The Change Factor - The business catalyst
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Archive for July, 2012

Driver or Passenger?

Most organisations know that the best way to change culture is through engagement and involvement of as many people as possible. Empowerment of managers to take responsibility at all levels rather than central control through hierarchy is the normal approach these days. Involvement of the workforce in what the culture needs to be and how to define it, is gradually seeing a welcome (in my view) shift from management speak and meaningless vision and mission statements to ‘how we do things around here’ words in ordinary, simple and therefore meaningful language. Empowerment is the modern way to drive culture change.

But where does this leave the senior leadership of the business? I’ve written before about the risks of a cultural drive centering around the personality of the CEO who is perceived by everyone to own the change, so I’m not talking about the CEOs real and necessary role as flag carrier for the change. I’m talking about the rest of the senior team: your CFO, Marketing Director, Sales Director, your Operations heads. 

There is often a worrying trend of senior teams stepping right back, waving their arms at the managers and saying ‘you are all empowered so get on with it!’ and then getting back to their ‘real job’. This is even more evident when the CEO rallies every aspect of the change around themselves. Its as if there is no place for them in the new empowered, everyone engaged, culture changes around the world, and this, to me, is a risk. Your senior people are there for a reason (or they should be). They are all capable of leading change in their own right. They should be more leaders than managers at that level and be well aware that leaders change things for managers to manage. It’s just that an empowering approach to change means they are less the directors of changes that they may have been used to in the past. For many this can be disengaging or disempowering. 

So how do you avoid disengaging the most automatically empowered level of the business?

It’s a case of revisiting and redefining their purpose and as a result their role in an empowered culture change.

Look at it this way. For someone to be empowered, then someone needs to empower them. That someone is their leader. When you see that sentence it shows that empowerment is not a passive act, it is an involved and active act of giving power. If it is passive it becomes abandonment not empowerment, and abandonment leads to chaos at best, but stagnation is the norm, because people need leadership. 
So looking at empowerment in change, the mere fact that it is change we are talking about implies that the empowered person is being empowered to do things that they have not been empowered to do before. And this in turn implies that they may have latent capability (or you would never empower them) but not current capability. An newly empowered person is therefore embarking on a period of experiential learning and their empowerer is immediately their trainer, their coach, their mentor, their guide and their support through that learning opportunity. 

And who better to coach their managers in the challenges of leading change? The difficulties of managing others in an empowered way? In exploring the change in managers style necessary in the new culture? Who can share the most experience in removing roadblocks? Who has experienced change going wrong? Managing resistance? Hiccups? Who can best help others remain patient and teach them that change takes time?

The answer to these questions should be your senior leaders. And their purpose in an empowered approach to change is to show the organisation what empowerment really is and their role is to be the change coach for their managers and direct reports.

No longer a driver, but certainly not a passenger.

Lighting the spark

Recently reviewing the progress of the early months of a culture change with colleagues we took stock of whether things were going to plan or not. We started with completed activity versus the plan and then reviewed the declared progress measures, comparing reality to the aspirations at that time. All the normal things you would expect after a couple of months change activity I.e are we doing what we said? and getting the results that we expected? All the tangible things that we do in implementing change. But our experience told us that this was not enough.

We then looked at the less measurable and tangible to discuss whether there was life in the culture change yet. We knew from past experience that culture change is like starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together; you work hard to get the flame started and harder still to keep it ignited.bIn looking for evidence of the flame being lit you are looking beyond the activity measures that are all you can set in the early days of change (it takes a while to get your ultimate measures measurable when it comes to culture). You are looking for signs of life.

So what did we look for?

A) are people talking about the initiative? Are there any good news stories or any shared memories being created and passed around? On such stories are the virus of culture change caught.
B) is there any voluntary (non mandated) engagement? Are people using the support systems, forums, discussion groups, coaching etc that is available to them as the practice the new skills needed as part of the initiative? If people are trying things they will have questions or clarifications aplenty and lots of thoughts to share. If these are few and far between or few people aren’t turning up for open sessions then it is safe to assume things are not being tried (if it’s the same people asking questions then it shows that some are engaged and some aren’t)
C) do management have their pulse on the action? Any change requires attention from management who should be asking questions, answering questions, promoting the new things, stopping old habits, identifying signs of resistence, and watching for the spark to be lit. There are always things to deal with, if management are paying attention to them. Is there a steering group and if so do they have anything to steer and are they even meeting? Or is business as usual winning?

These are just three of the signs of life we looked for because without these we know that the next stage of embedding activities will have no spark to ignite them.

So when managing change keep an eye on the vital signs of a spark of life before you assume your activities are working