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

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Have you grabbed your Free copy of our Guide to Speed Reading the Corporate Landscape? Get a Copy of Reading the Terrain by entering your email in the box. It will help you “see” a new company more quickly and may even help you spot things you’ve missed in places where you’ve worked for years.  

 

 

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

 

getting out of business trap

Feeling boxed in? You can fix that.

I was talking last week with someone I met via an article I posted on LinkedIn. I liked him immediately. Why? He took a risk, contacting a total stranger to have a conversation about connections and change.  We talked for 30 minutes about how people get stuck mid-career, and why change projects can be instrumental in turning that “stuckness” around, either within the organization you work for or outside of it.

It’s easy to feel trapped mid-career. You’re good at what you do. You have a decent title. A good team, or maybe they’re only an okay team, but they don’t make you crazy. You make pretty good money. And you have kids, parents, spouses and others dependent on you staying that course and keeping that money coming in.  The “golden handcuff” syndrome.

You may try to move up through the ranks, but we all know the funnel narrows towards the top. The promotions don’t come as fast as they do when you’re good, and you’re younger.  And maybe when that opening at the top comes up, you don’t fit the management “flavor of the month” that year. They’re moving towards a more numeric based environment and your brand is the “people” guy. Or vice versa. Or maybe you’re not in the central core business, but you do a great job that lets everyone else get their stuff done. You’re the greatest at it, but they just don’t know what to do with you next because there’s not an obvious career path in the organization. And if they move you, your replacement may not be as easy to work with. So you clock in another year.

Problem is, your resume starts to look pretty stagnant after a while. But the kids need college tuition or your mother-in-law moves in because early Alzheimer’s disease is setting in. And the cuffs tighten. And if the company blew up tomorrow, where would you go?

You need to be an aspirin or a vitamin, not a cog in the machine.

That’s why I love projects. Projects help other see you in a new light, and expose you to new opportunities. I started working on the types of change management projects we talk about at www.52weekturnaround.com early in my career, using them as a way to meet people and learn new career skills that have allowed me to work in many wildly different fields. Lots of times I “made up” the project and assigned it to myself, just to get something started. Now people hand me projects and say, “Can you fix this?”

To create real change, for yourself or for your company, you have to stick your neck out of your comfort zone. That doesn’t mean doing something wild, or illegal. It means strategically looking at where you are and where you might like to go. What skills do you want to learn? What area is growing in your industry? What other industries use similar skills that you already possess, and what would you need to learn about their world in order to switch industries? What is the one problem in your company that is making everyone crazy? Do you have an idea how to fix it? Who can you have a conversation with that might feel a bit uncomfortable but would help you stretch? Pick a strategic action, one that will solve a real problem or create real change. Avoid busywork.

Crazy things that have happened for me when I went out of my comfort zone strategically

  1. Got the head of a 14,000 person business line as a mentor. By purchasing a United Way benefit ticket. For $75.
  2. Wound up becoming a regular guest personality on a local television station for five years.
  3. Helped open an African American Research Library in Atlanta (if you’re wondering why this is unusual, go take another look at my photo, and couple it with the fact that I grew up in New York).
  4. Moved out of a government job in a public housing authority into the technology sector.
  5. Had an article published in a famous law journal, (I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV).
  6. Am presenting in Brussels (despite speaking no French and no Dutch) on Lean Startups. Want to come? Read about it here. My topic is Anarchy vs. The ACCO clip: Lean Startups in Government Agencies.

But here’s the thing. The wacky stuff doesn’t happen unless you’re prepared AND putting yourself out there. You have to be willing to go outside the box and share what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean pestering every senior person you meet with “Hi, I want to change jobs, will you mentor me and by the way, know of any job openings or how I can get out of this dead end gig?”  It means having something new and interesting to talk about, that makes you memorable, and allows you to engage with people outside your usual circle. What’s your elevator speech? Has it changed in the last 5 years? In each of the examples above, there’s a bit more to the story. I had been doing my homework, growing myself and working hard at it, that put me in front of the right person at the right time.

