Friday, August 29, 2008

A poem by Leo Dangel.

Leo Dangel was born in South Dakota in 1941, grew up on a farm there, and attended colleges in South Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas. He now lives in Marshall, Minnesota, and teaches English at Southwest Minnesota State University. Dangel’s language is simple and homespun, his characters are recognizable, his world is the perfect image of southwestern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. His poems disarm the ordinary American mistrust of poetry. Even a practical farmer could say, ‘If that’s poetry, I believe it, and take delight in it.’ And I hope you will too.

A Retired Farmer Working as A Greeter at Wal-Mart by Leo Dangel

The store went up last year outside of town.
There was a cornfield where I'm standing now,
smiling, saying hello, and handing out ads
for plastic purses, towels, and microwaves.
The job doesn't pay much, but neither did farming.
Pete, my old neighbor, wearing clean overalls,
comes in. I say, "Hey, you lazy fart, I see
you're taking a day off to loaf in town."
And Pete says, "You should talk, getting paid
for standing around in an air-conditioned store."
While we talk about the rain last night,
the possibility of early frost, the price of hogs,
a dozen customers pass by ungreeted,
and I feel uneasy about not doing my job.

In one way, it's like farming - spending hours
on the tractor, with lots of time to daydream.
Now, I invent secrets I'd like to tell customers.
"Every third mineral water bottle is filled
with Russian vodka. Snakes have been found
in the cups of the imported brassieres."
But I only say, "Hello, how are you,"
and send them on their way down the aisles,
which are nothing like rows of corn.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Crafting an operating philosophy.

The key employee behaviors identified by the leadership group at Ford's Hermosillo assembly plant were:

* Behave responsibly.

* Contribute ideas and suggestions for improvement.

* Continuously develop skills and abilities.

* Cooperate and work together as a team for the good of the plant as a whole.

Managers were then asked under what conditions they believed this would be possible. Their answers formed the plant philosophy which was subsequently used to guide operating policies and practices at Hermosillo. Here's what they said.

Policies and practices should reflect our belief that:

- People are trustworthy.
(Always start with this assumption and deal with exceptions promptly as they occur).

- People will behave responsibly when they have a clear understanding of what they have to do and are provided timely feedback on their performance.

- People will contribute to their full potential when they have a vehicle to be heard and are not afraid to speak up.

- People will grow and develop their skills and abilities when there are opportunities and incentives for doing so, and when they understand the business sufficiently to be able to actively influence what they need to learn.

- People will cooperate with each other and work together effectively where there are well-defined, shared goals and where there is mutual respect and understanding of each other’s responsibilities.

This philosophy statement served as a further set of criteria for decision making during the design phase and were used to guide the subsequent operation of the business.

I've seen this work in many different settings - paper manufacturing, hotels, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies, and many others. It doesn't take long to put this in place. Once done, it makes explicit the assumptions behind the design choices, and guarantees the application of consistent values across the whole organization.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Understanding strategy.

A successful strategy defines how a firm will influence the various factors that help it achieve its purpose. When Embassy Suites Hotels started up, its purpose was "to be the easiest hotel in the world to do business with." This was subsequently accomplished using the following five strategies.

Strategies to influence customers:
Create teams of multi-skilled employees and rotate them through different departments so they understand how the hotel as a whole operates. Train these employees in problem-solving and communication skills, and give them broad authority to respond quickly to customer needs on their own initiative.

Strategies to influence competitors:
Expand very quickly. Build properties in 100 prime locations in the first five years. This will slow down the entry of competitors into the all-suite hotel marketplace because of the cost commitment - hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a new and unproven business on a nationwide scale.

Strategies to influence stockholders:
Obtain first-mover advantage with a product that business travelers consider an exceptional value (two rooms for the price of one). Charge premium prices and promote weekend specials to maximize revenue. At the same time, aggressively drive down operating costs.

Strategies to influence employees:
Be very selective in hiring, focusing primarily on a proven commitment to customer service. Have new employees and their families spend a weekend at an Embassy Suites hotel to understand the guest's experience first hand. Provide monthly bonuses based on operating costs and guest satisfaction ratings.

Strategies to influence the local community:
Hire hotel managers who sign contracts to stay at their assigned property for five years (versus the industry norm of 18-months). Encourage all managers to join local community organizations, build strong personal relationships, and play a visible leadership role in local activities.

A smart company uses these strategies to gain a competitive advantage in each of these dimensions. However, it must also know the standards and behaviors that will contribute to its success.

