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.
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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 »
If You’re Overhead, Go Home! The Professional Services Model
After working for two weeks with a major financial institution on a large change project, I noticed a bright, smiling face. This person stood out in this Dilbert-like setting. Everyone else looked frustrated and depressed, and seemed to slog through the hallways. This dramatic contrast was explained later in the day when the bright, smiling face was introduced as the newest employee, starting just that morning. The department manager said to me, “Don’t worry, she’ll be just like the rest of them soon.”
This was a sad and, unfortunately, all too common example of how an organization can extinguish the flame of motivation and innovation that exists in every employee.
Rhetoric concerning a new emphasis on human capital is prevalent, but accounting, management, and reward systems have not kept pace. To truly get the most from our human capital, we must replace the hierarchical structures that were created in the Industrial Age and do not support today’s Information Age.
For help with an alternate organizational structure, we can look to professional services firms, such as law, accounting, and management consulting firms.
The Industrial Age caused business to focus a great deal on improving efficiency, as evidenced by assembly lines and interchangeable parts. With relatively unskilled workers and the focus of work on simple production, hierarchical structures were appropriate.
As layers of hierarchy are added in a company, managers can become insulated from the customer. Power and influence center within the hierarchical organization. This internal focus is inherently promoted by something as fundamental as how we reward managers. Traditionally, staff and assets controlled, rather than strategic contribution, have been key compensation criteria.
We have also layered each new management fad on top of this infrastructure without concern for how the infrastructure must change to accept these new practices. Under the guise of efficiency, we have created rules and procedures. We have become more efficient, but are we effective? Today, organizations must find the balance between efficiency, the firm’s ability to achieve goals with a minimum of resources, and effectiveness, the firm’s ability to adapt its goals and innovate to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. To be more effective, we may need to accept some redundancy, as successful large organizations such as 3M have done, creating stand-alone entrepreneurial units.
I once was a principal in a small consulting group that eventually grew to be acquired by a Fortune 100 services firm. Our only significant asset was the human capital represented by our staff. We operated implicitly on the principle that each person must create value because anyone who was not adding value, especially in terms of client projects, was considered overhead.
Interestingly, we had no titles, no middle management layer, and no promotions. The position and income of each employee was based on the work the person was capable of performing. You see, if a project manager had a need on a project and particular consultants were capable of performing the task to our standards, they were valuable. If not, they weren’t. It was that simple.
Our organization provided a built-in incentive to learn and grow. We were by default (without a formal training program) a learning organization. As consultants increased their capabilities, they were in greater demand. We could then charge a higher fee for these individuals, which translated into higher bonuses. This approach makes value creation a high priority for each employee.
Midland Life Insurance in Columbus, Ohio provides a perfect example of economic value-added at the individual level. Midland has approximately 225 employees including many “generation-Xers”. In a department briefing, the need for temporary contract underwriters to meet a spike in demand was being discussed. Although this young team was not trained in financial management, they analyzed and questioned each component of the arrangement with a keen eye on the bottom-line. The group even suggested a less expensive alternative for housing. This type of discussion is evidence of a culture that places a high importance on value creation every step of the way.
One of our jobs as managers is to protect fiscal integrity. How much more effective could we be if everyone in the organization were this zealous? How do we make every department, no matter the business, work like a professional services firm?
Leadership truly is an art. As Max DePree describes in Leadership Jazz, the best leader is both an idealist and a realist, expecting the best but anticipating the worst. There is often a level of frustration for a good leader. This frustration causes friction. Nature provides many examples in which friction is a good thing, such as in the creation of gemstones. Friction created by an idealistic leader can translate into innovation. This natural phenomenon will occur in the right environment. Too many roadblocks however, suppress true leadership.
Finding the right team members is critical to success. Some people do not belong in a high-performance environment. Each new employee must be productive immediately. This process of enabling new employees to be productive begins during the interview process. All parties that will interact with the new employee must be represented in the interview process. Being honest with the candidate is crucial, sometimes requiring someone to play the “bad cop” and describe the challenges of the position.
The most important part of the hiring process lies with the interview team rather than the candidate. The interview team must justify its decision, which should be unanimous, as with a jury. This full support paves the way for the new employee, whose supporters usually are motivated to serve as mentors.
When the candidate starts, you can smooth the transition by assigning a mentor, creating action involving a client the first week (no reading manuals), and monitoring the new employee’s progress as closely as possible. For challenging positions it may take a year for employees to feel really good about their contribution or the job. You need to smooth out the rough spots during this period.
Traditional programs to reward performance conflict with change and growth efforts. These programs honor the hierarchy, differentiate the individual, and control costs. Instead, reward systems need to positively affect personal behavior, focus efforts on serving the client, and enhance collaboration in the workplace.
We need to create an environment with both natural (intrinsic) work reinforcers and external (extrinsic) rewards and recognition. Both types of rewards should be directed to the behaviors necessary to achieve results.
Sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr’s work on motivation can be applied to business. For the greatest end result, he suggests that peak performers be internally rather than externally motivated. The driving forces of internal motivation are excellence, quality, and personal satisfaction, with a focus on the present. When we are externally motivated, we are trying to prove something with our performance, such as beating the competition or trying to avoid looking bad, and we are focused on the past or future. Comparatively, the internal motivators have a more enduring quality.
- Focus on the client
- Perform only value-added activities
- Increase speed of responsiveness and innovation
Envision an organization where there are no turf wars, with happy people supporting each other without questioning motives, departments working together seamlessly, and people taking initiative, looking for value-added activities and abandoning overhead activities. Sound like nirvana?
