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.

Organizational Change Management Employee Assessment Tools

employee-action

Organizational Change Management (OCM) is essentially about People Readiness for an upcoming work place change. The practice can involve working with leadership, employees, internal customers and other parties to ensure that they are prepared for a new product, service, technology tool, etc.

However, it is important to focus on the readiness of the employees who are end users of the change being rolled out. It is critical to work with these employees to build understanding and support of the change, ensuring they are prepared and feel involved and supported.

We will explore three key assessment tools one can leverage in order to measure the degree and type of change employees are facing. Stakeholder Analysis, Business Impact Assessment and Gap Analysis.

The data gathering for these assessments can involve quantitative research such as an analysis of business documents.  However, the data is most often gathered via qualitative research methods such as interviews and surveys.

We will discuss the purpose of each of the tools and a template example will be provided. The first tool is a Stakeholder Analysis.

Stakeholder Analysis – Description

Stakeholder analysis is particularly useful when you need to anticipate the reactions of, or seek support from, various stakeholders. In this context, a stakeholder is any person, group, or entity that that can influence the success of, or is impacted by, the change effort.

Leader and Department-level analysis is particularly important since it helps one develop a point of view on what changes need to take place at the various levels for success. It highlights anticipated reaction, what stakeholders need from the strategy, what the project team needs from stakeholders and a plan to address.

Template Example

The below Stakeholder Analysis worksheet provides a structure for identifying and examining your key stakeholders and their definition of success.

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Business Impact Assessment – Description

The business impact assessment will help you target your change efforts during large change projects. These changes may be significant in terms of the number of people impacted and/or the magnitude of change involved. In such cases, the severity of change rarely hits all departments with the same amount of impact. This tool helps you determine where to focus your change efforts in order to help prepare the maximum number of people, in the most critical areas.

Template Example

In the below business impact template the departments which are impacted by a change have been plotted. The numbers of people impacted by the change are indicated on the Y access, while the magnitude of change is plotted on the X access. As a result, the department that will experience the most significant change are located towards the upper, right hand portion of the image. The template provides a visual depiction suggesting that the Departments in this area will require the most change resources.

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Gap Analysis – Description

The gap analysis provides important intelligence in terms of how the organization will be affected, the type of change at hand, and the most appropriate change strategy to employ. Findings at this phase include change management theme gaps to address for success: E.g.: Training, Collaboration, etc.

If I had to select just one change tool to employ, this would be it. The gap analysis tells us the areas where employees impacted by the change will be challenged the most. This allows us to design targeted solutions resulting in employee readiness.

For example, if the analysis shows that employees will struggle most with technology tools that suggests a very different change intervention involving developing capability around technology, as opposed to addressing soft skills like communications or collaboration.

Template Example

In the below template example the various departments are listed across the table Department 1 through Department 8. The various change themes which will be challenges for employee adoption are listed in the first row. The triangles indicate the departments which will experience these challenges. In this organization all Departments will experience a change challenge in the areas of communications and collaboration.

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Conclusion

As our organizations experience increasingly significant levels of change, figuring out how to roll out projects which accomplish the organizational results we seek is critical. The tools outlined in this blog will provide you with the data and knowledge to design change interventions which will help ensure employee readiness. There are many important change activities that we can tackle, however, ensuring that employees can and will implement the change is clearly the most important step towards a successful roll out of a critical organizational initiative.

The Most Effective Method For Engaging Employees? Simply Ask Questions

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Brian Grazer (2015), the movie producer of such blockbusters as Apollo 13, Splash, 8 Mile, A Beautiful Mind and Friday Night Lights, popularized the notion of being curious and asking questions in his best seller A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.  Grazer makes the case that asking questions allows us to understand and imagine the perspective of others.  This is obviously a useful skill when one is crafting a movie plot line that will grab the attention audience.

However, Grazer also contends that the ability to ask questions is a strategic tool for many professions.  Don’t we want police detectives who are able to predict criminals’ next move, military leaders’ ability to stay ahead of the opposing armies and coaches’ ability to grasp the game plans of the opposing team and put counter plans in place?

Similarly, it is useful for organizational leaders to understand the wants and needs of our workforce.  The best way to get into the minds of employees is to ask them targeted and insightful questions.  Rather than guessing your employees needs, the most credible original source is the employees themselves.

This method of asking questions may sound like a simple task.  In fact, it may not sound like a method at all!  Isn’t asking questions an intuitive human behavior? Research and practice would suggest not. There is more to asking the right question, at the right time, to the right group of employees than initially meets the eye.

However, asking powerful questions is learnable.  Skilled facilitators such as Dorothy Strachan (Questions That Work: A Resource for Facilitators, 2001) advises us to ask ourselves the following three fundamental questions in crafting questions for others:

  • What do I want to ask?
    • What information do we need to accomplish our work? For example, background information, data points, reflections, interpretations, etc.
  • Why do I want to ask this question?
    • How will the response to this question lead us to accomplishing our work? For example: Input of data, offers up a new approach, prioritization, clarification, etc.
  • What response might I get?
    • What is the possible range of answers I may get when I pose this question? For example: An initial response, confusion, curiosity, etc.

