Saturday 14 May 2011

There is a new plague sweeping across the workforce ...

Over recent months I've become aware of an issue. No doubt many would refer to it as a symptom of the wider engagement debate or just the way of life.

But i have become very aware that quite a few folks seem to be complacent.

Surely In this age where redundancies, performance improvement plans and bad news are all around us; I should be highlighting how fantastically motivated and competitive everyone is

As i say, I'm not aiming to look for the reasons why or join the engagement debate, but I do have some thoughts on what we should all be striving to do differently:

1. Treat every day like it's your first in the job. You start at a company with a hunger and passion to make a difference and the intention to go the extra mile. How many of us treat every day like this?

2. Consider where you are in the pecking order. How good are you and where do you rank against your peers and the competition? Many bosses, and clients ARE working out the pecking order.

3. Seek and act on feedback. Ask your boss, your clients and your peers "how am i doing?" Don't wait to be told! If you want to get ahead in the pecking order you need to understand what good looks like.

4. Have an improvement plan and keep it going. All the psychology and research shows that those with personal goals and improvement plans are more likely to be successful.

5. Don't wait to be asked. Be pro-active and innovative. I've yet to speak to a C Suite client who doesn't recognise and expect staff to identify and propose improvements.

I really do believe that complacency is the opium of the masses, be brave and just say no!

I've finally found the definitive way to make change stick!

Well after my endless contemplation, client experiences, internet and book research I've finally found an answer to how to make change stick ...

This wasn't exactly what i was looking for but it did give me a well earned smile along the way on my epic journey.

I guess the search goes on, but it does highlight the need for persistence and the fact that we should all take time out to smile once in a while.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Making a breakthrough!

I was chatting with a client today about "breakthrough" change. What do i mean by breakthrough? Unprecedented, step changes in performance.

A great demonstration of this is the Mens High Jump World Record

The Men's High Jump World Record tells us a huge amount about how we evolve and change and what is required to create a step change in performance.

Game changing transformation will only occur when:
  • We challenge the rules. Moving from a standing jump to a running jump is a game changer that allows for a step change.
  • We think outside the box and look to do things fundamentally differently - the scissor kick.
  • We stand back and analyse the intended outcome and the capability we have at our disposal - the Fosbury flop. (The interesting thing about this is that it actually lifts the centre of gravity of the body by up to 20cm giving a huge advantage over prior forward facing techniques.)
We can apply these techniques in business to obtain breakthrough results. The problem isn't the capability or desire to deliver significant step changes in performance, I believe it is more that we have become accustomed to an ethos of continuous improvement, cost cutting and efficiency saving. We all expect to be targeted with a 5% cut here, a 3% improvement there; but how often are we given the space, freedom and support to stand back and deliver significant game changing improvements?

So how can we facilitate breakthrough?

At the heart of achieving this is a mindset change. Our ability to perceive and implement step changes is limited not by capability but by expectation. If we set stretch targets for teams and remove the barriers to invention, we will see that necessity is the mother of invention. Time and time again I have seen teams achieve step reductions in lead times, 20% margin improvements, 30% cost reduction ... purely by being asked to do so!

To create this mindset change there are some tools that teams will need, creative thinking techniques, problem solving approaches, case studies to show it is possible and most importantly challenge. This challenge takes many forms, but as is so often the case it often comes down to having somebody asking "Why." 

If any change leaders are in doubt, just pick up a copy of Rita Mae Brown's Sudden Death and flick to page 68 ...“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” 

Saturday 26 February 2011

Why doesn't lean stick?

I've often been asked by clients and colleagues alike "why doesn't lean stick?"

Clearly this is not a totally true statement. We can all point to examples of companies with an ingrained lean or six sigma culture. However this is not the norm, and in many cases far from it.

I have regularly seen both private and public sector organisations jump on the lean band wagon. Undertaking lean workshops, rapid improvement events, Kaizen events and so on. Quite often these events give the company great benefit and deliver efficiencies, improved team working and all the other benefits they'd hoped for.

