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Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

Want Change? Show, Don't Tell

 

Sometimes, memos just aren't enough

The supply chain department in a global healthcare organization was given a clear directive:  Cut $50 millin in costs in the next 12 months or there are going to be serious cutbacks, and this department won't be immune.

Mid-level supply chain manager Adam was both ambitious and smart, and had all kinds of ideas for saving $50 million.  In weekly meeting after weekly meeting, he presented his ideas using carefully prepared PowerPoint slides.  Everyone around the table murmured appreciatively, but nothing ever seemed to happen.

In his researches, Adam had discovered that the company purchased latex gloves in all 22 countries in which it operated, and it always purchased the same brand.  The problem was that the prices from country to country varied widely:  Gloves that cost 10 cents a pair in, say, Canada, were costing as much as 40 cents a pair in other countries.

latex gloves change management

With a total spend of more than $250 million in latex gloves every year, Adam figured the company could easily save $50 million just by reducing the number of suppliers they used around the world, and established a consistent pricing structure.

However, knowing that another memo or PowerPoint deck would fall on deaf ears, Adam tried a different approach.

He contacted all 22 of the company's offices around the world, and asked them to send him a pair of gloves and the price they were paying per pair.  In the next weekly meeting, he bypassed the PowerPoint presentation and instead laid out all 22 pairs of gloves on the table.  To each pair of gloves was attached a price tag indicating the cost of the pair in the country in which they'd been purchased.  Then he wrote '$50 million' on the whiteboard at the front of the room.

As other staff members filed in, they looked at the gloves on the table, looked at the whiteboard, and started to ask questions.

The result?  Adam had approval to move forward on his glove purchasing rationalization plan within 10 minutes, after weeks of geting nowhere.

Why?  Because his 'display' was more engaging than yet another email, memo or PowerPoint presentation; because it didn't require his co-workers to read through paragraphs of text to understand; and because most people realize that any concept which can be explained that simply is probably a good one.  He'd hit all the right notes:  He'd increased engagement, reduced effort and generated in-the-moment consensus.

The lesson for change management professionals - and, indeed, for anyone who wants to effect change in their organization but is meeting roadblocks - is that it's easier to engage people when you can demonstrate your point in a more compelling way, and engagement is the first step to effective change implementation.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:00

All I Am Saying Is: Give Change a Chance

 

Do you really understand what a successful change timeline should look like?

Thirty years ago, I was living Tel Aviv, Israel, and one of the few radio stations which broadcast in English had a wonderful tagline, from the John Lennon song:  "All we are saying is give peace a chance."  The implication, of course, is that peace takes time to take root.

So does change.

waiting for change

Lately I've seen a disturbing trend in business, no doubt influenced by the ultra-fast startup culture: Changes are made to improve the organization, but before the changes can take root and start to bear fruit, someone declares them 'unsuccessful' and begins the process of implementing new changes.

Businesses will tell you that they don't have time to wait around and 'give change a chance'.  They need to see a demonstrable ROI now: They need to satisfy shareholders, or they need cash to invest in the business or acquire another one; they're often afraid that if they aren't Doing Something Big and Different right this minute, the competition will sneak up behind them and suddenly they'll be left behind, or a negative media profile will send their share prices plummeting; or someone will suggest that senior leadership isn't innovative enough. Or something.

But when organizations continually make investments in change that they never see through, they become doomed to a downward spiral: Ever-more desperate short-term measures that simply don't work - and definitely don't deliver long-term success.

Understand that different change initiatives require different timelines

I'm not suggesting that all change needs to happen on glacial timelines.  Change can often be implemented quickly and successfully if the right plan is in place to get it done. But it's important to give change initiatives the right amount of time to succeed: The right amount of time for implementation, the right amount of time for transition, and the right amount of time to assess whether the change efforts have in fact been successful. Companies which understand the difference between short-, medium- and long-term goals - and expect results on corresponding timelines - will do better.

Some business changes do result in immediate benefits.  A quick process redesign, a shift to a new supplier, even a small team reorganization are changes that can deliver results in 3 months or less.

However, when the scale of change is larger, and involves exponentially more people - an enterprise-wide technology change, a fundamental refocus of the core competencies of the business - the timeframe becomes correspondingly longer as wel. The mor epeople involved, the more time is required: When a technology change requires that everyone from the Senior VP to the division manager to the entry-level employee now has to make changes in their day-to-day activities, change simply takes longer to map, implement and manage.

