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.
* * *
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 »
“If you think you can go it alone in today’s global economy, you are highly mistaken.” – Jack Welch
Strategic alliances can provide growth quickly at a fraction of the cost of tackling the market alone or buying growth via acquisition. In the past it was more cost-effective to own all aspects of the value chain – vertical integration was the business model of choice.
However, in today’s marketplace, focus is critical. Owning the value chain may actually put an organization at a competitive disadvantage due to the lack of flexibility and financial commitment true vertical integration represents. Selecting the right partners and nurturing these relationships can help your company focus on what creates the most value for customers and do what you do best.
Alliances also offer versatility. They create new, viable market options and allow companies to address more effectively the uncertainties and complexities of today’s highly competitive global marketplace.
Recently software maker MicroStrategy’s stock jumped 41% after announcing a strategic alliance with IBM’s consulting arm. This announcement increased MicroStrategy’s market value by $684.1 million. Strategic alliances can have a significant impact on the future growth potential of an organization. Obviously, value exists in alliances. In our work with start-ups we find a robust alliance program is a high priority to score early credibility points in the marketplace. Alliances serve to increase business value and fill corporate and strategic-business unit strategy and capability gaps.
A well structured, well-managed approach to alliance formation that shares risk and investment can support other goals, such as efficiency and productivity.
Some benefits. Alliances can:
- Leverage resources
- Jump-start technology
- Facilitate market development
- Extend the market reach of both partners
- Facilitate knowledge enhancement quickly
- Speed globalization
Selection of strategic partners begins with a clear alliance strategy and objectives, which link to the overall strategic objectives of the individual organizations. The next steps in the selection process include some basic criteria coupled with very specific industry, market, and individualized criteria. Some of the basic partner selection criteria include; experience with alliances, value creation capabilities, and the willingness of the potential partner to ally. Alignment of culture is also significant when analyzing the potential success of any relationship.
It’s easy to agree that the cultural fit between alliance partners is important to the success of any alliance. However, even if a less than perfect cultural fit is identified, it is still difficult to reject the alliance for that reason alone. As with mergers, good projected financials have a tendency to delude management into thinking that somehow the culture problems will work themselves out. It would be easy to recommend that an alliance should not be formed if the cultures aren’t compatible, but that isn’t real life.
What do you do if other benefits force you into an alliance that may be questionable on the culture side?
- Opposites attract – The heads of alliances for two organizations with different styles can be selected with the idea of moving toward the middle. Let’s say company A’s style is very autocratic and company B is very individualistic. The alliance manager selected for company A could be the renegade free spirit from company A (opposite their colleagues). Company B’s alliance manager perhaps could be one who comes from a command and control history who has adapted somewhat to company B’s free spirit philosophy. This approach allows each side to really appreciate the perspective of the other.
- A life of its own – When cultures are diametrically opposed it may be wise to insulate both firms from the joint venture. Staff exchanges between the two firms can be limited. Identify the right mix for the alliance and let them do their thing with little structural interaction with the corporate parents.
- Small steps – Doing little things can have a big impact. For example, when encountering differences in communication techniques between partners (such as email vs. phone and face-to-face) it can pay big dividends to simply make an effort to balance the methods used and possibly intersperse some alternative solutions like video conferencing into the mix.
Although requiring a discipline and structure of their own, strategic alliances should be considered a viable part of your overall growth strategy.Read More »
Accountability is so important to a high performance environment. “It’s not my job” is the death of velocity and growth. It is impossible to have a procedure that covers every possible instance. We need front line employees to make decisions on the fly concerning situations that haven’t been seen before. That is today’s environment. Do your employees and coworkers feel accountable for all of their actions?
Who is responsible for accountability? Both managers and individual employees are responsible for this concept we call accountability.
The role of management is to make sure the environment is conducive to creating and sustaining accountability for all of the workers. What do you do that says, “I am not accountable,” and, “I am just a worker?”
Under the guise of efficiency, we create rules and procedures. We 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 in our organizational structure, as successful large organizations such as 3M have done, creating stand-alone entrepreneurial units who have a more focused mission.
No single new model of management has yet replaced the hierarchical, direct-and-control approach, but there are some widely recognized principles that should guide us:
- Focus on what is valued by the customer.
- Break down the walls that impede responsiveness and change.
- Build strong partnerships with suppliers and customers (internal and external).
- Reduce low value-added activities
- Increase speed in all aspects of work
- Continually seek improvement
It’s necessary to teach a new way. “It takes people 18 months to ‘get’ how we work here,” says Life USA president, Maggie Hughes. “We have to teach the concept of ownership. We tell people, ‘This is your company.’ That’s a new idea to most people. School teaches you to obey authority. We teach people to think for themselves.”
One way to teach people to think for themselves is to provide more meaningful information. “We’ve got people with high-school degrees who can understand complex financial structures,” Hughes is proud to say. “In order to be held accountable, people need to be conversational with the company’s financials.”
Ron Phillips, Vice President of Technology Services at Entergy, says, “Our business is rapidly changing. Our CEO wants the people in the field and in the business units to be making their own decisions, to have more intelligent autonomy. Doing that requires giving those people a lot more information and a lot freer rein to make decisions.”
Management can only do so much regarding the environment and minimizing barriers to accountability. The rest is up to each individual.
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. In contrast, 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, with a focus on the past or future. In comparison, the internal motivators have a more enduring quality.
There are two ways to ensure a successful future in this high-speed environment. You can spend a great deal of your time covering your tracks politically or you can create value everywhere you go.
Nathan Mhyrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, says that a great employee is worth 1,000 times more than an average one. Why? Because of the quality of her ideas.
If you want the future to be better than the present, you have to take accountability and start working on it immediately. Remember: What you should want is better than adequate. Your job is to do something today that’s better than what you did yesterday. And to do something tomorrow that’s better than what you did today.
This level of accountability creates value, which translates into innovation and growth.Read More »
In most change initiatives constituents join the effort over time. There is certainly a process that constituents go through to understand our change effort and begin to integrate into what we’re doing. Having a consistent foundation for the change helps us get everyone started on the same foot and promotes consistency of our communication message. See our article, Building The Foundation for Change, for more on this topic.Read More »