And that's tomorrow's topic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clarifying a firm's purpose.

An organization needs to be really clear about its purpose before it can start rethinking how work gets done, how the firm's structure unifies employee's efforts, and how people can be engaged and developed to produce products and services that are consistent with the firm's purpose every time. The purpose statement should be a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise's reason for existence.

When Domino's Pizza started up, it aspired to "safely deliver a hot, quality pizza in 30-minutes or less, at a fair price and a reasonable profit."

Wal-Mart's purpose is "to save people money so they can live better." Sam Walton had a well-defined target in the 1970s of doubling Wal-Mart's sales from $500 million to $1 billion in four years. This seemed a tall order at the time but Wal-Mart hit it. Since then, the company has successfully retained its focus: By 2007, net sales had risen to $345 billion, saving money for more than 176 million weekly customers around the world at 6,779 locations.

Merck, the pharmaceutical company claims, "We're in the business of preserving and improving human life. All our actions can be measured by our success in achieving this." Disney aims to "make people happy."

You can think about stating your purpose in the following ways:

• Aim at a well-defined target, like Domino's Pizza and Wal-Mart.

• Focus on a common enemy; Nike thrived for years on aspiring to beat Adidas and Reebok.

• Have a world-class role model; Trammell Crow said its purpose was to be "the IBM of the real estate industry."

Once the leadership team has clarified and agreed on the firm's purpose, the next step is to define the strategies that will help it achieve this purpose.

We'll cover this tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How to design more effective organizations.

Most organizations just sort of happen - they were first created to reflect ideas and practices that existed at the time they came into being, and they've seldom been rethought and re-architected as the years have gone by. So as they've become bigger and more elaborate, they've also become slower, less responsive and less efficient. For the past 30-years, I've been helping companies understand how they're currently put together, and then make new choices that are a better match to what's happening in the present business environment.

Here's an outline of the design steps I've used. I'll cover each aspect of this process in the weeks ahead.

Start by getting agreement at the senior management level on:
- a statement of purpose - what the business will be designed to achieve in the future
- business strategies to achieve that purpose
- a list of the five or six key employee behaviors needed for success
- a statement explaining how the business will be operated, and
- a set of structural guidelines for the design process.

Does the business aspire to be different than its competitors? than others in it's industry? If so, where, how and why?

Describe what it will be like to work in the redesigned business. Provide specific examples:
- here’s how "this" is done today
- here’s how "this" will be done in the future

Department heads then each develop plans for their own areas:
- what will be included in their departments, and thus under their control?
- what will they depend on from others?

Next, make choices in each area about who will do what and who will report to whom
Eliminate tasks that don’t add value and avoid creating dead-end jobs

Identify the most significant sources of variation in getting work done on-time and according to specifications
Make plans to eliminate or control these variations and to maintain the integrity of the process

Determine the flow of information – who will know what, when and why
Decide how employees will be recognized, rewarded and paid

Present all these plans and design decisions for other department managers to review
Modify specific arrangements based on feedback received

Test design decisions for consistency with the operating values and with the design guidelines developed at the beginning

Does anything else need to be modified based on experience to date?

Things we can feel good about…
Things that still need some work…

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nothing twice, a poem by Wislawa Szymborska.

Wislawa Szymborska was born in Western Poland in July 1923. Szymborska has published 16 collections of poetry and her poems have been translated into English, German, Swedish, Italian, Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, and other languages. She was the Goethe Prize winner (1991) and Herder Prize winner (1995). She has a degree of Honorary Doctor of Letters of Poznan University (1995). In 1996, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Szymborska's poetry focuses on the realistic in everyday life. It has a universal appeal because she speaks about life's great potential for joy. Her work also reflects an acute awareness of suffering and a strong skepticism for easy solutions.
In 1995, this poem Nothing Twice, one of my favorites, was transformed into a hit Polish rock song.

Nothing Twice by Wislawa Szymborska.

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there’s no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only given once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.

One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and accent.

The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guidelines for executive teamwork.

Once it’s clear how people are connected up and what individual areas of decision making remain, then it’s time to work out some behavioral guidelines. Senior managers sometimes feel a little foolish creating guidelines about how they should work together. “Surely,” they think, “we’re all adults here and have years of experience working in groups.” And that, of course, is the problem. Everyone has practiced dysfunctional behavior for years.

Guidelines for new and more collaborative behavior need to be explicit, simple, clear and concise.

