Friday, 25 July 2014

It's Good to Revisit the Past, Just Don't Stay Too Long

I am helping a business prepare for a structural change. Although the material changes to employees are minimal, the psychological ones may be big; people who have worked for separate companies for many years will be joining their parent company and taking on its name.

A leader predicted that the announcement would cause people to reminisce about their pasts. He asked if it was okay for people to revisit what they hold dear from their current company.  

Absolutely, I said. It is healthy to honour where you come from and the things from years ago that have personal meaning. Those experiences have helped form who they are today. Honouring the past does not mean not letting it go.

Ben Watt --Toronto, July  17 '14
I went through a similar experience last Thursday. In the morning, I read that Ben Watt, a musician who greatly influenced me in my mid-twenties, was playing that night. I had closely followed his career as a solo artist and as part of Everything But the GirlMy friends were busy, so I bought a single ticket. 

Throughout the day, I thought about something from my past that I held dear. In 1988, I decided to leave my job to go back packing in Europe. I felt I wasn't  achieving my goals and needed to make some changes.

I had planned on spending three months traveling by Europass.  Other than flying into and out of Amsterdam, I was free to discover my own path.

The Quest
The only must-do commitment I made was to visit a small resort town in northern England called Scarborough. That was where Ben Watt had taken photos for the cover of his North Marine Drive album. 

My quest started as a whim, but grew in importance as I made my way through Europe. It became a symbol of my decision to actively define and achieve my goals. I could do anything in life and it was up to me to decide what that would be. 

When I got to Scarborough it was deserted. It had been a rainy summer and vacationers had opted for other, perhaps warmer, destinations. For me, it was perfect.

I walked North Marine Drive and took photos near where Ben had taken his. I had achieved my goal. When I got home I sent a photo of me by the sea to him, with a letter about the insights I realized on the road.    

The Postcard
A couple of months later, I received a thoughtful and kind postcard from Ben, talking about the time he had spent at university in the area.

Twenty-five years later, I was five feet away from Ben on the stage, listening to his songs from my personal soundtrack. He also played his excellent new album, Hendra.

As I left the show, I thought about my time in Europe. I also thought of the people I was going to work with who would be thinking of their pasts.  It is important to respect and encourage remembrances of what people hold dear. It's healthy, grounding and inspirational.

Looking backward can lead to moving forward as long as you don't stay too long in the past. Hendra is at the top of my playlist.


Friday, 18 July 2014

If You Have Something to Say, Make Sure You Can Be Heard

One of the best parts of participating in a charity run is the cheering on of others just before the finish line. 

For runners, it's a 'so close yet so far' experience. They can see the finish line, but it is still far away. Exhausted they draw upon every ounce of strength they can muster to achieve their goal. Thirty seconds is a long time when each one feels like an eternity.

This is when runners need the most support. Motivational phases like "you can do it" or "you are almost there" can help someone push through their pain to do their best.

Reactions from runners are varied. Some run past, oblivious to the well-wishes, others look at you but say nothing and others smile and say thanks. My favourite response is when someone speeds up, giving it their all. 

Last Sunday, I saw an athletic man who was running with a backpack on. I said, "Your finish is going to be great." He looked at me, smiled and blasted off to the finish line like an Olympian. Great stuff!

Midway through my cheers, I noticed a teenager behind me and to my side. He had joined in on the cheering.  His encouragements were more specific and better than mine. He said thinks like "start kicking your feet now" and "200 hundred metres to go." Encouragement is like a compliment: the more specific the better.

Unfortunately, his calls were barely audible. I could hear him but the runners, many wearing headphones, couldn't. Also, he was standing about six feet away from the path, out of the line of site of runners. He wasn't noticed and his great encouragements didn't have the impact he intended.

I asked him if he wanted to come closer to the runners, but he said no. 

This happens so often in business, especially in organizations going through a lot of change. People are doing great work to support the change but it is not noticed. Sometimes the reason is cultural, where standing out, even if you have the right answer, is discouraged. Other times, people avoid being the focus of attention.  Either way, their work doesn't have the impact that was intended.

Part of good change management is to catch people doing good things that are aligned with the direction the the organization has chosen. It is the change leader's role to identify, recognize and reward these efforts so they positively impact the organization and advance the change.