So why doesn't it stick? Why don't they continue these events and undertake the strive for perfection? After all, they know it works, they may have invested in training staff to facilitate, mentor and support the improvements; many even have their own lean academies ... but lean just isn't embedded.

So here's some of my thoughts on why lean doesn't stick ....
  1. There is no big plan for it! It's not communicated and planned as part of either the business as usual or the change plan. It's just a trial or pilot event. As such everyone goes along with it to make the boss happy. The team delivers the benefit and then moves on to the next big thing.
  2. Where's the buy-in? Either the senior management are bought into the benefits, or the pilot group are bought into the desire to improve their area. But very rarely are all staff bought into the process and the benefits. In fact, quite often there can be resentment against perceived benefits.

    I've personally seen employees feel neglected as their colleagues in the pilot area are lauded as the new heroes. I've seen workforces concerned that the efficiencies delivered will mean job cuts or additional work.
  3. The workforce never owned it. All too often consultants come in and make it look easy but don't leave a truly sustainable team behind that can really deliver it. Yes the training has been done, yes the facilitator has work shadowed an event or two, yes the facilitator is a capable 'good' chap or lady. But that doesn't mean they can actually deliver ongoing programmes. They may still lack confidence, capability or the influence to convince their colleagues / stakeholders of the changes necessary.
  4. Skills and experience are tough to get. At the heart of lean is an enquiring mind and a sixth sense for what tool works where. To achieve real change you need these skills and often in-house lean facilitators will need time to acquire them (if they ever can!) Time is something they rarely have. They are not allowed failures and are expected to have a perfect record of delivering unbelievable benefits. This is clearly unrealistic. Nobody becomes a guru overnight.

    Often the solution to this is to hire experienced practitioners. This can give benefits and quick turnaround but points 2 and 3 still come back at you!

Maybe the answer to the above points is really simple ... almost lean!

Maybe it's ok not to embed Lean throughout the organisation.

Maybe for some organisations the journey to perfection is too much of a stretch.

Maybe if you have a team, it needs to be small, expert, integrated and delivering measurable ROI.

Maybe it's ok not to invest in lot's of training, academies, handbooks and consultant speak.

Maybe you can just use lean when you have a specific problem area. Call in an expert for a few days to fix the issue. Replicate the solutions where appropriate and then get back to business as usual.

 Lean is without doubt a great set of tools to have in the toolbox. I'd recommend all organisations to have them. But like any tools they need to be used appropriately.

Whatever approach(es) you use, they need to be considered, planned, value for money and not just the 'next big thing.'

Friday 11 February 2011

What's Your Biggest Weakness?

I love the article by Priscilla Claman and it's associated feedback, on the old interview standard, "What's your biggest weakness?" Priscilla wonderfully articulates the history and varying views as to whether it's great question or a lazy question for an interviewer to ask.

Among the answers that really stand out in the comments to the blog are ... "Kryptonite", "I don't have one", "hire me and find out", and simply lieing!

I think these responses alone justify that this is still a great question. If you don't agree, good luck to you when you are working along side Superman!

Saturday 5 February 2011

The future is Gen Y and the future is worrying!

Stats came out this week showing that over 26% of apprentices dropped out of their schemes during the first year. That's a pretty staggering Drop Out Rate and gives rise to a plethora of questions!
  • Where are they going?
  • What will they do instead?
  • Does it mean the replacements are less able?
  • Why did they drop out?
What's even more concerning is the following quote in the Yahoo report ...

"But employers said there were still too many young people starting the scheme only to change their minds half way through because they were no longer interested. Many school-leavers found it hard to adapt to longer working hours and early morning starts."

Perhaps this is tangible proof of Gen Y  and beyond. It is probably also a further reinforcement to our need to change the way we train, develop and prepare the next generation of colleagues.

I believe it's a mistake for us to bend to them or vice versa, like any new relationship it will require some give and take!

Thursday 27 January 2011

Stay on message to win buy in

I read an interesting blog post by John Kotter. John makes an interesting point about the nit picking, expert and sceptic who tries to de-rail the presentation. His key message is "Stay on message. Don't delve too deeply into single attacks. Don't forget about your broader audience."

