Navigating Organizational Change? We’ve Got Your Answers

to do and not to do

What to consider before you get started, overcoming obstacles, fighting fires, spreading the message and even knowing when it’s time to go…along with a few laughs.

Start Here:

How to Tell the Team and your Customers:

UGLY Conversations

Prioritizing:

Ruts, Stalls and Backlash:

Shifting Gears:

Lean Startup Techniques in Organizational Change:

Taking Care of YOU

Side Notes

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Uncomfortable Conversations: The Key to a Successful Turnaround

 

unpleasant discussions

It’s never good when someone says “We need to talk.”

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” Tim Ferris

Getting a business or any team to change direction can be challenging. Throughout the process you’ll be gathering supporters, convincing stakeholders, working to change the minds of doubters while overcoming roadblocks.  And you may be doing it all without official authority or only lukewarm support.

It’s great to have a vision, but how do you get buy-in? You’ll likely have to have many uncomfortable conversations, usually prefaced by a few sleepless nights where you endlessly run variations of the encounter in your head.

We’re going to share what we’ve learned about uncomfortable conversations: how to have them, how to choose your words and how to maximize your opportunities for success.  And, most importantly,  how NOT to wind up dead in the game of “Kill the Messenger.”

Because if this was easy, everyone would do it!

Upcoming topics include:

What are some of the Uncomfortable Conversations you’ve had to have? Share in the comment section!

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Turnaround Rule #10.5 Know When to Go.

 

Know when to exit a turnaround situation

The dirty secret of completing a turnaround is knowing when to leave.

One of the dirty little secrets of being a change agent is that sometimes it’s time to go once your best work is done.  It’s good to go out on top.  The part no one talks about is that sometimes you have to create such a shakeup, there will be those with their knives out waiting for your first misstep the second your triumph becomes public.

Classic example.  I was a senior director at a large government services agency where the entire management team had been brought in to create an amazing turnaround. The executive director had taken on a complex, politically fraught (and, given the environment, often life-threatening) job, and executed an amazing turnaround. She was feted first in the industrial journals, then more publicly. The majority of the turnaround took three years culminating in national recognition. The agency, previously rated at a 33, was given a perfect 100 score by its regulator. There was talk of a Cabinet appointment. The director demurred, feeling there was more work to do.

A few more years went by. A different political party took office for the next 8 years. No more Cabinet appointment-speak…but still some acclaim. And slowly but surely, those whose apple cart she had upset were waiting with knives drawn.  Suddenly there were whispers about her salary, two of her contract arrangements, and talk of having her removed. By the time the next “friendly” national  administration was in place, the damage was done.

Was she perfect? No. As a matter of fact, I didn’t care for one of those contracts and felt a better deal could be negotiated locally.  But she took one of the single most daunting tasks of cleaning up a notoriously corrupt agency and turned it around.  In record time.  Which everyone conveniently forgot about 8 years later.  They forgot what it was like when the post office decided not to deliver to one of the facilities because the hail of bullets were so bad. That area that now hosts national golf tournaments, a model community and a fantastic magnet school.

Go out on top. Go out when the work is 99% done. There is nothing over 100%, no awards that equal A+++. If you’re good at this, you need to move on to the next challenge.  I am in no way advocating a “band aid” cure as a permanent fix but get out while the next opportunities are flying in the door. Otherwise you’ll forever be talking about your triumphs in past tense, because once you have everything thriving, the world collectively forgets what it took to get there all too quickly.

Have you ever overstayed after a project was done? Share in the comments box!

Did you miss rules 1-10? Get them here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Rule # 9: Change Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

Shadows of change

Great Strategists understand they operate in the shadows of the history that came before.

Seth Godin said this so much more eloquently than I can; he calls it “The People Who Came Before You.”  When you begin to share your strategic plan with your team or your organization, you are standing in the shadow of all the ghosts who enacted change, or attempted to, with the same group. You are standing in the shadow of their experiences in other workplaces, at home and in past relationships.

If cost reduction strategies have always started with massive layoffs in the past, regardless of your words, the team will only hear “layoffs.”  If revenue growth meant giant sales goals that bore no relationship to reality, your “increase sales with our new strategy” will be reinterpreted as “We’re going to get some new scripting to take to the field and then they’ll raise our goal numbers.” Did the last strategic planning session feature a boring four day retreat followed by a zippy new mission statement and a binder that was shelved for all eternity the day after the retreat? Well, your call for a new focus on strategic planning will likely be met with some new mission statement suggestions and a request to vet the hotel location so everyone can set their tee times up front.