You can be sure that I will be saying "start kicking your feet now" and "200 hundred metres to go" at my next race. Phil

Friday, 11 July 2014

Approach a Computer Set Up Like a Change Project

My New Computer
This week, I set up my new computer. I had been using my son's old computer after he had upgraded to a "gaming" model four years ago. 

My rationale for an upgrade was productivity. Internet pages weren't loading quickly and documents were, saving slowly; it was time to invest in speed.

I am not tech savvy, but usually I can get things to work. I took a "just get it done" approach to setting up my new toy.

Set Up Wasn't This Easy
First, I transferred files from my old computer. No problem. Then I started loading software programs. Some weren't compatible with my Windows upgrade. Also, setting up one of my printers was a hassle. The driver wasn't even listed in the set up menu. 

My challenges continued. When I thought I was up and running, I was slowed down by what seemed like endless adjustments to factory default settings. Nothing looked the same as before. For example, while writing this post, I found that I was missing my cropping function for pictures. Where did it go and how do I get it back? 

As my productivity continued to dip I found myself longing for the good ole days when I was using my old computer. That's when I realized I was struggling with change, just like the people I help lead and manage change at work. 

What would I say to myself to get out of the 'valley of despair' of change? I would:
  • Remind myself of why the change needed to happen and the cost of using my old computer
  • Keep the main benefit of the change front and centre: increased productivity
  • Set realistic expectations for the transition period  - I am not a technician, so it will take me longer to diagnose and fix problems, and some will not be solved
  • Create a sequenced plan and realistic timeline to complete the project
  • Enlist people with the skills I don't have - computer technical skills would have been good
  • Celebrate small wins: I eventually transferred my Outlook data across versions of Office - high five!
I have a few more programs to load and settings to change before completing my transition to stress-free computing. I will have successfully transitioned to a faster computer. I will also have learned many tips for my next upgrade. My last piece of self-advice is to take a few minutes to write them down.


Friday, 4 July 2014

How Infographics Can Help You Communicate Change

By Customer Magnetism
Often, organizational changes fail because leaders don't explain why the change is needed and how it will benefit the organization and its people. 

Without rationale that makes sense and an emotional connection to the benefits, people keep doing what they have always done and the initiative fails or only achieves marginal benefits. 

Not all attempts at explaining the "why" behind a change are effective. Long emails, articles and presentations are difficult to absorb and often ignored, leaving people uninspired to change how they work. 

Infographics provide an effective way to motivate and engage people around the need for changeAn infographic is a visual representations of information that is quickly consumed, easily understood and engaging.  All important criteria for effective change communication.

I was introduced to infographics by a friend who was creating them to support a large technology upgrade. They were clear, easy to understand and memorable. 

Here are some statistics that support the power of these graphic tools:
  • 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • 65 percent of the population are visual learners
  • 40 percent of people respond better to visual information than text
  • Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text
  • Infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles
  • People are 3 times more likely to share an infographic than a document

There are many examples of infographics on the internet to give you ideas on how to design your own. Here are some tips to get you started:
  • Start with your purpose - what is the message?
  • Consider the point of view of your audience - what images are meaningful to them?
  • Select an attention grabbing title
  • Focus on one theme
  • Use 'real' data - Relatable, Exciting, Attracting and Legit
  • Reveal the data at several levels of detail, from broad overview to the fine structure
  • Encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data
  • Use colour to instill different moods and emotional connections
  • Provide references to the data presented

Click here for 5 free infographic templates from Hub Spot
Creating infographics is becoming easier thanks to predesigned templates. Hub Spot has created five templates that can be downloaded for free.

Communication is an essential part of any change initiative. Sharing why the change is needed is an important step to creating committed and engaged individuals who have the power to make it successful. Infographics is an excellent way to do so.



Friday, 27 June 2014

5 Tips on Voluntary Mergers from the Chartered Professional Accountants Canada (CPA)

During undergrad, I took a few film theory and criticism courses to balance out my business curriculum. In my Introduction to Film Course, the professor said that once you study film you will never look at one the same way because you know how it was made. This is true of any profession; you see things differently because of your knowledge and experience. 

This insight comes into play when I am reading business articles. I can't help underline the actions that enable or hinder change. For example, I read an article in The Globe and Mail this week about the merger of the three major accounting bodies - Chartered Accountants (CAs), Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) and Certified General Accountants (CGAs) - into a unified Chartered Professional Accountants Canada (CPAs) association.

