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

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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.

Am I On Track With My Professional Purpose? [“Start With Why”]

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”—-Mark Twain

Mark Twain offers up the profound idea that our primary mission in life is discovering why we are here. Once we have a driving reason for getting up each and every morning our life simply becomes wonderful! While we can all agree that finding our professional purpose in life is a good thing, the difficult part is figuring out how.

For example, unearthing why we lead, why we do organizational development or why we do any chosen profession is not as easy as opening up a fortune cookie. Rooting out our core professional purpose takes a great deal of lived experience and self-reflection.

In fact, #SimonSinek [www.StartWithWhy.com/WhyU] has created a cottage industry around the importance of finding what he calls your “Start With Why” statement in order to answer the question: Why you do what you do in your professional life?

Sinek and other have convinced us that is it valuable to know our why statement. However, how do we know if we are on the path to “why” enlightenment? Without cues to help guide us towards finding our professional purpose, the task can become daunting.

As a result, I offer up a few key signs that you are digging deep enough to figure out your professional purpose:

  • You are energized, excited by the statement

When I read my “why” statement I actually get emotional at times.   I cannot imagine doing any other type of work since helping others succeed via organizational development is just so darn rewarding.

“To provide employees with voice for more productivity and fulfillment. “

You believe that the world would be a significantly better place if your why statement became true. Your purpose is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It excites you to know that you get to work on this amazing mission all day and positively impact those around you.

  • Your why statement will not change fundamentally

You cannot envision your why statement ever changing – you are that committed to it. Your ideal job would be spending all your time making your why statement come true.

For many of us doing mission driven work such as organization development is a calling. I find myself describing my work to improve organizations in a manner similar to how clergy describe being called to their religious positions. The work is such a perfect fit with my need to help others via organization that I forget that choice is even an option. This profession is a win-win so why not continue forever!

  • You can relate to the words in your “why” statement, they are real to you

You can cite examples where you have “lived” the statement. You have carried out your purpose in your personal and professional life. I have held many organization development positions, however, a common thread across these gigs is that I always help employees be more efficient and happier in their roles.

In addition, I have helped give “voice” to my son who initially had a medical issue which made speech a difficult task. The irony is that not only did he recover from this childhood challenge, he went on to excel in speech, winning the state speech tournament in high school. I have clearly literally lived this why statement!

If you answered no to the above cues, then you simply have more work in front of you. Dedicate time to reflect on your professional experiences in order to figure out what is gratifying and energizing about your work. Then, your path becomes one of amplifying this message to those you are partnering with.

The content reflected in this blog does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

 

A Productivity Win Via An Electronic Bike

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No more long exhausting automobile commutes!  Yesterday I purchased an electronic bicycle that I am using to travel to and from work.  My automobile commute involved heading far north and south of my final destination, while the bike path runs directly as the crow flies from my home to my office.  As an organizational development consultant, I view this effective and efficient method of getting to work as a personal and professional process improvement.  I am avoiding all the “non-value add” time spent in my car!

Anyone who has a long commute can attest to how much it impacts ones life.  After starting my day by spending almost an hour in my car crawling along the highway, I am less than enthusiastic knowing that I will be ending my work day spending even more time inching my way back home.  I am clearly not alone in this sentiment.  Tens and thousands of others are experiencing similar commutes which have become even longer in the Twin Cities given the recent launch of tunnel and exit construction. In fact, the Star Tribune noted my e bike solution as a creative way to avoid traffic jams [http://strib.mn/2udEHyj]

An electronic bike! You may be asking: Why don’t you just jump on your regular bike and pedal the 20 miles each way?

The simple answer is that I am not an exercise junky who wants to bike that far day after day.  I have been known to bike 40 miles on a nice summer weekend day.  Granted, most of these trips are part of bike brewery tours with neighbors where biking is not the main attraction!

You get the idea.