This is great advice and I'd also like to add:
  • Polish your shoes! Great meeting performance is all about attention to detail and preparation. By suitably pre-positioning your stakeholders and doing your homework you should be able to identify these nit pickers before the meeting. This gives you the option to use their enthusiasm, passion and knowledge to your advantage. You may even give them the stage to get them onside.
  • If despite your great planning you are faced with the 'expert' don't push back against them, don't get into a debate with them. Recognise their expertise offer to take it off line and as John Kotter says focus on your key message.
Although my key message is do your homework!

Sunday 23 January 2011

"Six Keys To Changing Almost Everything" ... can it work in business?

Tony Schwartz - 6 keys to change anything - HBR

I found Tony Scwartz's article in the Harvard Business Review totally fascinating. It's impossible to argue with his great advice on making personal change stick.

My big question is can this really apply to business as well as personal changes?

"Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically."

Tony gives six rules for making change stick:
1. Be Highly Precise and Specific.
2. Take on one new challenge at a time.
3. Not too much, not too little.
4. What we resist persists.
5. Competing Commitments.
6. Keep the faith.

I believe the complexity and political nature of all the clients i've worked with makes this too difficult to achieve! Despite having had numerous conversations with clients around strategy deployment and the need to focus on one major change at a time it is very rare that any organisation will stop, defer or delay much of it's change portfolio to allow these six rules to be forcefully applied.

Many of my clients, for example, are virtually forced to run concurrent change programmes for legislative, operational requirement or merger integration reasons.

I once worked with a public sector client who had 300 seperate programmes in it's change portfolio.  Clearly this was unmanageable, caused change fatigue and led to systemic failure. After many hours sweating and negotiating it was reduced to 20 concurrent programmes to meet immediate operational needs. For an organisation with 10,000 plus personnel you would have thought this was manageable. However, the same, stressed out names kept coming up on the programme resource lists.

In the pressure of the programme world, temptation is everywhere and at times resistance can often be futile. Trying to get full time, focused change teams can be a challenge. Even when this is achieved the urge to dabble in their old role or do someone 'a favour' is often overpowering.

So if in business we are to make Tony's solid rules work to enhance our change programmes, I believe we need an executive board who can:
  • Undertake strategy deployment to create one, manageable, time bound, change portfolio
  • Work tirelessly and actively to maintain the change portfolio in the light of emergent requirements
  • Provide full time, focused change personnell
Let's hope that all the senior management teams we work with stick to rule 6 and keep the faith!

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Making change stick... how do you do it?

As one colleague once remarked ..."Stealing anothers work is plagiarism, stealing everyone's work is research!"

As such this is research into what the great and the good of the consulting, psychology and academic worlds believe are the Holy Grail of Stickiness.

Interestingly there appears to be huge cross over in making personal and organisational changes stick. Perhaps we are more like the Borg than even Star Trek could have imagined. Organisationally we act as one consciousness built of individuals, who work in similar ways!

Also there is evidence that the rules for successful, transformational, change are independent of the companies size, market, geography and so on. [  Bain]
Another revelation whilst on this journey was exactly what change ‘stickiness’ meant. I’d been on a search for the Holy Grail of stickiness.  I have been somewhat crest fallen to realise that change stickiness is:
·         Embedding a change that needs to be made
·         Making it the norm
·         Doing it well

I believe this is just good change management practice, and frankly, nothing new. So folks, once we’ve all got over the realisation that Change 2.0 is just doing Change 1.0 well, let’s look at how we can achieve that!

