Pain Math and Magical Thinking. What Dating has to Do with it.

change rarely is a straight line

Our plans for change often involve a lot of math, a little physics and the hope of a little magic along the way.

Andrew Chen sums up the magical thinking done by Entrepreneurs and by more than a few turnaround teams in a beautiful way. Because you need to do the math. And sometimes, you need a little magic as well.

More than a few turnaround teams over or underestimate the value of their planned project, others wildly underestimate the time it will take internal teams to adapt to changes (hint, unless you literally hold  a gun to their heads, it won’t be overnight, and if you do hold a gun to their heads, human resources will likely have a few choice words for you!)

Have you done the pain math lately? And where will the magic come from in your project?

Andrew Chen’s story of dating sites and magical thinking is here

 

Public Libraries: Dancing through the Minefield of Change

change will reinvigorate libraries

Libraries are at the forefront of Organizational Change.

If you had to put an underlying theme on my career, or even my life, its that I try to level the playing field by clarifying the rules of the game for those who are outside the “in-crowd.”

That’s why I love public libraries. They are an attempt to provide information to those who might have no access to it otherwise. If you go back as little as 100 years you’ll see how rare it was for many people to own more than one or two books or get an education past the 8th grade level. Libraries gave people a chance to catch up, or be exposed to what they had missed.  And if you couldn’t afford private tutors or travel to a large city to buy countless books on a subject, libraries brought the world of knowledge to you, if you wanted it. Is learning to play the violin from a book the same as learning from Itzhak Perlman? Heck no, but it’s a start.

Libraries also try to purchase and source credible materials for their collections. Best practices include buying well-researched books that promote opposing viewpoints.  For every “pro this” book, you were to also purchase a “pro that” book. There was a certain trust factor with the collection at the library offered scholarly, balanced, validated information. How can Librarians curate the internet? Every whack job in the world can publish on the internet if they want to (Exhibit A right here).

Now libraries are having to change with the times, caught in a squeeze between decreasing funding, new technology and a changing user pool. Do they invest their scant funds in books? Or in computer systems to grant internet access? Or do they lease “ebooks” in order to increase the availability of titles for their patrons but then not “own” the book?   Some libraries are now promoting the use of their space as a community gathering spot, a learning hub type environment, but others, stuck with a limited budget and small facilities are having to get very creative.

And how do you decide? If you were the head of the library system or on the library board, what choices do you make?

Five years ago you could make the argument that there was still a significant portion of the population without internet access. The advances in smart phones changed that. There are still many people in the US without access, but the overall curve has moved significantly (its not unusual to find someone whose electricity has been cut off but they won’t let their phone get cut off!).

So, do you provide more internet access? Or offer more e-books? Digitize the current collection? Do you clear out the physical books to make room for your own servers? And do you even keep a physical “library” building anymore?  Will school age kids still make the obligatory “field trip to the public library” to get library cards? What new advances will we be seeing in just five years, most likely the timeline it would take for most public institutions to execute a major change? (You haven’t lived until you’ve had to work through a government RFP or RFQ process).

How do you get public support for an institution that served such a vital function for so many? Is there some new, magnificent function that libraries can serve that will somehow allow for those who don’t “have”, to at least glimpse the world of “what can be”?

I don’t know the answer for public libraries but an Oscar nominated film team is exploring how some libraries are coming to terms with finding their answers. Here’s a sneak preview:

What would you do? What do you think libraries should do? Share in the comments.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Charging Back Uphill: Blasting out of a Stall.

(Just joining us? Read our series on “3 Great reasons why what worked before isn’t working now” Start it here)

spark a new business life

Blast out of a career or business stall with these 5 approaches.

So, you got Stuck.

Your future used to be “So bright you had to wear shades”

Now you’re not sure you should appear in public at all. Maybe ever.  

Nah. You can do it. 

Here’s how to get started:

 

1. Get a fresh set of eyes to look  you over:

We’re often blind to our own need to change. Get some feedback from a new coach, some “disinterested” friends, teenagers (they generally don’t hold their opinions back, especially around social media). And consider what feedback you got recently and ignored. What didn’t you do or change because you “knew better”?  Give it some consideration. Perhaps try a small test, don’t realign your every principle or move your entire marketing budget, but give an alternate approach a real test, even if only in a small section of your business.

