Archives for posts with tag: change management

I was chatting with an old colleague the other day, they being from the comms side of things, and we discussed, among other things, difficulties we had experienced getting organisations to put out employee surveys.
Actually doing employees surveys is now so par for the course I’m amazed when I come across organisations that are still afraid to ask, but it seems that sometimes leaders just don’t think it’s the right time. My chum and I went through a few of the excuses we had come up against over the years – there were a few, but here’s the top 5:

  • We know what they think anyway
  • Everyone is miserable so why bother asking
  • Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity
  • We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled
  • It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge

Let’s have a look at these in detail, shall we?

“We know what they think anyway” Really? Really? Everyone in the whole organisation? Hmmm… Now, I always say that if a team leader is surprised by the survey results for their team, then they aren’t really leading that team, but that’s for another blog, another time.

But if you’re the CEO or other senior leader in any organisation of more than, say 50 or so people, then chances are you aren’t close enough to people to really know what they say. And, chances are, if you are, and you do go out and about, visiting the troops and ask people how things are, they might, when  put on the spot, tell you what they think you want to hear. An anonymous survey may give them chance to say what they really feel, which may be something different.

“Everyone is miserable so why bother asking” A classic “how do you know if you don’t ask”. I worked with an organisation who took this approach once, and I worked with a group of change champions across the business, speaking to them on a pretty regular basis on how things were; the picture was far more mixed than senior leaders thought. What came through, after a bit of digging, was that lots of people were very role engaged – they loved doing their job, got a lot of fulfilment from it, took meaning and satisfaction from doing their best and doing it well – and where they had the autonomy and authority to do those jobs, they were very happy. What they lacked, on the whole, was engagement with the organisation as a whole.

Even if you think you know that everyone is unhappy, and they are, it’s handy to have that in writing, with evidence, so that you can do something about it. After all, aa survey shouldn’t just tell you how people are feeling, it should give you some insight into why they are feeling that way. Again, we can discuss further in another blog.

“Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity” I know the recession is over and things are on the up – but I’m not sure that is really felt out there in the big wide world, you know? Anyway, money is tight, especially in the public sector, and likely to remain so, so this excuse will be in favour for a while to come. What I say is, can you afford not to? Disengaged employees are more likely to cost your organisation a lot more in absence, lack of productivity, poor quality work, mistakes etc than the cost of a basic survey – for some facts, check this. Bottom line for your bottom line: engagement = mo’ money.

“We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled”. Two things: (a) when aren’t you going through change and (b) that is exactly the time you need to know how people are thinking and feeling: the success (or failure) of the change depends on it, believe me. Again, another blog (in fact, I feel a series coming on…) for more, but if people aren’t engaged with the change, it’s unlikely to deliver the benefits you hope to get.

“It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge” Guess what? They’re going to whinge anyway, probably at home, down the pub, at the water cooler, to their colleagues; why not give them a platform to do so, and then do something about it. That way, they might stop whinging.

I may revisit these excuses in more detail and real life examples in future blogs, but, in the mean time, have a think: are you putting off your staff survey? If so, why? If you have another excuse, let me know and I’ll explain why that’s a bad idea too…

