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Bad managers make a demonstrable dent in the bottom line. It's hard to understand why they're allowed to continue.

bad bosses and change management


There are some sobering statistics out there regarding people who leave their jobs: Studies suggest that more than 50% of people who leave their jobs do it mostly to get away from their boss? Sadly, I totally get it.

I’ve worked for some of the scariest and worst managers. Ever. Take Walter (yes, I’ve changed the names although frankly none of them deserve the courtesy). Walter was so busy kissing up to those above him that he barely knew what was going on in his group. And, in fact, he had us write our own performance reviews. Except we could never be ‘exceeds expectations’ because he didn’t want to be seen as an ‘easy marker’. That seemed to work for him – he got promoted quite steadily and reached the highest level in a matter of years. I didn’t even care when he got promoted because that meant I no longer had to work for him.

Then there was Sean. Sean didn’t like women with opinions, and back then I hadn’t learned to hide them yet. I was doing a great job though, so he couldn’t actually give me a bad performance rating. But he considered me to have no potential, given my propensity to have an opinion and voice it. Oh, and he was an armchair psychologist who also decided, and announced to anyone who would listen, that the only reason I even gave my opinion was because I needed attention. I won’t bore you with the abuse I suffered under Sean (who I hauled down to HR at one point because his mental abuse was so bad.) It would take more than just a few paragraphs.

And lastly (oh, there’s more but I won’t subject you to all of it in one sitting) there was Penelope. Penelope and I were peers and friends at one point, although we were in different departments. When she got promoted and was able to hire staff, she asked me to come and take a position in her organization. It was a great offer, and I said yes. And then she proceeded to use every private and peer conversation we ever had against me. She systematically destroyed my confidence by using the very personal exchanges we had had in the past as evidence that I was not a) a good performer and b) worthy of good work assignments. It was awful and at the first opportunity, I ran screaming from the department. Well, not literally screaming, but you get the picture.

And lest you think these are all anomalies or that this is about me, not them, I will remind you that 1 in 2 people leave their jobs today to get away from their boss. 1 in 2. 50%. Again Wow.

Well, folks. You might be appalled by what you read above. You might even recognize some of the behaviors (from observing others, of course). The truth is, as leaders in organizations you brought it on yourselves.

You brought it on yourselves, or rather, you brought it on our employees because you are so enamored with ‘leadership’ that you have completely dismissed and frankly, dissed, management. We want our people to be leaders. We send people to ‘leadership development’ courses. We focus performance reviews on whether or not they are showing leadership. And we don’t really seem to care (even if we do) about whether or not they can manage their way out of a paper bag.

We love individuals who show ‘leadership’, but we don’t pay attention to those who show a talent for managing others. We say things like ‘are you a leader or are you a manager’, insinuating that leading is ‘good’ and managing is ‘bad’. We take an individual contributor who excels and give them people to manage. And then let them figure it out for themselves. OK, maybe in sophisticated sales organizations there is more emphasis on being a good people manager. But what about the other parts of your organization? Even in HR I rarely see new managers being sent to manager training, or even encouraged to develop in that area.

Because today it is just a ticket punch. Being a manager is something you do on the way to being a ‘leader’.

And the fallout is horrifying. I’ve said it before – 50% of people who leave a job do so to get away from their boss. Most of whom will suffer from some form of PTSD from the situation for the rest of their career.

As I work with organizations today in various capacities I can tell you that these situations still exist. And perhaps are even getting worse. Now I hear, ‘I don’t have time’ a lot when it comes to developing others or even developing their own skills. Well, folks, as we used to say in the Quality world – if you have time to do it over then you had time to do it right in the first place. Instead of investing in ‘leadership training’, organizations need to take a hard look at how they are developing their people managers and invest in that instead. And they need to start holding people managers accountable for their actions – and compensate them on how well they manage people, not on the amount of work they do. And we should do those things, not because it is the right thing to do (even if it is) but because if you have great people managers, you have great employees and if you have both then you also have great profits. That may seem simplistic, but it is true.