2. What is the other guy doing that is working? 

Look at your competition, both your old competition and any new players. What’s different? What’s working for them? Don’t instantly adopt it, just take a look, see if it might benefit your business plan.

3.  What are your 80/20’s? Put some laser focus on them.

Pareto said 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. Take a look at your 80/20’s. What’s working? Parse the ad budget, evaluate the social media push, streamline the plans to a manageable level. And then take a look at where you are spending a lot of effort and just not seeing the results anymore. Shoot the Elephant. Master the art of saying No. Pull the darn tooth. Have that Uncomfortable Conversation that ties your stomach in knots every day.  Refocus.

4. Tell a New Story.

No, this does NOT mean lying to yourself. It does mean looking for parts of the narrative of your business or personal story that you may not have paid attention to before.  I have always described myself as a business turnaround or start-up expert. But I am also someone who can focus and fix the areas of business that are messy and “un-fun”, which allows others to keep driving revenue by focusing on the areas that they’re great at while I handle the messy stuff. Some people are looking for me to do just that. So what’s your story? Are you telling people it in the way they need to hear it and how they want to hear it? Here’s some ideas on that  subject. And a thought or two on Reframing. A great book on how to do this on a personal level? Read “Body of Work” by Pamela Slim.

5. Try one new thing. Today. And do the same thing Tomorrow.    

And don’t spend too long thinking about it. Try a new route to work. Call ten new clients and try a different sales pitch. Take an online translation tool and transfer your resume or website into another language. Then translate it into another very different language (make sure they’re not similar, use something like a Romance language followed by a Cyrillic language). Then translate it back into English. Does the new translation give you any ideas? Sometimes it’s a word or phrase that can make all the difference. Change the way you structure your day, do the sales calls first and don’t answer email until noon.  Drop one of the activities that wasn’t working and replace it with something that makes you a bit nervous but that you have always thought might work. Get way out of your comfort zone with that one. Set a budget for “new things.” Big Businesses call it R&D but you can call it the “Rut Stopper” budget. Take a chunk you’re willing to risk and commit.

Need more ideas? Try some of these articles we’ve written before:

15 new things for 2014

10 Rules of Turnaround

The Sunday Night Dreads

Is this it? The Mid-Level Manager’s Lament

Deal with Other’s Great Expectations

Sell your story with Sizzle, Steak or Rainbows. Or just add a Giant Panda

Figure out why the team is fighting you on this.

Or just have a good laugh and start again tomorrow.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

And if you didn’t do it already, subscribe to our website and download your free copy of “Reading the Terrain; a Field guide for speedreading the Corporate Landscape”. No one’s going to bombard you with emails or sell your name to anyone. We’ll just send you a newsletter once a week you can forward to others who are trying to create change. And teach you some really good stuff. Take it from the woman who once lost out to the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady and a Freight train. There are some mistakes you don’t want to have to make yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it’s Time to Reframe, it’s Time to Rearrange.

can you reframe a business problem by changing your perspective?

Sometimes you need a new angle.

Sometimes the best way out of a dead end is to look up. Or back. Or down. If the project you’re working on appears to be seriously stalled, due to lack of resources, internal or external politics or even a lack of enthusiasm by the team, it may be time to reframe.

“Reframing” is the act of stepping back and changing your perspective, which then allows you to move forward. You’ve likely heard people label business problems as “opportunities.” What if you looked for the opportunities in your stuck?

  • Could the lack of resources help you create a better, less complex solution?
  • Did the resistance put up by the team reveal a deeper issue, or an ingrained habit that your solution could mimic which would help the team embrace it?

Step back from the solution or plan you made and reevaluate. Go back to review the original issue you tried to solve for and ask some reframing questions about it. If you’re trying to create a customer service solution, go ask some customers what great customer service looks like to them. Trying to cut expenses? What if you grew revenue?

What problem can you reframe today?

Still Stuck? Try this. Get your copy today

 

A Fun Way to Get “Unstuck”

Team in a funk? Feel like you’re hitting a brick wall? There’s an app for that.