In recent blogs I have touched on internal communication and its importance in getting employee engagement. Today I’m about to start work on a big change programme looking after both those things, so I felt it appropriate to have a think about communication and change.
The most fun I’ve had in a job has been when I’ve been tasked with engaging people with change. I’m not a keep things the way they are kind of guy. My motto is: “If it ain’t broke, break it. The worst that could happen is that it makes a nice tinkly noise as it shatters into a thousand tiny pieces.”
Change is all around us, friends, life is, in fact, a process of ceaseless change peculiar to organic matter (as I once said in a philosophy essay, much to the bemusement of my tutor). Change is what makes us people and without change we would still be a set of single-cell organisms lolling in a pool of brackish water.
(Apologies, at this point, to any creationists or intelligent design fans reading who are upset at this evocation of evolution, but you aren’t really my core demographic).
Anyway, change is necessary, and, although it is not always good, it isn’t going anywhere unless I’m completely misreading the second law of thermodynamics. In business, as in life and closed systems, change is always necessary; markets change, products change, customer needs and wants and expectations all change, and anyone looking to meet those needs, wants and expectations better change to be able to meet them, or the business side of things isn’t going to last too long.
So businesses must change, and that means people working in those organisations are going to have to change as well. At the very least, they will have to do things differently, or do different things.
That said, change is undertaken in order to deliver benefits to the business, and those benefits are likely to be achieved in a more sustainable way if people not only change what they do, but how they do it, that is change their behaviours. This takes a bit of doing.
There’s a bit more to it than issuing a new flow chart on how to do a new process or just installing some new software in everyone’s PC. To change behaviours you need really effective communication, and that means sharing information with people and then having a conversation with them to ensure that they have understood the information you have shared, and that they are willing and able to play their part in the change you are asking them to undertake.
Communication is always a change activity. After communication happens things are different. At the very minimum, levels of knowledge have increased, but it can and should be a lot more profound than that. So what should you share? The usual – what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. What is changing? When is it happening? Where about in the organisation? How will things change? Why are they changing?
This last one is the key to get buy-in from people in change, as you need to make the why a reason for them, as an individual, to change. I remember one big change programme I worked on and they key kick-off comms was a video of the CEO telling everyone in the business what the programme was all about – a big modernisation programme, affecting everyone in the business, over the next couple of years.
Why? Because the business wouldn’t last the next couple of years unless something was done to turn it around. The classic burning platform “why”. Amusingly, the first time we showed the video to the wider senior leadership team (top 100 or so people in the business) the sound went off half way through.
The CEO went on speaking, silently for what seemed like hours while I ran around frantically back stage trying to get the sound back on. I did, eventually, just as the CEO was intoning the words “job losses”. You couldn’t have timed it better.
I digress, but the heart of the message was “it’s this or oblivion”; however, “we’re doomed” isn’t the most engaging message and very quickly we reframed the message around building a new business, constructive, forward-looking and forward-thinking and far more engaging for people.
They why became “because I want to be part of this new business”, a message that ran through every single piece of communication ever issued by anyone in the programme. Building a new business was through it all like letters in Blackpool rock.
You see, once you have your why you need to ensure that all communication of it is consistent and authentic; if you say you are building a new business then you better damn well build one. And build one we did, a leaner, fitter, more engaged organisation, better set to meet the needs, wants and expectations of modern customers, with a more effective culture and new behavioural norms across the piece. Then we merged it with another bit of the business and had to start all over again.
Change, see. It doesn’t stop, not ever. So the key thing from this is having that core message – why we are doing this, framing it in a positive and forward-looking way and then delivering that message consistently and authentically in every piece of communication you undertake. Simple.
So have a think. Change is almost inevitably happening somewhere in your business. Are you communicating about it? What are you communicating about it? And do your people. Really and truly understand why these changes are happening? Have a think.

***

In this blog I have written, not for the first time, about the vital importance of authenticity. This was also a key facet of the 20th Century school of philosophy known as existentialism, about which I have blogged before.
Albert Camus, born 100 years ago last week, was very close to Jean-Paul Sartre, the godfather of existentialism, but wasn’t himself an existentialist. He was an absurdist, a world view he expounded magnificently in his novels, notably The Outsider, The Plague and The Fall. He also wrote a couple of philosophical essays, The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus.
This latter work I would commend eagerly and heartily to anyone engaged in trying to make change happen in a large organisation. I have returned to it frequently when things were getting tough in the many change programmes I’ve worked on over the years, and find the closing thoughts a great comfort.
In Greek legend, Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up a hill all day, only for it to fall back down again every night. I can’t imagine many project and programme managers who cannot empathise. But think, then, on the final words of Camus: “The struggle itself… is enough to fill a man’s heart. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Happy birthday, Albert.

My last couple of blogs have been about communication, it’s part in creating employee engagement, and how sometimes, despite the best efforts of internal communicators everywhere, it doesn’t actually happen.

In this blog I will expound on the process that, for me, lies at the heart of any kind of communication, and ways that organisations manage to put obstacles or traps in the way that the process can work.

To start, an anecdote. I was at a workshop last week for people who want to work with businesses to help them become more innovative. We were doing a brainstorming  type activity and people had used the time to wander off and grab a drink (or make room for another one) and I found myself alone in the room with the workshop leader.

“You know, I do prefer to brainstorm on my own,” I told him. “It means I don’t have to waste time telling everyone else why they’re wrong.”

This clearly was meant tongue in cheek, but there is a kernel of truth to it; when I brainstorm I find it easier to run through things internally and then bounce pretty well-rounded ideas off others. It may be because Jung was right after all and my introvert personality energises from within, it might be because I’m an arrogant know-all, but hey, you’re reading this, so what does that say about you?

Anyway, other people I know prefer to brainstorm communally, feeding off ideas of others to help theirs grow. Maybe because they are extraverts, maybe they lack confidence in their own ideas and abilities?

Either way, the process will become a co-operative one at some point, and ideas will need to be shared, discussed and developed, and will (almost) always become better for it. Something new will be created, and creativity and doing something new lies at the very heart of effective communication, in my humble.

This is not to say that you need a new channel every time, or a different social media strategy for every announcement; it can (and in most cases) should be about the message, and that will in turn define the medium (or media) through which the message can be shared, feedback can be gathered and the conversation facilitated.

Unless, that is, the co-operation ceases to be co-operative and the process falls into one of several traps, such as…

1. We’ll do it my way

When working with others to produce anything, I think it best to share and build through dialogue. I find, however, that people with strong views about how to go about things, and dialogue gets replaced by a debate, with one side trying to argue for their approach, and against the other approach. This can be a real issue for an central business partnering team working with a particular part of the business who know what they like, and like what they know.

