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Archive for 2014

Dwindling perspective

I regularly find myself astonished by kiwi driving habits. From zipping round you while you are manoeuvring in a car park to pushing you along by sitting close to your rear bumper as you overtake, I find some ‘normal’ Nz habits rude at least and unsafe at worse. What’s interesting is that when I talk to other drivers trained in Britain, they often say the same, yet when I talk to those brought up to drive in Nz many of them don’t see why I think it’s not good driving. But as the years go by, I find myself getting more used to it. Still don’t like it but I treat it as ‘normal’.

It raises an interesting perspective on what’s ‘normal’ and how it can become so culturally. Looking inside organisations many employees get used to the way that things are done. But if you think about any time you have moved from one company to another, there is a short period where you look at the way things are done and wonder about some of the unusual, unproductive or downright bad. That period only lasts for a little while as people convince you of that way, shrug and say it can’t be changed or look at you with the same look I get when I talk to kiwis about kiwi driving. Gradually you accept it, live with, comply with it then do it the same way. This is normal behaviour because to work in a place the last thing you need to do is not blend in or be part of the place. Whether it’s because people are essentially tribal (they are but that’s in another blog) or because non of us like to upset the apple cart (you do have to work there every day), we tend to adapt and get used to what we initially found as strange.

As a change agent I am privileged to see different companies doing different things and I find that whilst some are bad at some things they can always be brilliant at something else. I often share observations as I work with organisations, because let’s face it if a change agent can’t say ‘really?’ when faced with justification of bad culture, who can? But I don’t get asked in every day. Normally its when something clearly needs changed.

What this tends to means for many organisations is that when it comes to envisaging a change in culture they find it quite hard. Its hard to see something better when you defend the norm. Even painful processes get defended as ‘the way we do things around here’.

As a response some organisations look to recruit from outside and tell new people that their outside perspective will be helpful. But people can’t swim against the tide for long so soon that perspective is lost too. Even CEOs, who have the most authority to enable change and speak up about things that are not good, can find themselves gradually becoming accepting of the culture they find themselves in.

So how do you deal with the problem of the outside perspectives gradually diminishing over time?

  • Create deliberate structures around new hires to build in discussions with the CEO and HR Director about their observations of the culture over their first 100 days.
  • Don’t assume senior people will change things when you hire them. Build it in to their objectives that their first 90 days report will have a culture issues topic and follow on actions will have cultural improvements.
  • Don’t wait till it gets so bad and then try and change. The focus groups you use when you are suggesting change can be a regular feature of the business. Get people together to talk about the black side of ‘how we do things around here’.
  • Normalise the discussion of the organisations culture. Don’t assume that your annual survey is enough. Make it ok for people to raise poor cultural tendencies every week and every month.
  • Routinely bring in outsiders, such as change agents, to spend a day or two with your managers and staff to ask questions about the way things are done. Value their report back.
  • Don’t ignore what you learn, whether by survey, focus group, review or new people. When you ignore it you condone it and that locks it in.

Whatever you do don’t let perspectives dwindle over time or one day it may be too late to change anything.

Politics of change prevention

I’ve read many reasons for change failing. From lack of planning, to resistance, to no resources, there are many many factors in the failure of change. But what about politics?
Time and again I hear reasons for change failing that are fundamentally attributable to leadership not leading. But I don’t mean in the sense of weak leadership or invisibility of leadership, which are obvious change limiters, but leaders covertly or overtly making decisions that go counter to an organisations declared strategy for change.

Streamlining of the Organisational structure in ways that should create clarity of responsibility get usurped because one leader would rather their team keep on doing something that the structure has designed out of their remit. The loss of power and control not dealt with at the time of change and even more worryingly not dealt with after by senior leaders not dealing with the non compliance.
Change being launched and gradually slowed and abandoned because there were reasons it wasn’t working, but the reasons are largely because effort was not being put in place because a manager did not agree with the change. Commitment hadn’t been clarified and incentivized at the start, instead an ‘are we all in?’ was taken as enough (we are all committed to the organisation aren’t we?)
How about straight out dislike for another manager that has been asked to deliver a key strategy. Individuals in other management positions don’t play their part. Competition for promotion being predicated on success makes tripping up another manager a handy tactic doesn’t it.

I don’t agree with it (but I’m not saying that out loud), I don’t like it (it doesn’t work for me personally), I don’t believe in that way of operating (I want to do things my way), are all sub-plots in the politics of change prevention and normally the players are capable of running a covert operation.

The fact that it exists is not surprising, but the fact that it is allowed to exist is even more surprising. CEOs, GM’s, MD’s know it’s going on and often who is doing it, but often the culprits aren’t called out for it. Instead those who are responsible for delivery are told they need to find a way of dealing with the problem, working to overcome the resistor, improving the relationship to reach agreement etc, which further condones the politics.
More than this the staff who are being asked to go along with the change can often see that it’s the politics of those above that is thwarting it. So we often hear about change weariness and many factors in that, but the ‘why bother because see how they behaved with the last change’ isn’t often mentioned.

Have we all become so used to politics in organisations that we no longer notice it? Is it the elephant in the room of change? I would be interested in the views of other practitioners.

Leaders are meant to lead change. Organisational leaders are meant to lead collectively with the same goal in mind.

Change can stumble for many reasons but it should never stumble because of the politics of leaders. Isn’t it time the proponents were outed and managed!

The Break Up

It often amazes me how things that happen at work can feel very much the same as home life, especially when they are going wrong. I sat with a colleague the other day and over a coffee she told me about some problems she had gone through with someone whom she worked with. I had a ‘this is just like..’ feeling.

My colleague told me that over a period of time she and this staffer had disagreed about the way things needed to be done for their client. As an Ad agency keeping client happy with the output is important, but sticking to within the client budget even more so.

She felt that her colleague was going off in a direction that the client business couldn’t afford and wasn’t really in the original remit. She didn’t think the ideas were bad per se just not what had been agreed. As she was the contact for the client it was up to her to deliver and she was getting pressure as a result.
Each conversation they had became tougher and she noticed that they were changing in a drastic way. Their conversations became more formal and her colleagues tone was more clipped. It began to sound as if everything her colleague said had been rehearsed and even as if someone else had told her what she should be saying.
Eventually she suggested that they sit down and make it clear to each other how they needed to work and what they would each do on the contract. Her colleague stormed out. She phoned her and tried to reconcile but got nowhere. Two days later her colleague left to start a new role and week later approached the client to come with her.

Does some of that sound familiar? Ever been through a relationship breakup? Now does it sound familiar?

When people break up with work they tend to act the same way that they do in a break-up at home.
To justify the eventual leaving, staff will begin to make work appear ‘bad’. Everything that happens can get blown up out of all proportion, everything their manager does or colleagues do will be wrong. If they are being told by friends that they ‘need to leave’ then it can start to sound like they are being coached or someone else is talking. Situations appear to be more formal, and often result in very obvious annoyance or upset. When they finally leave people will say ‘she hated it here no wonder she went’.

When you witness a colleague behaving badly towards work on an increasing basis, what you may be seeing is the result of the decision already made. They know that they want to leave, but they haven’t finalised the decision, so the behaviour is fuel to justify the ending.

If you are a manager of someone who is acting this way its a time for the C’s. Firstly its a time to be cautious. Handle it wrongly and you become the problem. And if you become the problem then you can also be the reason cited for their leaving and you don’t want that. So don’t burst out with ‘whats wrong with you!’
So Its the time for personal calm and its the time for checking (anything else going on in their life? Someone will know, anything specific happened? Someone will know that too).

You cant afford to leave it going on if it is affecting your workplace and your other staff and some people can drag the scenario out for a long time. So when you’ve watched a while to be sure something is really wrong, checked what you need to check, then its the time for a chat. In your most supportive way, with no accusations and no allegations, you check in with them to see whats going on and whether something is wrong and whether there is something that you can help with as their manager.

If they make it clear that they don’t like it at work and hate the job/people/work/company (take your pick) then a good manager will help that person to ‘get off the bus’. But don’t suggest that they leave (you go back to being the problem again), suggest that you can ‘find someone who may be able to help them get clear on what they do want to do and see where that takes them, but in the meantime if they have a problem could they just air it with you?’.

So cautious, calm, check and a chat.
Wouldn’t every break up be easy if thats the way it went?

How not to fire someone

I’ve always said to my clients that ‘how you treat those that you ask to leave, sets the tone for those that remain’ so you can see that I am an advocate of smart empathetic practices when it comes to making people redundant. But I recently realised that I’d never actually written about how to do it or not to do it.

Leave me in Limbo

If you are going to make someone redundant don’t make it drag on. Yes, you need to consult and yes if you do that with the right intent you might change your mind, but the day you notify someone that their ‘role is possibly going under a proposed restructure’ then you should know the implications of the restructure you have in mind. After all, you are management and hold all the cards. So leaving it weeks and weeks before you tell people isn’t just lacking in empathy its doesn’t show you or your organisation as being in control (would you want to follow someone who just  couldn’t decide and left you in Limbo?).

‘The pick up your box’ text

At the other end of the spectrum we have the joy of technology. Its time saving, you can pre-prepare and time things. Its wonderful isn’t it! Until you use it to make someone redundant. All thats says to the receiver is ‘that you didn’t have the guts to look me in the eye and do it’. Want that kind of reputation? Empathy Shampathy!

Can you do this before you go?

When you’ve told someone that they are surplus to requirements then they should be surplus to requirements I’m not saying that you fire everyone on the spot but if you’ve told them that their job is to be disestablished on a certain date as its surplus to requirements then don’t overload them with work right up to the last minute. Similarly don’t get to the end date, then realise you were wrong and expect them to stay. They will have had a long time to fall out of love with you by then.

Form a line here

I’ve seen many days where one person after another get told whether they have a job or not. They are not fun for anyone, but if you are restructuring then thats what you’ve got to do. What you can do is get through those who you are letting go as quickly as you can in the process. Don’t see 20 people to tell them that they have a job and make the last person wait till 4pm to know that they are surplus to requirements. But do see them one by one. Don’t form two groups in two rooms, walk in and tell one half that they are all going so that it is done quickly. (see texting, looking people in the eye and empathy above).

Don’t celebrate

I know you might feel like a drink after you’ve been through a long day, but don’t grab a few buddies from the office and go to the local bar to celebrate the end of the downsizing. People will see you and might think you are heartless and not the caring soul that you are.

Don’t delegate it

No, it’s not HR’s job. You are the boss, you do it.

 

Making someone redundant can be the worst day in their life. Treat them with respect, dignity and empathy and do what needs done in a way that shows that you know they are human, with lives and mortgages too. That way the people that remain may still want to work with you.

 

Comms Cohesion

When you are setting out your change communication strategy, what are you trying to achieve? Are you just there to keep people up to date with the timeline of the project? Are you setting out to market all the good things that your change will bring? Are you planning to deal with all the people issues and manage all the ‘what’s happening to me?’ questions that come with change?

Hopefully the answer is all three, but I often see comms that is only about one or two at best. Sometimes it’s because people don’t see the value in a three part comms strategy, but sometimes it’s old fashioned turf wars at play. Whatever the reason, if your change comms is not a cohesive mix of all three then you are missing an opportunity at best an potentially putting your change at risk at worst.

Progressing the Timeline

It’s a change programme so no doubt you’ve told people that something is going to change. In days gone past that was it, but most of us know that the most basic element of change is that people want to know what’s happening. Without knowing what’s happening they can’t identify with the change. If they can’t identify they won’t buy in. So the most basic change comms takes us through the change programme as and when it happens, which is my circus analogy. The Comms tells us that ‘the circus is coming’ to ‘the circus is here’ with updates in between telling us about the different acts as they arrive. This is a necessary part of any change communication strategy, but on its own it’s limited. It’s limited by lack of meaning to the individual who wants to know what the circus means to them and why they should care about it, what acts matter from their perspective and which ones will affect their role.

Comms as a marketing aid.

When something new is being rolled out, it’s no surprise that management want to sell in the advantages of it. This is particularly true of technology changes, most of which are highly expensive, take a lot of effort, can cause disruption whilst being installed, but can look like little has changed for the user, particularly if the are replacing something existing. Often the tech teams can see lots of advantages in the new equipment or software, but face a constant barrage of requests to modify it to keep it the ‘way we do things now’. The trouble is, every change to replicate today, reduces the impact of the new. Take your laptop as an example. How many of the apps and software that come with it do you use? Is the fist thing you do when you get a new machine check that it does everything you do today? Admit it, is your email set to traditional view?
The possibilities of technology in the workplace can easily come to naught of we are not guided to use them, as are all changes of system & process whether technological or not. So marketing the possibilities is a necessary part of change communications. On its own though it has no context, as it’s a one pitch sale, ‘buy this and your life will be better’. However if the message is linked to the flow of the programme its possible that you have more than one chance at making the pitch (and we all know that people need to hear at least seventeen times before they buy)

What’s happening to me?

The third part of a comms strategy is the one that helps people understand the impact of the change on them. Every time the technology or process is marketed, people will ask ‘what does this mean for my role?’ And if there is any hint of job reductions they will ask ‘is this the bit that takes away my job?’ If you are rolling the change out but haven’t worked out which jobs are affected (as you are still trying to understand the potential of the new process/system/technology) then every time you communicate in timeline mode or marketing mode, the receivers are listening in ‘what’s happening to me mode’ and that means they aren’t taking your message on board. They can’t if they think their job is at risk.

 

So the perfect Comms strategy includes the human impact in the Comms flow. However people changes are often seen as the domain of HR, particularly when some aspect of the change affects roles, or reduces them. Project managers and Technologists often don’t like to touch this aspect of change in case it tarnishes the nice aspects of their nice new equipment and software. HR often prefer to manage this themselves as it’s their domain, they don’t trust the technologists or the project manager or in some cases they want control or credit. So what happens is the project markets their product and sound disconnected from the people (‘I know you are in fear of your job, but but my nice shiny gadget’) and HR come out to communicate when they are ready to tell you whether you have your job. They don’t come out alongside the project timeline and tell you how the decision us going to be made etc, they come out separate to it.
Even worse, the Comms is often not connected. The HR language is legalized to ensure the company doesn’t get taken to court, and there is a risk that they say something differently than the project has been marketing for weeks or months. Disconnected and contradictory means that every good message the project has been trying to put out is lost. In addition if people are only listening to hear if they have a role there are two states of mind with this approach. Firstly ‘I’ve still got my job so nothing has changed’ or ‘I’ve got no job so I don’t care about what is happening here’. In either case a disconnect from the project. In the end the project keeps clear of the HR issue in case it was tarnished and it ends up tarnished anyway because of that separation.

HR will have done their job in reducing numbers and changing job descriptions. The project team will have done theirs in installing new technology or process. But unfortunately for the operations team who are their customer they have a group of people who probably haven’t bought in, are often suspicious of the company and their management and in many cases don’t think anyone told them about it because of the lack of cohesion in the messaging.