The merger makes sense. Traditional differences among these designations and the work that is done by its members are less pronounced than in the past and the benefits of a single accounting body - a larger organization and stronger voice on accounting practices, better career opportunities and cost savings, etc. - are many.

Conversely, there have been concerns from some members including the loss of current designations, terms of membership and having a minority say on how the new organization will be run (CAs represent 46 percent of the combined 185,000 membership). 

In 2012, after a year of negotiations, the national CGA organization withdrew from talks, but rejoined them last year after provincial GCA organizations started their separate negotiations to join the other groups. This week, final approvals were completed.

Here are the actions I underlined that helped enable the merger:
  • Creating a future identity that is different, better and more compelling - An ad campaign was created and launched to build awareness of the new CPA designation and create a "strong and positive impression of the organization.
  • Differentiating a past failed merger - In 2004, the CA and CMA organizations attempted to merge. Differences between the past and current merger have been clearly stated to avoid the "we tried this before and failed" objection.
  • Retaining what members value from their current organizations - Existing members will use the new CPA designation followed by their current designation (e.g., CPA, CA). In 10 years, members will have the option to drop their current designation.
  • Securing and communicating a quick win - A new educational process has been created incorporating the best features of the three current systems, demonstrating benefit from the merger and demonstrating contributions from the separate bodies.
  • Acknowledging that there is still a lot of work to be done - Expectations are being managed that there will be a long transition process and not everything is defined. This avoids the "You said we were one organization, but what about this difference" objection.

"The professionals are turning pro" is the new CPA organization's tag line. How they manage change is one way they are living it.


Friday, 20 June 2014

The art of seeing things for the first time

 When I was seven, my family moved to a house on a ravine. The valley presented endless opportunities to explore the forests and fields that surrounded the slow and winding Humber River; Nature was our backyard.

Now, we live five minutes away from similar surroundings. The creek and trees look the same. Even the smells are the same.

Sam and Charlie

When our boys were small, we would go on hikes along the riverbed, seeing how far we could go before we were stopped by the terrain. This would be where we would have a snack break and discuss the interesting things we had seen and challenges we had overcome. Everything was important.

Charlie, now almost 16, recently has taken a renewed interest in exploring the river. This week, he asked if I wanted to join him on his trek to see how far he could go. 

I jumped at the chance to spend time with him and retrace the steps we had laid many years ago. 

What surprised me was Charlie's fascination with everything - fossils, rock paths across the water, plastic bottles, even a steep rock face that he felt needed to be climbed. Everything was still important.

I noticed Charlie was approaching the hike differently than me. He was experiencing things as if he was seeing them for the first time, present in the moment, taking things in and adapting his course based on what he saw. I was focused on finding the easiest path.

Before long, I found myself taking on Charlie's behaviours. I too broadened my line of sight. I was present, active and engrossed in the moment. It felt great to be alive.

If Charlie hadn't been with me, I wouldn't have walked across the riverbed, swung on tree branches, got entangled in thorn bushes or climbed steep cliffs. I would have had an easy walk along the shortest route to my destination. 

How many times in our lives do we process a task instead of experiencing it? Completion is the goal and taking the easiest approach is the best way to achieve it. What do we miss along the way and how does that affect our outcomes?

I am meeting a new client on Monday. My line of sight will be broadened by everything they see and where they are going. Everything will be important.


Friday, 13 June 2014

GM's Assessment of Its Mishandled Ignition Switch Recalls: What About the Leaders?

Last week, GM announced the findings of an independent, company-sponsored probe into its failure to address defective parts that resulted in 13 deaths over 11 years. The technical problem was an ignition switch that could move to accessory positions while driving, causing the power to be cut and power steering, power brakes and airbags to stop working. The managerial problem was that no one fixed it.

