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.

How to Renew Your Organization

death desert.jpeg

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.

The Foundation of Organizational Design: A Strategic Approach for Success

Concept of building the brick wall

Good organizational design has the ability to transform an organization’s culture and accomplish business goals beyond anything imaginable.   As a result, many organizations allocate significant time and resources to this design process.  However, impactful organizational design can be done more efficiently and effectively if one goes about it in a strategic manner.

We will explore the overall definition and purpose of organizational design.  Understanding the scope of organizational design and knowing when and when not to tackle this endeavor are key prerequisites for success.

Definition and Scope of Organizational Design

Organizational design is:

The deliberate process of configuring:

  • Structures
  • Processes and policies
  • People practices
  • Culture

.       To create an effective organization capable of delivering on the Organization’s Vision/Strategy/Goals. [Adapted from jaygalbraith.com]

A key aspect of organizational design is determining where formal power and authority are located.  This is the traditional organizational chart with boxes representing grouping of work.  These structural components determine the hierarchy and resulting relationships within the organization. These formal components are important since they channel the energy of the organization and provide an identity for employees.

A key point of this definition is that in addition to the structure, one should also pay attention to processes and policies, people practices and culture.  Too often organizations craft the formal structure and never get around to the organizational mechanisms which are the underpinnings of the overall structure.  Only establishing boxes on an organization chart is akin building the foundation of a house without putting in electrical and plumbing.

The processes allow decision making and work to be carried out effectively and efficiently.  The policies help clarify how the organizational components are interrelated for an extra boost of productivity.  Finally, one cannot emphasize enough how people practices and culture impact the ability of the organization to accomplish valuable work in a manner which empowers employees.

When to Tackle Organizational Design

Another key aspect of organizational design is knowing when to dive into a redesign effort.  Many leaders believe that organizations need to be redesigned every few years regardless of what is happening in the organization and around it.  I have consulted for organizations which have successfully operated with the same organizational design for decades.  On the other hand, I have advised organizations to dive into redesign within a year of a previous design effort due to the below types of changes:

  • Growing/expanding/shrinking
  • Change in strategy
  • A crisis or significant events
  • Organization around you has changed
  • Change in external environment (such a regulation)
  • Lack of performance
  • New leadership

The following points emphasize how critical it is to be clear about why a redesign is being launched:

  • It is important for leadership to know the reasons why the redesign is needed. The rationale for the redesign helps define the outcome.
    • For example, I worked with a nonprofit organization which launched a redesign due to lack of delivery and a change in strategy. As a result, we measured the success of our effort via organizational performance moving forward.
  • The root cause of the redesign also helps shape the redesign strategy.
    • For example, a redesign in a government organization was launched due to changes in the external environment, including regulatory changes, which required an outward focus. We crafted a design process with mechanisms for measuring and monitoring the impact of external factors such as government policies and third party stakeholders.
  • Finally, articulating the rationale for the redesign will help employees embrace the effort and necessary changes.
    • For example, it was important for employees at a business to understand that a redesign effort was being launched due to a crisis.  These employees gave us the benefit of doubt knowing that the organization’s survival, and as a result their jobs, were predicated on the success of the redesign.

Next Steps

We have established the definition, scope and rationale of your redesign effort.  In future blogs we will explore how to carry out the actual redesign.

Key Questions:

  • Why is your organization tackling an organizational design? How will these reasons impact your design outcomes?  How will these reasons impact the design plan and processes?  How will these reasons impact how you will explain the rationale for the redesign to employees?
  • What is the scope of your organizational design? How will you ensure that you design not only the structure, but also processes and policies, people practices and culture?

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