Archives for posts with tag: change

In the last blog of this year I wanted to wish all my readers a very enjoyable relaxing and, hopefully, thoughtful time as 2014 draws to a close and flips over the first page of a new calendar.

For me, the most significant day at this time of year has just gone by – the winter solstice, the shortest day, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least. It is an ancient significance, the day when the sun stops retreating and the slow return of spring begins. The fact that so many ancient monuments align to the solstice dawn shows how significant this turning point was for our ancestors.

For others, my children not least, the more significant day will come in a few days when they will, depending on their personal conduct throughout the year, find a gift or two beneath the tree that currently looms over our front room. Others still will celebrate or mark whatever their personal belief system or tradition dictates in the way they wish.

But for me, the key day is the solstice. It’s not a religious thing, it’s not a question of faith or belief, it is the thing at this time of year which is an empirical and actual fact – the earth spins around the sun, and begins the shift which puts the hemisphere in which I live towards the sun again, creating the longest night or shortest day.

For me, the solstice is a symbol of both constancy and of change – it happens every year, you can set your astronomical clock by it, or even build a stone circle/temple/henge to align to it. But is also says that the darkness that had been increasing over the past months will now begin to recede, the days will get longer, the nights shorter.

It says to me that while people crave constancy, they also live with and not only cope with change, but also celebrate it. Clearly the solstice was marked in ancient times, and the festival has been adapted and adopted by various religions, traditions and societies until it has become what it is today.

Many can find this time of year depressing, and I too, had a moment a few weeks ago when there seemed to be nothing but supermarket adverts on the television, and the whole commercialisation and crassness of the capitalist model that urges unrestrained spending (and the necessary consumer debt that goes with this) to ensure the retail sector can continue for the other three quarters of the financial year brought a wistful melancholy to my soul. That melancholy turned to anger when one shop sought to trivialise and demean the memory of the millions killed in the first world war to flog a few more chocolates, but that is a rant for another blog, and another time.

Not wanting to be to Scrooge-like, I reflected, I thought on things, I considered the wonder that is the midwinter, the constancy and the change, and my mood shifted and I too found myself turning back towards the light.

So now I prepare to join the feast when the days are darkest, when the night is longest, to mark a time of festival, of lights and food and gifts and celebration that, to me, speaks to the optimism which is the very heart of the human  experience. The days may be dark, but things will get better, things will change, the light will return.

Now, the day after the solstice, I write this seasonal blog and urge any of you kind enough to read to consider what this time of year means to you. A soulless commercial necessity? A time to celebrate the supernatural? A poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket? The birth of a special child? A time to light a specific number of candles? A turning point, a time to look forward, a time to celebrate the darkness, because without the darkness how could we see the light?

Very whatever, one and all.

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Innovation has been much in my thoughts recently. In fact, someone asked me about it this morning, and I recently attended a briefing on how to help small businesses become more innovative.

There is a wealth of material online about innovation and how to do it, but I thought I could give some thought to a couple of things – the role of employee engagement in innovation (and vice versa) and what a culture of innovation might be.

Firstly, engagement and innovation. Let’s go to first principles about what engagement is, and see what that can teach us about innovation, eh?

I use a couple of  models to describe engagement which have worked pretty well over the years. One I borrowed with pride from Macey and Schneider, from a study they did for the Journal of Industrial and Organisational Psychology a few years back (why not take a look here, get your academic groove on). They had reviewed much of the existing research on engagement and posited a three-stage model, thusly:

  • Trait engagement – people needed a mindset by which they would become engaged
  • State engagement – people needed to be in an environment whereby their emotional state was one of engagement
  • Behavioural engagement – people with the right trait in the right state then behave as engaged employees

Let’s have a think about just one of these aspects – trait engagement. This requires the individual to be conscientious, proactive and to possess an autotelic personality. No, look it up.

OK, so autotelic means doing something for intrinsic reward – for the sake of doing it, rather than for an extrinsic reward (such as money). Now my knowledge of psychology is probably on a par with most non-psychologists who ply their trade in this area, but I would guess that an innovative personality is likely to be proactive, conscientious and like to do stuff for the sake of doing something interesting – in other words, someone with the traits of an engaged employee.

Moving on to state, this is where people feel committed, proud, happy and enthusiastic (state positive affectivity is the technical term), they feel involved and empowered with a sense of purpose. Again, these are the kind of feelings I would expect an innovator to have; if I had no interest in the future of the organisation and I don’t want to be there, I’m not likely to want to think of something new to make the company more successful, am I? 

So people with the right traits in the right state will display the behaviours of the engaged employee – things like going above and beyond your role, being proactive and adaptive – fostering change for the benefit of the organisation. Which, to me, is a pretty good description of innovation.

So you are way more likely to get innovation from your people if they are engaged. But what about the other way around? Does working in an innovative organisation make you engaged?