Want to start creating some change? Take a look at our resolutions for 2014. Talk to someone in another department at work that you NEVER interact with and find out what challenges they’re dealing with.  Take a look at the elephant in the room and see if you’re the person that can solve it for your company. Look at how other industries, similar to yours, have solved the same type of problems your industry is dealing with. Can you have a conversation with a stranger to find out how they did it and why it worked?

Come to Brussels and hear me speak (along with my co-presenter Carl Danneels who will give a great presentation on Lean Startups in the Corporate world). And share with me some of the wacky things that have happened when you stretched out of your comfort zone, so I can share them with our readers and they can get the courage to stretch.

It’s free

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

If you need help seeing your current organization with fresh eyes, get a copy of our free booklet, “Reading the Terrain” by filling out your contact info in the box on the right. “Reading the Terrain” is a field guide that asks you tons of questions about what’s going on in your business right now. By answering them, you’ll see where you can add value and where there are pain points.

We send out a newsletter of our most recent articles once a week and will only contact you if something really special comes up. And no, we won’t share your info with anyone.

 

15 Things to Do Differently this Year.

moving forward in the new year

Onward and Upward in 2014!

How will you make sure that you create a real impact with your efforts this year? Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours working or thinking about work. What will you do differently this year to make your results commensurate with your efforts?

Will you have an Uncomfortable Conversation you’ve been putting off?

Will you stick your head out of your foxhole and look at the big picture?

Or just step outside your bubble?

Are you going to figure out how to tell a better story about your efforts?

Are you going to persuade the powers that be to give your project some love?

Are you going to figure out how to fund your project by working on business development?

Learn a few lessons from Breaking Bad’s  Walter White?

Deal with those cost overruns?

Will you approach your next project differently?

Change your brand?

Kill a sacred cow?

Help your team avoid bouncing back to their set points?

See what’s really going on in the meeting?

Glue it together with some duct tape?

Are you going to say “That’s enough, I’m done here?” and move on to another project?

Remember, if all else fails, truly great teams always can figure out how to bury the bodies. And whatever you do, don’t ever stand between a crowd and the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady!

Whatever you do, we’ll be here to help you figure out how to get it done, and how to have a laugh or two while doing it.

As for me I’m looking forward to presenting on lean startups in Brussels next month, the publication of the first book in the 52 week turnaround series and continuing to meet all of you, and talk about the challenges and fun of creating change in organizations. Thanks for your emails, comments, re-tweets and support. I love hearing from you. Keep it coming.

 

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

P.S. If you haven’t already downloaded our free Field Guide, you’re missing out. See your workplace from a multiple of perspectives, which will help you create a great strategy to create change. Sign up for our newsletter in the box on the right and you’ll get a link to your copy. And we wont bombard you with email or share your info with anyone.

 

 

Five Reasons Your Project isn’t Getting any Love

 

turning a deaf ear

You’ve gotten the sign off all the way up the executive ladder. Why is no one listening??

You’ve gotten the green light. The executive committee signed off. Everyone held hands, blessed the plan and said “Go Forth and create this change!” So why the heck isn’t anyone listening to anything you say?

They’re paid to resist.

Is their job function tied to the original structure? Would their skills or value as an employee be in jeopardy if your change plan works? If so, don’t expect them to be the first to jump onboard the change train.

They’re paid to resist (Part 2)

Does their compensation structure (particularly when commission or tier-based) reward them more significantly for other activities? If they can make 2-3 times the commission or fees based on doing what they’ve always done, and it will make up for any penalties or commissions lost by not doing what you want them to do, why would they choose to behave otherwise?

There are bigger issues at hand.

Is your company facing lawsuits, regulatory pressure, a revolution in the industry’s way of doing things or delivering product? If that’s going on, unless your project immediately and significantly contributes to solving that pain, it’s going to be the low man on the totem pole. Think about it, if you are in the horse and buggy business, and your business  is being threatened by the automobile, your project for more durable horse harnesses is not going to be a top priority.

You’re not making the benefits clear, or your benefits aren’t beneficial to them. 

