then the rest of the organisation, those who want to come along, will appreciate your actions. 
Most importantly prepare for this being a long haul journey, with a lot of hard decisions and lonely days before you start to see results.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Seven questions about your culture change

Why not ask yourself these questions if you are CEO/GM and have a change programme under-way.
A. How is the change progressing?
  1. We started out with good intentions but everyone is really busy you know.
  2. We all said 'we need to do that' but nobody took an action.
  3. When we defined the plan nobody asked 'what can we drop?' (meaning the answer became 'the change actions')
  4. It is something I only ask about at the end of the month. The rest of the time I focus on results ( replace results with $s, sales, volume, turnover as appropriate)
  5. We are hitting every change target, with a fully resourced plan regularly supported by expert help.
B. How engaged are your people in the change?
  1. We will tell you when we've told them what we've decided
  2. They loved the fancy launch but think that was it
  3. They are jaded by all the initiatives we start but don't finish
  4. Those that are involved love it but the rest don't know whats happening
  5. Everyone is on board and has personal actions to make local changes to meet our cultural aspirations
C. If asked, how many people could explain the culture change initiatives?
  1. 100% of those standing beside our vision statement at the time you asked
  2. 100% of those who could find the handout we gave on day 1
  3. 100% of those that can find where we've hidden it on the intranet
  4. Isn't it okay that we all express it our own way as free thinking people?
  5. Most of them, as we regularly refer to in in our routine communication and link our day to day activities to it, but i know its a journey
D. Talking about comms, how often do you update everyone on the progress of change?
  1. What do you mean by update?
  2. We gave them the initial handout, surely they will just go do it?
  3. Every time the big boss is in town as he/she likes that sort of thing.
  4. Quarterly. There is a paragraph in amongst our four page reporting of results ( replace results with $'s, sales, volume, turnover etc)
  5. We have an interesting and varied comms plan that includes videos, email and magazines to show what our people have achieved, supported by our weekly note that shows progress against the plan
E. How are you measuring the change?
  1. Measuring?
  2. We will know we have got there when we get there
  3. The ultimate measures will tell us all we need to know ($s, sales, volume, turnover)
  4. The culture change is supposed to develop a culture of measuring success so we haven't done it yet
  5. We have a comprehensive system that tracks input measures designed to prove we are doing what we said would take us there along with staged success measures showing improvements in key results along the way
F. Who is responsible for your culture change?
  1. HR
  2. Me
  3. Everyone is responsible
  4. The management team
  5. Everyone is held responsible for their action, with the senior team knowing that they are there as a cohesive, guiding coalition. My role as CEO/GM is to always carry the torch whenever I talk to anyone.
G.How seriously are you taking this culture change
  1. Who? Me?
  2. Well its really about the results first (replace results with $'s, sales, volume, turnover etc)
  3. Its all fluffy stuff really so I let HR take it seriously
  4. At the end if the year I will take it very seriously (when the other results are in)
  5. As CEO/GM i know that if I don't take it seriously nobody else will. I see this change as vital to keeping ahead of the competition

Friday, March 18, 2011

Time for Time out?

This might sound like a weird title for someone who blogs about change and is always writing about doing more, getting results, being pro-active, but thats my question for you;
Do you know when its time to take time out?
I don’t necessarily mean not working at the weekend, not working at night, taking your lunch-breaks or having a coffee (but if you do any or all of these on a regular basis you might need to pay attention here). 

Every manager that I know is very busy. I don’t even bother asking that when I meet them any more. Its just a fact of life in our modern, high pace world. You throw in a period of change and all of a sudden you are juggling a few extra balls along with the many things that you were working on all ready. Its no surprise that many change initiatives fall down as a result of managers de-prioritising their change actions. Business as usual throws new challenges, new deadlines, urgent reports, urgent requests and those all need done now, and by the time you get to the end of the day, thats all your day has been. 
But I didn’t ask whether you were busy, I asked if you knew when to take time out. 
Do you regroup your busy managers when you see that initiatives are falling to one side?
Do you take a bit of time out to check whats not happening and why?
Before you leap in to a new initiative do you take the time to consider whether your team can handle it on their own or whether you need an extra set of hands to help you?
Do you recognise the symptoms of your business reaching breaking point and know when to call a time out, time to take a break, re-energise, breath?
And what about you?
Do you recognise your own need to take a time out?
Do you know the signs that you are feeling the pressure of deadlines, to much to do, feeling out of control, or things not going your way?
Do you know when you are not in the best frame of mind for a meeting?
Do you know when to go for a walk, take an afternoon to play golf or even do something that is not that urgent or important but it makes you feel good or clears your mind? (thats where I and the time-management gurus disagree by the way. I think we all need the odd moment of doing a task because you like it, just to build your feel good factor or let your brain wander).
When you get on an airplane, the flight attendants run you through a safety briefing. Part of that briefing is to put your own mask on before anyone else’s.
You figured out why? Apply that principle at work yet?
If you are a leader, you are a leader of change. Change brings extra pressure for leaders and teams.
Your people take their cue from you. You are the one that they look to say ‘time out’, ‘lets reflect’, ‘lets kick back and think about this another way’, ‘lets prioritise’
Your people take their cue from you. If you aren’t at your best, what does that say to them?  If you have a bad mood, bad moment what is the impact on the culture?
If you don’t put on the oxygen mask yourself then who’s going to make sure that the rest of the organisation does?
Is it time to take a time-out?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Stubbornly Strategic