The writers of the report principally blamed GM's culture for enabling this tragedy. 
  • Lack of accountability ‒ one cited example was the "GM salute": a crossing of arms and pointing at others. The employees responsible for making the fixes, including engineering, legal and cross-functional committees, operated in silos and failed to set timetables or demand action 
  • Lack of urgency ‒ this behaviour is known internally as the "GM nod": everyone agrees to a proposed plan of action, then leaves the room and does nothing"
  • Poor judgement ‒ the original switch failed to meet GM specifications, but was approved for production. Decisions were not assigned owners, therefore they weren't made and no consequences were levied
  • Avoidance of raising Issues to leaders ‒ consumer complaints or internal reviews were not raised to the highest levels of leader. There are many references to employees failing to disclose critical pieces of information about the defect
  • Conflicting leadership priorities ‒ teams had differing views on competing mandates ‒ "cost is everything" and "cost is irrelevant when safety is an issue" 
Mary Barra Addressing the Recall Probe
Mary Barra, Chief Executive, communicated the investigation findings to all employees via video conference. She announced that 15 people had been fired for incompetence and negligence and 5 more had been disciplined because of their inaction. A new safety head had been hired into a more senior role than his predecessor and a new "Speak Up for Safety" program was being launched to encourage early reporting of safety issues.

Most of Mary's comments focus on GM's culture that enabled the shortfalls: "Fixing this is going to take more than getting rid of some people and moving boxes around on the org chart. This is going to require culture change and an ongoing vigilance." Fair enough, but what does this mean? How will the leaders that have prospered in the current culture create a dramatically different one?

Here are my recommendations for GM leaders:
  1. Don't "put this behind you"; make it part of your new culture. Weave this tragic story into company lore and build ways of working to avoid it happening again.  For example, ensure that new employee orientations include your lessons learned. Share how this has profoundly changed your thinking and behaviour. This failure is part of your culture and will be a source of strength when you can articulate what you have become because of it. Follow Mary's lead:  "I want to keep this painful experience permanently in our collective memories. I don't want to forget what happened because I ‒ and know you ‒ never want this to happen again. This will take conscious actions."
  2. Modify your rewards system to encourage new behaviours and leave behind old ones, especially for senior leaders ‒ they must demonstrate that they support the new culture and are prepared to benefit or lose because of it
  3. Work on accountability first. Nothing will change without people at all levels feeling responsible for outcomes
  4. Document examples of the new empowered culture and share them across the organization
  5. Invite external experts and the press to evaluate your progress. Highlight and address setback. There will be setbacks
The most important recommendation is for leaders to acknowledge that they own GM's culture and they created the old one through their actions and behaviours.

The report could have said that leaders take full accountability for the failure to recall dangerous cars. It would have been an excellent example of the new culture they are charged with creating.


Friday, 6 June 2014

What My Dentist Taught Me About Conviction

I have been spending a lot of time with dentists lately. I started getting sharp pains in an upper-right molar. Every time I drank something hot or cold a sharp lightening bolt would shoot up into my brain - not good. 

Dr. Janet Tamo
called my dentist, Dr. Janet Tamo, to make an appointment. I was in her chair within twenty-four hours. Before I left, I had endodontic (tooth nerves) and periodontic (gum) consultations within the week.

Janet became my dentist in the early 80s when she opened her practice. It has been great seeing her career soar, including teaching dentistry at University of Toronto, being an industry spokesperson,championing new dentistry technologies and procedures, and being awarded "Best Dentist" in 2010 and 2011. I recommended her to all Cadbury expats. "She is the best," I proudly proclaimed.   

On Monday, after four root canals, I revisited Janet to begin the crown-making process. This is my fourth crown so I knew the drill. 

This time was different. After reviewing my x-rays, Janet said, "We need to look at another tooth." After a quick call to my new endodontist, she said, "Phil, we also need to put a crown on the tooth in front of the one we are replacing". 

My initial thoughts were short-term. I can't afford to spend any more time on my teeth. I said, "Do we have to?" My dentist explained that the suspect tooth was almost all filling (I had a sweet tooth as a kid) and was not strong. She also reasoned that it was badly discoloured and my new tooth would have to be matched to this one or it would look fake. A crown was the only good option. 

What struck me was Janet's conviction that this option was unequivocally in my best interest. Based on her experience, the facts and a good understanding of my needs, there was one best path forward. 

Dentistry and management consulting are similar in this regard; the goal is to help your clients achieve their goals. Conviction is required to avoid clients missing opportunities or make mistakes that have happened before. Clients aren't always receptive to advice, especially if it is contrary to their beliefs. It takes conviction to influence them based on knowledge or skill that the client may not have.

My next root canal is on Thursday. I know it's my best option, which is a sign of excellent dentistry, and consultancy.


