What Every Organization Design Needs

Drawing-of-480-sqft-log-cabin

At the start of a recent organizational design the leader asked me to provide a list of outcomes for the effort. Being a good consultant, I turned the question back on him. I explained that he and his team needed to craft the specific design principles that they hoped to accomplish via our work. The leader pointed out that over the decades that I have helped organizations I must have observed some high level outcomes that should be true for all design efforts.

This leader had a good point. His question led me to develop the below list of general criteria that I have sought in every design I have ever facilitated. I often use building a house as a metaphor for carrying out organization design. Just as every house needs a foundation, walls and a roof, every organization design needs to have the below conditions:

  • Strategy and Goals
    • Supports business strategy, sales, productivity
  • Culture and Readiness
    • Fits our organizational culture and people are ready/able/willing?
  • Role Definition and Alignment
    • Leads to clear roles/alignment across the organization?   Enough resources?
  • Operational Model
    • Can be implemented? Appropriate span of control? Supports work flow?
  • Risk and Cost
    • Level of risk acceptable /mitigated? Power balanced? Cost acceptable?

This list turned out to be a good high level scorecard for what our successful organizational configuration should look like. I think we can all agree that all organizational designs need to be able to be operationalized at an acceptable level of risk and cost, while accomplishing the strategy and fitting with the culture. If any one of these key criteria was missing we would consider our work a failure.

Yes, the specific design criteria that an organization seeks such as agility, more collaboration, better products, etc. are still in play. However, the above bigger picture criteria must be true!

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

Process Mapping – The Key is to Establish Principles

process blog pic 0519

Anyone who has participated in process mapping sessions will tell you how painful these events can be.  It is not uncommon to sequester folks for hundreds of hours and ask them to conduct intense discussions in order to capture the processes for carrying out work.  The author John Green said “The marks humans leave are too often scars.”  And scarring is exactly what many of us who have lived through process mapping sessions have plenty of!

However, does this activity need to be this painful?  Absolutely not!  And the key to making this a more effective and efficient process is to put a few core principles in place.  These rules help guide your mappers, stay on track and complete their work in an efficient manner:

·         Map the designated process only: It is easy to fall into scope creep and begin to discuss other processes which are of concern.  Once the team starts deliberating about procedures that are out of scope it is important for the facilitator to bring the group back to the task at hand.

·         Map current state only: It is also easy to start talking about what the future state process could look like.  Designing future state processes is the next step.  This is a non-value add activity at this point.  In fact, current state should provide a stake in the ground and by letting future state process ideas creep in only creates confusion.  If we don’t agree how the work gets done today, it is impossible for us to figure out how it needs to change in the future. 

·         Keep the process moving: It is common for teams to get bogged down.  This can happen as these teams talk through in detail how the process is carried out.  Establish time frames for how long it will take to map each process and help the team stick to that time frame.

The key to making sure these principles are followed is of course strong facilitation.  The facilitator is tasked with designing and running an effective session.  The facilitator is guiding the group where it needs to go via ensuring that processes are followed, asking probing questions and helping sum up the work being accomplished and capture it visually. 

Perhaps most important, the facilitator is cuts off conversation once the point has been made.  Asking someone to stop talking is key.  What could be considered rude behavior at a dinner party, is the most important role the facilitator plays during process mapping!

This blog does not reflect the view of my employer.

A New Year’s Resolution for #Leaders and #Teams: Who Are We?

Connection lights

A #NewYear’s resolution: Connecting in a deeper manner with your work team. We spend a great deal of time together being #productive. Let’s answer the question: “Who are we?”

At my father’s retirement ceremony as a college president, the local reigning politician concluded his remarks with a heartfelt statement. He indicated that if he were selecting someone to spend a week with in a fishing boat catching walleye, it would be my dad. In this rural northern Minnesota town this was the ultimate compliment!