The scope and timeframes of metrics will also depend on the change initiative. Changing the way a sales force sells a certain product line has a simple, and relatively short-term, measure of success: Have sales increased?

But let's say the entire sales process has also been transformed, including new technology and a redesigned supply chain management system. Now the sales force has to sell the products differently, manage the process differently, and educate clients about how the new supply chain system will change the way products are ordered, delivered and invoiced.

IN this case, simply measuring 'sales increases' may not be the most effective metric, at least in the short term. It may be more appropriate to measure client adoption, client feedback, increases in reorders or yearly client value - all of which tend to be longer-term measures of success.

How can organizations do a better job of 'giving change a chance'? Well, I tend to think about change the way Warren Buffett thinks about investing: "Always invest [in change] for the long term."

 

 

 

We've all been there:  You work really hard on a project, sometimes over a period of months, and finally it's completed.  You've done it on time, on budget, and it's delivered results in excess of what everyone had hoped.  You think you're in line for public recognition, if not a nomination for Employee of the Year.  But instead, your boss just says "That's done?  Good.  It's been sucking up too much of your time and I have this other thing I need you to work on."

positive culture in the workplace

Image from Marc Johns.

People who favor this management style will tell you that it's not a good idea to let employees think too highly of their accomplishments or rest on their laurels because it will result in a low-performing culture where everyone feels like they should be rewarded just for showing up in the morning.  However, the truth is that organizations which never stop to savour success and acknowledge accomplishments are creating a culture of 'never-good-enough' negativity that eventually stymies the ability to innovate and change.

Look under the hood of any successful innovative or creative organization and you'll find a positive culture that takes the time to acknowledge - and celebrate - success.  It doesn't have to be complicated or even cost a lot of money - creating a positive culture is really just about injecting some gratitude into day-to-day activities:  "Thanks for doing such a great job - I appreciate it."

Why is this important for change management?  Because when you create a negative culture of neglecting to acknowledge or celebrate success, it becomes harder and harder for employees to drag themselves to the next project.  When they know that no amount of extra effort is going to win them recognition or appreciation, their motivation to become engaged in a project diminishes.  Change cycles become longer, resistance becomes more entrenched, and eventually the organization becomes bogged down in its own negativity, unwilling and unable to move forward.

What's more, a negative culture becomes precarious:  In a positive environment, delivering bad news doesn't derail existing progress, and resilient employees are more easily motivated to action.  In a negative environment, bad news or additional business challenges become just another depressing headache that further demoralizes employees and gives them another reason not to make an effort.

What can you do as a leader?  Positive cultures don't just happen - they're created.  Here's how:

1.  Remember that taking time to acknowledge and celebrate success will energize employees for the next project - not make them rest on their laurels.

2.  Successful leaders cultivate a sense of gratitude for the people around them, and express that gratitude on a daily basis

3.  You can set an example by having a positive attitude around the office.  That doesn't mean pretending there aren't challenges to be met and work to be done - it just means taking a positive, resilient approach to those challenges.

4.  Employees just finished a big (successful) project and want to have a Friday lunch celebration?  Don't rain on their parade by making a fuss about a 2-hour lunch - join them!

 

BONUS TIP:  Positive workplaces have less turnover, which is another way they create healthier bottom lines!

 

 

I was a little surprised to discover that one of my most popular blog posts in the past few months has been my piece on '10 Tips for Choosing the Right Change Management Consultant'.  I've heard from several people who said that it had helped them clarify what they were looking for.

One person in the UK said that she's been able to narrow down the list of consultants to 3, but has been asked by her leadership team to 'interview' them to assess which one will be the best fit for their project.  She asks:  "What interview questions should I use?"

alt

My advice was to approach it the way you'd approach any BBI (Behavioral Based Interview), with open-ended questions designed to identify strengths, weaknesses, skills and attitude.

Here are the 10 questions I think she should ask:

1.  What is your approach to change management?

This is a bit of a trick question:  You want your change management consultant to have a good understanding of the various theoretical approaches out there, but as I've said before, different projects will require different approaches or a combination of approaches.  A consultant who says they follow X approach every time probably isn't going to be flexible enough.

2.  Do you do the work yourself?

Is the person sitting in front of you merely the selling face of the organization, who will send in junior interns as soon as you're paid the first retainer?  There is no wrong answer here - just know what you think would work best for you.  You may llike that young, enthusiastic individuals will be joining your team for the project.  Or you may think that this change really needs seasoned individuals.  Know what you want before you ask the question.  And if the answer isn't what you want, ask how to get what you need.

