The 2020 strategic planning session has just wrapped up and the CEO says to the executive team, “Let’s raise a glass and celebrate some really strong work. Now that the ‘hard part’ is done all we have to do is drive these 28 initiatives through the organization.”
Over coffee the next morning the CEO seems a little less sure if planning is the ‘hard part’. He feels confident with the strategic plan and budget; but wonders if he has the talent and skills to deliver in today’s turbulent times? How do you know if the implementation team’s capability is dated in the past, lodged in the present, or open to the future?
Let’s consider a few straight forward questions to assess the era that you are taking a giant leap into:
Past: Is communication and training the extent of your implementation approach? Do you have the skilled resources in place to deliver beyond the basics?
Present: Is your approach still locked into the tools and techniques from the 20th
Future: Are you reaching out to new ‘voices’ and different perspectives to keep abreast of today’s rapidly evolving research in the arts and sciences? Does your organization have the curiosity and mindset to be open to new approaches?
Questions for leading change in the 21st century. What era are you in?
We all want to be positive, embrace an optimistic future, and focus on possibilities. This is especially true in managing projects and introducing change into an organization. We see the possibilities at the other end of the change, it can be exciting . . . however, the change can’t simply be declared and expected to happen. The journey needs to be led and managed.
In leading and managing change, take some time to look back. It’s what I call “taking time to leverage failure” – simply so we learn and improve continuously. And, in our years helping lead and manage change we have had a lot of failure to leverage. We want you to be the beneficiary of our learnings.
We have found that there are key behaviors at the Organization, Team and Personal levels that are critical for any change journey.
“Here it comes, another ill-conceived program.” Many communications from the leadership team leave employees wondering about priorities, impacts, and expected outcomes. When an organization effectively manages change, the leadership team agrees on the intent of strategy execution, successfully engages employees to adapt to the change and implement decisions, and willingly reaches throughout the organization to help employees handle the implementation.
Without healthy team behaviors, team members end up pointing fingers at one another, and devolve into counterproductive, time wasting rituals. Effective teams work together quickly to achieve goals. This requires healthy conflict to engage and discuss difficult topics, commitment to the team’s purpose, and a willingness to hold one another accountable for outcomes.
We’ve all seen cartoons depicting the disheveled executive. When you look beneath the appearance, you see an ineffective, guarded individual who doesn’t deliver. Conversely, effective executives are open, vulnerable, accept risk, and speak with honest candor with others.
Here are five characteristics of an organization that effectively manages change. How does your organization stack up?
Looking at every project through this five-pronged lens is key to your success. Thinking about both project structures and behaviors at each of the three levels, organizational, team and individual ensures that you are comprehensively considering every element of your project teams’ make-up to ensure success.
Digital Transformation is a 1.7 trillion dollar industry as of 2019, which has obvious demand implications for project managers. At the same time an estimated 70% of all digital transformations fail based on a Mckinsey report on retail. What can project managers do to stand out from the crowd on successful digital transformation?
Based on my own experience of having led multi-billion dollar organization transformations over a three decade career at Procter & Gamble, combined with industry research, project managers need to tailor project management approaches to complement mainstream methodologies with “transformation” related disciplines when managing true digital transformation efforts.
What’s Missing in Current Digital Transformation Approaches?
To understand why current project management approaches need to be complemented, we need to dig into why 70% of all digital transformations fail. The answer comes down to two issues – a lack of clarity on the definition of digital transformation and the use of incomplete methodologies to execute it.
Figure 1: Five-Stage Digital Transformation Model
How to tailor your approach for leading digital transformation programs
In 2015 Procter & Gamble’s Global Business Services (GBS) unit set out to digitally disrupt itself. The 5,000-strong GBS organization provided more than 160 business services worth multi-billion dollars of operations including IT, finance, facilities, purchasing, employee services, and more. Despite GBS’s already best-in-class capabilities, we wanted to transform it into what we called Next Gen Services (NGS), capable of delivering long-term operational superiority. To avoid the trap of the 70% failure rate of digital transformations, we started by examining what had driven successful transformation in the past.
To increase change demand, we brought in leaders from disruptive companies to talk to our operational leaders about looming digital disruption. In addition, operational leaders made consideration of disruptive innovation goals part of routine annual strategy reviews.
