Friday, 22 May 2015

Orchestrated Knowledge - not really a book review!

  • I'm not big on technical book reviews, not reading them and definitely not writing them. And I'm not really going to start now, because in my opinion, technical books tend to be either useful or not, and my reviews won't add to their usefulness or lack thereof. However, I do feel quite happy recommending books, articles and other useful sources of well thought out argument in pursuance of understanding - 'orchestrated knowledge' if you like.

    Peter Leeson is a veteran process improvement and change management expert and a very popular speaker on the conference circuit. I've been fortunate enough to hear him speak on several occasions and I invariably come out of his talks wishing I had his ability to get my messages across in plain English, without worrying about political correctness and without mincing words. 

    I've often wondered why Peter has never published a book - his website is filled with papers and presentations which he has been generous enough to share with anyone who cares to seek them out - and he has enough experience to fill several volumes of anecdotes alone.

    At last I can stop wondering as Peter recently published "Orchestrated Knowledge - Managing the organisation through knowledge".  Orchestrated Knowledge isn't a large book at a tad over 130 pages, but it's a big book in terms of practical advice, background information into why things are the way they are, and explanations of theories regarding process and change management. There are plenty of anecdotes as well and the whole package is based on Peter's exposure to many real issues faced by companies trying to improve the way they work.

    If you want to help improve your organisation and you only read one book this year I would suggest you go out and buy a copy. Now. Because the sooner you read it, the sooner you'll be able to put some of Peter's suggestions into practice.

Monday, 27 April 2015

You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till It's Gone

"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone " 

are lines from the 1970 Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi" which was an early reflection of environmental blots on the landscape.

Those lines work on so many levels from reminiscing about personal relationships, missed opportunities and regrets about leaving situations or places. But it struck me that they can apply equally well in a business context, particularly during organisational changes.

I can think of numerous situations where I've felt this way, and where I've thought (futilely) about the reasoning behind the decisions which caused these feelings. The helplessness when groups or teams (or even whole departments) are broken up or disbanded and their members reposted to different parts of the organisation. The despair when talented professionals with unique subject matter expertise are made redundant, whilst drifters and far less talented individuals keep their jobs. And the sadness when great managers and leaders choose to leave because they no longer feel they can live with the direction the business is heading.

What I find most disheartening is that these events rarely provide any genuine benefit and, at least in my experience, have generally had the opposite effect of what was intended. Why? Because the people responsible for making the decisions didn't think carefully enough about the consequences of their actions, or if they did, they didn't ask the right questions of the right people who could help them see the potential error of their ways.

One of the problems of organisational reshuffles (which I'd argue are often changes for changes sake) is that incoming managers are often more keen on imposing their vision of how things should be than taking a few weeks or months to understand what they are inheriting. As a result of this zealotry to change (which is often driven by arrogance), the proverbial babies get thrown out with the bathwater.

I remember in one organisation where I was contracting, a new manager, with no operational experience in the area he was taking over, explained to his inherited team that he needed an additional manager to run the team because he personally had too many other direct reports - but none of the permanent employees in the team were experienced enough to take on the role - despite each of them having twenty years subject matter expertise and most of them having managed similar teams in other organisations. All but one person either left the company or sought alternative positions. The knowledge base, value of the group (and moral) in that group plummeted over the course of three months.

In far too many situations the people that make the decisions ultimately end up reversing them and attempt to rebuild the teams or groups they previously broke up (although they might make some name changes to try and save face). The problem is the damage has generally already been done. Once you lose the trust of those key people and the bonds and networks they have built up, nothing you can do will rectify what has taken place. (And rest assured, bringing people back to their old roles as contractors won't help, and will prove just how wrong you were in the first place!)

When it's gone it's gone, and you can only rue the fact and hopefully learn enough that next time you find yourself in the same situation, you don't make the same mistakes.

Monday, 20 April 2015

I Am Not A Resource...I Am A Person

The most frequently repeated quote from the 1960's cult TV series, The Prisoner, is probably "I am not a number, I am a free man". Much has changed since then, and global corporations now rule the world. I'm repeatedly find myself getting drawn in to discussions resonating around a similar theme in this brave new world where managers insist on calling me a resource. I am not a resource, I am a person!

