Category Archives: Change

The “A” Team: (“A” for Agility!)

In the past 10 years we have seen an unprecedented acceleration of the rate of change, and you’ve probably heard people refer to the effect as “disruption” or “dislocation.”

“Disruption is when someone does something clever that makes you and your company obsolete,” says Craig Mundies, former chief of strategy and research at Microsoft, “Dislocation is when the whole environment is being altered so quickly that everyone starts to feel they cannot keep up.”.

Whether we are experiencing ‘disruption,’ ‘dislocation,’ or unprecedented opportunity, we have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration of change has important implications for business — specifically for the organizational traits and capabilities that determine who will thrive, survive, or fail.

Thus “agility” has become a key component of sustainable success.

Many people say they would like to make their organizations more agile, but few organizations have a formalized strategy to do so.

For many leaders, the planning and management methods mastered on their way up the ladder were designed and effective in a different time, when change moved at a much slower pace. Others might lean more toward the entrepreneurial side, exhibiting high-levels of vision and enthusiasm, but not the team-building or other managerial skills necessary to develop a truly agile environment; and others may simply fail to stay the course.

To gain agility, today’s leaders must incorporate these four “agility enablers” into their operating model:

  • Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
  • Relentlessly streamlined and simplified processes in order to handle the more rapid pace of implementation. If the processes that comprise the value stream are held together by patches, expediting, and human vigilance, or are full of inspection, rework, delays, over-specification, redundancies, excess inventory, complexity, etc. it will be very difficult to execute the necessary changes.
  • Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.

Ready for a Change?

Is the team ready?

As noted in previous posts, the start of a new year is often a time for making resolutions or strategic improvement plans, which is another way of saying “a time for change.”

As we all know, change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success; and, to be effective, change initiatives must involve not only a change in attitude, but also behavioral change.

But, as we also know, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Examples include: Converse in sneakers or Kodak in photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

Readiness… the Right Attitude
The first step in any change effort is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success. We have found that this “readiness for change” is best brought about through assessment, communication, education, empowerment, measurement, and recognition.

Components of helping people prepare for and embrace change include:

  • Making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture so that people at all levels change the way they think, talk, work, and act
  • Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
  • Clearly identifying the necessary or desired changes to actions and behaviors
  • Effectively using statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation and to measure improvement
  • Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement

“Selling” the Concept of Change

change is good, but never “easy!”

The point has been made, in prior posts, that “change” is not always perceived as being good, and instead tends to promote fear, uncertainty, doubt; and even resentment!

Consider that, in organizations of all types people tend to look with skepticism at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs. Similarly, in their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation… and potentially worse things too. Current-day examples include Polaroid in instant photography, Blockbuster in video, Xerox in copiers, or the Yellow Pages! Each of these household name enterprises experienced significant declines, or worse, as competitors introduced new and better alternatives.

The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.

A Selling Mission…
If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position or potential obsolescence.

“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.

But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?

Simply stated, we must sell it.

Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our staff members before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.

And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.

We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?

What’s the competition doing?

The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem. In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way. Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.

Finally, once the presentation is made and the new whatever is launched, there must be follow-up reinforcement and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences? While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.

Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and, like any selling mission, persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.

Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”

Confirmation Bias Part 2: Examples & Avoidance

Our previous post explained the concept of “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency to pursue and embrace information that matches our existing beliefs.

Here are some general examples of how confirmation bias can creep into our day-to-day thinking, and three proven ways to avoid the pitfall:

Decision-Driven Data
As previously noted, the inclination to look for supportive data can easily lead us to serious mistakes. Social scientists report that analyses of investments we favor inexorably take on a rosier look than investments we are doubtful about.

Many small choices go into collecting and crunching data and analyzing opportunity and risk and presenting results. Absent a conscientious effort to avoid confirmation bias, small choices — all valid on their own — tend
to be made to support our initial opinion. We think we are making data-driven decisions, but we are really collecting decision-driven data.

For example, author Daniel Kahneman once described a study of high-performing schools to determine if size played a role in quality of educational outcomes. The data indicated that the top quartile in educational performance contained a disproportionate number of small schools, supporting the hypothesis that small schools provided better quality education. This led to some expensive policy decisions that produced no educational benefit. It turned out that small schools are disproportionately represented in the worst performing quartile as well, due to the statistical tendency of larger populations to “regress to the mean” or basically become more “average” and thus to be under-represented in the top and bottom quartile.