This story gets at how important it is for us to spend time with colleagues that we know and like.  When teams are formed, they first naturally want to know what they are supposed to accomplish together. This is why the question that a team naturally asks itself is: “Who are we?”

Once their reason for being together has been answered, the next question is who is sitting next to me? Who are the people that I am about to take this journey with?  Just like the northern Minnesota folks who want to know who they will be spending a significant amount of time with in a boat, team members want to know more about their peers who they will rely on to work together as a team.

There are many packaged surveys and assessment tools that one can purchase in order to learn more about your team members. For example, I have led teams in completing and processing assessment instruments such as the Myers Briggs [https://www.themyersbriggs.com/, 2018], which indicates various psychological preferences of how people perceive the world and make decisions.

Instruments such as the Myers Briggs can be an effective way for teams to learn in-depth how they can better leverage each other. However, there is a financial cost for each team member who completes the tool. In addition, it typically takes a minimum of a half day to help the team process the instrument results.

For these reasons I have at times opted for a lower cost, quicker solution to help team members get to know one another. I simply ask them questions that will allow them to get to know one another better personally and professionally. I find that the time that team members spend getting to know about each others’ backgrounds, motivations, working styles and passions in life translates into better teams.

There is really no magic here, but following is a sample slate of questions:

  • Information about your background – career path, etc..
  • What do you like most about your city?
  • What do you like best about their work?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?
  • What did you do before you started working here? Not just jobs you held, but career path and aspirations?
  • What motivates you personally? What motivates you professionally? What gets you jumping out of bed in the morning “before” the alarm clock goes off?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • What thing in your life (outside of work) do you have a passion for? Do you have a career goal they would share with others?
  • Where’d you go to school how did you end up working here?
  • Why do you do what you do for a living? And why does your department do what it does?
  • Please let us know a bit about your education and work experience?.
  • What’s your favorite way to keep up on professional trends and best practices? [Conferences? Publications? Training? Podcasts? Etc.]

I have made this exercise a little more interesting for the participants by turning it into a “Crumple and Toss” activity. Each team member carries out the following steps, which results in the exercise being more dynamic and introduces an element of fun:

  • Step A: Participants select a question that has been crumpled and tossed in a hat.
  • Step B: They can answer that question or select a new question until they pick one they like, limiting answers to two minutes or less.
  • Step C: Crumple the question back up and toss it into the middle of the table. Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise is a great New Year’s resolution which started them on that path.

When I began in this field I assumed that team members would naturally get too know one another. I thought they would be asking each other these types of questions from day one. However, I have learned that most employees on teams go right to accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is a great New Year’s resolution.  It is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise started them on that path.

This blog does not represent the views of my employer.

 

Being in a Thanksgiving Reality Show: The Uber Leadership Development Experience

turkey

My family was filmed last weekend for a reality show depicting how American families celebrate Thanksgiving. Since the show was produced by a German pop up museum, I am referring to our experience as the “Uber” leadership development experience. For you non-Germanic folks, Uber means “being a superlative example of its kind or class”.

The reality show was similar to being a leadership development consultant in many ways: The show required a great deal of planning. And, even though we followed a rough storyline, in the end, there were some surprises! For example, the turkey was still frozen with a chance of blowing up in the deep fryer oil. We also revealed during the family sit down interview that our only consistent Thanksgiving tradition was wearing turkey and pilgrim costumes. The director’s eyes lit up! She had flown all the way from Berlin seeking this kind of unexpected drama.

Sound familiar? Pulling together a group of leaders and helping them be more effective and efficient does not just magically happen. Just as the reality show director created an environment where our family was show cased, as leadership consultants we design an experience for leaders which leads them down a path of self-insight. Here are three areas of programming we grapple with during all of our leadership interventions:

1/ Requires Staging [Lots of Effort to Setup]

The reality show director met with our family a week before the filming to outline the goal of the reality show and learn more about us. She also spent most of the morning of the shooting figuring out the best places to film and having her crew set up the equipment.