Ghosts take a heavy toll on team progress, especially when they are confronting change. Respect that the people you are asking to make that leap are carrying the baggage of many past adventures, the good, the bad, the awful and hopefully, the fantastic.  Having the right team in place before your unleash your plan is an important step. Asking that team about what has happened in the past, will help you unroll your plan to the larger audience in a way that can help people trust you enough to make the leap.

Want to get all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Click HERE

What Baggage have you had to address when rolling out new plans? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Think you covered all of that and your project still isn’t getting any love? Try here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.

Rule #8: Understand the Art, Science and Use of Duct Tape

box covered in messy duct tape

There is a time for elegance, and there is a time for Duct Tape

There is a time for elegant fixes. Breathtaking strategies that will be the subject of Wharton case studies for generations to come.  And then, there are times when only duct tape will do.

A duct tape fix can be many things. A temporary patch used while working on the elegant solution which will take time and money.  It can also take the shape of a workaround, a set of processes that mimic the structure of a true fix, but are a temporary substitute until you can find the resources for a permanent fix.  It can also be a compromise, when the opportunity cost of a true fix is simply too high.

It’s important to be clear when you are implementing a duct tape fix, to know the rationale behind choosing this option, and how long the tape can hold before rotting away or springing a leak. The danger comes when the duct tape fix becomes permanent, and really can’t do the job.

Just to be clear, duct tape is not a “smoke and mirrors” fix. It’s not meant to fool anyone, just a necessary evil at times. Use your duct tape fixes wisely and selectively.

P.S. Somehow I imagine this book was written by a change agent who decided to toss in the towel on “duct tape” fixes and expand their horizons!

What’s the most creative “duct tape” fix you’ve had to utilize? Share in the comments below!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Rule #7: Locate the Elephants

How do you navigate operational change when there's an elephant in the room?

How do you navigate operational change when there’s an elephant in the room?

Almost every business has an elephant or two; the problem everyone pretends isn’t there. How do you successfully create change without the elephant crushing your plans?

Elephants can take many forms. They can be a troubled department that creates a permanent roadblock, or a dysfunctional team.  Sometimes they can be a poor technology choice, where the cost was so great replacement is prohibitive but functionality is far less than optimal. Other times the elephant is the ghost of past decisions, a bad outsourcing decision, or a poor acquisition.  In a smaller firm it might be a ledger full of “accounts payable” where the elephant is that those accounts are likely to never pay, but no one takes them off the books because the reality would just be too bleak if they were removed.

In many workplace cultures, pointing out the elephant is actively discouraged.  In some rare cases, it’s career suicide. Pointing out problems can be viewed as negative, or whining, so sometimes it’s best to figure out what the elephants are, and how you’ll work around them in your strategy rather than charge the elephant head on.

Creating a strategy that derives results that may allow the group to put the elephant to rest is a win-win. If you do decide to “tackle the elephant” head on, it’s critical that you have strong supporters, a great plan and a reasonable timeline. When you create your strategy you may not name the elephant in your plan, but you need to absolutely account for it in your design.

Have you ever had to work around the elephant in the room? How did you conquer it? Share in the comments below…

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Our Guide: Reading the Terrain: A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Corporate Landscape, will give you some great observational questions to help you identify the obvious and not so obvious elephants.  Get it free when you subscribe to our site! Simply put your email in the box at right. We will send you site updates and will not share your address with anyone.

 

Rule# 6: Build a Measuring Stick.

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to costs or revenues!

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to reducing costs or increasing revenues!

I was raised to be “of service” to others. My mother is the first to volunteer for any task that needs doing and we all developed a strong sense of duty towards others.  Most likely that is why I spent much of my early career in government and non-profit work before turning to the corporate world.

I was very effective in getting financial and executive support for my projects because I had a secret weapon. I majored in accounting in college, and it gave me a firm grasp of the numeric value of any activity and the importance in being able to attribute activities to the revenue or expense ledger. At a non-profit or government agency I was always the person trying to measure our results, determine the activity’s value relative to costs or expense and then find someone who would be willing to pay for it.  We were famous for having all of our employees able to recite chapter and verse how many people we had helped at what cost and with what results, preferably tied to a monetary measurement. Later, when I worked for an insurance company and had to evaluate non-profits for partnership opportunities, an instant mental “No” was rendered when they couldn’t reasonably demonstrate some quantifiable results or outcomes, and the “No” was doubly reinforced if the staff gave me significantly different answers than the director or development director.

