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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    The Change Handbook

    Over 60 methods that engage groups quickly and produce extraordinary results.




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    Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High Performance Organizations

    A leader's guide to blending technical and people aspects of performance improvement.


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    City Slickers Meets the World of Strategic Planning – Part 3, a Reprieve of the Just ONE THING Limitation

    The sr vp nodded, seemed to like the answer, and then said, “Okay, you’ve told me what needs to be done, now what’s the ONE THING that will maximize my likelihood of success for this engagement-based cascading approach?”

    I silently thought, Great!  Here’s my chance to add at least one more Thing to that previously lonely item of one advice tidbit for strategy roll-out.

    I replied, You’ll greatly increase the likelihood of your success if you set up one or more teams to plan to roll-out the cascade, support its implementation, and follow-up on its effectiveness.  Teams can provide an ongoing energy, consistency of purpose, and mutual accountability for moving forward that it’s hard to duplicate with just a single, or handful of  talented individual operating independently.  Having a team involved from the start also sets the stage, and helps introduce and model the expected behaviors that this roll-out will be a group activity, that it involves more than just the current inner circle of execs.



    Don’t just assemble a group of people and call them a team.  Set up conditions for the team to grow together, and capitalize on their diverse perspectives.  Actually carve out some time for the team to get acquainted, do some planning, set some goals, and go through some team-building efforts.  You’ll get a higher quality product in the end than if you just periodically gather the same bunch of people in a room to “work on that strategy cascading thing.”

    Even though it’s a top-down driven strategy roll-out, on the team consider having a few people from lower levels in the organization.  They’ll be able to provide some practical perspectives, on “what will play in Peoria” or whatever parts of the organization they live and work in.  And the groups they represent will really appreciate that they were included, and this can pay substantial dividends in the strategy execution phase.

    From Day 1, help the team create a feedback-rich environment.  From personal experience, and from Carl Larsen’s research with over 6,000 team members, one of the toughest things teams have to deal with is providing and being open to feedback, so the team can grow and perform at its highest potential.  But luckily it’s also one of the most easily addressed -- if it’s addressed early.

    *         *        *


    Pretty cool questions from that vp, thought I’d share them with everybody in the last three posts.  Would love to hear your thoughts on what’s worked for you in cascading strategy throughout your organization.  What’s been your experience?

     Photo credit: istockphoto


    What Do We Do with Change Readiness Information?

    As discussed in an earlier blog, it’s very important to consider the specifics of an organization’s change readiness for a specific proposed change.  We presented specific things we’d like to find out.  And in another blog we talked about various cost-effective ways to collect valuable change readiness information.   The survey is but one common approach, and there are other cost-effective ones.  
    But now what, after we've collected that information?  What do we do with that information?
    One high leverage activity is to get people in a room and process the information together, discussing it from their own different viewpoints, and then agreeing upon a plan forward.  Who might do this?  The core change team, along with invited “extended” members (special invitees, like a director who may have critical technical knowledge of the proposed change, who may only attend a few meetings with the core team), would be excellent candidates to review this information and then develop action items to include in the overall work plan for the change.  Specifically, here are some questions to prime these conversations for the core and extended team:
    • Which groups, and which specific people might be the biggest resistors, how powerful are they, and how can we best get their cooperation in the change effort?
    • Which groups, and which specific people might be our biggest supporters, how powerful are they, and how can we best get them to actively support the change?
    • If the organization’s leaders operate as an interconnected leadership system, what is the best way to influence the system’s energy to actively support the planned change?
    • If the organization’s leaders operate as independent heads of their respective fiefdoms, where should we start first, and how do we best get the leaders involved in collective inquiry, collective meaning making, and collective action planning on a cross-functional basis for this particular change?
    • In the context of answers to the four previous questions what are the best strategies to satisfy the resistors and energize the supporters? (Examples include communications, training, workshops where people collaboratively put out ideas, prioritize them, and develop plans for moving forward, and role modeling and other actions by key leaders to demonstrate active support.)
    • Does any part of the initial proposed change need to be modified or re-sequenced to accelerate its implementation and acceptance?
    By thinking specifically about the issue of change readiness we can be better prepared to develop high leverage action items to get the change implemented.  Since I’m a big fan of visual presentation of data, in these analysis groups we’ll often color in boxes on the organization’s org chart (red for hot resistance, yellow for neutral, and green for accepting) and see what the patterns suggest we should do.  This is particularly helpful if a head of an organizational unit, for example, a VP or Director, holds a totally different view of whether or not the change should be supported.
    And finally, here’s an interesting variation hosting a typical meeting to have the group address the above issues.  Try using a proven template (“group method”) to spur creativity in the group.  One method I’ve used to do this effectively with a group is Open Space.
    For ideas on HOW to collect this all-important change readiness information, you can check out the blog Three Paths to Assess Change Readiness.