Once boiled down and some of the consultancy jargon stripped out, the key tips fall into two groups:
1.       The blindingly obvious , standard change management tools and approaches (I’m glad i didn’t pay $5,000+ a day for some of this advice!):
a.       Appropriate involvement / engagement of employees and leaders.  From my personal perspective involvement must be clear, precise, relevant and not done to tick a box. For me it’s like the pig and the chicken in a breakfast. The Chicken is involved and the pig is committed. I think you must only engage those you need on side and then aim for commitment not involvement.  
b.      Show them what good looks like. There needs to be a clear vision that is shared, understood and appropriately communicated. This needs to be underpinned by an unshakeable case for change that is bought into by all the relevant stakeholders and is driven by the sponsor.
c.       Communicate with purpose. Just what’s needed, to just who needs it, just when they need it and make the communication sticky. Something that stands out and sticks in the mind and is repeated until embedded. Make sure the communication is two way and tested for how it was received. As ever the key here is answering the What’s In It For Me? question and listening to the people on the ground. Communicate with balance, not just hearts and minds and not just system and process.
d.      Leadership. Provide leaders with the tools; ensure they are role models for the change and don’t let them wriggle out. Feet to the fire. If the sponsorship changes use the case for change to remind the senior team why they set out to achieve on the programme. The other thing your leaders and sponsors need for successful change is what one of my close friends calls “Oomph.” Motivating and driving the troops in the face of fire is one of the keys to success.
e.      Team. As with any programme you need the right people on the bus. More than that, they need the right skills.  So either pick the right people or get them trained up. Equally I personally believe any upskilling needs to be focused and measured against a return on investment or you’ll just waste time and money. Often when making this investment the group that get overlooked are the sponsors and senior managers. They, more than most will need additional skills to make a complex change a success.

2.       The good implementation of tried and tested change and programme management approaches:
a.       Make the change as quickly as possible. All the evidence shows that change undertaken rapidly and reinforced well, will stick. Avoid delays and comfortable targets. Push hard for the end result. This approach also maximises the momentum.
b.      Burn the bridges.  Ensure that there are no routes back to the old methods of operation and the old systems. Where you give the user the choice they will likely stick with what they know.  Reward all behaviours consistent with the change and ensure the sponsor is seen to admonish behaviour that can be likened to the old ways of working.  To achieve this, ensure all IT systems, processes and culture are built for the new state and in place when you transition.
c.       Focus on results. Success factors need to be clear, easily measured and understood by everybody. Regularly demonstrate they are being achieved. Ensure that these measures are a part of the case for change / business case.  Ensure the senior team are on the hook with no wriggle room. This focuses attention and makes sure the difficult issues are resolved quickly.
d.      Roles. Ensure all roles are clear and fully understood. As a military client of mine used to say … “Troops to task.”
e.      Manage fatigue.  I once commented to a client on a large scale, fast paced transformation that we needed to remember it was a marathon not a sprint. His answer has ever stayed with me. “I know that, but we still need to sprint to position ahead of the pack!” As with most things in life there needs to be some balance between quick change, 20 hour days  and a team at peak performance.

You will have noticed that Dr Goods Magic Stickiness Elixir is not in here.  Unfortunately it hasn’t been invented yet. Until it is, you need to stick, forgive the pun, with doing the simple things well and be very wary of the quacks offering you an innovative quick fix!

1 Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria, “Cracking the code of change,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2000):133-141.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

HR The New Moral Compass?

Over recent days i have been gleefully following a thread on Linked In's HR Group. "OK, the candidate you just sent an offer letter to lied when she said she was still employed with her previous employer. Do you rescind the offer based on that alone? How often does this occur?"

This post has had almost 3,000 comments. WOW! What has really impressed me is how many totally bigoted and opinionated recruitment professionals there are out there.

What I have learnt is that if you want someone to morally judge and sentence you, apply for a job!

Roll on the time that recruiters merely look for the best candidate to fulfil a given role!

Can you really Change in 59 Seconds

:59 Seconds

The Christmas and New Year break is always a great time for reflection. This led me to re-read Richard Wiseman's great book :59 Seconds - Think a little change a lot.

Scott McArthur over at gave me a copy shortly after it's publication and it is a cracking and informative read that tears down some of the misconceptions folk have about what makes us tick!

As you charge head long into 2011 read it or re-read it and ask yourself what easy steps you can take to make 2011 the year that you got what you wanted!