I have had many such conversations with local managers in my time, when I suddenly realise that rather than being in a meeting to create something fit for purpose I am, figuratively, on the other side of a debating chamber and having to defend my own views which are being attacked by the opposition (ie the person I am actually there to help). 

How to get out of this? Reframe things, sidetrack, take a break, do something else for a bit, distraction and misdirection, and then come back at it in a different way.

2. We tried that before, and it didn’t work

I can’t think of another phrase that I have heard in a workplace that incenses me more than this. It’s worse even than “you weren’t successful in that application”, or “yes, I’m afraid it is infectious”. It sounds like an expression of strength and knowledge. “Oh you silly thing, we know better than you what will work or not, thank you.” What it is, in fact, is an admission of failure and lack of imagination. It is the final redoubt of the traditionalist, sticking cravenly to the tried and trusted and denying the necessity of change.

It’s a phrase which sits alongside its cousin “That may be all right for them, but it wouldn’t work for us” as if evolution had taken a different path for that very specific bit of humanity. It is not even trying, and there is nothing worse than that. Thomas Edison (a chap of who I am by no means a fan_ was, so legend has it, told by someone that in coming up with 10,000 non-working designs for the light bulb, that he had failed 10,000 times. His response was that he had, in fact, discovered 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. Not for Edison “we tried it before and it didn’t work”. No, he tried it and found a way for it not to work, and then tried again. Another 9,999 times.

When someone first said that to me, I told them that they might not be able to make it work, but I might. And do you know what? I did.

3. That’s great, we’ll absolutely do that. Definitely. Now thanks, and off you go

This is where lip-service is paid to your ideas, and then you are sent away and things carry on just as they were. This is often at the heart of the failure to communicate I discussed in my last blog. We say that things will change, but we aren’t comfortable or capable with change and so we’ll just carry on with the status quo.

The thing is, communication is a process that results in change, and the status quo won’t do the job. Something has to be different.

How do you avoid this? The trick here is how you contract up front. You need to get buy in that something new will happen before you start and you need to ensure that commitment up front. In the big bad world of business that usually means someone more important than the people you need to implement things has to agree to it, and tell them to do it. Just try and do it in an inclusive and co-operative way.

4. Thinking outside the box (but inside the real box, which is just a bit bigger)

This is when people pit on their creative hat, do some blue sky thinking, say nothing is off the table, and then stick to what they know has worked in the past and will do everything to close down anything truly creative and ground-breaking. It’s a more disingenuous form of lip service than saying you will and not doing it, basically. I’ve seen it in thinking sessions, where people reach into what they know and then fall into a passive-aggressive defence of it (ie a subtler version of the debate).

How do you avoid this? Car parking is one technique. At the outset, just get everyone’s tried and tested, pet ways of doing it out in the open and pop them in a car park. When they come back to them later in the session (and they will, they can’t help themselves) you can just park it back up, and remind them that we would only go with new ways of doing things this time around.  

These are just a handful of obstacles, and doubtless you will have encountered others (and if you have, please do share), so have a think. You need to communicate something. You need to think of a way to do it. How do you go about it? What (or who) gets ion your way? Does the process fall into a trap?

 

 

In recent blogs I have been banging on about change management, as I recently took a project management course in order to polish up my skills and knowledge and that.

change2

I was struck, as I was when I did my first PM course (many years ago) that there is a lot on tools, techniques and skills around planning, organisation, managing issues and risks and all that, the people side of things seemed a bit glossed over. Well, there was plenty about managing key stakeholders – even admitting that if two stakeholders have conflicting requirements then things can get tricky.

There was also, to be fair, stuff about estimating resource  and a whole chapter in the handbook about Project Human Resource Management. My interest was piqued at this, and I read on, and there was plenty of stuff about recruiting and managing your project team, none of which was objectionable in any way. I especially enjoyed the lengthy section on the kinds of organisational charts you could use, and the two sentences indicating that Organizational Theory (forgive the Z) could come in handy.

There was a section on team-building and the importance of reward (and another learning unit on not taking bribes) and, again, nothing actually wrong with it. There was a sentence saying that leadership was “an important skill”, and that decision makign should be effective.

The next chapter was on communication, with much on managing stakeholder expectations and reporting progress, issues and risks in a timely fashion. Again, all good stuff and rightly good practice for any project management professional.

What was missing, however, was a sense that when the changes are implemented into the organisation then people are going to be impacted by that change, and for any change to be effective, the people impacted need to be ready, willing and able to make that change actually happen in the real world.

I have worked with change managers for many, many years and they are, like most groups, a pleasingly diverse lot, with a range of personalities and approaches to their given field. Most of them were very good with their Gantt charts, flow diagrams and structure charts, their issue logs and risk management matrices. Very few of them were good with the concept of change happening through people.