Similarly, as consultants we first learn what our leaders are trying to accomplish and acquire knowledge about them as people. In addition to a leadership assessment, I typically have a one-on-one conversation with each member of the leadership team to learn about their unique leadership styles, temperament and goals. I am then in a position to determine the best formats for helping the leadership team reach their objectives.

2/ Follows a Story Line [Even Though is Supposedly 100% Spontaneous]

The reality show director outlined how the day would play out before she ever started filming. She crafted a rough story line based on her interview with us. Our segment began with us reminiscing as a family about past Thanksgivings, leading us to prepare for our celebration and culminating in our Thanksgiving dinner. No one knew what would happen during these steps, however, we all knew the schedule of events.

As consultants, we follow a similar discipline as we craft an experience for the leaders. We cannot simply tell these leaders to be better. No, we introduce methods which allow the leaders to realize for themselves how they can work together better. Our interventions feel like a spontaneous experience for the leaders. They feel like they are pulling brilliant leadership insights out of thin air. Little do they know that we are the reality show directors. We planned out a story line which helped create an environment of self-insight.

3/ Did NOT Go as Planned [The Unexpected Happened]

As referenced above, the reality show director could not have predicted that the turkey would be frozen. This required her to come up with an alternative plan. On the spot, she declared that we would head to the grocery story to purchase a thawed turkey. Luckily, our nearby grocer was accommodating as our family paraded through the isles with a film crew in tow.

Similarly, not one of our leadership gigs has ever gone as planned. The reality show involves filming situations where what transpires cannot be predicted. Similarly, we are working with humans and cannot predict what they will bring to our interventions or how they will react in the moment. I have had the power completely shut down requiring us to relocate. Leaders have attempted their own awkward interventions with peers who do not welcome their “helping hand”. And, perhaps the most challenging, I have led full day sessions where we only had decaf coffee!

Where the Magic Happens!

Through all these challenges we persevere. In fact, it can be the unexpected that results in leadership teams experiencing their biggest break throughs. When they forget that the cameras are turned on and they have real conversations with each other, things start to happen. Some of those conversations can be loud and uncomfortable, sounding more like a reality show family in a heated argument. However, that is when leadership teams get real and the magic happens.

At the end of a long day filming our reality show had a similar sort of magic happen. After all the setup, being interviewed per our story line and a few glasses of wine thrown in, we donned our turkey and pilgrim outfits. We forget that the cameras were rolling. And we danced around the Thanksgiving table with pure unfettered joy!

The Backstory of the Goethe Pop Up Museum in Minneapolis

A German pop up museum in downtown Minneapolis created the reality show about how American families celebrate Thanksgiving.  The series will be posted at their website.

https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/en/sta/gpm.html

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

A Creative Method For Developing Innovative Solutions: Magic Tool Box

toolbox

It can be helpful to use analogies to inspire new ideas.  I have leveraged a brainstorming tool for years called the Magic Tool Box.  In this exercise one uses a box full of tools as a metaphor for solving the problem at hand.  The objective is to spur new thinking.

I leveraged this brainstorming exercise with a group of journalists who were stationed at locations around the world.  They explored using a Swiss Army knife that was magical and could capture interview content, as well as still images and video.  It spurred the journalists to come up with approaches whereby they would capture more than just print copy as a result of their interviews.  This was before the iPhone was used to capture photos and video.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that I am Al Gore and claiming that I invented the Internet!  I am simply pointing out that this exercise allowed the journalists to imagine doing innovative work via tools that were not even invented at the time.  Generating this kind of out of the box thinking is the greatest value of this exercise.