First Impressions
Confirmation bias also plays an important role in the inordinate impact of first impressions. A first impression provides a very tiny and possibly serendipitous sample of a candidate’s qualities and qualifications. Yet,
people who believe this is a very intelligent candidate before the interview tend to notice more signs of high intelligence.

Here are three things we can do to protect our decision-making process from conformation bias and potential distortion:

  1. Recognize the bias and remind yourself to look for it in your decisions and analyses. Remind yourself that the authors of everything you read (including this article) are making a point that is supported by the data they present, but is not necessarily by data they do not present — and in fact may not even have seen if they did not look hard enough for contrary data. Remind yourself that the talented and well-meaning people providing you with analysis and recommendations are also subject to confirmation bias. Ask for contrary data.
  2. Ask “what else could it be?” Think creatively about alternative explanations and alternative solutions. Explore the whole feasible set, if possible.
  3. Encourage the expression of contrary views and ideas. “If you value the differences in people, the differences will produce value.” Aggressively seek out and try to understand contrarian views. For many people, the first impulse is to refute contrarian views and argue our own. But the best decisions are likely to be made by those who “seek first to understand rather than be understood.”

Learning & Development: 3 Key Best Practices

We are often asked about how organizations can optimize the value of their Learning & Development programs, with many C-level leaders looking for ways to increase training-related behavioral change as well as their return on investment.

A recent VitalSmarts webinar addressed this subject quite nicely, and shared several perspectives that are well-aligned with ours. For as long as the recording might be available, you can listen to the webinar here.

Alternatively, here’s a brief summary:

First and foremost, the webinar’s over-arching premise is that Learning & Development must become a strategic partner of the C-suite in order to bring about improvement and real behavioral change. In addition, there must also be a C-level commitment to consistent L&D programming. As the presenters said several times, “Training, or L&D, must be treated as a process rather than an event.”

In case anyone needed convincing, some thought-provoking statistics were then shared.

For example, only 7% of Learning & Development leaders measure the bottom-line effectiveness of their training programs. Possibly more troubling, only about 10% of all Learning & Development executives have met with the C-suite; and only a few align their training plans with the organization’s strategic plan.

In addition, only 35% of the US workforce receives any training at all! And even then, the average is three days of training per year.

Finally, without effective reinforcement and ongoing development, only 14%-15% of the information shared in training “sessions” is applied in the workplace. Instead, people most often do nothing differently or make a few changes for a while and then revert back to whatever they were doing in the past. Clearly this enormous “gap” represents significant waste, which was referred to as “learning scrap.”

Next Steps: 3 Best Practices
For those determined to improve the value and effectiveness of their Learning & Development programs, that is to increase learning transfer and reduce learning scrap, three best practices were suggested:

  1. Define the role and purpose of Learning & Development within the organization. To begin this process, the first couple of questions might be, “What would translate to a breakout year for L&D?” “This training will be a success when… (complete the sentence”?”
  2. Build the Learning & Development platform on defined and agreed-to business outcomes. It was pointed-out that most L&D managers plan their programming on what they “hope people will learn.” But the real focus should instead be on “what people will do differently as a result.”
  3. Recognize that L&D is a process, not an event. The process must include ongoing measurement and support to ensure the business outcomes are achieved. This means coaching, reinforcement, and accountability on multiple levels:
    • C-level must be committed and allocate resources for appropriate levels of learning as well as for reinforcement and ability coaching
    • L&D leaders must align with business outcomes, and move the “finish line” of their training to include an achievement phase.
    • Front line managers must provide reinforcement and support
    • People at all levels are accountable for applying what they’ve learned and related behavioral change

Agility, Readiness & Change

Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt!

Rapid acceleration in the pace of change has taken place within the business world over the past ten years. This fact has also accelerated the need for organizational agility, in both thought and behavior.

Agility and change are inextricably linked. The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.

But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In fact, people at all levels tend to react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD” factor) when new ideas, processes, policies or procedures are introduced; and many cringe at the mere suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs !

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.

The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:

  • Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture…
  • Getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty.
  • Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work.
  • Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation.
  • Enlisting input from of people operating the work processes.
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders.
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee capability and engagement.

Managing Change

What Does it Take to Implement Change?

In a past post we shared some perspective about assessing workforce capability as well as leadership when planning a change or improvement initiative. Among other things, it was noted that without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.