Here are some typical examples:

- Speak honestly. Make clear and direct requests.

- Be willing to surface issues or take positions that may result in conflict.

- Anyone can disagree with anyone about anything, but no one can disagree without stating the reasons why.

- Listen for people’s contributions, rather than editing and cutting them off with assessments, opinions or judgments.

- Support each other. Operate from the point of view that, “we’re all in this together.”

- It’s not OK to win at someone else’s expense or at the expense of the firm.

- Support people in fulfilling their commitments and hold them accountable for results.

- Show appreciation by giving, receiving and requesting acknowledgment from other team members.

It's difficult to sustain teamwork at any level if company policies and systems aren't structured to support collaboration. Many firms have sponsored programs to encourage top-of-the-house teamwork. However, only a very few have supported this aspiration with pay schemes that encourage cooperation, information sharing and continuous improvement. Most businesses still use individual pay schemes, such as merit pay, individual bonuses and profit sharing, all of which work against teamwork by encouraging internal competition.

We need to pay executives so that their interests are aligned with those of the stockholders. Today, we pay them too much for what they do and too little for what we want them to do. In a letter to Berkshire Hathaway investors, Warren Buffett wrote: "In judging whether corporate America is serious about reforming itself, executive pay remains the acid test. To date, the results aren't encouraging."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Managing company politics.

Many senior managers are predisposed by their past success to think and work individually rather than collectively. To characterize them as a top management "team” is often more of a contradiction-in-terms than a fact.

To work together more effectively, senior managers need to:

- see the big picture at all times (rising above their own parochial interests),

- be expert in several different areas of the business (so they can understand the impact of different developments on each other),

- have excellent interpersonal skills (influencing, negotiating, listening, communicating, supporting, leading), and

- be willing to learn from each other and to help each other learn. This is often difficult to do, since saying, “I don’t know” can be seen as a sign of weakness in a highly competitive culture,

You can’t ignore company politics or reduce every decision to a nice, orderly, logical process. Politics is unavoidable in a highly uncertain environment where rewards and penalties are high and outcomes are uncertain. Senior level managers are good at politics - they wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t - and many like playing the game. It makes life interesting and is viewed as a positive source of creativity and innovation, as well as a negative influence on behavior. Mostly, it’s people pressing through their own agendas, or trying to arrange their lives so they have as little interference from others as possible.

To encourage more teamwork at the top, it helps to know where individuals agree, where they differ, and where they genuinely disagree. Top-level meetings can then focus on acknowledging agreements, exploring data needed to resolve differences, and clearly identifying the causes of disagreements. Given that senior executives have enough power to destroy each other, they'll usually avoid efforts to resolve their disagreements in a public forum. So, once the causes of disagreements are clear and agreed to, leave enough space for people to work out their compromises with each other off-line. When they're finished, bring the top management group together again to acknowledge these new agreements.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Designing work for senior management teams.

Managing at senior levels today involves four fundamental tasks:

- first, monitoring and influencing the company's external environment to develop new business opportunities,

- second, articulating, modeling and building ownership for a vision of what the company aims to accomplish in the future,

- third, attracting business leaders at all levels, developing their talents, matching them with the right assignments, and holding them accountable for results,


- fourth, investing, distributing and balancing resources across the organization’s portfolio of businesses.

Note that these are all collective rather than individual tasks. Managers accustomed to heading up a particular function often think that the output of the group they manage is their own output. The challenge here is to help them discover what the senior management team as a whole produces.

This voyage of discovery starts by developing a shared understanding of the business and by clarifying the contributions that the management team as a whole makes to the success of the business.

Tomorrow, we'll review the steps involved in bringing this about.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Designing a high-performing business.

How organizations get created or designed is often a bit of a mystery. Here are five insights about designing high performing organizations that I’ve learned over the years through my professional practice:

- Designing a high-performing business involves specifying job content and task assignments, allocating roles and responsibilities, and defining the relationships between them. Without a disciplined way to do this, designers usually make choices based on their previous experience, their personal opinions, biases, unvalidated assumptions, and/or a desire for more personal power. These are poor alternatives to a proven process of open, collaborative investigation using validated data.

- The designer's basic assumptions determine the behaviors, activities and relationships of the people who end up working for the business (e.g."I trust people to do their job" v/s "I have to watch them all the time"). Traditional assumptions produce traditional performance and predictable problems ("That's not my job"). You can only generate different behaviors and better outcomes if you think differently and use other models and design processes.