Are you communicating the WHY of doing things in a new way?  And is that “why” compelling?  As we are taught in sales training, people spend too much time talking about features (how a product or service does something) vs. benefits (This product will help you do X in less time, and allow you to have greater revenue which will get you a great year end bonus). As a project leader, we spend much time dwelling on the features because you’re “building” the project. You have to sell the benefits to get people to cooperate.

You’re stretching them so far out of their comfort zone they’re afraid of looking stupid.

Never underestimate the discomfort factor.  Are you making them learn something they don’t think they’ll be good at? Are you having them interact with a new customer base or manufacturing process that they perceive will have a high risk of blow back on their career prospects if they fail?

They didn’t sign up for this: 

When you change how something is done, you may be forgetting that many of the people working in that industry consciously or subconsciously chose their profession in part because it didn’t focus on that skillset. A recent example is the number of doctors, nurses and medical professionals struggling with the fun of incorporating the required Electronic Health Records (EHR) protocols into their practices.  From the intricacies of having to chart patients via computer to the added issues of having to answer emails from patients on a 24/7 basis, this is a very new activity for many in the medical profession. While many are very computer proficient, it’s not exactly what they signed up for in a career, and much of that resistance comes with the package. “I can piece together the human body after multiple gunshot wounds and you think I should do what with this computer?!”

Many years ago I worked in a public library system, just as the DOS based internet was becoming a major research tool. We had several senior librarians, who were near retirement age, who opted for early retirement rather than have to master the rather difficult computer programming required to use the system. These were smart people who loved books, and chose their profession based on that, rather than computers. For many, at 57 or 58 years old, they just were unwilling to have to relearn their entire profession, and face the possibility of looking stupid in front of a teenager on a computer at the same time.

We’ve talked about resistance to change before, if you haven’t already done so, read What Dieter’s can teach us about Organizational Change and Change does not Occur in a Vacuum.

What other situations have you seen? Can you figure out why your team resisted? Share your successes and your mysteries in the comments below:

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Need help testing what you “know” to be true? Download our free Field Guide for understanding the organizational landscape before you begin creating change. “Reading the Terrain” gives you easy questions to ask yourself that will help you see your world with fresh eyes and broaden your perspective.  Sign up at the right to receive our newsletter and you’ll get a free link to download our guide. And no, we won’t bombard you with junk mail.

Humiliation, Rat Poison and a Freight Train

Getting your point across and a few things to do and NOT DO if you’re following the Fulton County Rat Poison lady and a freight train rolls through…

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Nearly fifteen years ago I was in charge of the launch of an ambitious, somewhat controversial, government funded housing program.  The program was designed to revitalize several Atlanta neighborhoods that had struggled long after forced “urban revitalization” had been inflicted upon them (via a major superhighway or two driven right through their homes).   We were doing multiple presentations each evening, and this was the fourth of the night. The dog and pony roadshows would continue for nearly two months, five shows a night at audiences around the city, held in community centers, schools and libraries. Most of the audiences were not delighted to see my team, suspecting that we, too, might be about to ram a superhighway through their homes.  My team and I held our breath before each meeting, never knowing what we’d encounter.

When I got to the meeting, I was informed I had only 3 minutes to deliver the entire message.  Checking the agenda, I realized that I was following a representative from the Fulton County Health department.  Her topic, which was eagerly followed by all present, was on how to get rid of rats that had been invading the neighborhood after a recent sewer problem.  As an added incentive, she had brought free samples of rat poison with her and would be distributing them at the end of the meeting.

As an animal lover, I wasn’t too keen on the whole “poison the rats” bit but hey, my opinion didn’t matter. My job was to be as non-confrontational as possible in all of my interactions with the public.  So I didn’t mention that I had kept mice as pets all through junior high and stood up to begin my speech.

As I took the stage I was once again reminded that I only had three minutes. I opened my mouth to begin the semi-reassuring spiel we had perfected when faced with hostile audiences. No sooner had I introduced myself than an incredibly loud freight train came roaring through.  Endlessly.  Complete with multiple horn blasts as it crossed two nearby intersections.

I glanced over at the time moderator. She pointed to her watch. Panicking, I promptly stuck foot in mouth. I mentioned I had grown up in NY (a BIG “no-no” in the Deep South), raised my voice and plowed through with my presentation, over the noise of the train. It was a close contest on decibel level but ultimately, I won. (We grow ‘em loud in NY!)