Your responses to these three questions will help you select a series of questions that will allow you to accomplish your purpose.  This exercise will also help you craft individual questions for getting the most useful data back.  Finally, the responses will help you figure out who else you need to ask these questions in order get accomplish the objective.

By asking myself these three questions, I developed a series of questions to ask during a change management initiatives that involved launching a new product.  The objective of asking these questions was to engage this operations group in the change.  I was attempting to build ownership in the employees for the change.  The questions I asked dozens of times over a period of months were:

  • What is it about this approach that most interests you?
  • How will you use this approach?
  • How should we evaluate the success of this approach?
  • What can we do to ensure that you are committed to this approach?
  • How can we transfer ownership of this approach to you?

The answers to the last two questions get directly at figuring out how we can ensure that employees are able to accomplish the work at hand and will continue to over time.  The employees I posed these questions indicated that in order to be committed to rolling out this new product over time they needed more information about how the product worked, they needed to talk to potential customers to learn more about their needs and they needed to craft a more defined implementation process.  Once I was aware of these needs, I was able to help facilitate them becoming a reality.

Our Hollywood producer, Grazer, provides us with what is perhaps the most convincing reason to start asking more questions: You can stop having to force, trick, cajole or even charm your workforce into being better.  Instead, your employees will have the internal drive and excitement to carry them through any challenging work.

How does this happen? Peppering your workforce with interesting questions will inevitably lead to dynamic two-way conversation.  Your employees will be actively engaged with you.  At this point, your team will have the same level of enthusiasm and commitment for the tasks at hand that you do.  By creating in your workforce a high level of interest and curiosity for the work at hand, you are essentially generating a self-sustaining culture of productivity.

Who would have predicted that asking key questions could result in such a powerful outcome!

Questions:

What are some key questions that you want to start asking your workforce?

What is your response to Grazer’s three fundamental questions?

What will asking these questions mean for you and your organization?

 

How To Obtain True Employee Engagement

Intelligent toddler girl wearing big glasses while using her laptop

Intelligent toddler girl wearing big glasses while using her laptop

We agree that engaging our employees is one of the keys to organizational success.  In fact, most organizational improvement, at some point, involves actively involving our teams of  employees.  We have been told countless times that this is the ‘secret sauce’ for improving our products, processes and culture.

The key question is: How do we truly engage our employees in their work?

Engaging our workforce in authentic conversation is not as easy as it sounds.  I have worked with peers who have claimed to be experts at drawing out our workers. I once tested this claim by tracking the amount of time my peer talked (95% of the time) versus team members talked (5% of the time) at a session with the specific outcome of ‘hearing’ from the employees!

How then do we ensure that our teams of employees are heard and fully engaged as they deliver on the important work of designing new products, creating better processes, reshaping our culture, etc.:

  • Cultivate Understanding of the Work and How It Will Impact Them
    • To achieve a high level of commitment and avoid resistance, involve those impacted in the development of the work itself.
    • Enable our teams to understand the dynamics of the work being carried out, new behaviors required of them and how their actions will contribute to success.

 

  • Assess the Level of Change Required By Our Teams & Make Adjustments
    • Continually assess change readiness levels over the course of the journey and adjust work and change management activities to address issues and gaps.
    • Our leaders should be accountable for making sure their teams are understanding and internalizing the work in their respective organizations.

 

  • Align the Organization to Enable and Sustain the Work
    • Explore the following elements of the organization: structure, culture, people, rewards, work processes and management processes.
    • Ask, ‘Do the above areas encourage or discourage employee engagement and the new/changed behaviors required to achieve the goals?’ Focus on areas that have the greatest influence on desired results.

The above advice involves grappling with complicated organizational dynamics.  However, the first easy thing leaders can do is simply to talk less and ask employees more questions.

Had my talkative peer I mentioned above reached even a 50 – 50 split between his air-time versus the amount of time employees shared their thoughts, we clearly would have gained more insight from our workforce.  Start by asking more questions.  It is that simple.

Questions to consider:

  • How should we evaluate the success of employee engagement?
  • How can we further transfer ownership of the work to employees?
  • What is standing in the way of you asking employees more questions?

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

Aligning Strategy with Employee Values for Improved Organizational Performance

Values Vintage Letterpress Type in Drawer

The word “VALUES” written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

Part 3 of 4 part blog series discussing employee motivational challenges.

Tackling strategy, and the corresponding projects, in a manner which fits with the organizations’ larger culture, leads to employees with enthusiasm (and even passion) for their efforts. This is about helping employees feel part of an effort which is bigger than themselves. As a result, your workforce will be connected and committed to your efforts.

You are providing your workforce with purpose since their efforts have meaning for them. Employees signed up for a tour of duty with your organization because of your culture, mission and values. If you are asking your employees to execute a strategy or carry out projects which are inconsistent with fundamental tenants of who they are, employee motivation will plummet.

Garth Morgen (1986) sums up the ability of organizations to chart their own destiny perfectly in his classic book Images of Organization:

“By appreciating that strategy making is a process of enactment that produces a large element of the future with which the organization will have to deal, it is possible to overcome the false impression that organizations are adapting or reacting to a world that is independent of their own making. This can help empower organizations to appreciate that they themselves often create the constraints, barriers, and situations that cause them problems.” [p. 137]

Case and Point:

The Situation: A nonprofit organization I worked with launched a state-of-the art technology learning center in the heart of a booming metro area. The center attracted mainly business people who worked near the center who had no problem paying top dollar for the Internet and application training.

The Challenge: The center was exceeding goals in terms of usage and financial results. Who could find any fault in such a successful endeavor? The answer is mission driven employees at the nonprofit who were advocates of the organization’s educational efforts aimed at disadvantaged populations. This new effort, aimed at serving the business community, did not fit with these employees’ values, nor their belief about the mission of the nonprofit.

The Outcome/Lesson: All the success in the world was not going to move the employees of the organization to be fully behind the business focused technology project. How could this effort be fully embraced when it was not fully aligned with the mission of the organization? Over time, the educational efforts of the nonprofit shifted back to serving the core audience.

Key Questions: Sense of Purpose and Connection
• Is there a clearly articulated and understood employee value proposition?
• Are there mechanisms in place to help ensure that the strategies being considered are aligned with the employees’ values and beliefs about the purpose and mission of the organization?
• Do employees feel their work adds value to the organization?

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

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Gaining Employee Buy-In for Improved Organizational Performance

Part 2 of a 4 part blog series discussing the importance of addressing employee motivation for improved organizational performance.

This is about establishing a business case for change. Your employees need to understand the importance of the effort at hand in order to buy in. We must craft the focus, direction, and integrated operational drive essential to achieve objectives. Our objective is to establish the rationale for change, provide clear strategic direction and results in clear, consistent policy.
If your workforce does not recognize the importance of their efforts, why would they put energy into making them succeed? What is called for here is a compelling argument for change and making the case for why the change needs to happen now.

John Kotter (Harvard Business Review, 2007) says the first step to motivating an organization to act is to establish a sense of urgency. His advice first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1995 previewed his 1996 classic book Leading Change. Kotter says that the key to find a significant opportunity and use it as a vehicle for getting people motivated to make the change in their organization:

“They then find ways to communicate this information broadly and dramatically, especially with respect to crises, potential crises, or great opportunities that are very timely. This first step is essential because just getting a transformation program started requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help, and the effort goes nowhere.” https://hbr.org/2007/01/leading-change-why-transformation-efforts-fail/ar/1

Case and point: I led a change effort to roll out a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for a sales force. The sales team were silent at the initial planning process meetings since they clearly did not understand the big impact that a new CRM system was going to have on their jobs. At a meeting with all of the salespeople, I projected the generic CRM system customer data capture screen. The sales people immediately started asking questioned, providing feedback, and even shouting complaints! Yes, mission accomplished. They were now engaged.

Key questions:

• Are the goals clearly defined and communicated?
• Is the importance of the work being carried out effectively cascaded to your operating groups, team and individual levels?
• Can your employees clearly articulate how their projects fit into the larger strategy?

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

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Organizational Change Management is All About People Readiness

Professionals have described the term “Change Management” as being vague and confusing.  I have even had clients refer to the term as “completely baffling” since it does not specify whom, nor what we are trying to change, let alone manage.

I find that throwing in the descriptive term “People Readiness” to be helpful since it suggests preparing the workforce for successfully crafting and implementing a project.  You are making sure people are ready for a technology roll out (such as SAP), a new process (such as lean manufacturing) or an employee initiative (such as team building).  Regardless of what is being rolled out, the focus of People Readiness is making sure that your human capital can successfully navigate through a change, leading to organizational performance.

Why is it important for us to have a clear understanding of the term “Change Management?”  If we do not grasp this concept, we are more likely to ignore this critical aspect of successful project execution.  In pushing ahead without preparing people, we miss out on significant positives:

  • Rally your entire team to work together – Build employee understanding and support for your project across the organization by ensuring that the workforce is prepared and feel involved and supported.
  • Optimize the benefits of the project – Receive the highest return-on-investment from your project as a result of your people operating at full capacity (Operating on “all cylinders”, so to speak).
  • Reduce the risks of going off course – Avoid projects running off-course with all sorts of negative, unintended results since your human capital is focused on the change at hand. This helps with employee motivation, resulting in organizational performance.

The term “Change Management” is used much more frequently than alternative monikers, such as “People Readiness”, in the blogosphere.  As a result, perhaps we should stick with the term “Change Management”.  However, let’s more fully explain this term by always “humming a few more bars” for our organizations so that they comprehend the power of People Readiness.

What terms do you use for Change Management?  How do you get your organization to understand it?

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

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