    Three Paths to Assess Change Readiness

    In an earlier blog The Importance of Assessing Change Readiness we talked about the importance of collecting change readiness information, and some specific things we want to find out.  So how do we get this important information?  
    Here are three ways that I’ve found to be effective.  In some cases it’s helpful to use two of these.  Quite often you’ll find it helpful to confirm, and dig deeper into issues in a second pass for whichever path you select.
    1. Interviews.  These could be done in one-on-one interviews, or in small groups, like a focus group of 7-10 people.  You’ll want to make sure you get information from representative levels of the organization, and representative groups would be affected by the proposed change.  
    Advantages of this method are that it can be done fairly quickly, and you have an opportunity to quickly dig deeper into a response if you’d like to learn more about it.  A disadvantage is that if you don’t select truly representative groups, you may base your action plan on information that is not true for a larger percentage of the targeted change population.
    2. Surveys.    Over the years I’ve moved from canned surveys to custom-developed surveys because the latter tend to be shorter, and more quickly get at the heart of the specifics of the change proposed.  Usually I’ll do a few one-on-one interviews or focus groups to get some ideas about common responses people might have.  Then I’ll load those into possible responses for a question, into an automated survey tool like Survey Monkey.  I’ve found it’s also helpful to allow for write-in answers, just in case my representative group did not provide all the possible popular responses.  
    Advantages of this method include easy data collection, and automated summarization of data.  Another advantage is that you can collect information quickly from more people than you can in interviews.  One disadvantage is that often only a very small percentage of people respond to survey.  So, I like to emphasize the survey will only take about 8 minutes, and that participation is extremely important as it will shape how the upcoming proposed change will be implemented.  Another disadvantage is that people sometimes worry they’ll be punished for telling some ugly truth about what’s happening in the organization, so it’s helpful to set these surveys up to be anonymous, or posted to an outside third party’s collection website, so that formal company leaders won’t see responses associated with individuals.
    3. Workshops.  One workshop, or a series of workshops can provide extremely valuable information that can be immediately acted upon.  Here’s an example.  In a global pharmaceutical company that recently implemented a matrix organization, we hosted two rounds of workshops.  In the first round we collected hopes, concerns, and key technical issues that would likely be encountered when the matrix was fully implemented.  We did this as independent observers/coaches for each of the organizational units that were to be combined.  We summarized the outputs of these workshops, and then had a combined workshop where we presented the collected data to all organization units who would need to work together in the combined organization.  Collectively they discussed the issues, prioritized the work to be done, and developed action plans to move forward that they all agreed upon.
    One major advantage of this method is that you can rapidly, and simultaneously surface key readiness concerns and also address them on the spot, or in the subsequent “everybody-together” workshop.  This can obviate the need to do further change readiness analysis and planning in a later change agent meeting, which is typically done for the Interview and Survey methods paths of data collection.  
    One disadvantage is that because the outcomes are not totally predictable when groups with diverse perspectives get together to plan, this option may not be for “faint of heart” facilitators.  Overall, I’ve found the benefits of this approach far outweigh the concerns.  The key is for the facilitator to keep his or her eye on the final desired “big picture” outcomes – which would be outcomes like increased technical capabilities and standardization across the company’s newly matrixed 12 manufacturing sites in the pharmaceutical company’s case mentioned above -- and help the group collectively work their way to designing mutually acceptable solutions and action plans for those.
    Once the critical change readiness information has been collected, here are some tips at What We Do with Change Readiness Information? on how to analyze it. 



    The Importance of Assessing Change Readiness

    We’ve all been there, and sadly watched it happen.  In the heat of the moment, the rush to get the technical parts of a change implemented overrides any thoughts about how ready people might be for the change.  It can happen with all kinds of changes… new strategy directions, the implementation of a new computer system, initiation of a quality improvement effort like Lean Six Sigma, or redesign into a new organizational structure.  And the results fall into that large percentage of failed change efforts that are often cited at 70%.
    And in some unfortunate cases there is even a change management team, and change management workplan that exist, but with no formal mention of change readiness.   All too often change agents assume they know the likely causes of resistance, and don’t delve into situation specifics that would be helpful in developing change action plans.  With those thoughts as a backdrop, here are some things we’d like to find out about an organization’s readiness for an upcoming change.