But such attitudes to middle managers unfairly penalize them for doing what their reward systems dictate—running stable operations and being wary of destabilizing effects. So we identified the middle management leaders affected by each project, involved them in the initial “fun” of designing the disruption, and jointly designed the risky roll-out of disruptive projects that could destabilize ongoing operations.
If sufficient time, internal capability, and a relatively straightforward path forward are available, then transformation can usually be handled via organic change. After the 2008 economic crisis for instance, Fidelity Investments increased its investments in digital capabilities while competitors were slashing budgets, giving the company room to move forward with a deliberate organic transformation. That consistent focus on digital transformation strategy has pushed them ahead of competition in areas like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and crypto currency.
If existing capabilities, time, and internal resistance to change are all a challenge, then your best bet may be inorganic change—look for an acquisition or partnership with an external entity, as Walmart did in acquiring Jet.com. Inorganic change comes with its own risk, since a majority of acquisition-related changes fail. However, by giving the acquired entity a strong mandate and change-management support, this approach can jump-start new capabilities quickly.
If there is little time and the prevailing organization culture is partly resistant to change, then organic change won’t work. In such cases, edge organizations, given full freedom to operate differently from the rest of the business, are the preferred approach. At GBS, we felt that time was at a premium. We knew that our real standard of comparison wasn’t just other large companies any more, but digitally native startups with far more cost-efficient and agile internal business operations. Resting on our laurels—our superiority to peer companies—would be risky. So to drive disruptive change faster than an organic approach could, we set up NGS as an edge organization. To facilitate agility, NGS would be allowed “amnesty” on purchasing standards, IT architectures, and even some HR practices in the early stages of idea development.
As a successful project manager of complex digital transformations, your methodology needs to complement best in class thinking on project and portfolio management with the latest approaches on scaled organization change leadership. Most executions of digital transformations fail due to organizational reasons, not work-process or technology design. That issue becomes much more material when leading transformations to overcome existential threats caused by digital disruption.
Welcome to the second in this series of blogs exploring what the project world can learn from neuroscience.
I set out my stall in the first blog - projects don’t behave the way textbooks say they should. Neither do people.
How often have you seen a team member becoming defensive or a client getting wound up and quite aggressive over something relatively minor? Or perhaps you’ve sat in a meeting when you suspect that several others, like you, are convinced that the discussion is adding no value, or even worse it’s downright unhelpful – yet nobody does anything about it.
Have you noticed how few people talk openly about finding project delivery, with its complexity and uncertainty, stressful and anxiety-provoking? Yet plenty do so in private!
Neuroscience tells us stress and anxiety impact our ability to think clearly
Neuroscience tells us that stress and anxiety impact our ability to think clearly, increasing the chance that we’ll misread the situation and behave in ways which raise the stakes and add complexity.
This blog sets out five Brain Basics and explains the SCARF model which will help you spot what’s going on beneath the surface in these highly charged moments.
Read on and you'll see why I recommend that everyone involved in project delivery acquires a basic understanding of how the human brain works and uses this knowledge to inform their actions.
5 BRAIN BASICS
Source: Visible Dynamics
Take a moment to reflect on charged moments you’ve been party to.
Use the five Brain Basics to consider what might have been going on beneath the surface. How does thinking in terms of ‘avoidance’ and ‘approach’ emotions and behaviours help you make sense of the situation?
Social threats cause avoidance behaviours, so we need to understand what they are and where they come from. That’s where SCARF comes in!
What is the SCARF Model?
There are five factors that the brain is always monitoring and they have a huge impact on how we behave.
David Rock developed the SCARF model to explain these factors[i] We are acutely sensitised to look out for them. SCARF stands for:
When people sense a change in any one of the SCARF factors, it can activate an avoidance response - The bigger the change the stronger the response.
An example of SCARF in action
Source: Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience - A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog .[ii]
Responding to Social Threat
We see and respond to social threat in the most mundane situations. These threats do not have to be explicit, intentional or real. We only have to perceive that our status has been reduced or that we are being treated unfairly and we will respond with avoidance behaviours.
The converse is also true. When we believe we are being treated fairly and that we have a degree of control over the future it’s easier be highly productive. We want the feelings of excitement and trust that come with engagement.
USING SCARF TO HELP MANAGE CHANGE ON PROJECTS
Understanding how the brain works adds new perspectives to many good leadership practices. Take the adage ‘When dealing with change communicate, communicate, communicate!’
SCARF guides us to five areas that need to inform all our actions in organisational and project settings.