Effective leadership is about driving change. The ability to anticipate, lead and manage change is a critical indicator of organizational success.

But, of course, change does not “just happen.” It takes place when leaders at all levels see opportunities and get others to share their passion about what can be accomplished.

Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change. Without strong leadership, most change efforts will fail. As noted in our previous post, implementation is the key step. Simply making speeches, declaring a new mission or vision and handing out short-term rewards alone will not cut it; management must advocate, lead and support change, and do so not only at the “launch” but throughout the implementation phase and beyond.

It’s also important to remember that people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, and if they are involved in creating the change. Change is brought about by a combination of strong leadership, human relations systems, beliefs, values and cultural practices. They are the true catalysts to sustained change and improvement.

The “Hard” Part of Continuous Improvement

In past posts we have discussed the fact that more than half of all change initiatives fail, and that most “continuous improvement” efforts have two things in common:

  1. They produce some improvements
  2. Then they peter out…

Therefore, “discontinuous improvement” is, at times, the more appropriate description of what actually takes place; and as noted in one of our previous posts, there are a number of reasons why organizations fail to make their improvement efforts cultural, which include:

  1. Neglecting aligning individual or team goals with those of the organization
  2. Insufficient communication between management, the workforce, project teams and CI leaders
  3. Delegating leadership, which is a responsibility that should stay with senior management
  4. Manager’s or Sponsor’s failure to remove obstacles
  5. Lack of quick success
  6. Letting-up on the “gas” when initial results are made

Along similar lines, in a recent article about “why process improvements efforts routinely fail,” author and educator Nicolas Argy, MD, JD, suggests that despite the numerous approaches to continuous improvement (i.e., LEAN, Six Sigma, etc.), “All these systems go in and out of vogue and, just like losing weight and the latest fad diet, all of them fail or only provide temporary results.”

Argy goes on to note that measurement, questioning and reporting, tend to influence and change people’s behavior. In support of this perspective he cites some well-known research.

  • Pearson’s law –“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
  • Sentinel effect – The theory that productivity and outcomes can be improved through the process of observation and measurement.

These views are well-aligned with Dr. Deming’s fundamentals, such as the Deming Cycle, on which much of our work is based.

But regardless of your approach or beliefs, it’s apparent that the “hard” part of continuous improvement isn’t making improvements, but rather making it “continuous.”

If an organization can develop a culture in which making improvements is the constant “way of doing business,” then they can achieve break-through gains on a recurring basis as opposed to the ad-hoc improvements associated with an on-again/off-again effort.

 

3 Key Steps For Developing Leaders

Developing effective leaders within an organization is an important step toward achieving  sustainability, workforce engagement, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Many define leadership as getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and  providing the energy and mindset for change and the commitment to sustain it.

To develop leaders who are capable of implementing a strong style, and who can provide a straightforward path for bringing about change and continuous improvement, we’ve found the following three steps are necessary:

  1. Training — including an understanding of leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so the most effective style can be applied. Important skills and behaviors, include:
    • Communication and listening
    • Optimism, energy and enthusiasm
    • Motivation
    • Risk
    • Delegation
    • Empowerment
  2. 360° feedback from peers, staff members and management is a popular and insightful component of the journey toward becoming an effective leader. With heightened awareness comes improvement.
  3. Coaching in a team environment. A project team or natural work group is the ideal place in which to exercise and improve leadership skills. Senior leaders must coach and mentor new leaders so they can build upon strengths and measure progress.

Workforce Capability, Management & Change

While identifying the right things to work on is a critical decision we must make each day, it’s important to also have the right people working on the right things if we hope to truly achieve breakthrough solutions. In other words, it is imperative to have a solid grasp of the team’s capabilities, strengths and  developmental  needs.

We’ve discovered that workforce assessments need to be done in an organized, comprehensive way that includes a strategic mixture of observation, one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of an organization. Key activities include an analysis of layout, work flow, bottlenecks and yield, and also an assessment of people’s understanding of tools as well as how their work impacts the total organization.

It is also important to ask questions about the organization, how people feel they are treated and valued, and, in so doing, it’s important to assess their level of engagement.

Based on discovering the best opportunities for improvement, an improvement plan can then be implemented, which will involve making key changes in processes and behaviors.

Finally, it’s also necessary to review how people are being managed, as without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.