Archives for posts with tag: organisational change

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…

The past few blogs have looked at how to get insight from employee surveys, and how to use that insight to drive meaningful action. This blog will explain why you shouldn’t have bothered in the first place.
This may sound strange; after all, I make my living from employee surveys, and I think they are valuable and have their place.
However, sometimes surveys are sometimes the wrong thing to do, and are in fact a way of avoiding doing something, rather than providing insight on what to do.
I’m sure that if you work in an organisation on surveys, you will have had a conversation or two, often with a leader, about how they can do their own survey. A pulse check, to see how things are going, or to uncover some particular issue in their area.
In my experience this happened most in IT or Finance functions, but that may just be me.
Wherever it was, the conversations would go in a fairly similar way. Remember when reading this that will already have had some high quality insight from the survey.
Me: “How can I help?” (well, I am a consultant)
Leader: “We’ve had a look at the survey results and we need to do another survey to really get underneath our issues.”
Me: “Your issues?”
Leader: “Yes, we think we have some specific issues that affect just our part of the organisation, because of some local things. We need to really get into them and find out what they are.”
Me: “Why don’t you just ask people?”
Leader: “Well that’s why we need a survey, to ask people.”
Me: “Why do you need a survey? Your people are right there, just go and ask them.”
Leader: “But we want a survey.”
There is the pulse check variation, as well.
Me: “How can I help?”
Leader: “We need a survey to see how well the action plans are working.”
Me: “You had a survey three months ago. Everyone did.”
Leader: “Yes, and we put action plans in place. We need to measure how well they are going.”
Me: “But it’s only been three months. I doubt there had been much meaningful change yet, don’t you think people might get a bit annoyed at having to fill in another survey?”
Leader: “But how will we know if its working if we can’t measure it?”
Me: “Why don’t you just ask people…” etc, etc.
At this point, being an evil genius, I will have reached into my special consultant’s big back pocket where I carry my evidence for when I need to challenge something. (That’s my tip for today, by the way, if you want to challenge somebody, especially somebody senior, make damn sure you can back it up with evidence. You’re welcome.)
In there, I will have data on the behavioural norms of that bit of the organisation, and I will see that there is lots of avoidance going on. Responsibilities are pushed upstairs. Mistakes are buried. No-one takes responsibility, and blame is shoved elsewhere. People seem to get on, and conversations are polite and pleasant, no matter what has gone on. An erstwhile colleague of mine summed it up rather elegantly in the phrase “never be discovered in the same room as a decision”.
Because the leader knows they just need to talk to people but they have an overriding need to avoid doing that. Because they might have to have a difficult conversation. They might need someone to be honest about failure or mistakes. Even worse, the leader in question may have made those mistakes, or overseen that failure. They may need to take responsibility, and that is something that just can’t happen in a culture of avoidance.
Rather than speak to people, they give the illusion of giving them a voice by doing a survey, and then the most challenging thing they have to face is some tricky conditional formatting on a spreadsheet.
It’s the antithesis of engagement, dressed up to look like it.
Thus armed with my cultural diagnostic, I then challenge said leader. “Your desire to do more surveys is but another example of your behavioural norm of avoidance,” I say. “You need to speak to people, face to face, openly and in a way that they can feed back honestly and in a safe way.”
What happens next varies; in the best case scenario they listen, and I sit down with them and help them work out a programme of focus groups and town hall meetings where people can have their say and add further insight and depth to the leader’s understanding. They do this, and things generally change for the better.
Or they go over my head and get their director to ask the HRD to let them do a survey. (Hopefully the HRD says no, you need to speak to your people, because they understand how things should work).
Or they just go ahead and do a survey anyway, then get bogged down in analysis paralysis because hey, it’s important, we need to get this right, you know?
Sometimes they even come back and ask for help with the results. And I tell them to talk to people.
The vast majority of conversations I have which start with “we need to do a survey” go along these kind of lines; if you have a survey, done across the organisation on an annual basis, then there is very little that will convince me that you need any more.
Survey fatigue is when you ask people over and over again what they think of working here without doing anything about it. At some point people are going to say “why bother?”, and stop bothering.
So next time you want to know how people are feeling in your bit of the organisation, ask yourself: what’s the best way to do this? How will I find out how things are going? If I want a survey is it because I want to know what is happening, or actually avoid knowing?
Or, if you are the survey person ask yourself is a survey the best way? And do I have the evidence in my big back pocket to prove that it isn’t?

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.

Change happens. All the time. Even in the most hidebound, traditional, staid organisation, change happens.

These days, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, change happens fast. Most organisations, especially bigger ones, they are in that big, strange and scary thing called Transformation.

You will have plans, you will have GANTT charts, project plans, meetings, systems in place, you will have risk registers, issues logs and lots of rolls of brown paper with sticky notes on them, you will have consultants with their Prince 2 or Successful Project Management qualifications, ensuring these are all in place.

That’s all good. You need to do that. But I can also promise you, hand on heart, that if you forget one thing, then all this planning and systems and consultants will not deliver the change you are trying to achieve. Because, in the end, people change. Not processes, not systems, not project plans, not even the longest piece of brown paper and the most widely variegated shades of sticky notes. People are where change happens.

An organisation I know, during a period of 7 or 8 years, went through two mergers, a business modernisation programme which achieved £100m a year savings, a re-brand and another transformation programme. Of the hundreds of projects that made up these programmes, some delivered the benefits they were supposed to, some didn’t.

Every single one that succeeded included in its project plan, in its preparation, consideration of how the change would impact on the people on the receiving end of the change. Every. Single One.

And the ones which failed the worst, the ones that missed deadlines, negatively impacted customer service levels, went over budget or failed to deliver savings failed to consider the impact on the people.

An example of the former – we were closing a national network of over 100 local sales offices, supporting a field sales force. The consultants running the project knew we had to let people know, and suggested bussing people to one or two central meetings so they could be informed by the Big Boss.

The Big Boss in charge of that bit of the business had an observation, specifically about one of the more geographically remote offices. “So,” he said. “You want to bus people 200 miles to tell them that they’re numptied”.

Good point, well made.

The announcements were made at local meetings, by managers the people there knew, with full on-site HR and comms support. The project worked.

An example of the latter that I heard of – a major systems change in a call centre. The project delivered the systems changes on time, to budget. It won awards, was held up as a paragon of systems change, it was, as far as the IT world was concerned, market leading.

Except, no-one had thought through the consequences for the people in the call centre. They had to navigate through new screens. They hadn’t had time to have been trained properly. Customers couldn’t do what they were used to doing because the systems had changed. They called the call centre. Queue times went up. People had to be taken off the training in the new systems to cope with the extra calls.

Not so good.

It’s pretty easy to make sure you do take account of the people impacted by change – you can stop and think “how will people feel when this happens?”. The Big Boss did this. The team on the other project didn’t.

If people have a positive experience of change they will be more accepting of change, and guess what? Change will be delivered.

I know a more formal process which can be built into the change process, complete with built-in measurement and diagnostic systems, to check if the people experience turns out as you want it to be.

But it boils down to thinking through – which bits of change are going to impact people, who are they, what will that impact be, and how can we make their experience of that impact the best it can be?

Next time you’re planning, give it a try. Or give me a shout, I can help you out with this. Especially if people are being numptied.