Why this is has occupied my thoughts often, and I found myself musing on it again as I printed off my Certificate of Mastery and before logging onto my Six Sigma course (expect a very similar blog about process improvement in the coming weeks, people).

My thoughts are this: charts, diagrams, logs and matrices are easy. They sit there, they are logical and ordered, they do what they are meant to do, they have clear terms of reference and clear roles within the project, they are fit for purpose. Process, too, is easy. You know what’s what, it happens in order and processes can be managed.

People, on the other hand, are rarely any of these things. They are difficult, they are illogical, they have emotions and they are fickle and unpredictable. A project plan moves neatly as a task is completed and a green on target square on the plan changes to a nice, neat black completed one. People can, and usually do, resist change. They have their own agendas, they want things to happen to make their life easier and if your project plan isn’t going to deliver that, then it’s not likely to deliver what you want it to, either.

What Project Management courses don’t teach you, in my experience, is this wider, all-encompassing sense of the term “stakeholder management”. Stakeholders are usually seen as the important people you need to get onside in order for things to happen, or at least know how to outflank the other important people who don’t want it to happen.

Stakeholders should include the less important people; the people on the shop floor who have to make whatever change you are managing into an experience in their daily lives – and even an experience for their customers.

I think I have mentioned before a piece of systems change I heard about which won awards for the success of its implementation at a posh black-tie IT bunfight, but resulted in poorer customer service and lower employee engagement. When that’s award winning performance, you have to question the criteria for which those awards were awarded, do you not?

Thinking about the impact on people of change is a simple thing to do, it just requires an understanding of where the people are at currently, what the likely impact of the changes are going to be be, and how they will react. Local leadership should be able to fill in those blanks pretty easily, shouldn’t they? (If the answer to that is “no”, then you have bigger issues than the colour-coding on your issue logs to worry about, believe me).

So, have a think: how does change happen in your organisation? Is it by the book? And does that deliver what you need? Could engaging with the people you are expecting to make this change happen more meaningfully at the outset help things go more smoothly? (Hint, yes it almost certainly could). Do your project people think about the process or what the outcome needs to be? And do they realise that for any outcomes to be delivered requires the people implementing it, not the most immaculate project plan ever drafted? Have a think.

I did a presentation this week where I explained my thoughts on what Organisational Development is, and what it consists of in practice.

The previous evening I attended another session where the speaker gave some good tips on presenting, one of which was to use images rather than bulleted lists, and I took that advice and hit Google image search for some appropriate images.

Organisational purpose? Some cartoon people building a jigsaw towards a sign saying success. Employee engagement? More cartoon people, standing in interlinked circles. Organisational cultural diagnostics? An iceberg, to illustrate the visible and invisible aspects of culture. Change management? A butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Leadership? Easy. This one:

Image

I remember going on a leadership course a few years back – one of the best things I have ever done, it was literally life-changing – and the very first activity in the first session was people choosing their ideal leaders. In my group, more than half chose Sir Alex Ferguson. (I chose Gary Neville, then the captain of Manchester United, for reasons I’d be happy to explain if you ask me).

His success as a manager is unparalleled, and I am a lifelong United fan, so that image, iconic for his hunger for success and his instilling in teams the desire to keep going and never give up, that leapt from the image search and into my leadership slide.

And this was before I read this article in the Harvard Business Review, about a study by academics of the lessons to be learned from his leadership.

It’s a great article and I highly recommend you read it in full, but there are eight key lessons, namely:

  1. Start with the foundation – build from the bottom for lasting success
  2. Dare to rebuild your team – see what needs changing and evolve as necessary
  3. Set standards high and hold everyone to those standards
  4. Never, ever cede control
  5. Match the message to the moment
  6. Prepare to win
  7. Rely on the power of observation
  8. Never stop adapting

I could, and doubtless will, do a blog on each of these lessons, but as I said last time I would be doing a few blogs on the whole change thing, then I will look at three specific ones this time around – because they speak to me about the role of leaders in change. Those lessons are 1, 2 and 8.

Lesson 1 – start with the foundation – in the article, Fergsuon explains how he changed the culture in the club to one of developing the best young players. In its way, it was a return to the values of the last great manager at the club, Sir Matt Busby, whose young teams established Manchester United as the force it is today in world football. The lesson for leaders here is that change needs to be sustainable – you need to think long-term and plan for long-lasting success, not just go for the quick win. Too often in recent times business have focused on the quick profit at the expense of the long-term. Leaders need to take the long term view and lay foundations for the future in order for their organisations to succeed again and again, as Ferguson did with his teams.

