The best time to capture the detail of the changes that are taking place is during the design phase of any change initiative. This is when we see the difference between the old way and the new way. Unfortunately, we really need this information much later at deployment time when we’re ready to conduct a training class. At that point the training person is looking for information on the detail changes which the design person has long since forgotten. Create a way to capture the detail changes identified in design anticipating the need of the deployment people to be able to make the translation for the end user in your new environment.
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In a recent change initiative in which sales people were affected there was great resistance to the proposed changes. The changes were seen as something that would be a barrier to what they naturally did — sell. In other words we were going to try to change them. Not a good idea.
The key to success was to take the time to explain clearly that what the changes represented were in fact the elimination of barriers that allowed them to do what they do best — sell. Once this occurred we were able to work together with the same goals. If your constituents aren’t being changed but actually being allowed to go with their natural flow more easily, the changes are much easier to swallow. Of course, this has to be true. Spend time on this in the planning phase.Read More »
Talking points are a good idea, especially when there are multiple communicators. However, each audience is different and has different needs. Each interprets your change initiative differently — from their own viewpoint. Get the facts and details out but be sure to customize the message to each audience. This helps you meet the goal of the communication.Read More »
In my change leadership seminars I often make the point that communication will occur within your organization. The only question is, do you want to participate in the communication? The biggest mistake we can make is to delay communication until we know more. About the time you are swearing your leadership team to secrecy is about the time the rumors begin. Honesty, early and often, is the best policy.
But wait. How can I tell everyone what’s going on when I don’t even know what’s going on? Again, the truth, early and often, is the answer. Tell what you can. Speak in probabilities. It’s OK to say something like: “We are exploring XYZ direction. There is a 70% chance that we will make this choice. I will let you know when the analysis is done. If we go in that direction it does mean X. It does not mean Y.”
This is hard. You have to show your thought process publicly. Do you have the courage to expose yourself as a leader? Believe it or not, some managers have actually convinced themselves that their employees don’t want or need to know, yet. Take a moment to think about this from the employee’s perspective. Be careful not to mistake their inexperience with receiving communication from their organization as disinterest in communication. This is a learning process for both sides.
You also have to follow-up. The environment changes rapidly. You’re busy. So are your employees. It’s critical to keep everyone up to date. You’ve exposed your thought process. Regular updates are necessary so that over time the wisdom becomes organized into a theme leading into your change initiative. Finding a variety of ways to keep people informed and involved is the fun part.
Analyze your rumors
Rumors are the window into the soul of the organization. What are your rumors like? Analyzing the rumors will give you insight into the needs of your company. Just some of the symptoms that can be exposed by the content of the rumors include lack of trust, lack of information (the trickledown effect isn’t working), or a lack of respect in management’s abilities.
Is the rumor so farfetched it sounds like a best-selling novel? This may indicate that the employees are too far removed from how management and the decision making structure actually works. Grandiose rumors can hit both ends of the spectrum. They can erroneously depict the organization in a very positive light, which might indicate an arrogance that could be troublesome in the marketplace.
More often though, the greatly exaggerated rumor is slanted to the negative. If the rumor were true the management team and the company would be ashamed. How could our employees dream up such things? If the rumor were true it would prove that management actually lies or withholds things. Perhaps the rumor is a symptom of a basic distrust of management. This is frustrating when you are telling the truth. Focus on the cause of this feeling beyond the current rumor. What led to the possibility that an employee would think that this could happen? Take actions to build trust and credibility. How? Spend extra effort on communicating, explaining the decision making process, and explaining the why. This extra effort will educate employees as to how these things get done and possibly may identify some faulty logic that could be adjusted.
Maybe rumors indicate a basic lack of information. If you are still solely dependent on middle managers distributing information down through the ranks to front-line employees, this will be a common problem. Recall the game of passing a message from child to child and seeing how distorted it is at the end. Trickle down communication in a corporate environment works just as poorly. For more information on this topic, read the related article Communicating Organizational Change.