When I left corporate America I was a shadow of my former self. I had learned to ‘shut up’ and keep my opinions to myself. I had learned to just allow disasters to happen, even though I could see them happening. Because I couldn’t stand the displeasure when I pointed things out, and the resentment when I turned out to be right. I had learned that I couldn’t trust anyone with my truth. And yes, it took its toll on me – but it also cost the company lots of money in lost revenue and productivity.

And if you are saying to yourself that I should have spoken up, then clearly you have never been slapped down time and time again for doing so. It took me a long time to get my voice back and to feel confident in speaking my truth. And honestly, sometimes when I come face to face with someone who reminds me of one of my former bosses, it takes a huge effort for the words not to stick in my throat.

Multiply that by all of your employees who are working for a bad manager and consider how much bad management is costing you in lost productivity and lost creativity; how much it costs your employees in lost confidence, sleep, job satisfaction and well-being; and finally, how much it costs your reputation when employees leave their bad managers and tell others about it.

Monday, 21 August 2017 00:00

Don't overlook everyday change management


Change isn't something that happens just once in a while

I recently worked with a mid-sized professional services client on a change strategy for the implementation of a new customer relationship management system.  As part of the process, I was given a couple of years' worth of sales figures, which showed a real change in the revenue they were earning from different solutions they offered.

"I'm seeing a big increase in sales of Product X, but a decline in sales of Product Y," I remarked.  "I thought you told me you wanted to increase Product Y sales because it was higher margin and created a more steady revenue stream in the long-term.  What's happening?"

The Director of Sales sighed. "We changed the way we wanted to approach the market with Product Y, and now no one really knows what's going on."

everyday change management

Turned out that the senior leadership team couldn't agree on the revised positioning of Product Y (did they target one or two verticals, or try to go after a larger market segment?), which meant that marketing couldn't create any messaging around it - and that meant that not only were they not doing any external communications, they weren't doing any internal communications, either.  So the sales team, left in limbo but still wanting to make their numbers, were selling as much of Product X as they could while basically ignoring Product Y.

This is what I call 'everyday change': The kind of shifts in day-to-day business that seem like small things - until 6 months pass and you realize that little change, left unaddressed, has actually resulted in some big (and not positive) changes for the business.  No one bothers to create a 'Change Management Strategy' or call in a change management expert for this sort of thing, because it doesn't seem like a big deal.  But it is.

The solution?

As an outside consultant who already had access to the senior leadership and was accepted as a change expert, I was able to help my client:  At the next meeting I added 'product offerings' the agenda and we were able to map out a plan:

  • We set aside time to finally get agreement on the revised positioning for Product Y
  • We agreed on some basic features and benefits messaging
  • Marketing was tasked with creating some internal communications, which were then approved by the leadership team
  • Because leadership was now all on the same page, they could take that back to their teams
  • We arranged training for everyone in the organization - not just the sales team
  • Marketing prepared an external communications plan which was presented to the organization with some fanfare

None of this took very long - it was really just a matter of forcing the organization to make it a priority, and then taking the time to communicate it to the organization.

The result?

Sales of Product Y rebounded almost immediately - the salespeople preferred to sell it anyway, due to the higher margins.

The lesson?

Change management doesn't always mean allocating a huge budget for what is clearly an organizationally-transformative initiative.  Sometimes it just means managing day-to-day changes in business focus as efficiently as possible, to ensure that business goals are being met and everyone in the organization is moving in the same direction.


Wednesday, 09 August 2017 00:00

There's Work Here for My Grandchildren

No matter how many years I work in change management one thing never ceases to amaze me.  How the simplest and easiest things to avoid are not, and they are the things that trip us up.

I’m a member of an association that is an international group with a corporate/chapter structure.  This association has gone to standard processes in one area of the organization.  In addition, two of the core values of the corporate entity are flexibility and collaboration with their chapters.  Both are great core values.  Unfortunately the way they have manifested themselves in the endeavor to standardize a process is this:  The ‘standards’ aren’t written down, the head of the group just talks about them. (Often in the abstract, which is in and of itself a problem but I won’t go into that here.)  And when someone does something not to the standard instead of reiterating the standard dispassionately, they want to enter into a conversation to re-convince the individual of the need for standards.  And maybe the standards stay the same, but it is hard to tell because there isn’t anything written that anyone can refer to.  To some individuals working with the standards they seem to change, which is confusing.