- Design begins with a clear vision about what you want your business to become in the future. In today's world, this vision determines direction, not destination. The race to the future will belong to the swift and the adaptable, so design choices must encourage flexibility and agility. As Santayana observed, “No specific hope about distant issues is ever likely to be realized. The ground shifts, the will of mankind deviates, and what the father dreamed of, the children neither fulfill or desire.”

- Design isn’t so much a process of invention as an ongoing process of discovery and collaboration. Good design is always conscious and comprehensive, looking to find the best use for all available resources. It’s built on knowledge, insight and intuition about patterns and relationships inside and outside the firm. It doesn't look for ”the answer,” but selects the most sensible alternative for a given place and time, knowing that when the current context changes, another answer will be more appropriate.

- Searching for a “silver bullet” that will painlessly resolve all existing difficulties is a distraction rather than a step in the right direction. Adopting other people’s solutions won’t work unless you understand exactly how they’ll help you address and avoid the real causes of your problems.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Promotion, a poem by James Tate

It's not easy to find cheerful, uplifting poems about work. However I find this one quite amusing and I love the poet's work. James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1943. His volume of Selected Poems (1991), won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award. Another collection, Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994), won the National Book Award. Some of Tate's other honors include a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, a 1995 Tanning Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and is Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

The Promotion by James Tate

I was a dog in my former life, a very good
dog, and, thus, I was promoted to a human being.
I liked being a dog. I worked for a poor farmer
guarding and herding his sheep. Wolves and coyotes
tried to get past me almost every night, and not
once did I lose a sheep. The farmer rewarded me
with good food, food from his table. He may have
been poor, but he ate well. And his children
played with me, when they weren't in school or
working in the field. I had all the love any dog
could hope for. When I got old, they got a new
dog, and I trained him in the tricks of the trade.
He quickly learned, and the farmer brought me into
the house to live with them. I brought the farmer
his slippers in the morning, as he was getting
old, too. I was dying slowly, a little bit at a
time. The farmer knew this and would bring the
new dog in to visit me from time to time. The
new dog would entertain me with his flips and
flops and nuzzles. And then one morning I just
didn't get up. They gave me a fine burial down
by the stream under a shade tree. That was the
end of my being a dog. Sometimes I miss it so
I sit by the window and cry. I live in a high-rise
that looks out at a bunch of other high-rises.
At my job I work in a cubicle and barely speak
to anyone all day. This is my reward for being
a good dog. The human wolves don't even see me.
They fear me not.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An example of collaborative leadership.

Some years ago, I used the ideas of collaborative leadership in the design of a large Ford engine plant in Romeo, Michigan. Work teams at Romeo operated a little like families and a little like independent businesses. They included both hourly and salaried members, but unless you asked, you couldn’t tell which was which. The teams were composed of 8 to 24 members with each team responsible for planning, monitoring and completing a specific component in the engine production process.

Conventional Ford plants were organized like football teams with the plant manager as the quarterback. The other employees, like football players, were all experts, skilled in a specific phase of playing the game. Each covered his or her own special job. Everyone stayed in their specialty and seldom got out of position. At Romeo, by comparison, people were organized like a rugby team. Everyone was in pursuit of the ball at all times.

There were no jobs in the traditional sense of permanently owned tasks and assignments. Everybody was responsible to do whatever needed to be done in their area on their own initiative whenever they saw it was required. The only qualification was that they were certified to undertake the task safely and effectively. Team members were more concerned about achieving the plant’s goals than worrying about who got assigned to carry out what activities. No one at Romeo said, “That’s not my job.”

Adjusting to more collaborative ways of working and making decisions wasn't easy for Romeo’s employees, accustomed to many prior years of traditional ways of thinking. They were asked to work together without a boss looking over their shoulder, telling them what to do all the time, and it took time to get everyone comfortable with this complete culture change. However, in a survey after the first year of operation, most employees reported that despite the extra effort required to adjust to the new work practices, their talents were better utilized and they had greater control over their production lines. Very few said they wanted to return to the traditional way of working.

Romeo was judged the best startup ever recorded in Ford’s engine division. The quality of the engine represented a 75% improvement over those produced in previous launches, according to new vehicle customer surveys. Romeo has also been recognized by the American Society for Training and Development for having the best team training program in the North American automotive industry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why practice collaborative leadership?

