Author: Kathy Roy
Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.
Change management has become complicated, and I think people are confused. They know they need it, but what exactly is it that they need? They need to collaborate more successfully with partners and they need to deliver more cost-effective projects. So what does that have to do with change management?
Recently a client told us that their organization spends an excessive amount of time ‘navel gazing’ in absolute fascination of their own internal structures, processes and, let’s face it, silos. This fascination can’t help but influence the type of information that they create in order to conduct their business and share information with their external world.
When asked what they should be doing differently, they replied that they need to stop ‘navel gazing’, and start providing the information that clients and/or those external to the organization are looking for.
Finally, an explanation of transformation that I can relate to.
Assuming this to be true, isn’t it time the whole of the Government of Canada started thinking and acting like the one big team that they really are? They are one team tasked with providing information and services to Canadians. The average Canadian isn’t very interested in how the service is delivered, so long as the service meets their needs.
The optimist in me hears the distant sound of silo walls coming crashing down, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Remember that we generally don’t play well together and that many organizations are actively resisting any suggestion that may result in their silo walls being lowered, let alone removed entirely.
The realist in me only has to attend departmental meetings currently being held to increase collaboration and build partnerships. Without fail these meetings turn into an opportunity for functional managers to resist all proposed changes and further cement the mortar on their own silo walls. The actions and outcomes don’t even remotely resemble the original intent of the meeting. So much for us all acting like one big team!
What this tells me is that people don’t really consider themselves to be one big team. It further tells me that TBS could be doing a better job at building awareness and sponsorship for the GC transformation. Information does not travel on its own, it must be carried forth by human beings in order to be heard.
What it also tells me is that we are not effectively translating the messages coming from TBS into our own operational or service reality. We hear the messages, yet continue to conduct business as usual (i.e. navel gazing) and will do so until a large force acts upon us and sends us into another direction. The laws of physics are at play here. The major problem with this approach is the large impact that it has on staff, emotionally, physically, and professionally.
Here’s my wish list for a better transformation world:
1. That TBS would create a powerful sponsorship / leadership coalition, comprised of representatives from all departments, and arm them with the information and authority to guide and enable the transformation. This powerful coalition could help us all to feel and act more like one big team.
2. That departmental leaders would embrace consolidation and centralization, and seek more information from TBS, SSC, etc to guide their departmental strategic planning efforts, even (and especially!) if it challenges their current mandate. This strategic alignment would save time and effort on misaligned priorities, and deliver internal efficiencies in short order.
3. That departmental leaders would embrace collaboration and innovation, and start partnering with one another in a more meaningful way to find new and creative solutions, even (and especially!) if they come from outside of their silo walls. This collective ownership of true collaboration would spread throughout departments and deliver solutions that actually exceed expectations.
4. That departmental leaders would embrace effective communication, and start driving messages down to their functional management teams for translation and alignment with ongoing activities. This shared management responsibility for transformation would save time and effort on project delays, and also deliver internal efficiencies.
5. That departmental leaders would embrace change management, with their actions instead of just their words, and start weighing the human factor in their decision-making. This compassion and engagement of staff would increase morale, improve productivity and build teams ready and able to deliver on the transformation objectives.
We all know this is not business as usual, so the faster we all stop behaving in the ways of the past, and start building the bridges for tomorrow, the more successful the Government of Canada’s transformation will be for all of us.
The key to effective horizontal collaboration may only be found by first looking vertical. For years I have tried to see things differently, and focus less on the vertical reporting structures (that were all the rage in the private sector) because clients have simply been asking more about horizontal collaboration. But can you have strong horizontal collaboration without first having strong vertical alignment? The answer is no, particularly if you are driven to have more factual, evidence-based information.
1. Vertical Alignment
Vertical alignment is the state of having all levels in an organization focused on the same priorities. It is achieved through the ongoing review and validation of detailed information across Staff, Team Leads, Chief/Managers, and Directors. Once validated, this information is then ready for sharing with senior management and horizontal partners.
People are frustrated about their inability to get the facts rights (and the right facts), resulting in the cry from all leaders in government to deliver more factual, evidence-based information. A noble cry for sure, but how does one go about getting more of this type of information? The answer lies in dashboards.
2. Dashboard Reporting
At the centre of my new (and old at the same time) discovery lies the dashboard report. Lots of government departments are embracing the idea of a dashboard, and if created and implemented well, it serves as the impetus for strengthening your vertical alignment.
It can focus all individuals within a functional work team on the same priorities. This same exercise can be repeated in all functional work teams across an organization. When the buzz around certain priorities gets loud enough (goes viral), momentum can’t help but kick in. How does one go about creating buzz? The answer lies in communication frameworks.
3. Communication Framework
A well designed dashboard report is definitely important. It then must be anchored within a communication framework to ensure the right information is being reviewed by the right people at the right time (on an ongoing and consistent basis). Only then can it move mountains. This is not pie in the sky thinking, I’ve seen this happen many times in my thirteen years implementing them in the private sector.
The quest for meaningful horizontal collaboration lies in first achieving and implementing three things: vertical alignment, dashboard reporting, and communication frameworks. This is the straightest path available for gathering the factual, evidence-based information required for sharing effective information with senior management and horizontal partners.
