Viewing Posts by Steve Salisbury
In my work advising leaders through major change and transformation projects in Fortune 150 organizations, I have distilled successful change to three underlying components.
Together these three components are essential for successful change and are required to drive the most value. When executed well, I’ve observed value targets exceeded.
When any one of these components are missing, you sub optimize the value of the change.
With any change, these items are critical. Now more than ever with employees working remotely, these principles become even more important to keep the organization together and focused on the end goal.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to build a house. My builder told me that the typical house takes 160 days to complete – from groundbreaking to moving day. He then warned me that because the house was 700 feet off the main road, construction would take longer. Just how much longer, he would not commit.
I determined to reduce construction time. My plan was to stay engaged with the general contractor and treat the subcontractors like royalty. During construction, I went out to the house nearly every day. Often it was after work to evaluate progress and report findings to the general contractor. Normally the reports were positive. Occasionally there were small issues for him to address. One time there were electrical outlets in the wrong place; he fixed it. Once I found a wall six feet from where it was planned. The general contractor made it right and thanked me for identifying the issue so quickly.
At times, I would go to the site early in the morning before work, or during my lunch break. During these times, I took coffee, water, donuts, cookies, or pizza for the subcontractors. Later, I learned that these gestures created a sense of purpose and appreciation among the subcontractors. They wanted to help people build their dreams. They wanted to do good work and they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger than 8 – 10 hours of labor a day. I also discovered later that this worked to my advantage as many extras were added – at no cost.
There are two major lessons here. First, the sponsor of the project must be actively engaged in monitoring and guiding progress. Can you imagine the costs and delays if I hadn’t found the misplaced wall as early as I did? The second lesson is to engage and inspire your employees during change. I used donuts and coffee to share my passion for building the house in the woods, and in turn, the subcontractors felt like they were part of something bigger.
You might say, “Well, Steve, this is a nice story, but so what? You expended a lot of time and energy to supervise the construction, a job you delegated to the general contractor. But what were the real benefits?” We moved into the house in 140 days, the house met specifications, and the project came in under budget. How many of your projects achieve these kinds of results?
Call to Action: When you consider your next change initiative, be sure your sponsor plans time in her calendar to stay engaged with the project. Be sure she does more than attend the regular status meetings to stay informed. Instead, she can make a difference. She can talk to the employees doing the work or ask the project manager informally about progress. She can schedule lunches or other events during the project and not just to celebrate the end of the project.
"Things are moving so fast we can’t keep up!”
In the last two weeks, both Pier 1 and JC Penney announced bankruptcies, no doubt partially brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, but both organizations have been hurting for a long time. Macy’s and Sears are closing more stores; the latter barely holding on by a thread. Even Walmart and Walgreen’s have announced they will close stores. Brick and mortar are giving way to the digital age. Amazon continues to grow at breakneck speed. Over ten years, Amazon’s revenue has increased about 12 times, whereas Target Stores’ revenue has increased about 1.2 times.
When we look at the retail industry specifically, and others more generally, it’s clear that traditional organizational structures are falling short. They are unable to keep pace with the demands of the digital economy.
The advancement of the Internet over the past two decades has taught us that we must run our organizations differently for our businesses to thrive, and perhaps even survive. This digital transformation is inevitable. To successfully move into the future, leaders need to strike a balance between organizational hierarchy and cross-functional coordination. While there still needs to be accountability for results, organizations need to be able to move faster to achieve these results.
In the late 1800s, Fredrick Taylor pioneered the idea of specialization to speed production. This specialization drove greater efficiency and productivity as organizations invested heavily in projects to streamline operations. Yet this specialization also drove hierarchical adherence which in turn promoted cross-functional dysfunction – especially during times of change. If leaders wanted to deploy a new product design or improve business processes across the organization, they ran into huge amounts of resistance. This led to lots of failure of organizations to achieve results in desired time frames, if at all.
This means that organizations must reduce their dependence on hierarchical adherence and drive more toward teams that work more effectively cross-functionally. People in these organizations must operate at higher levels of cross-functional collaboration, requiring greater trust, healthy dissent, and greater ability to engage in informal accountability.
This starts at the top. The leader of the organization must be willing to give up traditional command and control in favor of a more facilitative approach. She must be passionate about her organization’s mission, must be humble, and must demonstrate greater trust and willingness to engage in healthy dissent. Further, she holds her leadership team accountable to collaborate cross-functionally and promotes and models the idea that employees across the organization work together to drive these outcomes and are willing to challenge each other to do so.
This article is the subject of my upcoming online seminar, How to Drive a New Culture to Embrace the Digital Age, sponsored by the Project Management Institute. Click here for more info.
“I told them once, didn’t they get it?”
These words will forever ring in my ears as a textbook example of an executive who doesn’t understand how to effectively lead change. The underlying issue facing this change: the leader failed to engage his front-line to successfully drive a major transformation. Ultimately it failed to produce the intended results.
From a front-line employee perspective:
Let’s turn these statements around. Effective leaders engage the front-line to help drive change. They do this by a), clearly articulating the purpose for the change, by b), helping employees understand how they will work differently, and c), enlist them as advocates for the change.
Purpose: A leader starts by clearly articulating clear purpose and benefits, and then relates these to the employees. Once employees understand how the purpose and benefits relate to them, they are more likely to embrace the change and support it. For the employees, this is the WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me.” When one of my clients implemented a large change, the leaders talked with employees about the benefits to the ultimate end-consumer of their products and services, and how different employee groups contributed to this larger result. As a result, the employees became advocates for the change.
Work differently: I don’t expect a CEO to define in detail how employees on the shop-floor might interact differently with each other because of a change. She will, however, speak broadly about how different departments are impacted by the change. She holds executives accountable to drive to deeper detail AND engages employees to help define and implement the changes in the work process.
Advocates: One of the most effective ways to drive a change is to engage the front-line as advocates for the change. One client actively engaged their front-line team to talk about the change with others inside and outside the function. This team, once beleaguered with low morale, started talking about the results of the change. Early on when formal statistics weren’t yet available, these employees described how “things felt better,” because of senior leader action. Later the formal measures proved that “things” improved significantly with lower attrition and higher engagement.
A 2012 Gallup report said this: “People have emotional needs, and if they are not attended to, the result is subpar performance and increased turnover. Even the best processes and systems are inefficient if the people who run them aren't emotionally invested in the outcome. To drive performance, organizations must engage their employees.” I completely agree.
Call to action:
Strong leaders say front-line involvement is one of the most impactful elements for them because it launches significant buy-in and acceptance, which in turn helps them exceed profitability expectations. Who wouldn’t want that?
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.