Take advantage of the rumor mill to help diagnose problems and issues that if ignored can cripple your organization.Read More »
In my experience the hardest thing to change in an organization (unfortunately) is the incentive portion of the compensation program. This item though is critical to the reinforcement of your change effort. Is the incentive program a disincentive for the changes you are implementing? If so, it’s real easy to predict the outcome, or lack thereof. Look hard at this issue early and begin the process of making adjustments as required.Read More »
If you are the only resource available to work on your project, you’re doing it wrong. We hear this frequently but perhaps you’re not getting stakeholders engaged. Maybe your sponsor isn’t engaged? Have you engaged the developers beyond just doing their piece? Or maybe, the project shouldn’t be done in the first place? Looking around and seeing no resources is a sign. Pay close attention.Read More »
Our web poll of change leaders throughout the world, which questioned the cause of a secretive culture, shaped up this way:
a. Personality of the leader(s) — 52%
b. Nature of the industry — 4%
c. Because it’s the way we’ve always done it — 15%
d. Incentive, reward, and punishment policies — 18%
e. Other — 11%
TJ and Sandar Larkin in their book Communicating Change (McGraw Hill, 1994) identify six steps to disaster:
- During planning swear everyone on the team to secrecy
- Rumors begin
- No communication – plans aren’t finished
- Rumors run wild
- Details begin to leak
- Plan is formally announced – but everyone already knew
This vicious cycle can be broken right at step one. How about if we told people what we know or at least what we think we know? Scary thought isn’t it? What about the alternative? You see, communication will occur. The only question is: Do you want to participate in the communication or leave it to the rumor mill, looking sneaky or worse in the process?
The personality of the leader is so important (52% in our survey) in dictating the openness of communication in the organization. This is great news. The CEO can do so much by example to move the organization from a secretive culture to a more open one. The question is: Does he or she want to? This really takes individual work, usually with a professional coach, to determine the cause of a secretive approach and then break through it. The cause many times is simply that the executive was “brought up that way” and doesn’t understand the alternatives, or they may have been burned in the past. Like any behavior that you desire to change it’s necessary to develop new habits. It’s also easy to slip when encountering a situation in which you’ve been secretive in the past.
The carrot and stick of our incentive, reward, and punishment policies (18% in our survey) can be a big cause of a secretive culture. If we reward people for keeping secrets or punish people when the word leaks out (which it always does) we will create a secretive culture. I have actually seen situations where the manager never met some of their employees. There really is no excuse for this. Let’s make regular communication with teams a part of what is expected, instead of assumed, from our supervisors and managers. How to do this? Simple, integrate this practice into the evaluation mechanism.
One of our clients printed buttons with the universal no symbol over the words “We’ve always done it that way.” Fifteen percent of survey respondents said this is a cause of a secretive culture. The only way to break through this barrier is with a grass roots effort showing examples of successful impacts when we acted in a more open manner. Stringing these success stories together is the best way. People need proof.
Only four percent of respondents blamed their industry for a secretive culture. I think secrecy may be institutionalized for example in an investment-banking environment dealing with mergers and acquisitions. Luckily change managers don’t see this as a prevalent excuse for a lack of communication.
Some of the other reasons for a secretive culture mentioned in the survey include:
An underground structure, management, and communication system will emerge when a vacuum of leadership occurs. Leaving policies, procedures, and guiding principles to chance is just not a good idea.
A desire for control, perceived of course, is associated with hoarding information. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Knowledge is power.”
A silo structure in which there are physical as well as organizational boundaries can be the cause of a secretive culture. A little competition internally can be a good thing unless people forget that the “enemy” should not be our colleagues.
Additionally, organizations under stress have a higher likelihood to retreat into a secretive, bunker mentality squashing communication. Unfortunately, habits learned under stress many times for better or worse are cemented into our culture.
Do you have a secretive culture? Awareness is the first step. An outside opinion may be helpful. What is your cause(s)? The solution to winning back the trust of your employees and clients and reversing a secretive culture is a long-term one. A secretive culture is a cancer in your organization. Early detection and early, aggressive treatment is the prescription.Read More »
Interviewer: Jim Canterucci
This is Jim Canterucci of Transition Management Advisors. Thanks for joining us. At Transition Management Advisors we specialize in corporate change management and attempt to bring you stories from the field that will help you in your daily work environment to manage change more effectively.
Our interview today is with a client named Judy. Judy represents a middle manager in a large organization who was chosen to be in a major project leadership role.
Judy works in a top 10 financial institution on the east coast. The project she was recruited for was the implementation of a large main frame and client-server based trust accounting system offered by a vendor. The project life cycle is about two years, impacts approximately 1,000 users and has a project team that grows to 100+ representatives from the Information Systems and user communities.
My role in the project was to serve as the external project manager responsible for the overall success of the project, management of the outside vendor resources, as well as to be a member of the project management team, providing advisory services to these project leaders.
Judy, welcome. Could you start out by telling us how you were chosen to participate on the project and how your manager broke the good news to you?
Hi Jim. It’s great to talk with you again. Sure. I think I was chosen probably for two reasons. I’ve been around the securities industry for more years than I’d like to say, so I had a lot of in-depth industry knowledge, knew how a trust accounting system should work. Coupled with that I had a rather natural inquisitive nature about how systems work and had gained a reputation for that. It was easy, I think, for my manager, when she was asked to find a candidate in her organization that would do well bringing the system in, for her to choose me. She knew that I would be excited about it as well.