Lesson 2 – dare to rebuild your team for me has two key things; firstly, the importance of people in successful businesses and successful change; change can’t happen and businesses can’t succeed, without the right people doing the right things in the right way. Secondly, it is about having courage, as a leader, to make the necessary changes. In his time at United Ferguson saw off many high-profile and popular players, as he sought to develop and improve his team, and bring in the right players as his tactics and approach developed. Leaders need to drop products sometimes, change their route to market, and, of course, change their personnel when need be – which leads neatly to…

Lesson 8 – never stop adapting. Football changed massively during Ferguson’s time at United, and David Gill, the CEO, speaks in the article of the manager’s capability to adapt as the game changed. Leaders need to look outside and be aware of how their world is changing or else their organisations are being affected. Change is constant, and it’s not even a question of “like it or not” – you just have to accept it and make sure your organisation can adapt in order to survive.

How leaders lead change is fundamental not just to the success of change projects and programmes, but to the survival and success of the businesses they are leading. No leader can call themselves a leader if they cannot change, and lead change, and this is why Sir Alex is the exemplar, for me, of the leader.

So, who are your exemplars? Who are the leaders you see as the best at leading change? How do leaders in your organisation manage change? Are they building foundations, making the courageous decisions and adapting as the wider world changes? Or are they avoiding change and hoping steady state will get them through? Have a think.

In previous blogs I have threatened to metaphoricalise the Ashes and the lessons that this most arcane and wonderful sporting occasion brings to the world of work; this is that blog.

First up, just in case we have any readers from countries where cricket is not played, you have my undying sympathy and a quick explanation: the Ashes is a series of cricket matches between England and Australia; each match lasts up to five days and there are five matches – known as test matches – in the series. England recently won the last series 3-0, and if you want to know more, look no further than here

Any road up, there are many, many things that can be learned from embracing the wonder that is test cricket in the world of work. There is the lesson of finding and working to your strengths – for example, it is important to keep a cricket ball dry so that a bowler can make it move in the air when he bowls; to this end, England captain Alastair Cook is in charge of polishing the ball because he doesn’t sweat as much as other players.

There are different players – batsmen, bowlers, and different types within each type – there are opening batsmen and middle-order batsmen; there are fast bowlers and spinners – and even leg and off spinners.

Cricket, in short, is the perfect example of the notion of diversity being strength – everyone has their own skills and needs to perform to their best to deliver this strength in order for the team to succeed. But as well as individual strengths you need team-work; for a bowler to be successful you need the fielders to be in the right place at the right time and do their part; a batsman can only build an innings if he builds partnerships with other batsmen.

Cricket also tells us that you need the right people at the right time – you need to have have the right team to make the most of conditions; if the sky is overcast and cloudy, you need your swing bowlers; sunny on a dry pitch and your spinners are the best option.

Thus it is in work; if you have a change project you need people to kick it off, get it started and underway; these are the opening batsmen, making a start and laying a foundation for others to build upon. Their success is key to enable later success and you need the right kind of people to do this – doers, planners, people who can manage stakeholder and establish a vision and path to the future.

Once the foundations have been laid, then it is up to the middle order to really get things done and deliver the project; these are a different kind of person than the openers; they build on previous success, use the relationships the openers have built already to ensure success, they consolidate and they take things on.

A rich vein indeed, for the sport-minded business person to mine; in this blog, however, I want to focus on two things that happened in this most recent Ashes series, and specifically in the final test at the Oval.

First was the decision by Australian captain Michael Clarke to declare at tea on the last day and set his team the challenge of bowling England out before they could reach the winning total. The decision was sporting; it was in the spirit of the game, and set up for the spectators a spectacle, a thrilling denouement to a great game and a great series. For me it showed courage and a sense of fair play, and so two great aspects that leaders need: the courage of their convictions and to take risks, and a sense of fairness and reason to temper that courage so that it doesn’t lose perspective and become rash or foolhardy.

The second thing was a decision made many months before the match, in a committee room by a group of bureaucrats. This meant the match had to end with only four overs – 24 balls – to be bowled and England needing only 21 runs to win the game and claim an unprecedented 4-0 series victory. The light was worse than it had been at a previous point in a previous match, and because of the bureaucrats the umpires had no choice but to end the game; there was no room for common sense or in the moment thinking, only an arbitrary line marked in the sand by officious suits.

This ruling robbed the crowd of a fitting climax to the match, and England of a likely victory, but it also robbed the umpires of an opportunity to exercise common sense and manage in the moment, in the now.

The lesson here that while we all need rules in a business setting, they should not be so arbitrary and hard and fast that they prevent a sensible and reasonable decision be made to take an opportunity; bureaucracies stifle organisations because they limit thinking and discourage decisions being made in the moment.

Had the umpired been free to make up their own minds, then the courage shown by Michael Clarke to give the watching public a real show would have been vindicated; as it was, it was lost, denied by bureaucracy.

Have a think about your leaders in your organisation – are they courageous? Fair-minded? Do they balance what it right for themselves with what is just right?