    What we’d like to find out…

    Ideally, at a minimum, we’d like to cost-effectively gather information about:
    • possible reasons for resistance
    • specific concerns about impacts of the implemented change
    • strength of disagreement with the proposed change
    • parts of the organization likely to cause the most problems, and why their particular area might be likely to cause problems
    • parts of the organization likely to enthusiastically support the change, and why they support the change
    • whether or not the leaders operate as 1) an interconnected “leadership system” whose members engage in mutual inquiry, meaning making, and action planning, or 2) independent actors of their respective fiefdoms who focus primarily on their area
    • factors or specific actions that could increase acceptance of the upcoming changes
    • levers we could use to increase the success of the change
    • other organizational reactions to specifics of the proposed change.  
    In the blog Three Paths to Assess Change Readiness we present three proven, solid approaches for collecting this important information.  In the blog What Do We Do with Change Readiness Information?  you’ll see some tips for how to analyze this information.



    Four Tips for Building Powerful Visions that Get Acted Upon

    An organization’s vision can be a tremendously powerful lever for performance.  That is, when it’s crafted well.
    What gives vision statements a bad name is when a small, select group of executives go off-site to a fun resort and come up with a one- to four-sentence summary of what they talked about and ultimately agreed upon.  And then they laminate it on wallet-sized cards and put up posters of it in each conference room, fully expecting employees to resonate with it, and fall in line completely behind it.  
    I’ve seen this process fail time after time.  And it’s raised a level of cynicism and inaction in organizations on every continent, in every imaginable industry.
    So exactly what does it take to build a vision that’s a powerful engine for organizational performance?  Let’s start by taking a look at what I mean by vision.  An organizational vision describes an unprecedented, highly optimistic desired future state or remarkable achievement.  A vision should help energize people, inspire them to help achieve it, and focus their efforts.  
    An example was when Colin Marshall, then president of British Airways (while many passengers and travel agents alleged that BA stood for “bloody awful”) declared that the company would become the world’s premier airline.  And the airline employees made extraordinary improvements.
    Here are four tips to help you boost the impact of your organization’s vision.
    1.  Consciously consider the context you’re operating in, in a group setting.  Sure, you want to set those stretch targets, and be uninhibited by current obstacles in your path.  And you SHOULD want to set those stretch targets.  But don’t make the mistake of failing to formally take a look at the context around you, or you might miss some great opportunities.  Ask questions like, “Is there an industry ecosystem that we’re part of that’s evolving, whose characteristics we need to consider in OUR evolution?”  “What are our organization’s awesome strengths that we need to capitalize on going forward?”  “Are there elements of our current obstacles that we could turn to our advantage?”  “How do we want to shape – not just react to – the industry we’re a part of and the greater world around us?”
    And I’ve also found it helpful to consider these questions, and have associated conversations, in a group setting with leaders from various disciplines in the organization.  It’s like everyone has a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and being in one room helps get the puzzle assembled quickly.  The back and forth that goes on in such conversations helps strengthen everyone’s understanding of the situation, and helps build a common, shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.  Without the collective, public conversations that people can build on, all we have are individual thoughts inside people's heads.  Because these internal thoughts are not connected with other thoughts, and top leaders aren't sure if there's agreement on the critical issues, the organization loses a great deal of leverage in building an effective vision.
    2.  Engage people’s creative side, not just their analytical side.  The vision development work should not just be performed in a sterile, analytical, serious environment.  Use pictures and images in creative ways to prompt, and deepen conversations.  Use stories and metaphors as conversational stepping stones to get from the current state to a better future one.  
    Keep in mind that there’s a lot of science behind the notion that people having fun can more easily step outside their day-to-day concerns and be innovative.  So by all means, create an environment for lightheartedness, experimentation, non-judgment, and fun.  In his book Serious Play, innovation thought leader Michael Schrage contends that, “You can’t be a serious innovator unless you are willing and able to play.”  
    3.  Quickly link the vision to a strategy, goals, and execution plan.  Don’t just let the vision sit there.  The vision only tells what remarkable impact you want to have on the world.  To keep that vision from being merely an hallucination, you’ll need to say how you plan to make it happen, and set up measurable goals and action plans to drive activity at all levels of the organization.  
    While all this linking doesn’t need to all be done in one session, top leaders should at least agree on a timetable – in the near future – where there will be a follow-up strategy, goals, and execution plans developed.
    4.  Design and plan for the vision’s communication and roll-out.  A great vision that resides only on conference room wall posters and laminated wallet cards never did any company any good.  It has to be in people’s heads and hearts also.  
    To do this, there needs to be a plan to disseminate the content of the vision, as well as some of the assumptions and background conversations that helped shaped the vision.  These will be necessary for people to understand the vision, talk about it with others in the organization, and get energized about trying to achieve it.
    The good news is that many of the stories, metaphors, and images that were used to help develop the vision (step 2 above) may be quite useful in communicating it to the workforce.
    The above provide some practical tips for building a truly powerful vision that an organization can get energized for, and then achieve.