Friday, 30 May 2014

9 Tips to Look Your Best When Your Presentation is Filmed

This week, I was on the road facilitating train-the-trainer sessions. The evening before my first workshop, I scanned an email outlining the logistics for the meeting. The last point read, "The film crew will arrive at 8 am."
Filming the sessions was news to me and my first reaction was, "Oh." Being filmed can be intimidating because your environment changes; people are pointing equipment at you and there are limits to where you can walk and how quickly you can move. It feels like presenting to two audiences at the same time. 

I had been filmed the week before at another client's event so this unforeseen detail didn't distract me for long. I knew what to do.

Here are some tips on how to present yourself on camera:

  • Watch recorded presentations on the internet to see what techniques you like and dislike
  • Check yourself in the mirror just before you are filmed ‒ video is forever and something like an upturned collar will distract your audience ("Look, his collar is out of place, I bet he doesn't know)
  • Don't look at the camera ‒ it makes you appear as distracted as you are, sometimes even more so
  • Be conscious of the placement of equipment ‒ they are obstacles that will distract your audience if you bump into them
  • Present in one spot ‒ roving presenters are hard to capture and cause the crew to move around, distracting your audience
  • Keep your wardrobe consistent ‒ if you begin with a jacket on, wear it throughout the session ‒ a wardrobe change can distract the video audience (Didn't he just have a jacket on?) and may suggest that the video was shot over multiple sessions
  • Focus on your audience and what you are helping them to do ‒ it is the best way to look like you are not being filmed
  • Post the session, if you are asked to be interviewed on camera, always ask for multiple takes ‒ you will never know if your first take is the best unless you take at least one more
The workshops and the filming went well. The participants and I forgot that the camera crew was there. Perhaps that's the best tip of all. 


Friday, 23 May 2014

12 Business Travel Tips to Help You Be Your Best When You Are on the Road

I think of George Clooney every time I navigate an airport. His character in Up in the Air was a business travel pro.

For over eight years I traveled most weeks. I learned many tips by practice or watching people like George's character do their thing. 

As my international travel is ramping up again, I started a list of past lessons.  Here are my first twelve:

  1. Pack your wrinkle-proned clothes in the F1 Spacepak bag, its air vacuum system minimizes wrinkles and there is a zippered compartment for used items. I read an interview of the actor Jason Sudeikis who said he never travels without his and now I know why
  2. Book hotels as close to your destination as possible - it reduces risk of lateness, minimizes travel time and removes one logistical step - within walking distance is best
  3. Check Google Maps to explore your hotel's neighbourhood - places to eat, shops and interesting sites can be noted before you leave
  4. Never check your luggage - it encourages you to over-pack and a plane change or transport mistake can disrupt your trip
  5. Never board a plane hungry or without a meal packed in your carry-on bag - runway delays or turbulence can stop you from being served in-flight meals
  6. Unpack as soon as you get to your hotel - it keeps you organized and minimizes wrinkles
  7. Buy meals and snacks from grocery stores - it's fast, cheap and usually healthier than restaurants
  8. Request a wake-up call even if you don't think you need one. Always have a backup
  9. Always be courteous even if you are in a difficult situation - it's the right thing to do, lowers your stress level and people treat you better and are more willing to help or bend the rules
  10. Always ask a representative what he or she would do when you are in a difficult situation - they are experts of their businesses and know all the shortcuts
  11. Thank people by name - they will appreciate it and you will most likely see them again
  12. Collect loyalty points on everything possible - they are small thank yous to your family for being away
Business travel is like riding a bike: You remember how to ride as soon as you push off.

I am storing my travel tips on Evernote so I can add them on my phone. I anticipate more to come, even as soon as next week.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Remembrance of Things Past: Good or Bad?

While grocery shopping this week, I saw something that reminded me of my past: fiddleheads, the coiled tips of new ferns that are only sold in the spring.

As a kid, I used to go "fiddleheading" with my family, led by Uncle Carl who traded a bottle of whiskey for access to a farmer's riverside land. New ferns thrived there and we would harvest them by the bucketful

I remember my mom and Aunt Betty cleaning large green garbage bags full of these vegetables. They would freeze meal-sized portions that would feed us for the year. 

Helping to clean them was a time consuming, dreaded chore. Funny how I didn't think of this part of fiddleheading when I placed some in my cart. Don't you find that most memories aren't specific; they are just good or bad.