Think about your organisation, about its rules and regulations (and remember these can be unwritten rules, not just the “official” ones). Do they prevent the courageous and fair-minded leaders from leading in the right way? Do they allow common sense to prevail and let people manage in the now? Can your organisation learn a valuable lesson from the strange and wonderful world of cricket? I hope it can.

A few blogs back I looked at lessons that the world of work can take from the world of sport, and promised a blog on the Tour de France. This is that blog.

I started watching Le Tour years ago, when it first popped up on Channel 4, as I recall. I went off it after an arrogant Texan started to dominate it, but came back a few years ago, coinciding with the appearance of a stocky Manxman called Cav, who was pretty nippy on his bike. Then came a gangly mod who I knew from track racing at the Olympics, who had lost a bit of weight and got handy at hills, and only went and won the whole thing last year.

There are so many things that I love about long-distance cycling; the sheer effort it takes; I cycle, usually to commute, and every now and then go a bit further, taking in some hills. What I don’t do is go several hundred miles, over mountains, in a day. Just awesome.

Then there is the tactics, the continual ebb and flow, breakaways and catches, being swept up by the peloton, how to ride in different wind conditions, lead-out trains delivering stocky Manxmen to within a few hundred metres of a finish line for a sprint after 200km+ of cycling. A sprint! I can barely beat an amber light at a junction after four miles of commuting.

And, as there is much to admire in Le Tour and cycle racing generally, there are many metaphors for the world of the workplace.

Teams, for example. If you stay to watch the interviews after any stage of Le Tour, the winners will usually thank their team – especially if it was a sprint stage. In a sprint stage a team will have a specialist sprinter who they nurse through the entire race, often over 200+km, so towards the end they can get into single file, drive up the speed and gradually drop off from the front one by one, until the final lead-out rider allows the sprinter to fly out from his back wheel and make a dash for the finish line.

Over the past few years Mark Cavendish has been the best in the world at this, and my favourite image in cycling was Cav being lead out to victory on the final stage of the 2012 tour by the yellow jersey of Bradley Wiggins, the first British rider to win the event. This year he had a few more challengers, which always makes it interesting.

What lessons here, then, for teams: you need a strategy, you need tactics, you need a plan, but you also need flexibility. What happens if your sprinter gets a puncture? What happens if another team’s lead-out train cuts ahead of yours, or takes your line into the finish? You have to make decisions on the road, in the moment, and act accordingly.

You also need clarity of the roles: you need a sprinter, but also you need lead-out men; in other teams there will be specialist climbers, for the lumpy stages when the race goes over mountains; they will also have lead out men who help them get up the mountains until the end when the specialists can attack towards the peak. There are also the generalists, the domestiques, who’s job it is to go back to the team car and pick up drinks, food, and energy gels and deliver them back to the specialists at the front of the pack. That said, if your leader cracks on a climb (ie they can’t find the strength to carry on climbing at the speed of the race) then a domestique may have the legs and have a go themselves.

It makes for fascinating viewing, and makes cycling more unpredictable than many other sports. In this year’s Le Tour, the winner, Chris Froome was nailed on as the winner from the first mountain stage, it seemed, but a couple of stages later his team were dropped and he had to fight against his main rivals without his team supporting him. He still won, though.

To sum up:

  • Have a plan: know where you are going; cycle racers know their route really well, when the climbs are coming, when there are tricky bits, where there are likely to be challenges from other teams
  • Have your tactics in place: know how to deliver your plan at each step; who is going to lead the race in the early stages? Who needs to save their legs for the climbs or the sprint?
  • Be clear on your roles: who is your sprinter? Who is your climber? Who are your domestiques?
  • Be flexible and responsive when your plan can’t deliver any more: when another teams attacks earlier than expected, you need to respond then, there isn’t time to go back through planning and re-thinking tactics until you have responded and caught them; then you re-assess and develop plan B, but you do it on the hoof, you don’t go back to the start and go again.

I will no doubt return to the sporting world in a few weeks, hopefully when the Aussies are on the plane home having failed miserably to win The Ashes.

In the mean time, have a think about your team, your organisation. Is everyone clear on where you’re going? How you’re going to get there? Who needs to do what? And what will you do if things change? If your competitors pull something new into the market? If there’s another economic crisis? Have you the flexibility to respond and react and re-plan as appropriate?

And, while you are thinking about this, think about getting a bike. Think about getting your workforce to cycle to work – they will be fitter, happier and more productive, and you will make the world a little bit better, and who doesn’t want that?

One thing I do quite a lot is networking. This often involves going into a room full of strangers and talking to them. This is how a typical conversation will go:

Stranger: “Hello, I’m Geoff.”

Me: “Hello Geoff, I’m Richard.”

(Business cards are exchanged)

Me: “So what do you do?”

Geoff (Not a stranger any more, you see): “I’m a procurement manager.” (inspects my card). “So what is it that you do?”