If we take the steps to create a “professional services firm” mentality in every area of the company, from the maintenance staff to the executive suite, this high-performance culture is possible. Start today!Read More »
There is so much to do each day. And our change project has that deadline looming. The circus has called to recruit us for our juggling skills. Just because we’re good at being busy, should we always be busy? Being able to produce, combined with the ability to anticipate what lies around the next corner, makes change project management an art.
Be careful not to become addicted to being busy. Take time within the context of the change initiative to quietly observe. Good advice for day to day living but also pertinent to change project management. It is your responsibility to navigate the unknown. If you’re too busy, who will lead the team? Since so much of the role of change leader involves intangibles, getting the ‘work’ done and successfully implementing change are not always synonymous.Read More »
Let’s face it. We work on complex problems. Usually problems no one has been able to solve before. But does that mean the solutions have to be complex? Sometimes there is no way to avoid it, but why not try for a simple, yet elegant solution first?
Scott McKain, a speaking colleague, tells a humorous story of arriving in a town to give a speech the next morning and finding that he forgot his cufflinks. After numerous visits to a variety of stores with no luck finding cufflinks, a clerk in a Walmart quite innocently suggested he simply purchase a shirt with button cuffs. Brilliance in its simplicity.
Prepackaging certain types of rescue gear ahead of time dramatically improved emergency service response time for one municipality avoiding doubling the size of the department.
There are many examples of simple solutions revealed for complex problems. Usually the simple solution reveals itself after the many more complex approaches are discarded. Let’s try starting with the simple approach. What might we do with the extra time we save?Read More »
Successful change leaders tend to be self-starters and like to feel empowered to get things accomplished. Many times, we project these characteristics onto our constituents. In one technology change project, I conducted a meeting to announce how much control over the new system the users would enjoy since the system was predominantly user-defined. I then gave the marching orders to go out and define the system. Although I thought I was doing the right thing, it was obvious that nothing was being done. The lesson learned — freedom is a scary thing to many people.
Upon further exploration we found the users general consensus was that the ability to define the system implied responsibility. They no longer had anyone to blame! Obviously this concept generated huge resistance. And since this was not the easiest obstacle for the users to admit, the resistance was the worst kind — silent. Just as the East Germans and Russians experienced problems with new-found freedom, our constituents may feel the same way. Anticipate these reactions and create a communication and education program to address these natural feelings.Read More »
Change leaders are a unique breed. To an extent they are born, not made. But, there are certain skills necessary to be successful as a change leader that can be developed. Do you possess these skills? There are different levels of change leader skill and we can develop our strength in each skill as we develop as a change leader.
Change leadership is the ability to energize groups who will be implementing change projects that they may or may not buy into. It’s important for change leaders to understand the need for change and demonstrate a high tolerance for ambiguity and a positive attitude. Change leadership also means defining areas for change; managing change initiatives smoothly by anticipating, preparing and responding effectively to roadblocks; creating an open, receptive work environment; and involving people at all levels in the change initiative. At higher levels managing complex change involves understanding cultural dynamics in play and developing practical strategies to achieve the best advantage for the organization, as well as those working on the change team.
Let’s look at the levels of change leadership competency on a behavioral scale starting with the most basic level of skill and moving to the most complex level. You’ll find it interesting to see where you fit in.
Level I – Accepts Need for Change
At this level the change leader can publicly describe a change and persuasively defend the need for the change within the organization. The individual is able to tolerate ambiguity and create an open and receptive environment.
Level I change leaders can be successful working on small change initiatives when given clear direction and access to more experienced change leaders for advice and confirmation.
Level II – Defines/Initiates Change
This change leader can define a specific area where change is needed and can identify the leverage points for change in processes and work habits.
Level II change leaders can identify the need for and initiate change at the local level.
Level III – Manages Change
This change leader is able to define an explicit vision for change based on broad organizational visions. They will make the effort to deliver the message or refine a vision for change to everyone affected. This change leader is able to redirect individual or team approaches in the face of new opportunities and involve people in the change. At this level the change leader ensures the success of change through implementation of a communication strategy, the refinement of work and organizational design models, and the facilitation of staff development.
Level III change leaders are able to translate the vision of the organization into the context of a specific change initiative and bring this message to the entire organization.
Level IV – Manages Complex Change
This change leader understands the cultural dynamics of the current state of an organization, including the hidden assumptions and the differences between the stated values and the values in practice. At this level the change leader is able to create a strategic practical course, balancing the current reality with the need for rapid adoption of the desired future reality.
Level IV change leaders are able to generate change in a productive vs. destructive way.
Level V – Champions Change
At this most strategic level, the change leader publicly challenges the status quo by comparing it to an ideal or a vision of change. This may cause a sense of crisis or imbalance. They support dramatic actions to implement the change effort. This change leader is responsive to and responsible for planning evolution, causing change, and transforming the organization.
Level V change leaders are asked to revolutionize organizations.
Most organizations don’t have the in-house ability to provide all of the educational tools necessary to develop a change leader. Over 68% of the respondents to an online poll conducted by Transition Management Advisors seek their change leadership education externally.
The change leader skill sets – planning, project time management, coalition building, decision making, active listening, meeting management, and communications – come into play at all levels of change leadership. You can increase your competency in these skill sets. You may have to work harder to access the learning tools, but if you continue to develop these skill sets you will be able to move up the spectrum of change leadership to become a unique Level V change leader.We are changing the way we lead change. Still under wraps but click here to learn more.Read More »