I bought the fiddleheads although I knew that my family doesn't like them. I tried to indoctrinate them years ago with no success - "They are gross". Perhaps having them was more important than eating them. 

Many people facing change act in the same way. They reach for symbols of the past that remind them of the 'good ole days', when things were simpler, predictable and 'good' (at least how they remember them).

Some leaders are wary of these sentiments assuming that people want to return to the past. I see things differently; I believe they want to pay homage to their past and hope for a future that will give them the same feelings. 

The best way to support people through change is to honour their treasured past and build a bridge from it to the future. For example, the values or capabilities that were alive in the past can be enlisted to build a better future. 

Not honouring the past can either leave people stuck in their remembrances or fearful of the organization's future - both lead to poor adoption of new ways of thinking and working.

I only bought 11 fiddleheads this week ‒ not enough for a meal. Was I really intending to eat them or was buying them the point? 

I won't be buying more fiddleheads until maybe next year. A nod to a memory that is important to me is enough.


Friday, 9 May 2014

When Every Second Counts, Each Minute Has 60 Possible Victories

My doctor, a fellow runner, said that you run your first marathon to see if you finish, you run your second to see if you can beat your first time and who knows why you run your third. 

Last Sunday, I ran my third marathon. I signed up because my wife, Barb, was keen to run her second. It didn't take long for me to think about how I could beat my best time. There is something addictive about making progress, especially when measurement is in seconds.

I knew I had to run differently if I wanted to beat my last time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 12 seconds - my goal was under 4 hours. My first two marathons were plagued with leg cramps and lost time seized up in thesecond half. Training harder would have made things worse.

My plan was to run smarter with a lighter stride to save my legs, to run continuously for the first half and save my breaks for when I needed them, and to better fuel and rest before the race.

The race started well and I exceeded my half-time goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes by 40 seconds (every second counts).  Another good sign was that I had no cramping. Things were going as planned.

At the 15 mile mark, I got my first tingle in my left leg. It happened 6 miles after it did in past marathons, which was a good omen, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get worse. I started taking 60 second breaks to stretch and walk. It felt counterproductive knowing the clock was ticking but I knew from past experience what would happen if I didn't. 

By 20 miles, both legs were intermittently tightening but I could still run. By 22 miles I felt like I had to walk. Slowing down, however, made them cramp (and hurt) more. I realized that to avoid more intense pain and seizing I had to run on medium pained legs. It was a strange feeling knowing that staying in pain would save me being in greater pain.

At 24 miles, my right leg locked. I knew that if I stopped moving it would spasm so I kept running with one normal leg bending and the other tapping on the ground like a broomstick. I heard one onlooker say, "Get it going, get it going!" Within 30 seconds I was back to running with medium pain - a relief. 

With 500 metres to go and the finish line in sight, I though to myself, savour this moment, it might be your last marathon. I did my best to look around at the wonderfully supportive crowd. I even managed to sprint for the last 50 metres, something I couldn't do in my first two races.

I crossed the line at the 4 hour, 6 minute and 44 second mark; I had knocked 90 seconds off of my personal best time. I didn't reach my goal but I made significant progress. 

After recovering for a few hours, I assessed the changes I had made to get a better result. Here is what I wrote down:
  • Changing my stride - it helped preserve my legs but it didn't eliminate my cramping problem 
  • Running continuously versus intervals - It was more fun, not sure if it helped me
  • Limiting weekly training miles - I didn't get injured prior to the marathon, but I probably cut too many miles
  • Running more preparation races - this helped with first half speed
  • Seeing a physiotherapist - hard to tell
  • Managing what I eat - who knows?
  • Getting more rest - didn't happen
Barb achieved a personal best too (16 minutes!). It took us about 20 minutes before we committed to running this race again next year. There are more changes to come and many seconds to be won. 


Friday, 2 May 2014

When Free is the Price of Success: Thriving in the Connection Economy

My introduction to how business works was in my first year university economics course. The assigned textbook was called Economics by Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner. It is hard to forget since it was the first business tome we were exposed to, cost a fortune and weighed a ton. Over the years I have asked people who took the same program if they remember Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner. They all do.

New economic models have been created since then. For example, the internet has changed the rules of the game on marketing. Social media has provided opportunities for small business to earn the exposure and influence once reserved for large and better resourced companies. 