If you ask an oarsman, “Who’s the leader of this rowing crew?” he’s likely to answer, “It depends. In a race, it’s the coxswain at the back of the boat. It’s also the stroke who sets the pace. Off the water, the leader is the captain of the boat and she’s responsible for choosing the crew and maintaining good morale. However, during a race, she’s just another oar. Then there’s the coach who’s responsible for the crew’s training and development. So, we don’t have any one leader - we have many, depending on what we’re doing at any given point in time.”

In our uncertain, fast-moving, rapidly changing world, continued success comes from having increased flexibility, creativity, initiative, up-to-date knowledge and expertise. In these terms, the traditional industrial model of leadership doesn’t work too well. There’s a price to be paid for assigning most employees to the role of followers - passive, submissive, subordinate, controlled and directed. This results in organizations that are rigid, slow to respond, out of touch, unimaginative and behind the times. To prosper, we need to explore new models to guide our thinking. The following four dimensions describe an emerging model of collaborative leadership.

1. Leaders and collaborators share a relationship where they’re able to influence each other.

2. Everyone in this relationship acts as a leader when they have the knowledge and skills required to take charge. There are no full-time leaders or followers.

3. Leaders and collaborators interact together to promote successful outcomes.

4. These interactions are focused on whatever leaders and collaborators jointly agree they want to make happen.

In this model, as in the rowing crew example, different people assume leadership roles for different issues. Managers and non-managers can be leaders and leadership is a different process than management. Management is a continuous process while leadership is an episodic one. Organizations need to develop and encourage both in order to optimize their performance.

"I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." - Woodrow Wilson

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Practicing leadership behavior.

Leadership is mostly about your behavior towards others. It can’t really be taught; it can only be learned by experience. The best place to start is in the mirror. Work to create an attraction principle for yourself. Think about leadership from the perspective of figuring out what you do best, not by trying to become someone else. People who strive for the following attributes generally come to be regarded and respected as leaders by those who associate with them:

* The most important requirement is personal integrity; without it, everything else means nothing. Credibility is at the core of leadership. So always do what you say you’ll do - keep your promises.

* Never get emotional with people – don’t shout or rant, even if you’re very upset or angry. As a leader, you need to learn to lead yourself before you can lead others.

* Always accentuate the positive. Say “Do it like this,” not “Don't do it like that."

* Lead by example – be seen to be working more determinedly and more effectively than anyone else.

* Give credit to others when they contribute to your success.

* Take the blame and the responsibility for your own mistakes. “In any situation, the individual most able to describe reality without blame will emerge as the leader whether designated or not.” - Edwin Friedman

* Help others when they need it and support their growth and learning as well. When employees come to you for answers, first ask them, “What do you think you should do?”

* Be firm and clear when dealing with substandard or unethical behavior. The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards he sets for himself. You are what you tolerate.

* Meet the company’s objectives, but never at the cost of your own integrity or the trust of other people.

“Leadership is a verb, not a noun. Leadership is defined by what you do, not who you are. Leaders are those whom others follow.” – Bill Gore

Monday, August 11, 2008

Two kinds of leadership.

“Leadership has been the subject of an extraordinary amount of dogmatically stated nonsense.” - Chester Barnard, an early AT&T executive and organizational theorist.

Most of what’s been written about leadership assumes that only managers and those appointed to be in charge of others need to practice it. In other words, it presupposes that a hierarchical, top-down organization is the best choice in today’s world.

I don’t agree with this assumption, for reasons I'll explain later. In a complex, fast-changing world, two heads are better than one, and the more relevant skills and opinions you can benefit from in a given situation, the better. Sometimes, a shared, collaborative leadership is called for. This requires that people at all levels take the lead whenever their experience and knowledge will provide additional insight and advantage.

So, I plan to explore both kinds (which are not mutually exclusive), and write about:

- how to develop individuals as leaders,
- how / when to create shared, collaborative leadership.

I'm often asked to explain the difference between managers and leaders. Here are some differentiating examples:

The manager is a good soldier; the leader is his own person.

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

The manager makes decisions; the leader shapes decisions.

The manager initiates; the leader originates.

The manager’s eye is always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is also on the horizon.

The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.

The manager knows how to tell; the leader knows how to ask.

The manager takes people where he wants them to go; the leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.

The manager concentrates on efficiently climbing the ladder of success; the leader checks whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

Tomorrow - how to become a better leader.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More about people, a poem by Ogden Nash.