You can see where this is going.

There are so many things wrong with their approach; it is hard to know where to begin.  So I’ll just say this:  Clarity, Clarity, Clarity.

As we know, when making a change it is important to be crystal clear about the change and what it is, and what it’s not.  People do better when they know the rules.  And if the rules or standards appear to be changing pretty regularly, it is hard to abide by them.  That’s why when you change procedures or processes it is important to put them in writing in a way that anyone can pick them up and understand them.  We know this, but it still isn’t being done. (Now you know why I say there is work here for my grandchildren.)

One of the frustrations of this corporate group is that they don’t know why they have to have the same conversation over and over again.  To this I say, to you it is the same conversation, but to others it may not be.  And if, in fact, you are having the same conversation over and over again, maybe it is because the other person isn’t clear about the rules.

When I mentioned to this corporate entity that the standards need to be clear, they told me it wasn’t ‘black and white’.  Problem number 2: If you are going to have standardization, the rules that govern it need to be black and white.  This is the rule, this is what the rule covers, this is what the rule doesn’t cover.  Otherwise it isn’t a standard.  This seemed to go against their core values of collaboration and flexibility but it really doesn’t.

Standards are by their very nature not flexible, but they are often surrounded by ways to be flexible.  You can have a standard that says ‘you must do a, b and c’ but then when it comes to ‘d’ there are options.  It is still a standard.  And these standards were created in collaboration with representatives from many of the chapters, so there is collaboration.  But once they are set, if you really want to standardize, you can’t continue to act as if there is flexibility and collaboration regarding the standards – or you will just confuse people, which is exactly what is happening.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  The lesson I want to share with you from what I describe is this:  when you are leading change it is important that you have clarity on several levels.

Clarity Level 1:  Make sure you, yourself are clear about the change – what is changing and what isn’t.  Make sure you understand the change from the perspective of the changee – the person doing the changing.  If you are the change agent, it is incumbent upon you to understand other perspectives.

Clarity Level 2:  Have repeatable explanations of the change that ensure it is clear to everyone.  By repeatable I mean written.  If there are standards or new rules, make sure the rules are written in a way that everyone can understand.  Do a test – ask people not involved in any way to read the standards and tell you what it means to them.

Clarity Level 3:  Invite and welcome questions about things that aren’t clear – no matter when they occur  - in a month, in two months, in two years. Knowing what others are clear about – and not - is a gift.  Inviting questions so you can further clarify is a great way to continue the collaboration.  Maybe the standard needs to change, maybe the standard needs to be clearer, maybe there is a need for another standard, maybe everything is completely clear.  Whichever it happens to be, clarity should always be your goal – but not clarity to you – clarity to others.

Keep in mind that a change may be simple and straightforward to you, but change and how it is viewed is in the eyes of the recipient of that change, not you. 

Want to talk more about change in your organization?  Call me any time – especially today because I’m snowed in!



Wednesday, 19 July 2017 00:00

The ROI of Culture in M&As

There is so much talk lately about acquisitions and mergers.  Seems like everywhere you turn, someone is buying someone or merging with another.  Big seems to be in.  I'm good with that, but with all the focus on the money end, I bet few are thinking about how bringing two cultures together will affect their bottom line.

Let's start with some statistics:

  • 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail to achieve their anticipated synergies
  • 50-90% fail to meet financial expectations
  • 50% suffer an overall drop-off in productivity for the first 4-8 months
  • 'People problems' are cited as the top failure factor in mergers and acquisitions

[Some information above is from "Culture Management in Mergers & Acquisitions" by SquarePeg.  You can download the PDF here.]

leaving money on the table change management


There are a variety of reasons why mergers and acquisitions fail (TechCrunch has an interesting list - which includes more than a couple of the 7 Deadly Sins), of course.  But the one that often goes under-recognized is the role of organizational culture.