A quick look at those great places to work lists that are all over th’interweb will throw up the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, those kind of places. Not exclusively, but most of the brands where engagement is high tend to be associated with innovation. Two great examples, which I would advise anyone interested in this field to research in bit more detail are Semco and Gore.

What males many of these companies stand out as great places to work are their levels of employee engagement, and, according to the fine people at Engage for Success only 3% of disengaged people come up with ideas to improve things at work, compared to nearly two-thirds of engaged employees. Great places to work more often than not have the kind of culture which fosters innovation.

Which brings us to the second bit promised all that time ago in the second paragraph, creating a culture of innovation.  This could take a while, and you’ve already ploughed through a lot already, so we’ll save most of it for another blog.

What I will share is my key question when finding out if an organisation has an innovative culture – I ask “what happens when someone makes a mistake?”

If the answer is “the person who made the mistake gets shouted at” or “we try and find someone to blame” or “we try and cover it up so the boss doesn’t find out” then I get an inkling that the culture is not one where innovation shines. 

If the answer is along the lines of “we look at it, we find out why it went wrong and we change things for the better next time” then you are more likely to be in that innovation zone.

So your task for this week it to ask that question: what happens around your workplace when someone makes a mistake? And what does that answer tell you about how innovative a workplace you are in? Have a think.

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?

 

 

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.

I’ve spent most of the last decade and a bit doing change stuff, whether it be communicating about change, enabling change through insight and leading projects, and I’m pretty comfortable with the whole process by now.

That said, I’ve had a bit of time recently and thought I would use it to revisit my project management methodology and brush up my theory. And, as I sat down at my screen and went through my course, I thought it might also be fun to reflect on some of my experiences of change in real life, and consider how well the theory turns out in practice.

So, to start at the very beginning, let’s begin with the paperwork you need up front. This is the Project Initiation Document, the Project Charter, the Requirements Summary – a tome of variable length and detail which should give everyone involved in the project  and idea of the what, when, why and how, to wit:

  • What you are trying to achieve with the project – a new product, a different process, a new structure for your organisation, a new organisation altogether
  • When you need to do it by
  • Why you are doing it, and…
  • A general idea of how you are going to go about it

This all begins, in turn, with an idea; somebody has to come up with something new. I find this often originates with a senior group of people at or around the top of the organisation; they come up with some requirements – the what and why from where the when and how inevitably flow.

This is where things can start to go wrong at the start – and where communication and stakeholder management are absolutely key. As we all should know, the risk of failure of a project is highest at this stage, and it is easy to see why.

I recall a project I worked on a few years ago, intended to deliver a new operating model for a sales force. There was a room full of consultants with very expensive suits and holiday homes in California who worked very closely with the director in charge of the sales division – but not many other people. They had the what and the why, but it wasn’t that clearly shared with the rest of the organisation, or the programme that this project was but a part.

As a result, there were key messages about why and how we were changing going to the wider organisation that did not necessarily align with the messages that were going through a variety of channels (not all “official” ones) to the sales force.

Stakeholder management was carried out through off-site meetings in hotels and bars, over plates of sandwiches and chips, between managers and their allies, with other colleagues being left out of the loop or playing catch-up with the official comms when they managed to get through the labyrinthine sign-off process. Nudges and winks to those in the know often accompanied said formal comms as well. 

As a result, the “what we are doing” became a different message depending who was hearing, as did “why we are doing it” – which generally ended up as “so we can keep you guys and get rid of them” rather than the more widely accepted “so we can have a sales force that provides us a sustainable and profitable route to market”.

Much money was spent, many nice new suits bought (though few by me or any of my in-house colleagues), and the sales force limped on for a couple more years before inevitably closing a little way down the line.

The documentation was all in order, the PID was completed, the budget agreed by the steering group, and then the project went off into the long grass and went its own merry little way.

I can’t say it achieved what it set out to achieve, but at now point did anyone say it had failed; however, that lack of clear and common understanding among all stakeholders as to what, why, when and how just wasn’t there despite the right boxes having been ticked off on the project management form.

The lesson for me was the need for simplicity and clarity in communicating the what and why; “this is what we are changing, and this is why” in a way that everyone gets on board and has a shared and unambiguous understanding up front.

This then, is my first lesson of project management: the initial engagement of stakeholders needs to be rigorous, thorough and involve a lot of very good quality conversations, with every single stakeholder, after which requirements are recorded and then some more very good quality conversations to make sure those requirements are sufficiently simple and clear.

 

The pre-requisite for this is twofold: make sure you have identified all your stakeholders up front and make sure you engage them in the right way – prepare your ground, know your audience and have a really good sense of the political environment in which you are about to work.

Then, after you have engaged them and achieved this level of buy in and common understanding, do you start worrying about the how and the when – which we will come to in due course in another blog when we think about planning and execution.

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.