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Archive for 2009

Wrong Change Right Reason?

I bet that there isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t think that we live in a fast paced world. Everything needs to be done quickly ,now, yesterday doesn’t it? If you take too long to think you’ve been overtaken by the competition or you’ve lost the sale because someone else got in there.

You need to change your business quickly too don’t you. Flexibility and adaptability are the key these days. No time to wait and analyse and think it through. Just make the change happen. In fact if I suggest taking some time to review and reflect on why the change is needed and what we need to deliver to meet that why I find clients groan! ‘Its adding more time’ they say. Lets get on with it!

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a pretty fast pace, ‘doing’, kind of guy and I don’t like to take years to analyse and review. In fact putting things off to tomorrow ‘just to see if we get more data’ or ‘just in case something else turns up’ is not my style and frankly drives me crazy. But I have seen some disastrous change programmes and some of those have been disastrous even though they took a lot of time to deliver.

So I am not talking about the time you take to change I am talking about ‘what’ you change. Let me give you an example.

If you are in logistics or sales you will know that there is always tension between the two. Its always stock you hold (tied up cash) versus ability to get what the customer needs when they need it. If ‘sales are king’ in an organisation then its tough on the stock guys and if ‘cash is king’ its tough on the sales guys. A few organisations that I have worked with tend to push their sales guys now and again in sales drives. You know the thing, competitions, targets, bonus, sales-person of the month etc. Or sometimes if the Sales Director sees that the quarter end target is not being hit she gets the sales guys to get out and sell harder, offer discounts etc. Sometimes what this means is that the sales volumes peak close to the target or quarter end date, making it near on impossible for logistics to plan their workload, or production to plan their output or the buyers to bring the freight across.

So what happens if this goes on regularly. Well, if the sales director has the power then Logistics or Production has to change what they do. This can mean putting on extra manning or carrying extra stock or even allowing the sales guy just to pick what he wants off the shelf.
If the power is elsewhere then the Sales team has to change. This can mean fixed sales levels with rules set for no changes to plans of less than a month ahead or saying no to ‘opportunity’ sales.

My question is not whether any of these are good or bad, but whether they are right or wrong for the business as a whole (and in general when one division inflicts a change on another I tend to find that it will be wrong for the business). All of these will be for the right reason, but will they be the right change i.e produce the right result.

Lets think it through. The business is there to make sales to make money, service its customers, manage cash flow, minimise cash tied up in assets etc.

So the changes above might keep one of these happy but not the other: Wrong change Right reason

With probably the same amount of time that it takes to plan one change properly, you can conduct a simple root cause analysis, risk analysis and model the impacts of possible change scenarios i.e you can think through “what’ really needs to change to get the result you are looking for. And you don’t need to be a big business to do this.

Nor do you need a lot of people and a lot of time. You just need a different mindset to produce a different answer; Right Change, Right Reason, Right Results

Ready to play Poker?

Preparation for successful change is vital, particularly if you are restructuring. If you are changing peoples jobs you are changing a big part of their life so you need to be sure of the proposed changes, whether they be the purpose of the role, it’s scope or the big one-whether the role is actually needed.

That prep takes a little time if you want to manage the change well. Its not always about having the decision worked out fully (and of course your local laws on consultation changes of employment will govern a lot of that), its about prepping your managers for the questions they will face, the risks that might occur and the impact on people of a change.

I am not going to blog on that today, but the aspect I wanted to raise was the impact on your managers of walking around with all this information in their heads before the change is announced.

Its hard going to meetings and keeping the intentions of those meetings secret. Its hard to manage the questions that come your way; the ‘What are you up to boss?’ questions. Its even harder to look at people whose lives you are affecting without that showing or the new reality that is in the managers head from creeping in to the conversation. I have heard managers begin to talk about duties, that were being worked up in new job descriptions behind the scenes, as if they were a reality. I have known managers who began thinking that people had begun to suspect something, so in turn they began to suspect that people were looking at their files. I have met managers who tried to hide every moment of he day so that they did not bump in to anyone in the corridor in case they were asked a question.

If your organisation recognises that people truly are their biggest asset, you will be aware of the impact of change on the receivers and you will possibly prep leaders in how to deliver announcements of change, manage bad news etc (if you don’t then contact me!). So if you are doing that its maybe not a big leap to recognise that you need to prep your managers for the pre-announcement phase. How they handle themselves, how they deal with the possible stresses of knowing what they know and how they deal with curious questions that come their way before they are ready.

Not everyone has a poker face. Not everyone can separate themselves from the emotion of the change, not everyone can handle questions smoothly on the run. Not everyone is a born change manager (managers don’t do this every day, thats what people like me are for).

Are your managers ready with their poker faces? Or do they need prepared?

So you think you survived the recession?

As governments around the world begin to announce that the ‘corner’ is about to be turned and that the worst of the recession is over, you would think it a good time for organisations to breath a sigh of relief and relax a little. Lets face it, a number of your companies have gone and some businesses will have seen competition disappear.