For example, by highlighting our desire for certainty, SCARF tells us that the prospect of change – whether a tweak to the IT system or wholesale digital transformation is likely to activate a threat response. We need to include this knowledge in our project planning, and make sure that we prioritise activities to reduce the degree of uncertainty and counter the threat response.
This means speaking to people about the vision for the future, and sharing plans for achieving objectives; it means explicitly discussing what you do know about the future and being willing to admit what you have yet to work out; and it means offering timescales or admitting ‘we can’t tell you now but we will tell you by …’
This table gives further examples for using SCARF in organisational and project settings.
Using SCARF on Projects
Source: Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience - A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog
We’ve seen from Brain Basics and the discussion of SCARF and that every interaction with another person triggers a change in the intensity and quality of our emotions. Most of us are unaware of the ebbs and flows of our emotions. Yet it’s these changes, driven by our innate need to survive, that determine how we behave.
On projects we rarely work in isolation. There are as many sources of social interaction and emotional triggers as people in the proverbial room (which includes those we connect with digitally via email, video and social media). This means we must:
It will stop you adding to the volatility uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of VUCA environments. It will bring down stress levels, reduce distractions and allow you to focus on what really matters - achieving your project goals.
BLOGS IN THIS SERIES
and coming soon
[i] Rock, D (2009) Managing with the Brain in Mind Strategy +Business, Autumn 2009, Issue 56 Retrieved from: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/09306?gko=5df7f
[ii] Osterweil, C (2019) Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience – a Leader’s Guide to Walking in Fog, London: Visible Dynamics
It is common for many people to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of each year. What is your resolution for this year? The Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions in 20191 were;
All seem to be great ideas for a resolution. However, we find that keeping a resolution isn’t quite as easy as making a resolution. By the middle of February about 80% of us fail with our resolutions2. We only make it about 2 months!
There are many suggestions of how to do better with our resolutions. Use steps such as “Keep it Simple”, “Only take on one resolution at a time” or “Tell friends and family to build accountability“. All good ideas, but we still fail. Why?
Let’s consider slight changes to the top 5 listed above and see if we can find a difference.
I added a Purpose to each of the resolutions. Now it’s not just "Getting in Shape", there is a purpose for getting in shape. By adding a purpose, the resolution has a defined end result. It gives the resolution more meaning.
What does all of this have to do with Project Management? When we look at the trending statistics from the yearly PMI Pulse of the Profession, we find that as an industry we are mostly flat at about 55% success on projects over the past decade.
However, in that same decade we (PM industry) increased the number of PMPs. We increased the amount of spending on training. We made large investments in PPM tools. We matured the discipline with certifications for SCRUM, CAPM, and more. So why then are we remaining constant in success/failure rates all while we are increasing variables which should be making us more successful?
When we live with Purpose we perform better. When our companies and careers have Purpose, we perform better3.
I’ll use an example from a recent client engagement. The client was struggling with project delivery. They had a defined consistent methodology, a robust PM toolset, skilled PMs, and a supportive leadership team. All the basics for project success were in place but still they couldn’t get consistent project outcomes.
One of the strategic projects they were working was an implementation of a CRM system. I interviewed the team and asked them, “Why are you doing this project?” The consensus answer was – the Leadership team wants a new CRM system to replace the outdated system.
I asked the Leadership team the same question but received a different response from them. The Leadership team approved the CRM project not to upgrade the system, rather it is to achieve a 30% growth in revenue over the next 3 years.
The team was unaware the purpose of the project was 30% revenue growth. The project team didn’t take any ownership in helping the organization reach the revenue growth target, they all thought that is a sales team target.
When we in the PM space fail to align our work to the Purpose of the organization we are limiting our ability to achieve impactful results. We aren’t placing ourselves in value-add roles and we fall into the dreaded overhead category. We have to view our projects not just as projects, but pieces to a larger Purpose. Our teams will engage better, they will take ownership of the project outcomes better and they feel valued.
Knowing why we are working projects is more important than how we work our projects. I’ve found far too often that PMO leaders are focused on “how we work” and “what we work on” and aren’t spending enough time helping the teams understand our Purpose. The Purpose Driven PMO empowers people to deliver results. The Purpose Driven PMO provides value to the organization. The Purpose Driven PMO starts with why. The Purpose Driven PMO allows us to achieve success beyond what we see from the flat trend lines in the Pulse of the Profession trend data.
2 – US News & World Report - https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail