Friday 20 May 2016

Less is More Even if More Looks Better

I once worked with someone who had joined the corporate world in mid-career. His early years were spent opening and managing a chain of pizza stores in Vancouver. As we traveled together, he shared stories from his retail years and what he learned about people in his restaurants. One insight taught me a lesson about how people add complexity to their lives.

Each employee was entitled to two free pizza slices per shift. They could have as many toppings as they wanted  they were the chefs of their dinners. New employees went wild: they would pile on everything available and double up on their favourites. It took two hands and many napkins to lift and eat their creations. 

After a month, the number of toppings and portions would decrease. A few months later, the pizza slices looked like the ones customers ordered. After a year, most employees chose no toppings except for tomato sauce and cheese. The combination of these two ingredients tasted the best.

I have observed a similar dynamic in the corporate world. People begin by adding as much content as is available. If they have access to five tools, they use all five; if a thirty-page PowerPoint presentation is acceptable, they create one, regardless of the objective. Quantity is a sign of quality.

This practice also applies to project lists, strategies, tactics, objectives, product varieties, leadership behaviours, personal development goals and metrics – piling them on in the belief that they will create the best results.

With experience, people focus on the practices that deliver the greatest value. Selective tools or targeted presentations guide dialogues, decisions and actions. They have learned less is more. 

In two weeks, I am leading a workshop on change planning for a group that is new to this discipline. I won't be touting a project methodology or an enabling software program. Neither will I be creating Gantt charts nor a percentage completion tracker; I will be demonstrating how to use a simple, one-page chart including:

  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Outcomes
  • Owners
  • Support required
  • Completion date

The team will develop a "less is more" plan for a longstanding industry issue. It won't look as good as a long plan but experience has taught me that it will deliver the results they need. 


Saturday 14 May 2016

People Know What is Best. Don't Forget to Ask Them.

Early in my career, I sold, designed and led business training programs at the Business Development Bank. Leadership development programs were in demand and every training and consulting firm offered a list of courses.

With only a small marketing budget, our team needed a compelling offer to differentiate ourselves from competitors. We decided to be the best designers of customized training in the market. To do so, the facilitator of each program would visit the client's business for two days to work on the job with the learners before designing the course. If it was a group of high school textbook salespeople, they went on sales calls and would pitch books to experience the challenges; if it was a group of gas station owners, they worked in a gas station to witness the manager's daily issues.

Our approach worked. Learner immersion created customized programs that addressed real challenges within the context of their working environment. An added benefit was increased facilitator credibility earned through hands-on experience.  

Often, change planning fails to incorporate deep understanding of the people who are changing. Interviews are held to identify the gaps between current and future requirements without experiencing the environments in which people work. Also, interviewers rarely ask about the types of support that those making the change would value and use. 

The cost of limited understanding is high. Assumptions fill in for knowledge and generic solutions substitute for tailored ones. The change plan is informed more by past practices than current circumstances. Also, without the deeper relationship built through on the job experience, people are less likely to share honest feedback throughout the change.  

Here are ways to gain deeper understanding of the people who are taking on change: 

  • Explain why the change is important to the business and to them before asking questions about how they work  you will get more considered responses if the change matters to them
  • Ask people what types of support they have benefited from in the past  they most likely will use and benefit from similar tools during a new change
  • Meet people where they work  you will learn a lot about how they spend their time
  • Request time to shadow people on the job  I observed somone who only had access to her computer at the beginning and end of the day  online resources would not meet her needs
  • Test your plan with the people you interviewed  they are the best people to assess if it addresses their needs
  • Acknowledge people for taking the time to share how they work  their input is essential to successful change planning and recognizing their contributions will encourage them and others to do so in the future

Understanding the environment in which people work and the support preferences they have are important inputs into effective change management planning. They are the ones who have the knowledge about how they work and what they will need to do things in new ways. Providing them with the help they need when they need it are hallmarks of an effective change plan.


Saturday 7 May 2016

Would you sacrifice change management quality for results?

This week, I was reminded of a lesson I learned many years ago about change management planning. A project leader was resisting making modifications to implementation tactics across teams and geographies. Consistency was important, she felt, since the plan had already incorporated feedback from each group taking on the change. She was fighting for her plan.

What I have learned is that the best implementation plan is the one people will implement, which usually isn't the 'best' technical plan. Most activities are in the hands of those who are closest to the people who are changing. They must agree with the tactics before they will execute them well. 

My education was gained on a similar project. I was rolling out an operating model that defined how global, regional and country teams would work together. I spent many weeks developing the roll-out plan with input from the different stakeholder groups – it was a textbook excellent plan. 

When I reviewed the plan with regional change leads, I discovered that Latin America had already started its launch activities. They had combined the operating model initiative with a regional culture program scheduled to begin before ours. The Regional President kicked-off the combined initiative with a motivational video and all-colleague meeting. The launch was so good and so 'off plan.’

This experience taught me that different tactics can achieve the same results; the delivery method can be variable. As long as the key information is communicated well, executor preference is the determining factor for achieving results.

I resolved to focus my influence (and fight) on consistent change principles and encourage variability in implementation tactics. I also vowed to never again fall in love with my consistent plan and always celebrate changes that reflect local cultural preferences.  

Here are some tips on how to create a plan that will deliver results for different teams:
  • View your plan as dynamic – it needs to change with people's needs or preferences
  • Define and gain agreement on the core change principles that will guide implementation activities – e.g. transparent and consistent communication to all groups, co-creation with those who are taking on the change, etc. – they need to be consistent and are non-negotiable throughout the project
  • Be clear on the results you need to achieve – the plan is only a means to realize the results and needs to be measured against them
  • Provide a menu of tactics for groups to choose from – a representative planning team can also choose to align on one set of tactics that meet all of their needs
  • Encourage team representatives to share learnings about the tactics that work well – peer testimonials inspire adoption
  • Celebrate the successes of implementation teams – rewarding those executing the plan encourages continued tactical experimentation and support of the initiative 
The quality of change management support is determined by the results achieved. These results are highly dependent on how well the implementation tactics are executed. Since people invest more in activities they believe in, the best implementation plan is the one they create. This may require sacrificing tactical control or consistency, but never quality.