  • I am not one of these spandex clad bikers who you only get a glimpse of as they whip past you on the trails.
  • I am also not keen on having to rent locker space at my office gym in order to shower each morning.
  • However, the other option of sweating like a pig while manually biking to work and then heading directly to meetings would not be appreciated by my co-workers!

The pedal assist electronic bikes like I purchased have an electronic motor to assist the rider.  Th e motor kicks in while I am pedaling.  As a result, I am still getting plenty of exercise.  The key benefit here is that my commute goes from a daunting trek to being very doable.  I still get exercise, am refreshed by the outdoors and, on top of all that, cut my commuter time by a third!

Why write about e-bikes in an Organizational Development blog?  The answer is simple.  Personal productivity solutions can have a significant positive impact on our entire lives. As an organizational development consultant I spend most of my professional life building high performance workplaces for more productivity, fulfillment and connection.  Helping leaders and employees get more work done and be happier in the process makes a big difference and is gratifying.

However, I am only impacting folks lives 9 to 5.  If these workers are burned out from arduous commutes each day, the impact of organizational interventions is dampened.  In addition, as a productivity practitioner my effectiveness is also impacted as I join my peers on this long commuting march.

We are clearly impacted by our total environment on and off work.  I am more effective, efficient, and healthier as a result of my e-bike. That is a win – personally and professionally.

Note: The content of this blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

If Mayors Ruled the World!

mayorruledworld

If Mayors Ruled the World [http://bit.ly/1kq50ah] it would be a better place!  This premise of a recently released book is becoming increasingly true as each day passes.  As gridlock and a circus-like atmosphere permeates Washington, with many State governments not far behind, the important work being carried out at the City level chugs on!

During my two years of leadership and organizational development work at the City of Minneapolis, I witnessed first-hand smart, hard-working employees make this City run.  A small subset of these efforts hit the papers.  Rather, most of the stories we read about in the media concern highly visible construction projects, the latest neighborhood fracas and interesting tidbits a council person muttered at the last committee hearing.

However, these topics are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the practical work the City carries out that positively impacts citizens each and every day.  I am talking about the folks who ensure that the water that comes out of your tap tastes good, the roads you take to work are quality, the building where you work is safe, the restaurant where you have lunch is a healthy environment, the park where you take your kids is enjoyable…   You get the idea.

The combined impact of each and every service provided by our City, which we too often take for granted, is significant.  Here are additional wins from a rush of other recent books about Cities:

  • A Country of Cities: Ninety percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 86% of our jobs are generated in metropolitan areas. And, by the way, these metropolitan areas comprise 3% of the land in the U.S. [Chakrabarti, 2013, http://amzn.to/2rTZDKT%5D
  • Green Metropolis: Cities are poster children of sustainability since density linked to infrastructure consistently lowers carbon footprints per person. This allows for the creation of walkable neighborhoods which builds community connections. [David Owen,2010, http://amzn.to/2r2GPrw%5D
  • Triumph of the City: People with a powerful skill ready to tackle the problems of the day tend to migrate toward and settle in cities. Cities such as Minneapolis and Boston have capitalized on great schools and a highly educated workforce.   [Edward Glaeser, 2012, http://amzn.to/2t1WBUu ]

The authors of these books praising Cities all make the similar point that City’s offer us solutions to the big problems of our day.  These author admittedly down play the challenges in many major cities around public education, equity and inclusion and maintaining quality of life at reasonable price points.  However, even on these fronts, Cities are diving in and making progress.

As a result of doing organizational development at the City of Minneapolis, I had a front row seat to the work cited in these books.  At a leadership level, the City Coordinator function brings an outstanding level of strategic expertise.   Regulatory Services, Planning, Property Services, Fire, Communications and Public Works leaders are paving new ground (In the case of the latter, literally!).  To name just a few of the amazing leaders.

Combine all this with Human Resources leadership with a compelling vision for building Talent Management of the future.  This capability allowed me to deliver one of the most innovative Leadership courses in the country hands-down – public or private sector.  This six month program involves emerging leaders from across City Departments exploring how to increase skills and collaborate more.  The program also involves bringing in some of the most experienced leaders from the Twin Cities in government, nonprofit and the corporate sectors.  They deliver practical, real-world advice that hits the mark.

Equally impressive I worked with young up and coming leaders doing incredibly innovative work with their teams.  A few examples of the many:

  • Imani Jaafar is partnering with various City departments on Civil Rights Office efforts which are practical and get to the heart of challenges.
  • Kim Keller’s Regulatory Services internal services group is finding new ways to move quickly from strategy to execution.
  • Patrick Hanlon’s Environmental Health staff dedicate 20% of their time to cutting edge projects which have had sizable impacts. [Take that Google!]

These are the types of innovative leaders that every organization in the world is trying to attract and retain.  Ramping up the level of leadership is the key to making great public organizations even better as pointed out in Transforming Public Leadership:

“Leaders possess the ability to structure conversations that create a sense of collaboration and a feeling of mutual support by their ability to communicate openly about what may be achieved in the future and what can be achieved through each individual’s purposeful actions so that those involved believe in themselves.” [Christine Gibbs Springer, 2007, http://amzn.to/2sRUnHP%5D

In the end, these local City efforts perhaps do not have the scope that national and state-wide initiatives make.  However, given the latest news coming out of Washington, perhaps local public servants making a difference in our daily life is the real news!

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

 

 

 

 

 

How to Renew Your Organization

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Whipping down the streets of Washington D.C. in a taxi, I was dreading my arrival at a recent business acquisition.  I mistakenly believed that my organizational design role was to break the hearts of these leaders.  Twenty years earlier, they had founded a company in their garage and now they had made it big, having been purchased by a Fortune 100 company.  I erroneously thought that my role was to deliver the news that their small company ways of doing things would now have to completely change.  They would need to assimilate to the mother ship!

I glanced down at the final piece of research I had gathered in preparation for this meeting.  It was the Ichak Adizes model of an organizational life cycle (Ichak Adizes, www.adizes.com, 2017).  This holistic and intuitive approach fundamentally changed how I approach recently merged companies, as well as how I engage with all smaller entities within larger organizations.

The Adizes model of an organizational life cycles provides a metaphor for viewing the stages of organizations.  Adizes wisely observed that the basic principles for managing organizations as they mature are similar to living organisms.  We have all exclaimed in frustration at some point that managing our staff is like trying to deal with a bunch of unruly kids.  Adizes took this statement usually made in jest to a whole new level!

Adizes pointed out that the predictable and repetitive patterns of behavior that humans experience as they grow and develop are similar to what organizations experience. As a result, just as you develop ways to help your teenager move from adolescence into adulthood, you can leverage similar strategies at an organizational level.  One can reflect on the characteristics of the organization at each stage and, more importantly, identify prescriptions that will assist the organization to move to the next stage.  This model, metaphorically, allow long standing bureaucratic organizations to detour and in some cases even avoid death.

The organizational implications and lessons that fall out of Adizes model are wide and deep.  However, my main concern was that I was about to be dropped off at the door step of the founders of the small company that we had recently acquired.  Wasn’t there a more positive message that these leaders should hear as we become the same company, working towards the same goals?  This is where Adizes learnings about why large mature companies buy small growing companies is invaluable.

Adizes maintains that the large bureaucratic companies desperately need the small innovative companies in order to grow and stay alive.  While established companies often times have a great deal of cash and strong financial statements, they have many factors working against them.  Adizes points out that they tend to:

  • Be interested in reducing risks
  • Reward employees who follow directions versus innovate
  • Value uniformity and consistency

This push towards maintaining the status quo is exactly what brings down many of these organizations.

Enter the newly acquired kid on the block…  These small nimble organizations typically offer growing technology in new markets.  And most important, they have flexible ways of thinking and working, quickly embracing new strategy.  This provides an agility injection into the staid bureaucratic organization.

Based on this line of thinking, you can probably guess the end of the story.  I did inform the founders, who it turned out still acted more like teenage rebels than leaders, that I would be helping them introduce more structure and control.  They understood that this was an important part of their growth and development.

However, the larger, more amplified message was that our now combined companies needed their innovative products and new markets.  And most importantly, we needed to tap into their agile approach of doing business and infuse some of that bias for action into our increasingly unadventurous culture.

I had falsely believed in a compliance focus in working with newly acquired companies.  I was all about sticking pins into them for their own good.  Adizes helped me realize that the actual opportunity lay in bottling up the innovative thinking and approaches that the smaller companies offer and infusing them into the larger bureaucratic culture.  This strategy offers big wins as the ripple effect positively impact a hundred times more employees than are housed at the acquisitions.

In the years following my mergers and acquisition role, I have applied the Adizes approach in working with all types of small, innovative departments and teams within larger organizations.  As I help these groups grow and accomplish their larger objectives, I make sure to avoid squashing their agile thinking and approaches.  In fact, I help them find ways to capture these innovative approaches and embed them into the larger organization.

With mixed results Americans spend millions of dollars a year on products which claim to help us stay young.  The Adizes approach offers a tonic that really does allow old dying organizations to reclaim youth!

Note: The views expressed in this blog are my opinions and do not reflect the views of my employer.

A Quick Approach for Developing Impactful Business Processes

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Organizational fatigue has set in regarding launching large-scale re-engineering and process improvement efforts.  The time and resources it takes to carry out a major re-haul of processes is daunting. Besides, too many organizations have experienced too little benefit from these massive efforts.

The solution to this challenge, however, should not be inaction.  Crafting business processes which lead to effective and efficient operations is critical.  The key, for many organizations, is to launch a few short business process sessions in order to identify a critical few new or revised processes that will make a difference.

Below is an easy three step process for quickly putting business process wins in place:

Definition of Business Process

A business process is a series of actions or procedures designed to produce a product or service.  It is a general (high-level) approach to completing specific work activities.

Criteria for Quality Business Processes

Clear and consistent business processes should:

  • Encourage accountability at all levels.
  • Improve customer satisfaction through more efficient business practices.
  • Establish clear roles for employees to avoid confusion.
  • Reduce redundancy in work.
  • Customize solutions for different customers.
  • Improve communication between functions.

Steps for Establishing and Aligning Business Processes

  • Step One: Analyze
    • Identify the major strengths and weaknesses of the current processes
    • Objective: To utilize best practice and avoid pain points
  • Step Two: Brainstorm
    • Brainstorm options re: new and aligned processes
    • Objective: To ensure you dig deep and generate many ideas
  • Step Three: Select
    • Assess options against criteria and select the critical few new processes
    • Objective: To ensure that we are adopting useful processes

For example, I guided an operations team through this three step process.  As a result of three, half-day meetings we came up with a dozen new and revised processes that were designed to have a big impact on quality and speed.  The new processes addressed everything from how the team accessed resources, to how they interacted with internal customers.

They key to success was to avoid getting bogged down on details.  The team knew first-hand where the pain points lie and I simply helped them quickly identify fixes.

One might argue that a more in depth process re-engineering effort involving dozens of staff over a period of months would have resulted in larger wins.  Perhaps in theory it would have.  However, in reality that would have never happened. Leadership was not prepared to invest in a large scale process effort.  However, the entire organization was very happy with our quick wins…

General Questions to Consider When Identifying Business Process Changes

Finally, here are some to consider when identifying business process changes.  Answering these questions will help ensure that you establish business processes which are successful:

  • What tasks do employees perform today and what tasks do we want employees to perform in the future?
  • What observable behaviors will employees be expected to display?
  • How will interrelationships between your work group and other work groups change?
  • How will the timing and/or sequence of projects or tasks change?
  • What completion timelines need to be built into business processes?
Note: The views expressed in this blog are my opinions and do not reflect the views of my employer.