The “Unstuck” app, available on the ITunes store is a great, fun tool that allows you to put in a problem, business or personal, answer a few questions about feelings, who’s involved, what you perceive the roadblocks to be, and it shoots out a diagnosis of what’s going on, possible next steps, and some famous folks who have faced similar situations.  It’s been around for about two years and is constantly improved. Try it.

The app is for Ipads and is free. You can read more about it at www.unstuck.com

Uncomfortable Conversation #1: “We need to shut down a business line”

 

Empty interior of building

Making the Tough Call isn’t Easy

“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

The Situation:

Your team, after doing your research, running the numbers and looking at a challenge from every angle has come to the conclusion that a business line or project needs to be closed.  This will impact staff, facility leases, and even some customers who have come to rely on the services or products of that team.  You need to present the information to the Sr. Leadership team, two of whom made their careers by working in the very business you are proposing to close, and some of their protégé’s are working in that division right now.

What you wish would happen:

  1. Someone else would do this. Anyone else. Maybe that external auditor could suggest it.
  2. You could just drop the anonymous suggestion in a suggestion box.
  3. A recruiter would call you with the job of the century this morning so you could skip the conversation entirely.

Things to have with you:

  1. A clear, simple visual of financial projections that can be viewed at a glance, along with much more detailed information in a separate package. Graphs or charts are a good option for the overview.
  2. A plan showing the impact of keeping the line open, vs. the costs and impact of closing the line. Do one for best case, worst case and average scenarios for each option.  Be sure to incorporate your country’s or state’s requirements for staff reductions etc., in your projections (i.e. legal notice, severance. Also include the non-staff costs – leases, equipment etc).
  3. A clear proactive plan for notifying staff, customers and media (if applicable) along with a budget and timeline for the wind down effort.

Having “The Conversation”:

  1. Pick your spot. Don’t just slide it in during a random meeting or a regular staff meeting. This calls for a special meeting to just focus on this issue.
  2. Line up your sponsors beforehand.  This means having lots of one-on-one small, private meetings with discreet senior people to serve as advocates.  If everyone at the meeting is grappling with a new idea at once, the normal response would be to shoot it down or delay it.
  3. Expect that there will be delays.  Most executives will want to do a deep dive on your methodology and your numbers. (That’s what the supporting details in Item 1 of “things to have with you” are for.) However, make sure one of your exhibits shows the costs of delaying the decision by more than a month.
  4. Be sure to acknowledge the human costs involved as you discuss the topic. This is a fine balance; do not recount every detail of every family that will be affected (“Of course we’ll have to cut Mike Smith, and he’s the sole provider for his widowed mother, her six children and he has a disabled son at home”) but don’t go to the opposite extreme either, treating staff as widgets that need to be offloaded.  That will make people question your judgment. Suggest areas of opportunities for the people in the affected unit, by pointing out growing units that require similar skill sets or staffing. If there truly is no internal option, suggest an outplacement strategy.

What will happen next (most likely):

  1. Understand that once you have “dropped the bomb” you lose control of how the information is absorbed and acted upon. Don’t be so strongly wed to your proposal that you devalue attempts at compromise or restructuring. Simply stay firm, polite and open to input. Use your alternative case scenarios to help look at various options that may be proposed.
  2. Once the decision has been made, having the clear communications and action plan ready is imperative.  If you have executives who argue for delay, and it appears that even with delay, the company will have to cut the unit, you will want to point out that doing it sooner rather than later may allow the company to allot a greater amount of resources towards the displaced staff than waiting will.
  3. Take the heat. No matter who makes the final call, you and your team will eventually be “outed” as the architects of the plan. That means you’ll have some team members, even those who get to stay, looking at you in a different way.  Respond to inquiries with a firm, compassionate response and rehearse other team members as well. This is also not the time to upgrade to a better car (even if you’ve been saving forever for it) or take a long exotic vacation.  Low key empathy is the best response.

This post is part of our “Uncomfortable Conversations” series. Our next Uncomfortable Conversation: The project budget has cost overruns. Big Ones.

Have you ever been the “lucky” person who got to deliver this piece of bad news? Share how you did it and what did or didn’t work 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.

 

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# 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.

A Field Guide to Help You Speed Read the Corporate Landscape.

 

 

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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.

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015