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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.

 

 

Published in News
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.

 

Published in News

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.

 

Published in News
Monday, 03 February 2014 00:00

Change Has to Make Sense

 

Telling the right story is the first step.

I don't know about you, but the moment I lost interest in mathematics was the day in 9th grade when, struggling with an algebraic formula, I asked the teacher what it meant and what it was for, and her answer was a curt and dismissive:  "Because it's on the test."

That didn't help me understand how x2 + 3y = 72 was relevant to my life.  As far as I was concerned, it was just a bunch of random numbers.  And in 9th grade, my first year of high school, "it's on the test" didn't help me do anything but panic.  Needless to say, my grade reflected that.

telling a story in change management beth banks cohn

My friend's physics teacher had a better approach:  By telling stories about sailing ships headed for cliffs ("calculate the angle") or balloons taking off from earth ("calculate the velocity"), she was able to put the numbers and formulas into context and make much more sense of it all.  The teacher didn't claim that she'd need this information for some nebulous event in the future, either; he pointed out ways it could be useful to understand events in her daily life.

The same thinking applies to change management:  When you tell employees that they have to make a change, but your explanation never gets beyond a vague "because it's good for the business" and you don't help them see how it will be relevant or useful to them, you end up with a lot of confused, reluctant and possibly downright mutinous employees.

I've talked to senior leaders who insist that the average employee doesn't understand and doesn't need the details about the big picture; that it's pointless to try to explain it to them because they're not interested in anything outside of their own little job.  Sure, there are some employees like that.  But in a successful, growing organization, there are far more people who want to be engaged in the full picture, who want to know how they fit into that picture, and who really want to know what it takes to be successful within it.  These people are prepared to make changes - as long as they feel like they're making those changes as part of the team, not because they're peons who're forced to do The Boss' bidding.

So how do you get them engaged?  It starts with telling the right story

If you're making changes because you have research that says the next 5 years will bring revolutionary change to you industry and you need to make sure you're ready, tell that story.  Show people the research, walk them through your thinking, demonstrate how the changes you're making now will ensure business success in the short, medium and long-term.  Tell them how it's going to become part of your culture, your brand story, your sales strategy - and how it's going to give them more opportunities to shine.

If you're making changes because the business is in trouble, it's even more important to tell the right story.  Your employees already know there's something wrong; making unexplained changes will only increase the feelings of panic.  Instead, create a story that recognizes the current challenges and explains how the changes are designed to transform the business.  It's okay to acknowledge that some of the changes will be difficult for some people, as long as you're honest and logical in your narrative.

People don't get engaged in facts; they get engaged in stories.  When you create a narrative for your changes, you'll find your people are more willing to become part of the team rather than a roadblock to the process and the company's ultimate success.

 

Published in News
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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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