Customer relationships are changing too. Seth Godin coined the term "connection economy" to describe the connectivity provided by the internet and how spreading ideas across communities of like-minded people is the pathway to success. Valuable Ideas make strong connections that lead to trust and loyalty. Other business leaders, including Chris Brogan and Michael Hyatt, have expanded on this concept and proven its success. 

Seth Godin's 'Free Stuff!' Web Page Invitation

A core belief of the connection economy is that the most effective way to spread your ideas is to give your content away for free; the more you share, the more value you create and the greater trust and loyalty you earn. When you do offer something for sale, people in your community will buy it because they are confident in its value and want to support the relationship.

I have had the opportunity to practice this belief, both with Change with Confidence and my speaking engagements. Blank templates of the tools I included in my book are available for free downloading on my web site.  Also, the slides I use in presentations are available for free to all participants and are posted on Slideshare

My latest give-away will be an ebook of "how-to" articles and blog posts on change management. Topics will include "The First Thing Leaders Need to Do When Leading a Big Change" and "Why Confidence is so Important When Leading Change and How to Build It". 

The creative process has already begun. My next steps are to: 

  1. Reread the 170 articles I have written and select the ones for the e-book
  2. Create an outline to organize the articles into a logical order
  3. Work with Krishan Jayatunge and Laurie Barnett to create the design and layout. I am looking forward to working with them, especially after seeing their work on An Honest Living, an excellent book by Melodie Barnett and Luisa Girotto.
My e-book will be given to everyone who signs up for the Change with Confidence newsletter. It will also be a gift to everyone who is receiving it now or who reads my blog. It could be available for participants who attend my speaking engagements too. The possibilities seem endless.

I am excited by my new project. It's a chance to build something new, which is always thrilling. It's also a chance to grow a community of like-minded people who value what I have to say. 

That sounds like success to me. Lipsey, Sparks and Steiner might also agree.


Friday, 25 April 2014

How do you know if people understand a change initiative?

I was talking with someone who was going through a large change at her organization. She described the communication materials that had been developed to build awareness about the change. It was important to explain why the change was necessary and what was going to be new for employees.

I asked, "Did people understand the communication?" She said, "Yes." I then asked, "How do you know?"

Often, project teams focus their efforts on building and executing change plans without thinking about how they will test if their activities achieved what they were intended to do. 

For this project, checking online access to presentations would confirm if people actually viewed the communication. Also, asking a few people about what they learned would provide a proxy for levels of awareness. A couple of simple questions such as "Why are we making the change?" and "What is the change about?" is all that is needed.

Not investing in validating understanding can have disastrous consequences such as people not adopting new ways of working because they don't make sense or not knowing the benefits that the change will provide and therefore not ensuring they are realized. 

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was not confirming that a supplier had trained its people on how a large systems change would alter processes.

We had developed a rock solid validation plan for all colleagues but neglected to include employees from third-party providers who were acting on the behalf of the company. 

I had asked the transition lead for this group if the training had been successfully delivered. The person said yes and I left it at that. Most of the training had not been shared with the company. Like most mistakes made during big changes, mine cost time, money and credibility. This was a lesson I have not had to learn twice.

Here are some tips on how to assess what people know about a change and their role in making it successful:
  • Establish validation checkpoints at each important milestones or at the beginning of each phase of the initiative
  •  Identify what people must know and be able to do at each checkpoint
  • Ask leaders to sign off on the validation plan, giving them 'skin in the game'
  • Poll a random sample of individuals from all impacted parts of the organization 
  • Involve leaders in the validation process. Ask them to assess a few of their team members
  • Include your assessment in leadership updates
  • Acknowledge and profile groups that are up to speed
  • Develop a plan to close any gaps 
It is easy to assume that people understand what you have communicated to them, especially when you are working on the project and know the details by heart. Testing your assumptions about what people know is one of the best ways to manage risk and avoid surprises. 

How do you know if people understand a change initiative? Ask them.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to Lead Change in a Unionized Environment

I met Jamie Gruman, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph last week for coffee. We talked about current trends in change management and where our field is headed.

Jamie mentioned that his Leadership of Organizational Change Masters program class was discussing how to lead change within a unionized environment. We thought this would make a good blog post.

 I worked within a unionized environment at Cadbury in Canada. Management and the union had good relations and I don’t recall any union-specific challenges to the merger and cultural initiatives we implemented.