To say it went over like a lead balloon is an understatement. Out of the corner of my eye, as I was nearly trampled by the crowd eagerly pushing past me to get their rat poison samples, I saw a member of our board who had been in the audience gently shaking her head.  I knew I had failed.  Best of all, I had to climb back into my Geo Tracker and drive onto one more presentation. One more shot at disaster.

By 7 a.m. my boss had a voice mail from the board member who had been in the audience. Fortunately my message explaining what had gone wrong was lobbed in at 11:57 the night before.  And after a short, red-faced discussion with my boss, (who fortunately had been to many similar meetings before and probably had an epic failure or two under his belt) I was able to carry on. The project launch was very successful, and the board member and I are now close friends, and can now laugh about it. Since that evening I have given presentations in front of crowds greater than 1000, containing furious stakeholders and investigative reporters all without a hitch. None has ever been as scary as driving back from my encounter with the Rat Poison Queen.

But what should I have done?

  1. I should have stood my ground quietly, and silently, while the freight train passed.
  2. Once it was through, should have looked sweetly at the time keeper and in my best adopted Southern drawl assure her that I would now keep to three minutes.
  3. Retaken control of the audience by standing silently and then beginning fresh.
  4. Delivered my presentation for the three minutes allotted.
  5. Stood back and let the crowd at the Rat Poison.  Don’t ever stand between a crowd and the main event.
  6. Later, in the privacy of the trusty  Geo Tracker, sung “New York, New York” in my best Ed Koch imitation as I drove to the next presentation. (Okay, maybe should skip that part but it did occur to me as I shook and trembled the whole way to the final presentation of the evening, knowing I needed to put in a very unpleasant call to my boss. Bravado is a New Yorker’s middle name.)

Have you ever blown a presentation?  What do YOU do when your planned presentation has a mishap? Or when your 20 minute presentation is being condensed to 5 minutes on 30 seconds notice? Have any strong feelings on the pros or cons of rat poison? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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.

What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change:

hit with the boomerang

Is your organization “boomeranging” right back to where it started?

Any dieter will gladly tell you about the body’s “set points.” For those of you who have been spared the joys of lifelong dieting, a quick synopsis is that our bodies have a “set point” a body weight or status that it will try to return to, despite behavioral changes. It is basically a “comfort zone” that uses the body’s tendency towards homeostasis to drive itself towards a certain functioning model. Think of it as a rubber band that has been stretched, snapping back into its original shape.

The question is; do businesses have a set point? Is there a “comfort zone” business model that most businesses, despite the outward flurry of change activities or new mission statements, will attempt to return to time and again?

Years ago I worked with a non-profit who had built itself around a key volunteer activity. Long after that activity ceased to return results as it had in the past, it was kept, a “sacred cow” due to the history of the organization. Which is fine if it is a conscious choice, but rather than acknowledge that the time had passed and keep the activity as a “nice to have” rather than a key income driver, endless attempts were made over and over again to revitalize that activity to bring it back to the center of the revenue plan.

Another example is an individual employee.  When they first start their employment they may learn a particular task they had not known how to do before. Or they are given the responsibility for a section of the P&L, a marketing activity, or a key account.  Ten years later, they will still have a particular bias towards that activity or account. This can be a great thing, where the depth of knowledge around the topic can be beneficial, or a blind spot, when they give undue weight to that item at the expense of the big picture.

For every “we tried that back in 2005” that a change agent gets (complete with the implied “and it didn’t work you imbecile”), it is worth considering that the audience is trying hard to return to a model or activity that is in their set point.  No one could possibly sell 200 widgets a day until someone does.  The problem is, once someone sells 200 widgets, it puts everyone who can’t sell 200 widgets on notice and possibly, makes them obsolete.  This is when you’ll see the accusations of “cheating” or “undue advantage”. Sometimes they’re right.   Sometimes they’re 100% right.   And other times, they’re just headed back for the comfort zone.

Have you noticed a “return to set point” in your attempts at organizational change?

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.

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.

© Jeanne Goldie 2015