But before you break out the champagne its maybe time to take stock and ask ‘how good a shape are we in?’ Here are four quick “health check’ questions that you may want to ask of your business or your team, however big or small.

Body Mass Index
A lot of businesses survive recession by cutting. Taking out staff numbers, reducing spending, stopping maintenance etc. If this goes too far this can leave you without the right people to take advantage of the opportunities that will now present themselves, with plant/equipment downtime just as you need it or systems that are more out of date than the competition. Sure, you had to do this to get through the bad times, but don’t ignore the choices you had to make. If you made them for good reason you knew the possible impact that they had. Now is the time to look hard at those choices and see what you will need to do in the coming months to get back in to shape so you can last in the long run. Of course if you didn’t take the opportunity to look at the shape of your business and get clear on what is core for your organisation you may be unhealthily slow to recover and need to shed a few kilo’s just as everyone else is getting in the starting blocks!

Those that survive hard times often do so because they have improved the agility of the organisation. Often rules are relaxed to allow opportunities to be taken. Bureaucracy and red tape are trimmed while people are encouraged to ‘go-get’. There are two sides to this as times improve. One view would be that you want agility at all times, and the other would be that too much agility means increased risk (shortcuts, compliance, not checking etc.). If you’ve learnt to be agile, you may have tested your old rules and systems to see what you really need to run your business and now you know what the new rules for the organisation should be. Before you put back the old constraints it is a good time to test what you might have learnt.

During good times it is easy to lose focus on what is core to the business by picking up whatever come the way of your business because they represent an opportunity to make a bi more profit. During leaner times you need to be really clear on the focus of your business or team to maximise what you are really good at, and where you can succeed in the marketplace. Did you use the recession as an opportunity to tune up your eyesight and get a focus on where you can succeed in the marketplace?

Blood Pressure
How have the people in your organisation come through the last year? I’ve heard from people who are covering two jobs and doubling their travelling! and others who have been doing very long hours. Is everyone coping? are they tense or overstressed? People who are tired, worn out or stressed tend to ‘just get by’ and lose their sharpness. At the very worst they start dropping off with health issues just as you need them to be fighting fit. If they’ve lost their vigour it may be time to re-motivate them or it may be time to take a look at the working hours habits that they have built up for you in the bad times. If you want to be healthy in a year’s time, nows a time to check the pulse and see if its strong!

We’d love to hear your ideas on a health check list for teams/organisations that are coming out of the marketplace!

A great time to change?

Someone asked me recently, “what’s the most frequent change question you get asked?”. It wasn’t that hard to answer. “ Why didn’t that last change make any difference?” I replied.

I hear this virtually any time I am working with an organisation designing their change programme, or working with employees on how to cope with the change’s around them. Interestingly it is frequently asked by employees (more so than line managers). Employees take the changes that we announce very seriously. It’s not only because many of them are most affected by the change, but most of them take the fact that their leaders are there to lead quite seriously. Over the years I have met many “change-jaundiced” employees who have seen so many changes deliver so little that they ignore the latest change (lets face it history has shown them its not worth bothering about) or even treat it with contempt. Of course these people then become the target of bright new managers who want “change-agile” employees and whose mind-set is “if you don’t want to change, don’t stay on board”

In private many senior executives will tell you that the last change didn’t deliver everything that was needed. Short term it may have delivered some bottom line savings through reduced numbers or outsourcing, but the real wins of culture change, efficiency gains and innovative thinking often don’t materialise.

There are a number of key reasons’ why change fail’s to deliver so lets explore a couple here.

Change Management Mentality; “It’s just a task”

Many businesses see change as a technical project such as new IT, new production lines or a new system or process. They focus on the technical or task aspects of the change and plan the steps involved with physical installation, re-building or the new paperwork etc and believe that good project planning principles are all that is needed.

In my experience the success or failure of change is largely “belief” based. Belief in the hearts and minds of the people who use the IT, run the production lines or use the process or system. You cannot programme belief through a change management bar-chart. Unless your people “get-it” it is unlikely that they will use it or do it, whatever that it may be.

But people often say in response to this, “but we’ve built training in to the plan, and that’s about people”, and I often reply “is it?”. Most training is just another part of the process, another task step. If the training is “how do you” in style i.e. it is telling you how to use the system, run the line or enter your data in the new IT, then it is not addressing the vital “Why”. Knowing why we are changing, the intent behind the change, why it’s needed and what it will mean creates belief, not training. Training is a ‘How’, not a ‘Why’.

And going back to process style training, lets face it if, you don’t take any belief in to the training with you it’s unlikely that you will take on half of what you are told. So if the training people is meant to get people on board then its too late. People need to be on board before they get to the training.

Many companies confuse training or learning and development with “Organisational Design” because of the belief that training is the change and fail to get real results as a result. So while training is a vital tool in your change programme it is not all it takes to have your change accepted or acted upon.