Below are the steps to facilitate this exercise:

  • The facilitator provides a focus statement or problem related to the area being brainstormed.
    • The problem statement is related to the area being brainstormed. For example, our challenge may be that due to a new technology system our team members are drifting apart and not collaborating.
    • The magic tools in the tool box can be items such as: Magic drill, saw, hammer, duct tape, screw driver, tape measure, glue, etc.
  • Think of uses for a wide variety of “magic tools”
    • This is where you ask the group to use their imagination. For example, ask yourself: If we had a magic hammer, what would we use it to do?
    • Come up with ways we can use the magic tool to resolve the problem that has been articulated.
    • For example, one could leverage the magic tool box to address the problem of a team being stuck in silos and not working well together. One could use duct tape to wrap it around all the team members in order to bring everyone together again.
  • Explore the results for inspiration
    • We have fantasy solutions from step two that would not work in the real world. However, these make believe ideas may lead to insights that are practical.
    • Look at the responses and explore what kind of feelings and images are arising. Look for actions and goals that make sense and could be applied in the real world.
    • For example, while it is not practical to use duct tape to wrangle everyone into a more cohesive group, an initiative or event to bring people together may be a practical solution.

This exercise can clearly help our organizations think in new ways.  Spurring this kind of creative thinking is a true contribution that we can bring to the table.

Adapted from Alexander Hiam, Manager’s Pocket Guide to Creativity, 1998

light bulb

True Organizational Culture Change: “Everyone Talks Different”

culturechange

The #culturechange that Sandra Johnson engineered at a challenging City Government division is the most astounding cultural turn around that I have ever witnessed. An informal City leader who missed 50% of the meetings due to an illness came back and said, “I don’t know what happened but all I can say is everyone talks different.” It is a pleasure to post this amazing turn around #organizationalculture case study:

The Client: City Government

The client was a City Government Division with 25 union employees. Over 50% of the staff had been with the City for 10 years or more. The division manager had been with the division for over 25 years.

The Situation:

The division had some of the highest number of grievances in the City. The assistant manager had been hired into the position over other more senior staff and there was an active movement against her. The culture of the division included at times yelling, name calling and all around staff of unhappy campers.

The division scores on the #EmployeeEngagement survey were some of the lowest in the City.

I was brought in to help improve the organizational culture with the goal of improving overall employee engagement and reduce the number of grievances.

The Solution:

The #leadership agreed to a 9-month program meeting once a month for two hours with the entire staff. In between the monthly meetings, the manager and assistant manager agreed to bi-weekly coaching. Management also supported intermittent small group discussions with staff members who volunteered to work on issues, brainstorm and propose solutions.

The Results:

During the program, one of the informal leaders did not attend the monthly meetings as they were held on her normal day-off. The second informal leader missed about 50% of the meetings due to a medical leave. The other two informal leaders ironically were both up for a promotion against each other and the assistant manager, who was a key champion in the initiative, interviewed and ultimately selected the one who agreed to and was willing to support the organizational change.

At the end of the 9-month program:

  • Over 50% of the staff were actively involved in small group “think tanks” and volunteering to take on projects to promote the new culture
  • The informal leader who was promoted transformed from a resistor who previously sat “outside the circle with her arms folded” to a champion of the change, taking on additional responsibilities
  • The manager humbly announced to the team that he was “amazed at the amount of talented people and exceptional ideas he had on his team that he didn’t realize.”
  • The assistant manager embraced the movement and took over the leadership role of ensuring the continued success of the program.
  • Weekly staff meetings became led by staff members with everyone contributing to the agenda opening up two-way communication.

The feedback from this effort clearly suggests a true cultural transformation!

Facilitator: Sandra Johnson, MA RCC, Strategic Corporate Solutions

http://www.strategiccorporatesolutions.com

sandra@strategiccorporatesolutions.com

This blog does not express the views of my employer

/

No more Drivel! Give us the Practical and Useful.

drivel

There is no substitute for business advice which is practical and useful. Yes, I am talking about suggestions which actually work. … As in make things better in the real world! Drivel, on the other hand, is defined as “silly nonsense”. Unfortunately there is a lot of these unhelpful opinions flying around our field of organizational development.

