Friday 28 February 2014

Have You Helped A Reporter Out Lately? You Might Like It

In January, I was looking for new ways to promote my book and consulting business. One of my goals for 2014 is to broaden my global reach and I knew I needed to adopt new marketing efforts to do so.

I discovered a great opportunity for free PR. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a matching service for reporters and information sources. Reporters from media agencies such as The New York Times, and ABC News post information requests for articles. People with that information respond to an HARO email address. The reporter gets the information she or he needs and the information source gets mentioned in the article. A fair trade.

Signing up was easy. Within five minutes I had completed a short registration form and selected my areas of interest. Shortly after, I was scanning the first of three daily emails listing queries.

I have responded to two requests: one on workplace productivity and another on learning how to relax. Like most things in life, it takes a couple of attempts before getting it right.

My initial approach was to provide all of my content in the email. For example, for the learning to relax article, I talked about how I needed to recalibrate my life after a whirlwind year and my three-point plan to get back on track:
  • Scheduling recreational activities on my work calendar 
  • Devoting more time to running, a fitness activity that I find relaxing, especially when listening to music
  • Stopping work-related activities thirty minutes before going to bed
I realized that I was writing the story versus pitching my value as a source for it. What if the reporter wasn't interested in a three-point plan?

My next response will be different. I will mention why I would make a good information source and provide an insight to spark interest. It might be more help to the reporter and create more PR for me. I know I will like helping a reporter out.


Friday 21 February 2014

Helping People Set Their Own Expectations Around Change

The importance of setting expectations about change came to mind when I got our son Charlie's phone repaired. I had scheduled the time to do so based on little information (hours of operation) and a lot of optimism. This won't take long, I thought.

I saw 22 people waiting to be served when I entered Samsung's walk-in service centre. My expectations and my mood immediately fell. 

In front of me was a touch screen that dispensed tickets indicating your place in line. It also displayed how many people were waiting and what type of service they needed.

As I waited, I noticed that each transaction took five to ten minutes to complete, except for pick ups that took less than five. A large tally board helped me update my wait time expectation based on how quickly the four service representatives moved through the line. My 40 minute wait didn't seem too long.

When I returned an hour later to pick up the phone, the number of waiting customers had grown to 28. Not great, but I quickly estimated my wait time, adjusted my expectations and settled in for a longer wait. 

My mood brightened when eight numbers were called with no owners  they didn't wait. Again, I recalibrated my waiting time. Next, a service representative called for all pick up orders. The three of us jumped out of our seats and within five minutes we were on our way. That didn't take long, I thought.

The parallels between my phone repair experience and large organizational changes are compelling. We need to provide people with the tools and knowledge to set realistic expectations about how they will need to change  without doing so, they will form first impressions and judge progress based on their own expectations and little information. 

Leaders need to share their expectations and the assumptions they are based on. Then they must provide updates (like the tally board) on what has changed so that people can recalibrate their expectations. Often, people interpret delays as failures when they are only prudent adjustments based on new information. Giving them the knowledge and tools to manage their expectations makes them active participants in the change process, which leads to greater commitment and engagement. It also builds their capabilities for the next time when something needs to be fixed.


Friday 14 February 2014

Did Culture Destroy This Company?

I was surprised to read that a top ten Canadian law firm had closed down. The partners of Heenan Blaikie LLP had voted to dissolve their 40 year old firm of more than 550 lawyers. They chose to do so after recording a profit of $75 million on $222 million revenue in 2013. What would make them do that?

In the last week, Heenan Blaikie's demise has been attributed to:
  • The 2012 retirement of Roy Heenan, one of its founders and chairman for 39 years
  • The inability of the executive committee to appoint a replacement
  • Replacing the two long-standing co-managing partners of the firm and heads of the Montreal and Toronto offices
  • In-fighting between the new co-managing partners and their teams
  • No aligned vision of the future or long-term strategy
  • Product mix issues caused by a decline of M&A and resources industry work due to the recession
  • Greater competition and client demands for big discounts
  • Over-expansion during the recession 
  • Reputation damage through association with a client charged 
  • Restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting tensions
  • Loss of star partners, along with their clients and capital
  • The closing of a few large files that were ongoing sources of revenue
  • Exodus of partners (40 in the last few weeks of the firm), many being poached by other firms after partners learned that profitability (and their compensation) decreased by 15 percent versus last year
  • A change in culture
I found the last reason the most revealing and significant. How did a culture change contribute to closing a venerable law firm that had attracted former Prime Ministers (Trudeau and Chr├ętien) and other dignitaries to join as partners? To answer this question I had to understand the culture before and after it changed.