What was your initial reaction when you heard about this?
Wow! Great! Because it did seem to me initially, right off the bat, as a great opportunity to, quite frankly, get away from the day-to-day, what could become kind of mundane routines and get into a situation where I could appease my natural curiosity.
Something new, something exciting.
Having said that. My second reaction was, holy cow, what have I just gotten myself into? What am I supposed to do? I was being asked to be one of the management team on a project and I had never been in that situation before. I’m a production person. I’ve always managed production and people. I didn’t know what being on a project meant.
Was there any training available to you?
Oh Jim, you’re kidding right? No; of course not.
Looking back, what kind of training would you have liked to have seen, and had available to you?
Well, some that seem to me now like common sense types of things. I needed somebody to help me understand what project life meant and what it was about, especially coming from the background that I came from. I was very used to having daily task oriented things going on. You could see the beginning, you could see the end. I knew how to manage that and the people around it. Project life was very different. This was a very long project. It went for a couple of years. I didn’t have a clue how to manage tasks over that length of time, or the people that were really performing the tasks. I wish now someone could have told me then what it was going to be like and how to do that. It is different from regular life.
How did you actually learn those things?
Well, a couple of ways I guess. Trial and error, of course. Unfortunately, some of the things I now know I learned the hard way. It was pretty painful for me personally and quite frankly, for the people that worked for me. They didn’t have any of the skills either when they came on. Certainly, there was one other way. I made a point to track down and find other people who had already been through this. You know, the lessons learned by others kind of concept. And, I thank you. You were one of those people and always there for me. Unfortunately or fortunately, I had you and one other person that had been down this road before. You’ll recall some of the late night conversations we had Jim where you really helped me get over the hump in understanding this. But beyond you two folks there wasn’t anybody else.
You do have that tendency to feel like you’re out there on your own. It’s a very personal thing as well. We are talking about tasks and skills but it really impacts you internally. There is a direct personal impact.
How was the project management team, structured? Tell us a little about the project and how it worked.
Well of course, you were there. You were part of our management team representing the outside vendor for the system we acquired. From the bank side we had an executive project manager. But, he wasn’t a proactive project manager if you will. He was located at one of our affiliate sites and frequently wasn’t onsite for me to run to for help. So there was floundering for me because of that particular choice that was made.
Besides myself, on the project representing the business units, there was a representative from the information systems group, the technical folks. There was a representative from the business analyst team as well. With three key project managers, an executive project manager and yourself, that is what we looked like.
Jim:How many project team members were you responsible for managing? Because, you had to take care of all of the business resources that were contributing to the project right?
That’s true. At the low end 10 and at the high end 25. We grew and obviously towards the end grew more significantly. And we had some, early on, management changes so it varied for me.
Our project went for a long period of time, about two years, so normal organizational changes occur during that period of time as well as, because we’ve got people involved in the project, we have personnel changes. People need to move on and so forth. The project team grows and changes and really has its own life.
What were some of the difficult situations that you encountered that were representative of how a large change project is different from the regular day-to-day activities when you’re managing a department?
As I said earlier Jim, probably the most significant problem for me was that I came from the business units and was very comfortable with very short term tasking and setting the targets and managing to the time resources around those targets. But with a large project of this size that went over the time period that it did go over, that changed dramatically. Because we staffed this project from the business units with business people, the people who reported to me didn’t have any of those skills either. Unfortunately for them they couldn’t come to me for help because I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t help myself. And that was some of the stuff that we learned the hard way.
This is kind of a tough question, but were there ever any times when you were in the middle of the project when you said, gee, this isn’t worth it?
Oh yes, of course. In my worst times, every day.
What kept you going as you came across those types of situations?
Two things I guess. I would of thought I was quitting if I had given up. That’s just my own personality. But, probably more importantly is, through all the trial and error and your help and others help, one thing that I felt I was not in control of would get better. It shed a little light and made you feel a little bit better and provided hope that if one thing got better then maybe the rest will.
I think one thing that is really true and I’ve seen it over and over again is, there are some people who can’t do project life but it really is a very small percentage. Most people can, they just don’t know it. It is a difficult process, but we are good people, we care about our job and we can overcome those kinds of things.
We should point out the project was ultimately successful. Describe some of the positive experiences.
Yes, it was successful. I’m very glad that we could say that today. There were some positives. I don’t want it all to sound negative. It was frightening for me but I could sit here today and look back and smile. A couple of things. The fact that I was exposed to project life. While I learned it more the hard way, I have that now under my belt and now I find that even back in a production unit, and I have been for nine or ten months, how I manage in the day-to-day production is a little different. I bring now to the production unit the project life cycle skills that I did learn.
