Viewing Posts by Steve Salisbury
"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.
How to drive greater value by listening
During my years in corporate America, I sat in lots of meetings. I often marveled at how some of my peers could bloviate their opinions. They appeared confident and seemed persuasive in advocating their position.
One of my peers was particularly skilled at this. Joe (fictitious name) seemed to have the attention of senior leaders as he moved up quickly through the ranks. Employees who worked for Joe liked him. I recall more than once sitting around the lunch table where his employees talked about how great it was to work for Joe. In the end, though, Joe did not make it through multiple reorganizations and restructurings conducted to streamline the operations. What happened?
I spoke with a few of Joe’s former employees sometime later. They told me that they liked Joe because he gave them attention their previous managers hadn’t. Much of their 1-on-1 meetings consisted of Joe telling them how the organization would have to change, describing excellent leadership of change. Joe did not, however, affect any real change himself. He was a great announcer of change, but not an enabler of change. He was ineffective in bringing his employees along on the change journey.
The big lesson? Don’t confuse influential advocacy for change with making it happen. The latter requires that you listen to employees to help gauge their progress through change and offer strategies to help them along.
Here are a few things I counsel my executive clients:
Leaders who follow this recipe for listening will be more successful with change, therefore increasing the value of the change project to the organization.
One of my clients attempted to drive a large transformation with no consideration for the impact on front-line employees. They did not even provide training for employees to know how to operate in the new culture. I came in afterward to help them reshape the project, sought to engage the front-line, and helped them drive greater success.
Conversely, wise executives think about how employees will operate in the new environment. They find ways to engage the front-line to implement the change. These leaders consider three factors:
Cooperation: In 2019, you would think that organizational culture had progressed to a point where leaders treat front-line employees with basic respect. After all, it is the front line who operates the company every day. Command and control management styles are on the way out. True leaders seek to cooperate with the front-line employees to help drive the change. They recognize they need the front-line to be successful if the company is to be successful.
Resistance: Resistors often provide some of the best input for a project. First, they provide reasons why the change won’t work. They reveal risks you might not have otherwise known. Second, if you can convert resistors into supporters, they can be some of your most ardent advocates for change.
Fun: I’ve seen leaders hold creative events to help promote the change. One used interactive games and relevant puzzles in a one-day, off-site pre-launch meeting. Another senior executive took the entire project team to a White Sox game (they won!). Another leader took her team through a cooking class the evening before an all-day off-site. These events build comradery and a sense of team – founded on a basis of interpersonal trust and commitment, which helps unite the team toward the common project goal.
Front-line engagement results in more effective change. It generates ideas, buy-in, and acceptance. People simply work harder when they are part of the process instead of having a process forced upon them. Wouldn’t you?