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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

Whether you're a senior leadership team member, a project manager or an HR leader who's been tasked with leading or driving change in the organization, you know the importance of effective change management.  It's not just about the 'touchy-feely' part of change - it's about making sure that the change delivers the ROI you need, without costing you productivity or key employees.

But how do you convince the rest of the organization that you need to invest in change management?

In this one-hour lunch'n'learn webinar, you'll learn effective tactics that will help you make the business case for change management - by quantifying the cost of going without.

MAKING THE BUSINESS CASE FOR CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Hosted by Beth Banks Cohn

Wednesday April 30, 2014
12-1pm, EST.

Just click the link below to register.  It only takes about 15 seconds, and we won't ask you for a whole lot of information.  After you register, you'll get an email containing information about how to join the webinar.

We hope you can join us!

REGISTER NOW.

 

Communication can be the single biggest driver in your career. Are you doing it right?

semaphore communication for your career

 

Last month we talked about how having great communication skills can be a huge career asset, no matter what stage you're at in your career.  

But 'good communication skills' doesn't mean that you're good at spelling or that you don't faint when you're asked to give a presentation in front of a roomful of people.  (Though I will say that it's rare to see a senior executive who has atrocious spelling and grammar skills or who can't do at least a pretty good job of presenting material to an audience.  You don't have to be Ernest Hemingway or Russell Peters - but you do have to be confident and competent.)

In a workplace environment, good communication skills are really about being able to convey and receive the information/ideas/tone you want or need to in order to excel at your job.  Some of that involves good writing and presenting skills, but a lot of it involves being able to interact with co-workers and stakeholders on a one-to-one basis; participating productively in meetings with people from different departments or levels; and building up a reputation for positive interactions.

So how, exactly, do you do this?  Here are 6 crucial tactics to ensure you're not only a great communicator - but that you're also perceived as one.

1.  Know yourself (your strengths and opportunities for growth).  Chances are, like most people, you're better at some forms of communication than others.  Some people are great in meetings but terrible at email.  Use your strengths to your advantage (don't forgo important meetings, since they're a chance to shine), and manage your weaknesses (make an extra effort with email, or try alternate channels).

2.  Know how communication works in your corporate culture.  I've encountered companies where interoffice email is frowned upon ("If you need to speak to a colleague, try to do so in real time"); some companies see meetings as a waste of time; others want every step of every decision documented in triplicate.  Every workplace has its own communication culture, and you need to understand the one you're in if you hope to succeed.

3.  Learn from good and bad examples.  This is easy:  Pay attention to the good communicators around you, and don't hesitate to try to emulate them.  If you encounter a poor communicator, don't let them pull you down to their standard - use it as an opportunity to improve.

4.  Continuous improvement.  Communication skills aren't something you're born with or a 'gift' that only some people have - they're a skill, like any other, and can be improved over time.  In my 20s, I didn't understand why no one was bothering to really pay attention to my PowerPoint presentations, because I spent so much time on them.  Finally, a senior mentor took me aside and told me that I needed to stop writing novel-length documents and start using more concise bullet points.  It took a while, but eventually I was able to write in bullet points rather than paragraphs, and my presentations got a lot more popular - and much more effective.

5.  Keep the next level in mind.  Remember that old saying, "Dress for what you want to be, not for what you are"?  The idea was that even if you were a junior employee, dressing in suits would help people picture you in a more senior role.  The same is true for communication.  If you see that the people who are on the next levels up from you have mastered certain communication skills or media, make sure you're investing time in improving your skills in those areas.  It will make a huge difference the next time promotions are being considered and you're on the list with someone else.

6.  Be prepared.  All communication is more effective when you know your subject, know your audience, know what you want to say, and how you want to say it.  For day-to-day communication, this may mean simply making an extra effort to ensure you have pertinent facts at your disposal or that your files are in order.  For big opportunities like presentations, it means rehearsing the night (or even the week) before. Taking 10 minutes before an important meeting to make sure your laptop is well-organized with the correct documents or list the 5 agenda items you need to accomplish will not only make you look like a rockstar, you'll stand a better chance of emerging from the meeting with the outcomes you need.

The more you know yourself, your organization, and your communication advantages, the more you'll be able to use this super-skill to your advantage.  It may offer the single biggest boost to your career.

 

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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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