Me: “I’m and Organisational Development Consultant.”

Geoff: “Oh. So what what is it that you do?”

The next line depends very much on what Geoff does. Sometimes I say “It’s sort of like HR”, sometimes I tell them “it’s kind of like personal development, only with organisations.”

In my more retrospective moments, which rarely occur during networking, I try and think what Organisational Development is, and how to describe it.

For me, OD is about making organisations more effective through its people.

That sounds simple, but what that encompasses is really, really complex, and it means you need to know quite a few things before you can get started.

Firstly, you need to know how effective the organisation is now. And for that, you need to know what the organisation is there for; what is it meant to do?

This is a very straightforward question, surely? A shop sells things; a manufacturer makes things (and then sells them); a legal firm offers advice about the law to clients. 

There is clearly more to it than that, and I have blogged previously about the importance of vision and values to an organisation, and how these link to the strategy; if you combine all of these, you will get a sense of what the purpose of the organisation is, and then you can start to think about how effective the organisation is.

Then you need to think about how they can make it more effective. How it can do what it needs to do to meet its purpose in a better way.

Clearly you can change things like systems and processes, making them more efficient and productive, which is fine as far as it goes; what you also need to bear in mind is that you need people to operate these new systems and make these new processes happen, which is why I define OD as the process of making organisations more effective through their people.

This can be as simple as making sure people can operate the new processes or systems; however, there should be more OD can do. OD can look at the culture of an organisation, and see if it is aligned to the purpose; OD can see if the behaviours that are dominant in the organisation are going to help or hinder effectiveness; OD can see if leaders are leading in a way that helps or hinders too; OD can help you understand if your people are engaged with what you are doing, and with the organisation.

At its heart, OD for me is about change; if you are becoming more effective, then you need to change something about the organisation, and for change to be effective, people need to understand what’s changing, why and how, in order to make that change happen. Again, it’s all about the people.

Most of all, OD is about asking questions; it’s about defining and clarifying where the organisation is now, and where it needs to be, and then asking more questions to understand and define the journey between those places that the people of the organisation need to go on.

Which is why, in my blog, I usually end up with a question. What does organisational development mean to you? What have I left out? What else does it mean? Have a think, and let me know.

Over the past couple of blogs I’ve discussed what happens after your survey, moving from having a whole bunch of data through a process to get you some insight. Which is fantastic, but also completely pointless unless you take the next step. And that next step is to act.
This begs a couple of questions, though. Who and what – who acts, and what do they do?
The answer, as ever, is (all together now) “it depends”. It depends on what your insight tells you. But I think there are some general rules, some high level guidance to answer those questions, and these would be:
Who? Whoever you can get to do something.
What? Whatever they can do that will move you forward.
To explain a bit more: who should be whoever it needs to be to make the change. If the key insight is that leadership is out of touch with the grass roots then you need two groups to act: leaders, and grass roots. Oh, and probably some others to help out, maybe your exec coaching team, or the comms team can support activity.
What you don’t want, however, is just leaders acting. There has to be give and take, quid pro quo. Get leaders out there, in a vacuum, without engaging people on the ground to interact with them, and I’m not sure you’re going to get much of a bang for what could be an expensive buck.
Rather you get the situation which makes the Queen think every building in the country smells the same: of fresh paint. Get leaders, especially senior leaders, dropping in on the front line staff can be great, but you need those visits not to be a royal progress, with half-hearted handshakes with nervous branch colleagues making weak jokes about the tea from the machine.
What you need is for the people on the ground to be empowered, willing and able to tell it how it is. Not whine and complain, but have an actual dialogue. Help the people on the ground help the leaders really understand what life is like at the sharp end, so they can in turn hone and develop the organisational strategy based on the reality of life, rather than a filtered version that they may otherwise get.
Ideally, get as many people involved as you can. Now I know times are hard, staffing levels will not be what they were, unless you are in a very fortunate place, and people are busy. But you’ve been to the trouble and no little expense of doing a survey, asking people what they think and feel, then it’s time and money well spent to follow that up with action.
What depends on what people can do. What is the capability of the organisation? This is important. It’s all well and good deciding you need a new reward policy with more bunce for everyone, but what if the money isn’t there? Or having all your leaders going through an in-depth leadership development experience in a yurt in Snowdonia if no-one is going to be left to run the business and make the decisions that need to be made.
So do something, but make it something you can do. Most of you will have come across C-smart, as used in agreeing personal objectives (and yes, that’s agreeing objectives, not setting them, but that’s for another blog, another time). I find it can be really useful to make your survey action plans c-smart too, so they are:
Challenging – do they really move things beyond the status quo?
Specific – do they address the issues that have been raised in a meaningful and clear way
Measurable – are you clear on what success looks like? – Think in terms of outcomes for your people rather than scores for specific questions
Agreed – is there consensus within your team that this is the right thing to do? Buy-in will help ensure your action is successful
Realistic – can you actually do this? Is it in your capability and sphere of influence?
Time-bound – you need to be clear on when actions need to be complete and the outcomes achieved
One thing that really brasses people off if they have taken the trouble to fill in a survey is that nothing happens. Or at least nothing seems to happen. Which brings me to the last bit.
Whatever you do, tell people you are going to do it. And tell them why.
“You remember what you said in the survey? Well, we’re doing this about it.”
Then, when you’re doing it, tell them again. And tell them why again.
Then, when you’ve done it, tell them what you did. And why you did it.
And then think how much more powerful this will be if the people you are telling are also the people that are doing.
“You remember what we said in the survey? Well, this is what we’re doing about it.”
Doesn’t that sound better? And believe me, it will help engage people.
I worked with a business who did this really well. They had a call centre which specialised in helping people who were victims of fraud. The people on the phones were called customer advisers, the same as all the other call centres in the business, who actually advised customers.
The people weren’t happy about this. They wanted a job title which reflected their specialised and difficult work. And they used the colleague survey to let the managers know about it.
The powers that be agreed. The changes were put in place.
Now, it would have been easy for the big boss to go along, make a grand announcement, and then wander back off to head office with a nice warm glow.
But not this lot. No, they really got engagement. They went another route. At the start of the shift, a member of each team (not the manager, necessarily) stood up and shared the news with their colleagues. “Remember what we said? This is what we did.”
Boom! That’s engagement.