At its best, management tips and techniques have allowed me to face numerous organizational challenges and provided a clear, successful solution. When one is in the middle of a structure, process or people challenge it can be difficult get to above the chaos and envision a path forward. Yes, management thinkers really can be your best friends.

However, this is not always the case. I have observed that management thinking tends to fall into three buckets:

Bucket 1: Interesting, But Not Practical: Much of the academic work around management offers up clever concepts around leading others that have limited practical application. These are the types of management ideas that are fascinating to think about. However, you are left asking yourself “What would I do with this idea as I stand before my team Monday morning?”

From my experience, leadership styles provide an example of a theory without apparent application. Leadership styles essentially categorize types of leaders as being dictatorial, authoritarian, consultative or participative. Great! So let’s assume that you want your style of leadership to be more participative.   What actions do you take and what do you tell your team in order to create a participative environment?

These management theories often answer the “What” without ever addressing the “How”. In other words, this work often times offers conceptual statements about what is means to be a manager without providing advice on how to be a manager.   The theory is interesting, but, is not going to help you be a better manager.

Bucket 2: Practical, But Not Useful: The academic management thinking in this bucket offers you some practical ideas for how to manage your team. However, when you carry out these ideas in your organization you find that they are met with confusion and poor results. These are the types of ideas where you are left saying “Well, it looked good on paper!”

An example of practical but not useful management thinking is the business reengineering craze that many organizations adopted a decade ago. Reengineering called for reinventing the way work was done via the redesign of business processes and workflows. However, this practical approach resulted in negative consequences in the end.   Too often the effort resulted in corporate down sizing without better results. It did not take employees long to realize that it is was not in their best interest to volunteer for a reengineering effort! [Tony Carter, 1999, https://www.amazon.com/Aftermath-Reengineering-Downsizing-Corporate-Performance/dp/0789007207]

It is easy to identify the management theories in this bucket. This is because when you introduce these ideas they are oftentimes met with confusion and skepticism by your team. They clearly do not resonate with the employees who do the actual work. When you roll out these ideas many of your employees ignore your advice since they suspect it will fail. Those employees who do infuse this approach into their work get poor results. These ideas are quickly abandoned.

Bucket 3: Practical and Useful:   As is the case in so many areas of life, we have lots of opinions but very little wisdom.   Once we have shed the management ideas in buckets 1 and 2, we are left with a few practical and useful management ideas. The good news for you is that there is now less to learn since we are down to a handful of management approaches.

The practical approaches and tools in this bucket are made up of organizational interventions that can transform human behavior on a regular basis. They simply address complex aspects of work including structure, processes and people practices.

Below are some examples of practical and useful management thinking that I have benefitted from over the years:

  • Structure: Jay Galbraith’s emphasis on leveraging design principles in the creation of organizational structure helps ensure that the design accomplishes the desired outcomes. The principles are statements about what the design should provide.  These principles guide the design process, provide criteria for making trade off decisions and keep all parties focused on creating the same outcome.  This organizational design methodology has allowed me to take a dozen independent marketing groups within a Fortune 100 company and align them for quick response to customer demands and other unexpected challenges. [http://www.jaygalbraith.com]
  • Processes: Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act [PCDA] continuous improvement circle has provided the framework for managing improvement projects.  The method helps employees stay focused on data collection and analysis driving them towards identifying and solving root cause.  Outcomes of leveraging this method include savings millions of dollars, along with better quality products and services.  [http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/project-planning-tools/overview/pdca-cycle.html]
  • People: ‘Start/Stop/Continue’ is a straight-forward group exercise that any manager can easily introduce. The approach can help groups move from strategy to execution and lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency. As the name suggests, the goal is to get employees to brainstorm programs, activities and processes that should be started, stopped and continued.  I have had employees report back that this simple exercise has been transformative in terms of helping them improve and align their work. [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/SKS-process.htm]There is a huge volume of management thinking to wade through before finding advice which is practical and useful. Mission accomplished if this blog helps raise awareness on the importance of crafting management thought which helps practitioners in the real world.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.