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need for leaders at all levels to have good advice and to keep those advisors close to them. It's funny how the world can change in a few weeks. In that time, here in New Zealand we've had arguably our biggest disaster in the Christchurch earthquake, while elsewhere in the world Libya is in revolt and the associated impact on the price of oil is affecting economies everywhere. The ripple effect of such events means that many more things will change in months to come. In New Zealand businesses outside of Christchurch will feel some impact, if they are not already. And the cost of the rebuild will have an affect on everyone in the country. Already debate is raging about whether we should rebuild or not, and while I am not going to comment on that here, I would like to draw some parallels with the challenge that leaders face when the environment changes around them.
Businesses spend time in developing strategy to guide leaders in the day to day choices that are made and actions to be taken. For some strategy is a rock solid path, while others use it in a fluid way. A key part of strategising is looking at the context your business finds itself in and environment that could be expected in the future as well as the current reality.
But what happens when that context changes? A test of leadership is their ability to steer a course when the environment changes.
Nobody predicted an earthquake with such devastation as we've now seen in Christchurch. It's a major city in New Zealand terms, 'it's always been here' is the cry from some, so we must rebuild it. Others question whether that is a smart move given the changing environment, the relative cost and the uncertainty of the geological future. There are world cup games scheduled for Christchurch and the tug of war between the emotional cries of 'solidarity' and 'it would be good for the devastated population' are being countered with 'can we risk it happening again?'.
In the midst of change leaders have to make choices. Do we stick with the strategy we've set? Do we watch a little longer and see what happens? Do we jump now and cut our losses? Whether it is a suddenly under-performing product or arm of the business, a change in competition, shift in consumer trends, hike in the interest rate, sudden collapse of the market, a rise in the exchange rate or the multitude of other challenges that arise, leaders are there to make choices.
The difficulty is that difficult times also bring a lot of day to day issues to manage and wherever you sit in the organisation it is easy to get sucked in to those. And all the time the circumstances are setting in and your opportunity to do what you should do, is drifting away. In times like this many leaders make reactive or emotional decisions: 'stick to the strategy. It worked in the past it will work now', 'let's jump, we can't risk it', 'we've always done it this way and we're still here aren't we!'. And yes, you might get it right. You might dig in and ride the storm or you might jump and steal a march as others flounder.
But you know what you should do, even while you are reacting or digging in and letting circumstances run your day, dont you. You should gather trusted advisors and key thinkers around you and you calmly and dispassionately take the emotion out of the debate, test the strategy against the environment, surface the risks and opportunities and reset the course accordingly.
History will judge your choices that our politicians will make over the coming weeks or months. As a leader in business, your choices may not have as much significance nationally, but the questions will still be asked. 
So how do you want to be judged? Stubbornly or smartly strategic?

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Wise King

‘A king with no advisors is king of ignorance.
A king with one advisor is king of bias.
A king who believes all-comers is king of confusion.

Years ago I worked for a very experienced Manager. He had a reputation for being strong willed and not suffering fools, and if you let him down or exposed him to trouble, you knew about it. He had many years of experience in the industry and you could pretty much say that he’d seen it all.

With all the experience and knowledge he still had an interesting habit. Every Wednesday, at the end of the day, he would sit down with the HR Manager and say ‘What do I need to know?’ and he would sit and listen. He listened to things that were not his favourite topic. He was not a fluffy kind of guy, he didn’t do the people stuff easily. But he listened and found out what was going on and sought the HR Manager’s counsel.

Over the many years since I have helped organisations re-structure and have seen many of the trends in that field. Outsourcing and insourcing come and go, the arrival of the COO and what that means for structure.
I’ve seen the trend to pull all your ‘service functions under one division with one manager looking after HR, Legal, Finance, Public Affairs etc to and its that one that I’ve been thinking about recently after a number of chats with CEO’s and MD’s. Many of these organisations are finding that the ‘Senior Team’ or ‘Executive’ is largely made up of the Business Unit or Operation Leaders, with the one head of ‘Shared Services’ and the CEO/MD themselves.
Any organisation is only going to be as good as the conversation that happens around that table. And whilst alignment is good, over-alignment caused by lack of balance is a risk for business.

I’ve always thought that one of the key roles of HR, Legal, Public affairs, Finance etc was to provide council and be the voice of conscience for their area of expertise. Not just a shared service function delivering functional transactional activity. So keeping these voices away from the executive table means the CEO might not be hearing everything that he or she needs to hear. Expecting the head of the shared function to do this is a risk too as there is no way that they can be an expert in all areas (and didn't you set up their role to create synergies and cost effectiveness, not to become an quasi expert in everything?)

I’m not suggesting that you restructure to create an executive of 12 so that you have all the subject matter experts at the table all the time. But a wise CEO finds ways of getting the guidance that is needed in balance and gives his/her councillors time to give counsel.

Just like my old boss, you might not like what you hear but what he knew was that not hearing it would mean that a problem would arise that you would like to hear even less.