Gold Fever

Great Britain is in the grip of the gold fever that is Rio 2016; the perfect antidote to Brexit in building a national sense of self-confidence in our ability to go it alone and punch above our weight. The often noted ability of Team GB to perform while sitting down (usually on expensive pieces of equipment or cosseted animals) is being demonstrated again. Money helps.

Sport is, of course, a good model for Change Management. Continuous improvement is achieved by preparation, action and review cycles repeated many times. Analysis of technique, strengths and weaknesses and those of competitors is used to fine tune performance. Measurement is used to identify improvement opportunities. Training is designed to deliver peak performance when it matters. Team commitment to common goals and willingness to fail are both critical success factors.

Fortunately, business improvement does not require the physical genes without which sporting success might be limited; rather the capacity and willingness to learn, take measured risks, outperform the competition and win. The same dedication and attention to detail that wins a gold medal at Rio 2016, is often negatively labelled as workaholism and micro-management when it is observed in the corporate world. Perhaps we should re-think that while still striving for work life balance and perspective.

Olympians think change is good. It seems to work.

Yorkshire Grit

A highlight of my week was a visit to York; my first as it happens. Learning more about the history of the city on one of those ubiquitous, red, hop-on hop-off buses, I was struck by the waves of change that York has experienced over the last millennium. In the context of the recent Brexit decision, the changes are in a different league. York has been home to Vikings, Romans, Saxons and Normans. The city has been a military stronghold, agricultural trading hub, centre of chocolate production and railways. Today it remains a seat of learning (something always stays the same), has a thriving service sector and, judging by the plethora of restaurants, appears rather affluent and content with itself.

Yorkshire Grit, the strength of character and tenacity, for which the people of the county are known, is then, perhaps, a result of successful change management over the  centuries.

The Change Manager should understand the history of the organisation he/she is working with. Here there will be clues as to the appetite for, acceptance of and adaptability to change. There may be cultural triggers and lessons learned that can be integrated into the Change Plan.

Back to York; perhaps my angry reaction to Brexit featured earlier and already tempered after a mere 6 weeks, will be made to seem rather extravagant; the changes it brings meriting just a footnote in the history of the city.

Change is good in the long run.

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.

 

Friendship

It has been another week of horrendous happenings in the world and further political surprises on the UK home front. Forgive me for focusing instead on my rather more positive, personal experiences of the last 7 days.

For my 60th birthday, my lovely family gifted me a week sailing my favourite charter yacht, Zara, out of Southampton and invited an eclectic group of friends made in several phases of my life from dinghy racing in the ’70s to more recent professional project management challenges.

Several of the friendships had been on hold for as much as 20 years and despite having much to catch up on, what bonded us back then bonded us still. Better still perhaps new friendships were born.

Friendship and comradeship are important elements for teams going through changes. They can provide the certainty and solid foundations upon which change can be more easily embraced; be it organisation change, new assignments, disbanding project teams or simply the sometimes disturbing realisation that age is creeping up on us.

So thanks to Mark (1970), Amar (1977), Neil (1985), Richard (1994) and André (2002) for helping to celebrate an important milestone.

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Change is easier when shared with friends.

 

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.

 

 

Brexit

The ugly, synthesised word that has, today, come to signify the British peoples’ decision to leave the European Union is now assured of a long life. I am on the losing side and shocked. My readers will not be surprised to learn that I am looking for Change Management lessons even while I think about whether there is anything I can do to protect my selfish interests (I do not think there is).

The received wisdom for binary decisions such as offered to the UK voters is that the status quo will have an inherent advantage. Human nature tends to be risk averse. The case for change has to be rather robust to overcome that instinct. The knowledge that a change will likely involve the roller coaster that is our Change Curve and include a period in the wilderness weighs heavily.

So what happened here in the UK? I should mention at this point that it was mostly the English rather than the British that have forced this pending Brexit.

The Brexit arguments, even when I did not agree with them, were positive and sometimes appealed to another basic instinct; jingoism. The arguments for staying in the EU were often framed as if threatening a naughty child with a loss of privileges.

In this case it seems the good folk of England (ok, and Wales) decided to test the boundaries. As is occasionally observed at international soccer tournaments, we English do have a naughty streak.

So now the challenge is to sell the advantages of Brexit to me and the 16 million Brits who voted and lost. Right now I am frightened, angry and not at all hopeful. The wilderness looms on the near horizon.

But heh, change is good. Right?

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.

Ubuntu

My blog this week comes from Cape Town where I am consulting for the first time since setting up my fledgling business.

Southern Africa is the home of Ubuntu; a concept that can be translated loosely as “I am what I am because of who we all are”. This community centred view of life contrasts with the egocentric view that often prevails in the corporate world.

I am visualising a design for Ubuntu spectacles. These spectacles will be worn by a Change Manager when thinking about the impacts of change on a team or organisation. Individuals react to change in different ways and at a range of speeds. Nevertheless, it is the way the team as a whole reacts that will determine the success and sustainability of the change. Making the case for change will be easier when it is done in such a way that the individual identifies with the benefits for the team. The growth opportunities for the team member will stem mostly from the improvement in team performance or effectiveness.

So wearing my conceptual spectacles is maybe a way to develop better Change Management plans and produce results that also enhance the individual’s view of who he or she is.

Change is good; if we all think so.

 

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.