So you are using some of those skills that you picked up?
Absolutely. And, hopefully I am working with my direct reports to try and give them some of those skills. New projects pop up all the time. Not of the scale that I was exposed to but I now appreciate far better when someone walks up and says to a person, congratulations, I hear you’re now on this nifty, handy-dandy project we now have. The panic that person experiences. I can now help someone with this because I’ve had that experience. But I do wish there was someone who could come in and formalize this. Because I didn’t learn enough. There are a number of things I’m still not comfortable with.
One of the major skills you learn in project life is to be a teacher. That’s always nice to bring back to your team.
Now that some time has passed and you’re back in an operational role, do you miss the pain and agony of project life?
Can you believe it Jim? Yes, I do. Not every day, not all the time, but I do. Kidding aside, I don’t know that I’m ready for it again. I think to myself, what if my manager walked in the door and said, guess what, we have another one for you. I do still choke a little bit thinking, how would I react to that, having learned everything I think I did learn? I don’t think I’m ready. I think I’d hesitate because I didn’t learn enough. And I can think of all of those things that I never really got my arms around. I know I don’t have the skills to handle it for the next one.
So, one experience, in your case a big experience, doesn’t necessarily give you all of the tools that you need.
It really doesn’t.
Thank you Judy for sharing your experiences with us today. I believe, after years of being involved with change management projects that your experiences are quite typical of what many business people go through. This scenario today is even more prevalent as corporate change is the norm rather that the exception.
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To discuss how Transition Management Advisors can bring the type of education that prepares a manager for the task of change project management in your organization, please contact us at 800.370.7373 or 614.783.6565.Read More »
It is wise to empower others but I frequently hear people say “I didn’t know I could decide that.” Unfortunately, many times they don’t ask anyone else to make the decision, waiting for orders from some mystical source, and the project languishes. Monitor closely and provide gentle nudges when necessary showing the change project team members their expanded boundaries.Read More »
The best decision makers are the most experienced decision makers. Many change project teams are staffed with up and coming, though relatively inexperienced employees. The change leader should study decision making theory in order to assist the project team in making decisions that usually have a much greater impact than any they have been asked to make in their previous positions. It’s difficult for these employees to have a cross-boundary view of the organization and therefore they may miss important implications of their decisions.
Where are we taught to make business decisions? Business analysis is a skill. They teach it in business school, but my experience with how well even MBAs perform this skill is mixed.
Delegation implies empowering people to make decisions. Delegation is more than simply assigning tasks. Don’t assume that everyone can make decisions well. Work with your teams to test their decision making process. Observe how they go about it. Can patterns be developed which could result in team guidelines for decision making when encountering recurring issues?
Look for bottlenecks in decision making. You may find that one person is making decisions repeatedly for similar problems. If this is the case, have the experienced person develop guidelines for decision making so it can be delegated to lower levels in the organization. Otherwise, you may have a built-in barrier to growth.
The change leader should serve as a guide to help others with decision making. When helping the less experienced with decision making, Harvey Kaye in Decision Power suggests:
- Place the decision in context.
- Organize the important information.
- Formulate the decision as a problem.
- Structure the problem to cut it down to size.
- Transform the problem into a goal.
Some tips for decision making:
- Separate symptoms from the disease. A decision that fails to deal with the core problem will certainly generate an unsatisfactory solution, usually spawning new problems.
- Look at all decisions in the context of risk and reward. This approach keeps the decision in a strategic business context.
- Don’t get locked in to the first solution that appears. Let a solution sit, even if just momentarily, and come back to it. Always validate your thinking. If we don’t consider all the possible alternatives we are usually passing the buck to someone else for a future decision. Make it now, and make it stick.
- Speed is of the essence. Fast decisions (not snap decisions) allow more time to make adjustments as decisions are implemented and allow the team to move on to other important areas. When decisions are delayed, ensure there is justification.
- Don’t let a frantic pace mask problems that require decisions. Managers usually operate in a day-to-day environment that is frantic. It’s difficult to recognize obvious problems requiring decisions. One benefit of a structured change project is the opportunity during the planning phases to identify decisions that will need to be addressed.
- No action is a decision. Just make sure the no-action approach isn’t simply the result of not working through the process.
- Follow-through. It’s great to make a decision. You’ve worked hard on it. You want to put it behind you and move on to the next issue. But don’t forget the follow-through. Make sure everyone understands the basis for the decision and eliminate any misinterpretations.
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Magic can happen when you replicate the ability to make sound decisions within your organization.Read More »