I remember a warehouse manager saying he preferred to work with unions because the rules of engagement are clear and in writing. He also said that you get the union you deserve, meaning that good relationships breed good partnerships (and vice versa).

Union leadership is a stakeholder group just like all others that are impacted by change and have influence over the direction, evaluation and ultimately the success of it. You need to engage and motivate these key players as you would anyone else. This will ensure they visibly support the change and drive the behaviours that enable it, demonstrating them to their membership. 

The first thing to do is assess how the change will impact union leadership and what role you need them to play:
  •         How will they (and their membership) benefit?
  •         How will they lose?
  •         What support do you need from them?
  •         How motivated will they be to support the change?
  •         What actions do you need to take to get them on side?

Here are some tips on how to align union leadership with your change initiative:
  • Meet with them prior to communicating the change to explain:
    • Why the change is necessary for the long-term health of the organization. This is the common purpose you will work toward.
    • What other options were considered
    • Why it is achievable
    • What it will do
    • What needs to change and what will stay the same for the change to be successful
    • How people will be involved in the planning and transition phases
    • What support (training, coaching, etc.) will be provided
    • What will happen and when

  • Ask for feedback
  • Discuss the role(s) that union leadership will play in the change. It needs to be an important, visible and active one
  • Commit to update meetings at key points of the transition plan

An excellent example of management and union partnership through change was in 1984 when Toyota and General Motors created a joint venture called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) that transformed an ailing GM factory in Fremont, California, into a highly efficient producer of cars.

Within one year, the ailing plant went from GM’s worst-quality producer to its highest. Labour relations followed a similar transformation. Employees and their union embraced the Toyota production system built on mutual trust and empowerment. Absenteeism dropped from 20% to 2%. 

So how do you lead change in a unionized environment? The same way you do in a non-unionized one except for the acknowledgement, engagement and motivation of another key stakeholder that can influence the success of the change. This is an important step that is sometimes missed.


Friday, 11 April 2014

What Got You Here Won't Get You There (and Maybe Not Get You Here Again)

On May 4th, I will be running my third marathon. My first was in October 2011 and second in May 2012. I had satisfied my marathon thirst and said that I would only run another one if Barb wanted to run her second. Last September, she became thirsty. 

#1: 4 h. 29 m. 46 s.
Running is a great sport. For those who have a competitive spirit, the goal is continuous improvement and the measure is to beat your personal best time. When you do, the feeling is tremendous. 

I ran my first marathon when I was writing the first draft of Change with Confidence. Running 26.2 miles. Twice the distance of my longest run seemed like an appropriate stretch goal. 

I created a detailed training plan and stuck to it. My big mistake was exceeding it, which gave me shin splints four weeks before the race. I could barely run for two and a half weeks.

The run was tough. My legs started cramping around 9 miles in and they seized at the 15 mile mark. I had experienced slight cramping in my longest training runs, but nothing like this. I got to the finish line but far later than I had planned.

#2: 4 h. 8 m. 26 s.
Two days after the race, I started planning my second marathon that was six months away. This time I was joined by my wife Barb and friend Tim. I learned from my mistake and kept to my training plan. At the starting line I was injury free and confident about my performance.  

I followed my race plan, running '10 and 1' intervals and not starting too quickly. To my surprise and horror, my legs started to spasm at the same distances. I relived the progressive decline of my legs, just like watching a movie for the second time - a scary one. 

The good news is that I finished the marathon and beat my first marathon time by over 21 minutes.

This time around, I have completely overhauled how I run and train. I have been:

  • Changing my stride by shortening my steps and lessening the impact on my feet and legs
  •  Running continuously versus '10 and 1' intervals - I lost too much time walking when my legs were strong
  • Limiting weekly training miles to 30 versus 45 - was I overtaxing them before? 
  • Running more preparation races prior to the marathon (7 versus 4)
  • Seeing a physiotherapist two weeks before the race to discuss prevention and management strategies and tactics
  • Managing what I eat, especially three days prior to the race - high carbohydrates, low fibre and protein

With 23 days to go, my practise races are a little slower than two years ago, but my form is better. This will be a good test of Marshal Goldsmith's adage, "What got you here won't get you there." The "there" for me is a faster time and stronger legs throughout the race. Either of them will be an improvement and both will be tremendous.