Transformation Fatigue

As I write, Jacob Zuma, the discredited President of South Africa, is considering his position having been recalled, finally, by his party. South Africa is in the third decade of one of the most ambitious change programmes the world has seen. Understandably, transformation fatigue has set in. People are disappointed by the lack of progress towards a more equal society and angry that the party of liberation, the African National Congress, has incubated corrupt leadership of which Zuma is the prime example. South African’s were not fooled by Zuma’s desperate, drowning gestures, for example offering free university education without a plan or funds.

Strong leadership with absolute integrity is critical to the success of the programme. Such leadership sets realistic expectations, sticks to the plan, defines tangible milestones and communicates relentlessly to celebrate even small successes along the way. A programme led by leaders that have lost the confidence of the people cannot succeed. Communications are ignored or discounted as lies. The vision is forgotten.

The saving grace for South Africa is its constitution.  This has (mostly) protected a free press, an independent judiciary and kept important powers for parliament. Contrast with Putin’s Russia, where the slide into authoritarianism has gone largely unchecked.

By the time you read this, Cyril Ramaphosa may already be the new President. The challenge he will face is enormous but the elements of a turnaround plan are not difficult to identify. He will need to reestablish the vision for South Africa’s weary people and to rally them around a common set of objectives and priorities to drive development over the longer term. He must clean out the mire of corruption (“draining the swamp” is somewhere else) in which his leadership team is floundering.  Only then can the resources be focused on driving change rather than accumulating wealth.

Change is good. Re-energising the people suffering from transformation fatigue is critical.

50 Shades of Brexit

Today, the UK government, acting on the advice of its people in England and Wales, but against the wishes of those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, has sent notice that it will leave the European Union in 2 year’s time. It has triggered the now famous Article 50. Just as in real life divorce, none of the parties involved has any idea what the eventual cost will be and whether life will ever be better again. In future years, we will try to reassure ourselves that it could have been much worse but if we are honest we will have to admit it was painful. It may be that our country will not exist as a United Kingdom at the end of all this. As a nation and as a continent, we are in the trough of the change curve surrounded by uncertainty and reasons to be fearful. Unforeseen consequences lurk around every corner.

Is the uncertainty so essential to the experience? Why is the Government’s Change Management Team (prosaically known as the Department for Exiting the EU) not able to offer a realistic, straightforward and non-partisan description of the essential factors which will frame the divorce? It might also focus on outlining those many things that will stay the same. Hang on though; the need to admit that EU immigration will continue at much the same level as today makes that a bit tricky. But it surely will. The British economy is close to full capacity and we will need the young, hard working eastern European workforce to maintain its momentum and, by the way, pay for my future healthcare. I can already hear the howls of outrage from those that voted for Brexit mainly because they were fed up with multi-consonent, slavic tones in the doctor’s waiting room.

There is much discussion of the cheque that the UK will have to write to secure its freedom. Estimates range from zero to 60billion Euro. The idea that we can leave for free must be fanciful. The EU, like most national economies, is in debt in its own right; some estimates suggest to the tune of 300billion Euro. It is obvious that since the UK has contributed to the debt, then we will have to pay back our share, net of assets. More likely, we will refinance the amount and add it to our own sovereign debt. In the grand scheme of things, the amount involved is not large when compared with UK national debt which is measured in trillions. However, whatever the amount, it will certainly become the source of populist outrage and just maybe voter remorse of which there is currently no sign.

Another dark shade of uncertainty is that surrounding our future trade relationship with the EU. In trying to simplify this, pessimists paint a picture of day 1 of a hard Brexit in 2019 in which the ports of Calais and Dover are choked by hundreds of trucks waiting for customs clearance under World Trade Organisation rules. Has no one heard of the digital solutions which are already in every day use to handle such transactions?

The next 2 years and longer will be a rough ride for the UK and Europe. We could make it just a little less traumatic by replacing some of the politics with some honest communication underpinning well structured change management.

Talk Talk

I have been in South Africa for the last 3 months. I blogged earlier, quite optimistically, on the slow progress that the country is making towards a more equal and race blind country. Since then I have tried to soak up the important trends and to learn more about what is really happening here.

Two very different data points struck me as relevant:

The first relates to an entrepreneur trading informally in the Eastern Cape. He refused financial help offered by a government agency charged with promoting the cause of micro and small businesses;  arguing that he would then become like a child of the agency and less able, rather than more, to stand on his own feet. This self reliance is a characteristic of people here, evolved from pioneering ancestors of all races and surely a reason to be hopeful.

The second relates to the recently updated corruption perception index. This places South Africa in 64th place of a 176 countries. The country scores slightly above the global average. This is probably better than most South Africans would predict. A real positive is that almost no one thinks this is anywhere near good enough.