Empowered for a day; changing style for the sake of change

Some businesses launch in to change with a new found interest in their people that some employees can find quite scary! One minute you are happily doing your job and the next minute, every leader around descends upon you telling you that your voice is vital to the success of the change, only to disappear again once the initiative is over.

One of the standard questions in our on-line change readiness survey is “are your people empowered and involved in the business?” Leaders sometimes read that and think that it means that they should be and kick off their change programme with lots of involvement and use of the empowerment word. In case you’re wondering, I’m not advocating either way (but I always think that anyone who rushes off and does it for change is guiltily thinking they should be doing it anyway).

The key thing here is being congruent with the way you run the organisation day in day out. If you don’t seek opinions at any other time of the year, then don’t demand them as part of a change programme, you will only create unease and suspicion.

However, if you are looking to change your culture and leadership style (yes they are heavily inter-related) then a time of change is a good way to introduce that new style and develop that new culture. Any major change is going to have an impact on your culture (whether you want it to or not), so why not choose the change in culture that you want? A change of office, a new company-wide IT platform or a re-branding exercise for example, will all impact on your culture, and should be treated as a culture change programme like any other with appropriate leadership style and action used during the programme to re-enforce the new way of working required.

The fact that change is happening will mean that people notice the change in leadership style and associate it with the new world you are taking them to.

All you have to do is maintain that new style after you’ve moved office, installed the IT or launched that brand.

A time of change is a great time to change!

Shifting the team viewfinder

I sometimes wonder if we are living in the 21st century. Not with what we see on the Tv or in the news, but when I see some of the issues that arise in the workplace.

I’m talking about inter-team strife.

Does it happen in your business? Do you have a few teams that should work hand in hand but don’t? Do you have examples of silo’s that do more than think differently, they work against each other?

A few years ago I was running a change programme that involved the down-sizing of two teams who worked side by side for different managers. One team handled customer problems and the other handled customer bills. Often the problems that the customer team faced from customers was the bills. Often the problem that the billing team faced was with customers not paying the bill. You would think that with such an overlap of issues the teams would find some benefit in working together wouldn’t you? Their team areas were a mere ten feet apart yet the gulf often felt like the great wall of china!

To improve the situation we decided that the downsizing project would also involve the moving of some of the better team-members between the two teams. The idea was that with better understanding of what each team did, we would reduce the friction and improve the cross silo working. When the appointments were announced I was working close by the team-space and I witnessed one of the candidates nominated to move teams proclaiming that they would ‘soon sort out those —— next door!’ I wondered what we had let ourselves in for. Had we just moved the battlegrounds?

A month later I witnessed the same person talking in their new team. They were complaining about the team next door! A complete shift in perspective in four weeks!

I realised then how tribal people still were and began to notice similar behaviour in many places that I worked. Teams often have practices that amount to rituals. These rituals make a unique team and differentiate them from other teams in the organisation. Some teams have different uniforms from others. Most teams have different locations that are close to tribal lands (and you know when you have entered and you aren’t one of the tribe don’t you!). Teams meet and discuss issues and often these are with the team whose function adjoins them. These issues are often ‘stepping on our turf’ by doing our role instead of what we perceive as theirs. And sometimes the tribal leader joins in!

Sound familiar? So what do you do about it?

A lot of people try and deal with team friction through rules or discipline or by trying to create empathy between people. This might work to a point, but my view is that if they are behaving tribally you’ve got to think tribally in your solutions.

One of my favoured approaches when dealing with team friction is best explained through looking at the history of the land of my birth. Everyone knows that the Scot’s tribes are called clans, but not everyone knows that smaller clans were called Septs. The Septs swore allegiance to a bigger Clan and in times of war they rallied to the standard of that clan and stood side by side with other Septs and faced a common enemy. Then they went home and went back to fighting with the Septs that they had stood shoulder to shoulder with!

If you’ve got two tribes who are in conflict, one of your problems is that they see each other as the enemy. When they see another tribe as the enemy everything they do is seen in a bad light, everything they do is wrong, everything they do is something to be suspicious of. Lets face it history has taught them that’s the truth and their viewfinder is turned that direction and focused that way.

If you want to change the situation you’ve got to move the focus of the viewfinder. That focus is a ‘common enemy’ (just like the Scottish Septs). I look for a focus outside of the organisation such as a competitor. Most organisations have someone that they compare themselves with, competition for their market share, someone looking to sell to the same customers, someone whose product is too similar etc. The focus has to be real and something that everyone in the organisation knows about. It’s likely to be unwritten, but soon get told when you join. Its unlikely to be part of your vision or mission, but it will be part of your organisational chatter!

By getting each team to focus outside of the organisation at someone else that they need to win against you have a starting point for the team’s to see that there is something to value in each other. Something that means they need to work with the other team. Once a team starts to value another team then you have the chance for the other steps in moving from team conflict to team alignment.

Don’t fight the tribes! Just shift their focus and watch as the alliance begins to form and conflict begins to diminish.