Heenan Blaikie LLP was formed in 1973 by three school friends. Their partnership was sealed by handshakes. As the firm grew, a people-first culture was built and maintained by the partners, led by Roy Heenan. "We had a happy firm where people liked each other. We didn't try to be the highest-paid firm but the happiest firm in the country." John Craig, who joining in 2001, described the firm as "a really great place to work. It wasn't the stuffy Bay Street environment that people hear about." Many partners described the culture as collegial and family-like.

In the last couple of years, there was more focus placed on M&A and financial business. Hiring practices also changed. One person observed that they were hiring for revenue versus cultural fit. "They were just taking on people to bring in a lot of money." 

Managers began scrutinizing and comparing practices, questioning billable hours versus lawyers employed. Matters became worse when some partners left for more money. Mark Power, a lawyer in the Ottawa office, said "The issue isn't that Heenan Blaikie was not profitable; the issue seems to be that it was not profitable enough for some." 

Without a leader or a common vision of the future, squabbling, rivalries and power struggles heightened between the Toronto and Montreal offices. Accusations were made that offices weren't contributing their fair share. As Roy Heenan summed it up, "There was no trust" and people weren't working as a team. Once you start feeling that this isn't a happy place, you go somewhere else."

Marcel Aubut, partner and Canadian Olympic Committee President, joined another firm on Monday. "My team and I are joining an entrepreneurial and forward-thinking company, two important criteria that (match) my values." He may not have had to if the values and culture at Heenan Blaikie had survived.


Friday 7 February 2014

What is Wrong with Change Management Consulting?

Many leaders hire external consultants to help them and their teams adopt new ways of thinking and behaving to achieve desired results. These experts apply their capabilities and experience to assess the organization, build a change plan and manage the transition process. If all goes well, the change is made and the consultants move on. Nothing wrong with that, unless the consultants:

  • Create a dependency on their expertise so that leaders defer decision making to them. I have seen leaders look at consultants for approval before answering questions about the business. This isn't healthy or sustainable. Consultants provide perspectives for leaders to make better decisions, not make decisions for leaders.
  • Don't build change capabilities. Change is constant, complex and uncertain. Building people's ability to navigate change is a must. Change agility, the ability to manage multiple and continuous changes, is rapidly becoming a source of competitive advantage. Part of a change consultant's mandate should be to transfer their knowledge and skill to clients so that they need less or no support in the future. Instead of holding a client's hand, he or she needs to strengthen their muscles.
  • Rigidly employ their proprietary methodology. Frameworks are helpful in structuring the activities required to change how people think and behave. Although change is rarely linear, a sequential approach or methodology is helpful in ensuring that your address all aspects of a change. The problem arises when the framework is implemented without customization to the client's circumstances. This happens when consultants are in love with their design or they don't want to invest the time into rethinking it based on client needs. This can lead to a checklist mentality where completion of the steps is the goal versus implementing the right steps for the change. Also, adherence to one methodology excludes other approaches and tools that might be better suited for the organization. The best change management consultants use a blend of approaches and tools that are appropriate to the need. They only use what is needed for that change regardless of who created it.
  • Leave before the change is embedded. People need time to internalize new ways of thinking and behaving. Launching a change doesn't mean it will stick. People need guidance and encouragement as they try out new ways of working to see if they work for them. If not, many will revert back to old ways, reducing the benefits of the change. Change consultants need to monitor progress and provide assistance to those who need it until they work. Only then can they move on knowing the change has taken hold.

So what is right with change management consulting? External consultants partner with leaders to transition their organization to new ways of thinking and behaving. They consciously build change agility skills and resist the temptation to "do the change" for leaders ‒ they help leaders lead change. The best consultants also invest time in assessing the organization and its needs, employing the approaches and tools that are best for the change. Their work is done only when new ways of working become everyday practices, knowing that the benefits of the change will be realized.