There is a vibrant media here that is outspoken in its fight against government waste, corruption and big business collusion. Radio talk shows (Shado Twala on SA FM for example) provide a platform for equally vociferous members of the public. This same vibrancy also perhaps feeds the pessimism of people here.

The progress of South Africa (a member of G20 remember) towards a fairer society is undoubtedly hindered by her small tax base. Extreme income inequality means that less than 10% of the population contribute 99% of the income tax. Unemployment at about 25% and a thriving black economy are major factors and tax payers are unlikely to be encouraged if they think their tax contributions are finding their way into the pockets of corrupt officials.

SA is proud of her constitution and she has worked hard to establish functional government at national, provincial and local level. In doing so, I think the mark has been overshot. The straight forward language of the generation of ANC freedom fighters, many educated in the old eastern bloc, has been replaced by something else.  When interviewed, civil servants and politicians tend to get mired in fashionable phrases and gobbledegook; currently every initiative is labeled as part of the hoped for radical socio-economic transformation. It is not enough to claim to encourage just entrepreneurship. It must be social entrepreneurship. There is a strong sense that there is a lot of multi-sylabic talk and little action.   This seems to me, to point to a need for  government to be stripped down to the essentials in order to deliver more rapid and sustainable change.

So am I more or less optimistic about South Africa after 3 months of privileged existence here? Is this country another Zimbabwe waiting to happen as many here would have you believe? I do not think so. South Africans are protective of their right to dissent. They see through the talk. There is too much that is good here and a healthy set of checks and balances upon which citizens now insist.

Brexit Plus Plus

My regular readers will know that I am not a fan of the invented word coined for the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. If you are based in the UK it is impossible to go more than an hour or two without hearing the ghastly word. A new, ugly vocabulary has sprung up to describe the type of relationship we might have with the EU in future and to disparage particularly those, like me, that would like to keep all our options open until we know more about what we are doing to ourselves. Our expensively educated leaders are adept at word invention. Just yesterday we had the British Chief Diplomat’s “Whingerama” which I take to mean “a collective expression of concern about the election of an unknown quantity to the most powerful position in the world”.

For me, it was another unwelcome development when the President elect of the United States started to compare his campaign to the apparent success of the forgotten people of England in putting the finger up to their governing class. Of course, being American (are we sure?), P(e)oTUS is compelled to add a double plus rating to his election win. It is rumoured that our very own Nigel Farage (Brexiteer-in-Chief) is advising the Donald.

The rallying cries of recent political campaigns have trumpeted change even, perversely, when the vision is conservative and reactionary.

Over the summer and more so now, I have been trying to find evidence for structured change management planning for the UK, in the EU, and now the US; not the mechanical transition of power but the kind of plan that would allow us ordinary folk to begin to understand what the future might look like. We are all stakeholders.

The British government has repeatedly said it will not run a commentary on its vision for the future; spuriously suggesting that this would undermine its negotiating position. All we need to know is that “Brexit means Brexit”. Thanks for the clarification.

The policy positions of the incoming US administration are now the subject of media speculation based on the idea that what was said during the campaign was for effect only and that we can expect something much more moderate and thoughtful. Really?

Behind the scenes in Washington, Brussels and London, I am hoping that there are teams of left-brain thinkers that are above political point scoring and focused on developing a coherent, realistic plan that everyone can at least understand even if they would not vote for it.

What you each need, Donald, Jean-Claude and Theresa, is a Secretary of State, Commissioner, Minister for Change. I am available.

White Noise

A friend and former colleague providing me with a critique of my website design prior to its launch in May, made the, perhaps obvious, point that it is hard to be heard above the din that is the internet and social media. The trickle of visitors to my website and this blog confirms that. Investing in a GoogleAd campaign does not have to be expensive and has increased website traffic by 1000% in the first week. Can I expect this to result in new business leads or am I waiting for the statistical equivalent of a meteor strike extinction event? How should I put this in perspective? Is it worth the effort?

Communication is at the heart of any Change Management effort. It is frequently mentioned that telling it 7 or 9 times is necessary before a message is heard and internalised by any given audience. Hence those moments of truth we have learned to react to. Nevertheless, line managers often prefer a solitary, simple e-mail or (rather than “and”) a 10 minute agenda item at the staff town hall meeting. Perhaps they are hoping the change will just go unnoticed.

Telling it 7+ times implies that Change communications must use a range of channels and repeat messages even when some of the audience is already claiming complete familiarity with what is coming. Some of the channels may not provide instant payback but are still worth considering especially if, like a website, they can become a “go to” place for information and near real-time updates. The potential reach of the internet (or your company intranet) is impossible to beat.

So although my trickle of visitors has yet to make a splash, I will continue to invest time and a little money to promote the wider effort of growing my business.

Change is good. If you are listening.