3.  What does your team look like?

Depending on the scope of the change, and the nature of the organization, specialist team members may be required to take on different tasks (documentation, communication, training, etc.).  You're looking for an answer that makes it clear the consultant recognizes the need for specialists and can bring them in as required.  Another way to ask this question is:  What kind of specialists do you think this project needs?

4.  We've historically had X problem.  How will you deal with that?  

You're looking for an answer like "I've encountered similar challenges in the past.  Here's the approach I've taken in those situations..."  A consultant who dismisses the issues or says "History isn't important - we're moving forward!" isn't going to be a productive fit in the long term.

5.  How will input and insight be gathered?  How will you collect criticism?

With the first question, you're looking for a structured approach that includes representatives from across the organization - a consultant who focuses only on gathering input from 'management' will run into trouble getting junior and mid-level workers to buy into the change.  With the second question, the best respons is one that acknowledges that criticism will happen regardless of how great the change process is - and acknowledges that criticism can provide valuable insights.

6.  What is your approach to communication?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Communication is absolutely crucial to a successful change management project.  A good change management consultant should be able to speak knowledgeably about communication strategies both at the outset of a change and throughout the process, and should recognize the need for frequent, honest communication via a variety of media.

7.  How will knowledge transfer be handled?

It can seem easy to bring in a change management SWAT team who takes care of everything - but then the changes often leave when the SWAT team does.  You want a change management consultant who works with your team throughout the process, to ensure your employees are fully engaged in the process and understand all the details.  An answer like "We have training sessions during the last week of the process..." isn't enough.

8.  Tell us about a successful change management project you led.

This is classic BBI questioning, designed to get at the example which most easily comes to mind.  The answer will give you good insight into the way the consultant works best.

9.  Tell us about a failure - and what happened.

No change management project goes seamlessly - there are always challenges along the way.  This question will help you understand the problem-solving skills and responsiveness of the consultant - and whether they'll fall down at the first hurdle.  You're looking to find out how the consultant managed to turn that failure into a success - either with the client or with future clients.

10.  What does success looks like to you?

Some people resist change management consultants, thinking they're too much like HR types who are more concerned with 'process' than with 'bottom line'.  Asking what success looks like will help you identify whether the person you're talking to is really focused on business results.

 

 

Sunday, 23 February 2014 00:00

The Devil is in the Decision-Making

A few years ago I worked with a mid-sized professional services company which was owned by two partners.  Wtih revenues of about $40 million, the company was growing at a steady pace and needed to transition from an entrepreneurial, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants culture to one which had at least a few established policies, procedures and processes.

At first, everything went well:  The entrepreneurial culture meant that both the partners and most of the employees were comfortable with change, so I didn't anticipate too much resistance to implementing the strategies we'd agreed to.  

Until we got to the new CRM software.

decision making in change management

Part of my role was to oversee the configuration of new CRM software - which tracked sales, clients, projects and accounting - so that it more closely matched the way the business worked.  With that in mind, we'd carefully gathered insight from the different departments, mapped out the business processes, and identified the various roles within the organization.

One of the things we determined was that, because many of their clients had both a head office and a branch office, we needed two address fields in every record.  Typically, the branch office was where the work was done while the head office was where the bills were sent.  The problem?  The partners couldn't agree which address should come first on the screen.

Partner A was adamant that the billing address was most important, so it should come first; Partner B was equally adamant that  the location where the work was done was most important and it should come first.  From a functionality perspective, it made no difference which came first - both showed up at the top of the screen anyway.  But the debate raged on.

For two weeks, we (the change team) waited for a final decision so we could move forward to beta testing.  Finally I realized that without intervention, the stalemate would never end.  My solution?  I bought a $250 bottle of wine - both partners were connoisseurs - put it down in front of them and said I'd give it to the one who gave in first.

I had a decision within 10 minutes.

However, I learned a valuable lesson:  No matter how change-receptive or easy-going an organization may be, it's crucial to establish a decision-making hierarchy at the outset, especially if there are multiple high-ranking decision-makers within the organization.  I could have saved myself a lot of headache (as well as $250) if I'd insisted, at the outset, that one partner be designated as the final arbiter in the event of a dispute.