Ogden Nash was born in 1902 in Rye, New York, and educated at St. George's School in Rhode Island and, briefly, at Harvard University. His first job was writing advertising copy for Doubleday, Page Publishing in 1925 and he published his first collection of poems in 1931. He joined the staff at the New Yorker in 1932 and quickly established himself as a very popular writer of light and funny verse. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1950. His principal home was in Baltimore, Maryland, where he died in 1971. His one-line observations are still often quoted - two examples are; “People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up,” and “Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.”

Here’s a poem of his about people and work that I particularly like.

More About People by Ogden Nash

When people aren't asking questions
They're making suggestions
And when they're not doing one of those
They're either looking over your shoulder or stepping on your toes
And then as if that weren't enough to annoy you
They employ you.
Anybody at leisure
Incurs everybody's displeasure.
It seems to be very irking
To people at work to see other people not working,
So they tell you that work is wonderful medicine,
Just look at Firestone and Ford and Edison,
And they lecture you till they're out of breath or something
And then if you don't succumb they starve you to death or something.
All of which results in a nasty quirk:
That if you don't want to work you have to work to earn enough extra
money so that you won't have to work.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Avoiding conditions that encourage failure.

There are always brambles on the path to success. In 1969, Richard Beckhard at MIT listed the following conditions for the failure of change initiatives:

- A gap between what management says and what it does.

- A flurry of activities without clearly defined change goals.

- Confusion over ends and means.

- Too short a time framework.

- No linkage between different change efforts.

- Overdependance on inside or outside specialists.

- A gap between efforts at the top and in the middle of the organization.

- Confusing good relationships as an end rather than as a condition.

- A search for cookbook solutions.

- Applying intervention strategies in an inappropriate way.

- Trying to put new wine in old bottles.

The best opportunities for change occur where people are really bothered by their inability to cope with the current situation and there are no standard solutions. New ideas are most readily received by those in new situations who have something they want to get done, have few preconceived ideas about the right or normal way to do it, and have little to lose by adopting the new.

Victor Hugo said, “There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Unfortunately, many people begin to realize the time has come only long after it has arrived.

Next week, we'll begin to focus on what makes effective management and leadership in today's world.

But first, tomorrow is poetry day.........

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Rules of thumb for change leaders.

The following "rules" apply to those brave souls who have to drive and sustain the change process:

Start by working on the issues that people care about today.

Keep a bias toward optimism.

Never work up-hill alone.

Find some friends in high places.

Stay alive.

Start a few fires.

Play God a little.

Be prepared to insist and persist.

It’s usually easier to beg forgiveness that to ask permission.

It’s always easier to plant a large garden than it is to tend it.

In the beginning, it’s all about possibilities.

In the end, it’s all about results.

In golf and in life, it’s follow through that counts.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More on developing a change strategy.

- The change strategy is in accord with the values and beliefs of those who are affected.

- The strategy develops “critical mass” in each initiative. This means there’s sufficient investment of resources to move the organization beyond its natural inertia, particularly in the early stages of the change process.

- The strategy recognizes that new approaches are likely to be misunderstood, and includes mechanisms to get feedback about how people see the change process, so clarification can take place as needed.

- There are provisions to hear objections from those affected so steps can be taken to remove the obstacles they identify as these appear.

- There are choice points built into the strategy to permit revision and reconsideration, if experience indicates this would be desirable.

- The strategy takes advantage of opportunities where change is already occurring or is soon contemplated, e.g. where new technology is being introduced, where the business is expanding or contracting rapidly, or where there’s new management in place.

- There are plans to reward and encourage people for the effort of changing and improving, in addition to rewarding them for short-term results.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Developing a change strategy.

A check list for success:

- The strategy has committed and observable support from the top management of the firm.

- The strategy aims primarily at involving and working with those who are supportive of change and improvement, rather than working against those who are defensive and resistant.

- The strategy, wherever possible, involves relatively healthy parts of the firm with the will and resources to improve.

- The strategy involves individuals and groups with as much freedom and discretion in managing their own operations as possible.

- The strategy links together people who are trying to improve how the firm functions so their activities can reinforce and complement one another.

- People who need to participate in shaping and implementing the change strategy see the outcomes as reducing rather than increasing their present burdens.

- Those who are affected by the change strategy feel their autonomy and security aren’t unduly threatened.

Continued tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What to remember when walking, a poem by David Whyte

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He grew up in Yorkshire, studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He's also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world. He's one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of work and organizational development, conducting workshops with many American and international companies. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Here is a poem of his that talks about the unrealized potential that most of us hide within us.

What to remember when walking.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
from which
you have just emerged

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love ? What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread its branches
against the future sky ?