Dog Days

The Dog Days of summer are with us. Near silence has replaced the sound of nearby playground schoolchildren that normally drifts through my office window. The gym is populated only by empty nesters deferring their vacations until September. The weather is typical of English summers; mostly cloudy, breezy and intermittently wet. England are taking on Pakistan in the 3rd five day test match of the cricket season.

Dog Days are good for Change Managers. Time to consider what communication and leadership opportunities should be taken when a rejuvenated workforce returns, disruptive upcoming change temporarily put to back of mind. Time to reinforce the case for change and paint a positive picture of the future. The back to work messages are extra powerful when delivered before the fog of “too much to do” descends.

For the same reasons, September in the Northern Hemisphere is a good month for beginnings; be it mobilising a project team, implementing a critical component of a change programme or introducing a new organisation structure.

So time to put the final touches to the Back to Work Plan.

Change is good.

 

Course Correction

It has been 3 months since I left the corporate world and started my consultancy business. I was lucky to have a quick win in the form of some work for my former employer which is now coming to a successful end. Time then to take stock, revisit the start up plan and consider next steps.

Contacts I made in the early weeks have gone cold and may need to be reminded that I am hunting opportunities. Updating my communication plan and developing a new set of key messages is a priority; I am in business, I have successfully completed work as an independent consultant, I am easy to do business with, I can work confidently anywhere in the world.

Do I need to make some course corrections? The Plan, Action, Review cycle    is most effective when the review process captures lessons learned and identifies meaningful changes for the next cycle. Such corrections require an open mind especially when they represent a big shift in thinking. They may also be the source of inspiration and energy; critical in maintaining momentum out of the trough of the change curve.

An injection of new thinking and increased effort in planning for the next phase of my start up is called for. The potentially quiet period between assignments should not be an excuse to take a holiday; though I might do that too!

Change is good. Driving change is better.

 

Moments of Truth

The reactions of the British public, the markets and the European Union Leadership to Brexit are typical of those moments of truth that Change Managers must anticipate and plan to mitigate. Little such planning has been evident in this particular case study (if only it was just a case study).

The British public, of which I am part, is stunned whichever way it voted. It seems that the consequences of the decision were not fully appreciated by many. The markets have over-reacted as they mostly do. The leadership of the European Union is angry, suddenly threatened and prone to hardline statements.

Moment of truth reactions must be heavily discounted and allowed to play out. The dawning realisation that more is the same than changing will lead to calmer and more constructive reactions. At this point, the Change Manager must be ready with appropriate and timely interventions.

For the thoughts that follow, I am inspired by the speech of a good friend on his retirement from the European Commission this week. Some might say he is one of those faceless bureaucrats from which we Brits must be liberated. He argues that a clear and compelling vision is required to drive and sustain change. The calls for “healing” repeated in the UK over the last few days are meaningless. We need the vision and a plan to make Brexit work. Healing will follow as an outcome of competent Change Management. Without vision, the wounds will fester.

Moments of truth are inevitable in any change programme; like rogue waves that can only be ridden out. Visioning the future beyond the horizon is critical to success.

I still believe that change is good.

 

 

Quick Wins, Long Haul

Strategy Planners often look for low hanging fruit and quick wins to inject credibility and momentum to their Change Management efforts. My business start up has benefited from a quick win; some consulting work for my former employer that required little of the hard sell that other potential opportunites will demand. This early success brings some risks; the temptation is to assume that the early momentum will translate into sustainable change. The Change Manager has to focus on the long haul and ensure his/her plans include energetic action to reinforce and cement early progress. Communication must use multiple channels and key messages be repeated often to reach the target audiences.

Surely the defining quality of the successful Change Manager is the determination to tackle the long haul. Early in a project, the need for structured change management focused on people and processes is often discounted in the pursuit of an IT solution or a reconfiguration of the boxes on an organisation chart. The Change Manager may have to take a back seat; quietly executing communication plans and developing training while the, apparently sexier, implementation progresses.

So enjoy the quick wins and focus on the long haul.

Change is Good.

What Stays the Same?

An important element of any Change Management plan is the consideration of what stays the same. Teams confronting the challenge of a significant organisation change or new technology introduction, can be reassured to discover that actually much of what they have become familiar with is not going to change after all.

It is the same for me as I carve out a new professional life for myself. I find that the familiar morning routines are unchanged; I drop my daughter at the station, go to the gym, breakfast in a, perhaps, slightly more leisurely fashion before settling into the same home office around 0930. Sorry if that sounds indolent but I am the boss.

All this makes the changes I am facing seem less profound and provides a framework for taking my productivity back to and beyond normal levels. The secure backdrop provides the platform for a motivation boost and ensures that the exciting opportunities presenting themselves are not clouded by unnecessary worry.

Critical to successful Change Communication is articulating what stays the same.

Change is good.