It’s not easy to measure things, some defy easy quantitative measurement.  If I keep fifteen teenagers in an after-care program that keeps them from going home alone in the afternoon and possibly getting into mischief, how do you quantify it? Graduates of your program may not have made it to college yet, so you don’t have a warm fuzzy story for the fundraising brochure (but as soon as one of them does, put that kid in a college t-shirt, on campus, holding a bunch of textbooks and get that picture! Sells ’em every time).

In for-profit businesses there are initiatives that can also defy easy quantification. What does “deliver better customer service” translate into in dollars and cents? What about community outreach or sponsorships?  What exactly does reducing customer response time yield that will make a dent in earnings season?

Find a way to measure it. There is almost always a way.  Talk to people in similar arenas, and talk to some not in the industry.  Talk to your Human Calculator, give them all the approaches you came up with and have them get creative.

If you can measure the value it adds or the costs it saves, and if you chart incremental progress, you can demonstrate success, which keeps enthusiasm high for your project, even if there is a bobble along the way.

So how DO you measure the Teenager After-Care example?

One approach:

Studies show that kids between 13 and 15 are X times as likely to get pregnant  and Y times as likely to get into trouble that will do Z to their criminal record when they go home alone after school.

A pregnant  teenager costs the American taxpayer (or county taxpayer or city taxpayer) $___, while a juvenile arrest costs the taxpayer $____.  By funding aftercare for these 15 teenagers we are greatly reducing the odds of these things happening, and saving taxpayers $(all of the above multiplied by the results expected if the 15 kids weren’t in care) which is ten times (or hopefully some other ridiculously high number) the cost of providing funds for the program. So we save our community 9 times every dollar we spend!

How have you found ways to quantify things that defy easy measurement? Share in the comments below, you’ll be helping everyone!

By the way one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is “Everything that can be
counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily
be counted.” Very, very true. But to sell your idea, you need to try to count it!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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book by Jeanne Goldie

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Rule #5: Find your Allies

It takes a village, pick the right villagers to gather their pitchforks and join you!

It takes a village, pick the right villagers to gather their pitchforks and join you!

Every great caper takes a team (see The Sting, Ocean’s Eleven, Trading Places).  There may be someone leading the charge but it takes a village to pull off a victory. Smart change agents make sure they have the right villagers charging by their side. Here’s some to start looking for right now:

  1. EF Hutton: No, not the real E.F. Hutton (he’s deceased, be very, very worried if he shows up). You need the “opinion leader,” a team member with enough gravitas, experience and respect from the other team members that they pay attention when this person speaks.  In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell describes in “The Law of E.F. Hutton” that the person who is the “real” leader of the team is most likely not the official leader. When they speak, everyone listens.  Get this person on your side and you’ve won half the war.
  2. The Human Calculator: You know this person. They can calculate it all in their head, run data up, down and sideways and spit it out in record time. They look at data and see patterns others miss, usually saving you a few serious mistakes.  And it’s effortless for them, like breathing.
  3. The Historian: The Historian knows everything that has been tried before and may even know where the bodies were buried. Sometimes this person can be a bit of an Eeyore (“Well Sonny, we tried that in aught eight but it just didn’t fly”). The historian you’re looking for is the one who remembers bits and pieces of systems and research that were built for other projects that just might be useful and knows who worked on those projects.  You slice a great deal of learning curve by talking to people who have tried similar things.
  4. The Top Producer/Chief Rainmaker/Revenue Generating Machine: Often this person will be a contender for the EF Hutton slot but if not, they are a valuable source of feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
  5. The Fixer:  The backbone of many teams. This person can take a statement like “IT says it will take 200 hours to build the interface so they can’t get to it until next year,” roll the situation through their head and come out with “Okay, the platform they’re using in sprocket accounting is nearly the exact thing that we want and they have lots of bandwidth because we really only care about counting widgets here. They also have a student intern this summer, let’s hijack the intern and see if we can copy over the system and have the intern recode the smaller piece that needs to be changed.”  This is also the person that knows that Mary in Customer Service is dying to change her job and move into project management so she’ll volunteer her time for any task or project that might get her closer to that goal. They have lots of people’s cell numbers and can get them to answer day, night or holidays. They usually talk 800 miles per hour and you can see the wheels turning when they do.  They have lots of favors on deposit in the favor bank.  Very handy to have in your corner.
  6. The Front Person: This is your smooth talker. Speaking in perfect “corporate-speak” they are the official face of your change. They need to be well liked, reasonably respected and easily able to talk their way to those at the top of the house.
  7. The Executive Sponsor:  In an ideal world you’ll have an upper level sponsor who stands behind what you’re trying to do. You’ve convinced them of the importance of the plan and they have the will and ability to pull resources from other departments to help jumpstart your plan. They also are the first to back your Front Guy when they’re presenting to the top of the house. If you don’t have an executive sponsor, you will absolutely need to have #4 in your corner.

