Tag Archives: change

Process thinking – take the right steps in the right order

Welcome to the next installment of the thinking styles for success series. Today, we are looking at process thinking – this is all about making transformations: essential in today’s hectic world. We often hear about transformational leadership and transformational change but what does this mean and how well equipped are we to deal with it.

Process thinking is based on understanding the steps in any change activity, the ingredients required and the skills needed to effect that change. It’s a bit like cooking: you need to know what you are trying to produce, have the best ingredients and the skills to pull it all together. It is critical that you provide the right conditions for each step in the process and do them in the right order.

You need process thinking to understand the sequence of activities and the methods used for each transformation. Doing the right steps at the wrong stage, using the wrong ingredients or the wrong conditions will not produce the right result. You need to get the conditions for transformation right as well, if the oven temperature is not right, you may under cook or over cook your meal – with potentially disastrous results.

In change processes this implies picking the right actions in the right sequence, involving the right people and creating the right conditions for success. Consider:

  1. If you make your mind up about the approach you are going to adopt before consulting with those involved, then you are sowing the seeds of discontent, opening the risk of resistance and potentially thwarting new ideas.
  2. If you introduce a critical issue in a light hearted manner – you may lose support.
  3. Responding to a query in the wrong way at the wrong time may stifle debate and reduce co‑operation.
  4. If you don’t build a supporting network before starting the process, you may never gain the momentum you need to drive things through.
  5. If you don’t think about the possible sources of resistance in advance, you are likely to be blindsided. Whatever the positive aspects of your proposal, there will be some people who will oppose your ideas because they:
    1. Don’t see the need
    2. Don’t agree with your proposed approach
    3. Don’t see what’s in it for them and
    4. Increasingly these days, they are bored, frustrated or overwhelmed by change

Thinking things through in a logical manner, identifying the necessary steps and the right conditions for change will help. You might find producing a flow diagram will help.

Ask yourself “If I do that, what will happen? … then what? … then what?”

Problems normally arise from the issues you’ve not thought about rather than those that you have given some attention to. A few minutes of carefully directed thought can save you a lot of time, effort and heartache!

So the next time you need to set a change process in action, think about it from a process perspective:

  • What are the steps you need to take
  • Does the sequence matter
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What are the right conditions for success?
  • Do you have the skills to make it happen?

If you don’t it might make sense to call in some help – don’t cook for an important dinner party if you don’t know what to serve or know how to make it. Call in the experts!

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Project Thinking – not your usual 9-5!

This is the first of several postings on the issues and approaches that contribute to Project Thinking. It builds on the ideas in the “Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking” posting. This issue has gathered a lot of attention as have some related postings:

Turning good ideas into effective action and

One small step – from good idea to effective action

So, I am publishing this material rather earlier than I intended.

There but for fortune …

Managing projects is not the same as managing production! Projects are not continuous; they have a start and [hopefully] an end. You only get one roll of the dice. This means that you can follow best practice, have a great team and do a good job of managing the project but still get a poor outcome. Your efforts influence your chances of success but you cannot rely on chance to even things out.

Conversely, sometimes the worst organised and managed projects will succeed.

The trick is not to be disheartened by the first case or fooled by the second!

It’s not personal, it’s business

Often project managers forget that their project, however important it is to them, is a means to an end, the owners do not want the project; they only want the outcome, asset or capability. This means that you need to maintain a focus on the business objectives as well as the project objectives. A project that meets its internal goals without meeting the business objectives cannot be a success – it may become a “White Elephant”.

Project and Business Objectives Matrix

All change!

We live in a highly dynamic world today and the business environment can change very quickly, so keep the business objectives under frequent review. Things will change dramatically over the lifetime of most significant projects.

As discussed in earlier postings, it is crucial that everyone involved is doing the same project. Without agreement on aims, objectives and scope there can be no concerted effort and factional pressures will hamper progress.

Don’t forget the process

Similarly, project managers are likely to focus on the content of the project: what is to be delivered or developed. To manage effectively, it is also necessary to focus some attention on the process and the context. In structured project management environments, the preferred methodology may set the process but a wise PM will keep this under review and keep evaluating whether the default approach remains appropriate in the light of developments.

Project Thinking First Steps

So, the first element of project thinking is:

  • Think about risk and probability – there is no average
  • Focus on objectives
    • Project
    • Business
    • Bear in mind the rate of change in the business environment
    • Think about
      • Process
      • Context and
      • Content

What was that about turkeys and Christmas?

In yesterday’s Sunday Times [9th October 2011], Rod Liddle wrote a short piece about the difficulties faced by BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, in his attempts to reduce costs by slimming down the middle management of the organisation. Liddle, suggested that Thompson was facing a losing battle as those charged with making the change were those most likely to be negatively affected.

What’s new?

As Liddle commented, some of  Thompson’s predecessors have tried and failed.

This highlights an issue faced by most change agents in this type of situation.

Change Effort and Reward Balance

When I’m guiding change, I use this matrix to help me assess the likely attitudes and motivations of those involved in the change, it helps me to assess the likely sources of resistance and points me to possible avenues to ease these concerns. Having significant numbers of people who can expect low or negative rewards from the process but who are charged with making significant contributions to the process should set the alarm bells ringing.

Issues which might need to be addressed are whether:

  • The scope of the change can [and should]  be adjusted to remove the worst of the negative impacts or to add additional benefits for the this group.
  • The make-up of the group can be modified to take account of motivations.
  • It is possible and / or feasible to bring in temporary support.

and how to improve the messages to actively engage other groups.