Some folk say I get too worked up about this - they make counter claims that terminology doesn't matter, or that the groups that look after people are Human Resource departments (didn't they used to be Personnel Departments?). But, to me, words are important, and just because some groups have redefined certain words to suit their own agendas doesn't mean that they are right and it certainly doesn't mean that we don't have the right to complain. But let's get back to the point.

According to Wikipedia, the first use of the term Human Resources, in a modern connotation was in 1958 by E Wright Bakke - an American economist (which I guess says it all!). In my view a resource is passive, an inanimate or insentient object, like a computer, or a milling machine or a desk. It may require due care and attention to keep it functioning effectively, but it doesn't have needs that it can articulate or negotiate. A resource, in this sense of the word, can be moved around, redistributed, taken apart and rebuilt for a different purpose.

This dispassionate use of the word resource to describe people only continues to fuel the apparently insatiable appetite of institutional shareholders and market/financial analysts to demand head count reductions as their key measure of how to cut operational costs. It's a lot easier to tell the CEO that they need to cut out 1400 resources to improve productivity than it is to sack 1400 people and screw up their lives. Resources feature on balance sheets, people don't. I was recently incensed by an article about Yahoo where a Wall St. analyst was demanding that Marissa Meyer needed to fire a further 1400 staff in order to match Facebook's or Google's productivity rates. Because that's the only strategy he could understand. He couldn't appreciate that in a organisation already suffering from morale issues, further job losses would almost certainly lower productivity even further. And he certainly couldn't seem to understand that productivity can be improved by different means, far more effectively and successfully. And in a sustainable way.

Next time you look in the mirror, will you see a resource staring back at you or will you see a reflection of yourself; a real, flesh and blood person with needs, emotions and feelings?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

5 Facets of Change - Revisited

[I first wrote about the 5 Facets of Change in October 2009 and followed up later in that month with some updates to the model. The two posts have been among the most popular and well received, but it occurred to me that I have never published the combined posts and explained the model in its entirety. So this post rectifies that oversight and includes my most recent thinking. I'm intending to publish an ebook in the summer describing the model and its implementation]

Managing change at the corporate or enterpriselevel is not trivial, which means it cannot be left to chance. The larger or more complex the organisation, the greater the impact of changes and the greater the possibility of things going badly wrong unless due care andattention is placed on the process of making the change.

The 5 Facets of Change is a mechanism to enable agents of change, from the senior executives, through the middle management and the people most impacted by change, to understand how change initiatives need to be organised and executed to ensure the greatest likelihood of success.

5 Facets of Change

We often talk about change management life-cycles in the same way that we think about a project management life-cycle. The problem with this approach is that change doesn't work in neat phases quite the way that a project does. Sure, we can think of start-up, execution and closure phases, as we might do with a project, but the reality is that there are a number of activities associated with successful change that are on-going throughout those phases. The amplitude of those activities in any phase will depend on the nature of the change and the environment into which the change is being introduced.

The 5 Facets model uses the Change itself as the central theme. This is supported by 5 key groups of activities which need to take place to enable the change. When we define the change in this central theme we need to look at not only the objectives and reasons for the change, but we need to anticipate how the change will integrate into the existing organisation processes, tools and culture. We can then use the five facets as strategic and tactical management activities to ensure that all aspects of change are dealt with during the transformation and transition period (and beyond).

The 5 Facets of Change are:
  1. Lead the Change - brings together the requirements for driving the change through the organisation, including sponsorship, change leaderships, change agents and the change team
  2. Communicate the Change - examines how to ensure consistent and effective communications during the programme of change, including education and training
  3. Manage the Change - describes the activities required prior to embarking on change in addition to the specific management activities required during the change. As well as general planning and management, an important component of this is measurement - understanding how the change initiative is meeting on-going goals and ultimately how successful it is
  4. Deal with the Change - focuses on how to manage reactions to the change and specifically how to minimise negativity and resistance. A failure to manage the human aspects of change are often neglected, at great cost to the enterprise especially in terms of performance
  5. Relate to the Change - looks at how to manage the stakeholders associated with the change programme, particularly those not directly impacted by the change but who still need to be aware of the plans and progress, and what the change will actually mean to them
Because of the complexity of many change programmes and the sheer number of variables that need to be considered, change is not trivial, and even good change management will not guarantee success. But good change management will reduce the risk of failure, make the transition easier to deal with at all levels of the organisation, and pave the way for further change which is essential in today's dynamic and constantly shifting world.