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.

 

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

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.

 

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.

Organizational Structure: Start with Design Principles

House project

It would be foolish to design a home without first thinking through your needs. How much living space do you need? How many bedrooms?  What style do you like?

However, organizations are built each and every day without considering these types of fundamental questions around what the design is attempting to accomplish.

In order to create organizational structure, the key is start with design principles which are statements about what the design should provide.   It is critical that these design principles guide the entire design process since they focus us on creating an organization which accomplishes our objectives.

Below are ten organizational design principles from groups that I have consulted for:

  1. Build depth of leadership capability
  2. Be more agile via delivering faster
  3. Create cost efficiency
  4. Optimize people and system resources
  5. Enable process efficiencies
  6. Create best in class customer satisfaction
  7. Foster better service delivery
  8. Increase manager accountability
  9. Enable collaboration between departments
  10. Build internal change readiness

For example, I helped design a very different type of structure for the organization hoping to increase leadership skills versus the organization seeking to deliver products faster. In order to improve leadership, we crafted a structure that would challenge leadership to gain new skills, knowledge and abilities.  While at the organization looking to deliver products more quickly, we streamlined the structure resulting in more agility.  Clearly, depending on outcomes, the types of functions created, how they are organized and the roles and responsibilities within those functions are going to be very different.

Design principles are the foundation for trade-off decisions.  The design principles provide leadership with a tangible way to surface and discuss competing interests and outcomes.  Leaders are able to clearly state the improvements that they want to see as a result of the design.  This allows for a robust discussion across parties helping leadership gain consensus around the primary outcomes. [JayGalbraith.com, 2016]

I typically have leadership rank the importance of design principles since it allows them to evaluate the value of various design solutions.  I have found this to be the most effective and fastest way to determine which outcomes are most important to leadership.  We can then more easily determine whether an organizational design that is functional, divisional, strategic business unit, matrixed or project based will result in the best outcomes.

Jay Galbraith [JayGalbraith.com, 2016] makes a strong case for the importance of robust design principles.  He says that the criteria should be debated, rated, and kept prominent throughout the design process.  As a result, design principles are a topic in each and every conversation that I have with clients about the new design.  Clients find that as a result of this ongoing exploration of the principles, their understanding of what they are driving towards via the organizational design and how to get there becomes clear.

Questions:

  • Imagine that three years from now the Wall Street Journal [WSJ] names your organization the best in your field. What is the WSJ saying about you that makes you the best?  [This will provide you with clues as to your design principles.]
  • How can we best organize our work and people in order to accomplish our strategy?

Note: This blog reflects my thoughts and not the opinions 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.

slide1

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.

slide1

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.

slide1

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.