Despite the clear motivation issues, resistance from these groups can be quite difficult to identify as it is usually passive. The participators are likely to agree with the objectives and proposed actions, they are likely to be supportive in meetings and agree to handle a reasonable proportion of the necessary tasks – they just never [or rarely]  get round to doing anything. This passive resistance can also be difficult to deal with as the reasons for any delay will seem plausible.

This group has the “advantage” of having significant workloads outside the change initiative and being aware of the key priorities in the current scheme of things to find pressing tasks to fill their time. The question for the change managers  is to decide whether to work round this group or to confront the issue, with the potential for further disruption. A solution must be found if the change process is not to stagnate.

Change agents must also be aware that they are unlikely to get more than grudging support from even those groups with something to gain [see matrix above].

This is succinctly explained by

“there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Niccolo Machiavelli 1469 – 1527

This emphasises the need to communicate effectively with all groups and making the benefits of the proposals clear to all concerned.

If you are contemplating changing anything in your business look here first.

Me, myself and I – understanding stakeholder perspectives

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you will know that I do my best to avoid “management speak” and jargon. I make no apologies, however, for using the term “stakeholders”. It means anyone who has an interest in, can affect or be affected by the business. I find it particularly useful to consider stakeholders in planning and implementing change programmes. Effective consideration of stakeholders and their needs, desires and motivations can go a long way to helping you sell your ideas, gain support and minimise resistance – but you have to do it carefully and put some effort in.

Standard Stakeholder Map

Standard Stakeholder Map

The figure above shows a typical “first pass” mapping of potential stakeholders – this is a useful start but may not be adequate for your needs. In many cases, you will need to break these top-level groups down into smaller subgroups. For example:

Customers: Do they all have the same needs?

Managers: Are specific individuals or functions affected in different ways?

Employees: Are all groups affected equally, are some better organised than others etc?

You will need to break the stakeholders down into smaller sub-groups and possibly consider some people on an individual basis.

Multiple perspectives

It is also worth noting that in today’s more complex environment, some people will fall into several stakeholder groups and that will affect their overall perception. For example, an employee may also be:

  • A shareholder
  • A neighbour
  • An investor – through pension funds etc.
  • A customer

    An individual's perspective

    An individual's perspective

So, their view of any proposed change can be quite complex.

Also bear in mind that the various stakeholder groups are likely to interact with each other.

Mini Case Study

I was discussing this issue with a client who is a third-generation director in a successful family run business [SME]. He said that on any given topic, he can have several different views and that the balance between these might change through the day. So he can have different thoughts about the issue as:

  1. A functional director
  2. As an owner of the business
  3. As a member of the extended family
  4. As Husband / Father in his own family
  5. Himself!

    Case Study

    Case Study

For him to be happy with any decision or change, it has to be right [or at least bearable] from each perspective! No wonder it can be so difficult to get support for your ideas!

What does this mean for you?

Thinking any idea through from stakeholder perspectives will help you to:

  • Sell your ideas by giving you a better understanding of each group / individuals
    • Needs
    • Desires
    • Motivations and
    • Fears
  • You will be in a stronger position to gain support by fine tuning your proposal
  • You will be better able to anticipate and respond to any resistance and
  • You will be much better prepared to engage in a sensible dialogue with any of the interested parties and that could lead to an even better idea!

To catch a fish – you need to go fish!

Early in my career, I worked with an outspoken, verbose and loud senior Engineer from the Southern States of the USA. He had a machine gun delivery talking at 50 to the dozen and could be hard to follow.

He always started every day with the same question.

Are we going to cut bait, hook up or go fish?

It took me a while to catch his meaning but once I did, I realised it was an excellent way to start the day – preparation is necessary but at some point you have to take action. No action – no results.

So are you ging to:

  • Cut bait
  • Hook up or
  • Go Fish

Today?

[Human] Nature abhors a [Communication] Vacuum!

A conversation about change reminded me of a [relatively] painful lesson I learned a few years ago.

I was a director [VP] in a medium-sized Professional Services Organisation and we needed to move to a new office. We scoured the area for suitable premises which met our criteria for:

  • Location
  • Public transport links
  • Parking
  • Style and Substance
  • Working conditions etc

Having visited just about every potential location in the area, we turned our thoughts towards building our own offices.

What we didn’t do was to keep the rest of the company advised of our progress!

The rumours circulating the office suggested that we had found somewhere but it was so bad on one or more of these attributes that we didn’t dare tell anyone until the deal was done. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Fortunately, someone thought I was sufficiently approachable and brought it to my attention.  I was able [with some difficulty] to get an update out to the workforce and allay their fears.

The lesson is that you can’t not communicate and whatever fills the communication vacuum will be much worse than the reality. Saying nothing sends its own message.

So unless you are bound by confidentiality or there is a good business reason for keeping quiet, you must give out all of the relevant information – even if it is to say that you are not making any progress!  If there are good reasons for not making a disclosure – you can communicate that fact too! “We are making progress but don’t want to jeopardise negotiations”, “We can’t comment on this because of … but we will let you know as soon as we can”  etc]. Your team is smart enough to know that not everything can be made public but don’t appreciate being kept in the dark unnecessarily.

It can also be helpful to publicise the criteria you are working to and seek suggestions.

Silence is definitely not golden!