I suppose in some ways it's not surprising that 'culture' isn't addressed more often or more thoroughly:  Typically, the people driving an M&A are the $5000 pinstriped-suit, Bluetooth-obsessed finance guys (and they do seem to be predominantly male) who are more comfortable with variables they can quantify, like shareholder value, than they are with more qualitative concepts like 'organizational culture'.

Except that it's not actually all that difficult to quantify the cost of a culture fit misfire - it's just a matter of breaking it down into its component parts.  Let's look at some ways to do this.

Loss of top performers:

In my experience, it's the loss of senior A-list employees that can cause the most lasting damage to a merged or acquired organization.  It's not just at the VP-level, either.  Losing senior managers - the ones who've been quietly ensuring that their departments run smoothly and productively, but who are often ignored during a flashy M&A and who are left reeling from a sudden, dramatic change in organizational culture - can leave gaping holes in an organization that take months, and sometimes years, to fill.

But let's quantify the loss.  Assuming we lose 5 senior managers with an average annual salary of $110,000 each, and using a turnover calculator from Drake International, this represents a cost of $5.7 million.  (Sure, Drake's a staffing company and they're a little biased, but even the most conservative estimate here is more than $2 million - and that's just 5 senior managers, not the employees who follow those managers to their new employers.)

Loss of market confidence:

If there's one thing M&A people love, it's Driving Shareholder Value.  But culture clash can mean a drop in shareholder value, as Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia last year has demonstrated.  There are probably other more recent one's, but I particularly like this one.

Loss of productivity:

Mergers and acquisitions can cause productivity losses even in the best-case scenarios.  An unaddressed culture fit problem can make the problem much, much worse - and exponentially more costly.

Let's think about it this way:

  • 5000 employees
  • Each of them spends 30 minutes a week for 3 months overcoming culture fit challenges (either in increased meetings or decreased work product)
  • That's 32,500 hours in lost time
  • At a blended cost of $150/hour, that's $4.8 million

It's not difficult to quantify the cost of ignoring the ROI of culture in a merger or acquisition.  The bigger question is:  Why are the M&A drivers leaving so much money on the table?  It isn't hard to manage, you just have to pay attention to it and put people on it that understand both culture and business.

I think this cartoon is supposed to illustrate the many ways in which people will resist a proposed change in the workplace.  It does - and it definitely covers most of the most common resistance responses you can expect to any change initiative.

However, what struck me most about this particular illustration is that while one person is standing there doing the talking, 11 other people are having private thoughts.  Not all of them are negative, and not all of them will ever be shared with the person leading the change or even with the other people around the table.  And this is where change can run into serious problems.

Most of us know that feedback is important in the change process.  But as I've mentioned before, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss change resistors, because they very often have something to teach us.  Maybe they do have a better idea; maybe they have an important piece of information that should be taken into consideration when mapping out and implementing a change strategy; maybe they're just an indicator that the organizational culture and communications need a lot of work before any change can really take root and be successful.  But as long as only one person is communicating while 11 others are silent, no amount of expert change management will make a change initiative successful.

change management communication

Wednesday, 17 May 2017 00:00

Change Management Mindmap


Because sometimes you need a little visual stimulation

I've had this image on my desktop for some time now, and can't remember exactly where it came from.  But I know I like to look at visuals like this when I'm feeling a little 'linear' in my thinking.  When you've been poring over a lot of text and spreadsheets, mindmaps can be a good way to get your brain thinking in different directions, and suddenly you feel a lot smarter than you were 15 minutes ago.

This particular mindmap is titled 'Behavior Change Program', and that's really what change management is all about:  Helping the organization, and the people within it, to change their behaviors, both on a corporate level and an individual level.

The next time you're feeling stuck in the process of change, try a mindmap - you never know where it could take you.

If you're at all interested in change management, you're probably familiar with the problem:  It can sometimes take an awful lot of reading time to get to a single key insight.

That's why I love this infographic, which I found here.  It does a great job of identifying the key components of successful change management, and what happens when one of those components fail.  It's not only a good summary for change management practitioners - it's an excellent visual to use when presenting change management strategy to non-change-management types.  And it reminds me of a Vegas slot machine:  In order to get to the jackpot, you have to get all 6 components to line up at once.

This one is definitely going into my toolbox.

change management infographic

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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