Tips for easier decision-making management:

  • Make decision-making process mapping a part of the very first meetings with the client
  • Ensure that all project leaders are aware of - and buy in to - the decision-making hierarchy
  • Attach levels of importance to various decisions involved in the change process, so that small ones can be dealt with by managers while larger ones require a director-level or above
  • Establish a final decision-maker who has the authority to make a decision and shut down further discussion
  • Recognize that what you may see as a 'small' decision may be a big one to others - and have a plan to deal with it.

 

 

Sunday, 16 February 2014 00:00

Ignoring History Won't Make it Go Away

A few weeks ago I took part in a workshop session with other change leaders and coaches.  It's always interesting to hear how other people approach organizational change - you never know when you might learn something new - but I found myself disagreeing wholeheartedly with one participant, also a change management consultant.

"I never spend time reviewing an organization's history," he said.  "That's just wasted time.  I'm here to help them move forward, not dwell on the past."

beth banks cohn change management

While I agree with the last part of his statement - as change management consultants, we're supposed to be helping companies move forward into a changed environment - I don't believe that it's productive to ignore an organization's history.  What organizations can achieve is dependent upon their people, and people are the sum of their experiences, their history - they can't just reinvent themselves at 9 am on an arbitrary Monday morning and pretend their past experiences never happened.

In fact, you wouldn't want them to.  Much of your employees' value lies in their past experiences, both at work and in their personal lives.  Their education, their life experiences, their relationships with their team members - all of these can be positive assets as you move forward with change.

At the same time, of course, an organization's history can sometimes be a hurdle:  An ingrained resistance to change, old feuds between key departments, a non-productive attachment to outmoded business processes - all of these things can become obstacles to successful, productive change.

Burying your head in the sand is hardly ever a successful strategy

But ignoring these obstacles won't remove them from the path to change - and in fact you may be missing some key insight that could help your change strategy be more successful with less effort.  Here's an example:  You create a chanjge plan and issue edicts to various departments of the organization.  The purchasing department and the marketing department have had difficulty working together in the past, but you've decided that It's A New Day for the organization and proceed with your plans, assuming everyone will pull together - you don't have time to go into that history with them.  Except that 3 days before the change is supposed to take effect, you discover that the purchasing department hasn't released the funds the marketing department needs in order to properly communicate the change, and now you have to delay your change efforts for a month while the mess gets sorted out.  The organization loses money every day the project is delayed - and even more important, the change effort loses momentum while everyone waits around.

Now, there's something to be said for leadership encouraging employees to come to a change strategy with an open mind, and to try not to bring 'baggage' into the process.  But to pretend that the history of an organization - and that of its individual employees - doesn't exist only ends up being counterproductive.

 

The senior management of the organization has done a thorough analysis and assessment, and everyone's agreed:  The sales department is holding up the rest of the organization, and needs some radical change.

So you redraw the sales territory boundaries, give them some new CRM software, write a new sales training program and hold a 2-day retreat designed to get all the salespeople engaged in the new system.  It seems to be working and everyone in the sales department is excited to be moving forward.

But...a month after the changes take effect, you discover that the supply chain is in disarray, the accounting department is fuming because they aren't getting invoices in a timely manner, and the entire customer service team is about to mutiny because they're getting so many angry calls from clients. 

What the heck happened?

does the right hand know what the left hand is doing change management

You forgot that changes to the Sales organization didn't happen in a vacuum.  When you changed the way Sales functioned within the organization, you changed the way the whole organization worked.  When Sales changed the way they processed orders, it had in impact on the way Accounting processed them; when Sales put a big push on Product X, that had an impact on the way Supply Chain sourced it; and when Sales changed the message it communicated to customers, it had an impact on Customer Service.

At its core, change management is really about being able to see the big picture and mapping out how a change - or a set of changes - in one area is going to affect other areas of the organization, and what needs to happen in order for all the elements to work together effectively.

When proposing a change that seems to affect only one department or division, here are some questions to ask:

-  How will this change affect the day-to-day activities of the key roles within this department?

-  How will this change affect the day-to-day activities of key roles in other departments?

-  Can we draw before and after process maps of key procedures within the organization to identify what will happen as a result of these changes?

-  Have we asked for input from key stakeholders in other departments to help identify how a change in Department A will affect Departments B-F?

-  What communication and training will other departments/divisions need in order to be working in concert on Day 1 of the change?

Asking these questions - and taking the time to plan for the answers - can add a little time at the outset of a change initiative, but I guarantee they'll save time (and headache) when the change starts to take effect.

 

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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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