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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.

Published in News
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."

 

 

 

Published in News

I always find it interesting that the reasons for resistance to change are so well known (even people who aren't change management experts have a good intuitive understanding of the reasons for change resistance, based on their own life experience), and yet so often unaddressed in the workplace.  

So here's an infographic about the reasons for change resistance and some ideas for how to guide against resistance.  It's all about communication, leadership, employee engagement and, of course, taking the time to listen.

(infographic by Catherine Adenle at Catherine's Career Corner)

change management infographic

Published in News

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!

 

Published in News

In my opinion, the single biggest determining factor in whether a change initiative is successful or not is communication.  Communication across the leadership team, communication from leadership to managers and employees – and communication from people on the front lines back to management.

The challenge is that good communication is never a one-way street:  It requires that everyone in the chain has good communication skills, from the most junior intern right up to the C-suite heavy-hitters.

You may not be able to change everyone in your organization, but you might be surprised to find that improving your own communication skills can have a positive effect on those around you.  Here are some tips:

change management communication

Communication tips for everyone, no matter what their role in the organization:

  • Be respectful
  • Be a great listener (and acknowledge that you’re listening)
  • Remember that communication is two-way (listen and respond)
  • Speak so others can hear you (put it in terms your audience will understand and appreciate)

Tips for Recipients (individual contributors):

  • Ask questions to get the information you need
  • Communicate as positively with peers as with those above you
  • Speak so others can hear you (and pay attention to the channel they respond to best)
  • Listen so others will want to talk to you

Tips for Translators (supervisors/managers):

  • Listen – so your employees will talk to you
  • Take information from above and convey it clearly to those below you
  • Use positive communication to build teams (both the one you manage and the management team you’re part of)
  • Don’t overload your team – be concise, not overwhelming
  • Learn to ‘hear between the lines’
  • Understand company direction and help your staff understand it

Tips for Synthesizers (directors/vice-presidents):

  • Listen for clarity from above
  • Listen with compassion from below
  • Synthesize information into a ‘narrative’ or ‘story’ that helps you move your teams toward their goals
  • Use the right filter for what you’re hearing (understand the subtext)
  • Communicate so your boss will hear you (be strategic)
  • Communicate so employees will want to listen to you (be engaging)
  • Communicate to strengthen alliances with your peers (be a valued source of insight)

Sounds simple when it’s here in bullet points, doesn’t it?  But great communication really requires reflection and a conscious effort to understand the person (or people) to whom you’re communicating – it’s really about getting in the habit of making that effort on a day-to-day basis.

Published in News

 

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.

 

 

Published in News
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About

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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