Draft each one of these players on your team well before you make any public announcements about your planned changes.  It’s usually going to take drinks, lunch or coffee for you to get them on board.  Be prepared to change your plan based on the feedback they give you. Let them punch holes in it and knock it around a bit. You’ll end up with a better plan.

What other team members have you found invaluable when you’re creating a change? Share your suggestions in the comments section.

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted a great explanation of exactly how Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III beat the Duke brothers on the commodities floor in Trading Places listen here.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

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Rule #4: Do the Math: Follow the Money

Like it or not, the trail of money will direct your path.

Like it or not, the trail of money will direct your path.

Make a business plan! It’s the number one rule for all new ventures. Every business book, every “get rich quick” book, every project management handbook insists upon it.

What the experts often fail to say is just how important it is to be realistic.  You can make any business plan work on paper if you’re creative enough. “We will quadruple our revenue by selling 4000 additional widgets next month!” “How many did you sell this month?” “35, but I’ve got a GREAT plan!”

It’s entirely possible that your change strategy is so brilliant, so life changing, that it’s the next Apple computers or internal combustion engine (please feel free to write me so we can interview you for our “Five for Fridays”). But more likely, you are not the exception.  And that’s where doing your math homework comes in.

What is the team doing now (selling, closing, producing, treating, turning).  What does your proposed change do to that number? What is the cost of the change? Have you factored in the opportunity costs involved (see Rule #3)?  What extra incidental costs will result (support staff, additional technology costs) if your project comes to fruition?  Don’t base it on the best month your team ever had. Base it on an average month. And if your year is seasonal, run it for each quarter, using an average per quarter.

Is it worth doing? Is the potential disruption of processes and routine worth the net result of your activity?  And even if you think so, would anyone else agree?  Get someone from outside your industry to punch holes in your strategy and to ask lots of questions. It may uncover some other areas you need to look at.

Moving results into dollars and cents, either in terms of revenue growth or cost savings, can go a long way towards advancing your strategy.  Numeric arguments that show they’ve taken all the factors into account will win every time.

And for those of you in the government or non-profit sector who don’t measure all activities in terms of dollars and cents, we’ll talk a great deal about how you can measure in Rule#6.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Need some help seeing things with fresh eyes? Get our free guide “Reading the Terrain: A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Corporate Landscape” by subscribing to our feed in the box at right.

Rule #3 Weigh the Opportunity Cost

Joseph Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter, economist and Master of opportunity cost

During my freshman year’s eight o’clock microeconomics class one of the few things that made absolute sense to me was the concept of Opportunity Cost, a theory by Friedrich Von Weiser.  It was an “aha” moment of epic proportions where I could finally explain the best way to determine the true cost of making one choice over another.

Simply put, if you have finite resources, when you choose one path of action, you will be using some of those resources up, and they will no longer be available for other activities. If you plan a course of change that will require 400 hours of IT time, without additional overtime or staffing, you would be making those resources unavailable to other departments or projects.

Opportunity Cost forces you to run the overall value of any planned activity or change against the resources it will use up. Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update a website?  Maybe.  Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update the website if it will slow customer service response time for your internet customers? What other projects will need to be put on the backburner in order to pull the IT team for 400 hours?

This is why you will need to be able to absolutely quantify the net savings or revenue that will result from your plan of action. You must show that the resources you require are the highest and best use of those finite resources.

P.S. Unfortunately about the only other thing I recall from my very early class was of Von Weiser’s fellow Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, not his economic theories, but his desire to be known for three things; “To be the world’s greatest economist, the finest horseman in all of Austria, and the greatest lover in Vienna.”  He claimed to have achieved two of the three. Clearly he weighed his opportunity costs.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.  

© Jeanne Goldie 2015