In my last blog I discussed patterns of behaviour – underlying these are what are known as behavioural norms. These are the behaviours people within an organisation see as being rewarded and expected.

Now this is could well be a very different thing from what the organisation expects and wants to reward. Most organisations these days have competency frameworks, which they create to help manage performance.

Some also have a behavioural framework, which builds on this and looks at how people deliver the competencies, and measure performance on that basis as well.

In a previous employer, I watched the evolution of this process – when I started, performance was evaluated at an annual appraisal meeting with your line manager. Boxes were ticked, and you got a pay rise. How well you actually had performed didn’t seem to come into it.

The company went through a merger and a modernisation programme, and then the new company went through a major transformation programme, which included a people element.

That’s when the whole idea of using performance, rather than length of service, to decide how much employees earned came into the mix. It caused a bit of grumbling, especially among those more used to just turning up every year, but it got in.

The trouble was, it just measured what you did. Everyone had objectives, which could be things like call centre targets, or something a bit more tenuous, but it would link back to a role profile, and, hopefully, a team or departmental plan.

Then I was at an event, and I heard a couple of stories, told by a chap who ran a call centre for a financial services company – he and it shall remain nameless, for what will become obvious reasons.

The first one was about a customer who had, sadly, died. His family contacted us to sort out surrendering a policy. I won’t go into details, but this call eventually resulted in the son of the late customer emailing every member of the board with a litany of complaints of pointless letters, mistakes, incorrect information being given out and delays.

The leader in question got a call from the CEO, and he investigated. He went through every step of the process, in detail, and spoke to every single member of staff who had been involved.

And what did he uncover? Laziness? Stupidity? Incompetence? No, not at all. Everyone had done their job as they were supposed to do. They had done their bit of the process, and then handed it on. The issue was that the customer’s widow hadn’t asked for the right thing in the first place, but something slightly different, and that had been put into the process.

Why did it happen? Not the processes – it was because that is how they did things in that company – that was the behavioural norm. Do your job, pass it on, then don’t worry about it.

If anyone in the chain had thought a bit wider, taken some personal responsibility to ensure that the bereaved customer was being treated as they might like to be treated, they might have gone back and checked, or made sure that the customer really did want what they had asked for

But that wasn’t what was done. People were rewarded for ticking the boxes and following the process, not for going above and beyond, or having empathy for the customer.

I was speaking to the leader afterwards and said I felt that there was something missing from their reward systems if that is what happened – and he agreed, and told me he had heard of a company where the exec team had only behavioural targets in their personal KPIs. Amazing.

He also told me the second story – shorter and sweeter. “Do you know what I did with the most successful team manager in my call centre?” he asked. “I sacked him, because he was a bully.”

He was a bit of a lone voice in those days, but I told his stories to people in my organisation, and gradually thinking shifted, and evolved, as these things do. By the time I left, half a dozen years later, everyone had 50% of their KPIs based on behaviours, and 50% on performance – the how was as important as the what.

These behaviours were in a framework, clearly defined, and linked directly to the organisational values – and values is what I’ll discuss in the next blog as we dive deeper into the culture model.

Are the behavioural norms in your organisation helping you do the right thing for your customers? Do you know what the behavioural norms are? Do people  go the extra mile, do they put themselves in the shoes of the customer? Are stories like the one about the deceased customer likely to be told about your business?

As ever, get in touch if you want a chat about this.