The news is good here. The path is straight. The path is well trodden. For those who choose the path, success is right around the corner.
Footnotes on Communication Frameworks:
How do they work?
Just think of the letter V – it starts at the top, dips down to the bottom, and then comes back up. A Communication Framework works through the chain of command in the same V shape. Strategic priorities are defined by Senior Management and they are then translated down through the chain of command. And in return, operational performance results based on those priorities are reported back up again. Everyone along the way is providing the right people the right information at the right time.
Why is it called a Communication Framework?
The process of leveraging the chain of command (described above) serves to validate information. Armed with the right facts, people will communicate more effectively and more timely information. Over time, people will develop better communication habits enabling them to more consistently meet their organization’s communication needs.
Over the past three years, I must confess that I have been confused by the terms change management, transformation, and consolidation. And lately, I have found myself ‘finding and replacing’ these terms in documents in a rather random and interchangeable manner. They are obviously very distinct terms and processes, as evidenced by the definitions presented below:
- Change Management is a set of tools and techniques for managing the people side of change. It is also the principle that must underpin all major projects and initiatives that impact people.
- Transformation is a process of radical change that takes an organization in a new direction. It implies a basic change of character that will have little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure.
- Consolidation is a process of combining two or more organizations through purchase, merger, or ownership transfer to form a new organization. It involves the combining of assets, equities, liabilities and operating accounts into one financial statement.
The difference in their definitions is significant, so why all the confusion?
I believe the answer lies in our history and proven track record as task masters. I don’t think we spend a lot of time considering their definitions. When presented with a new challenge or term, we simply get busy assigning tasks and start working on deliverables. After all, definitions are secondary when we are on such tight timelines to show results.
I have seen a fairly technical approach being applied to the way departments are approaching the new GC direction as a whole. After all, this task-based recipe has delivered results in the past, so why wouldn’t it work in the present environment?
The present environment is not business as usual. The present environment will not respond to recipes from the past.
In fact, many change management practitioners claim that 20% of a change implementation is technical, and 80% is tactical. So any organization approaching their change management, transformation, or consolidation efforts in a technical manner are just getting started, as 80% of the work still lies ahead.
Note: Technical refers to the development of plans, objectives, tasks, deliverables; Tactical refers to the implementation of the technical plans through engaging people, changing behaviours, managing resistance, communicating effectively.
I believe that leaders throughout the Government of Canada right now are beginning to realize this reality, but are unsure of what to do to achieve the other 80%.
Here’s some ideas:
1. Embrace that change management, transformation, and consolidation are big initiatives. They involve an intricate web of process, technology, and people changes that require enterprise-wide approaches.
- Pick your leaders carefully, it’s directly correlated to an initiative’s success
- Do not assign critical responsibilities to already over-tasked staff, dedicate the resources required
- Start accepting that trade-offs are a necessary part of the process (i.e. lower service levels, extensions on other initiatives, etc.)
2. Accept that people cannot even begin to think in terms of changing, transforming, or consolidating services until they first understand the process of changing, transforming or consolidating themselves and their teams.
- Place organizational end state decisions as the highest priority
- Do not require people to work in uncertain conditions for extended periods of time
- Stop under-estimating the importance of defining where people will ‘live’ (it’s a basic need in their Hierarchy of Needs)
3. Get real about progress made to-date, and commit to achieving the other 80% on a go-forward basis.
- Commit to adapting the overall approach, it’s never too late
- Build a powerful coalition consisting of both tactical and technical experts
- Accept ideas that may not fit with past practices, remember it’s not business as usual
Throughout the ages, top management teams have been challenged by the implementation of complex changes in their organizations. This is hard stuff, not to be underestimated. The ultimate test for all teams has always been their ability to be agile and adaptive throughout the change process.
The recipe for success is not fixed, and differs from one organization to the next. However, it has always contained a balanced combination of technical and tactical ingredients. It is encumbent on all of us to find that balance, and deliver change, transformation and consolidation implementations that not only achieve their intended results, but do so in a manner that considers the people in the process.
After all, change is not accomplished by an organization, it’s accomplished by individuals.
I’ve always been fascinated by the complex machinery of large organizations. And I don’t think organizations get any more complex than large government departments. If that isn’t enough, these complex large government departments are now implementing large scale transformation agendas, which include new organizational models, major program changes, and new service models all contained within the same initiative. Let’s just say that my levels of fascination have hit new heights.
All across the country, government departments of all sizes and mandates are forging ahead with their transformation agendas fueled by sheer determination and a massive commitment to deliver on all fronts. Now that they are well entrenched in their detailed planning and implementations, many common challenges are being identified. Let’s check in and see how we’re doing so far, from the staff perspective.
Here are 5 of the most common challenges that we have come across:
1. Expected outcomes are defined at senior levels, and are not always well understood by those being asked to implement them.
- Staff are asking for less concept and more concrete information that will allow them to better visualize the organization (and their role) in the future or end state.
- Possible Solutions:
- Define the organizational end states as early in the change process as possible
- Describe characteristics of the end state in terms that people can relate to
- Communicate to staff in plain language that is easily understood
- Present more opportunities for open forums where staff can ask questions
2. Trade-offs are not being accepted as a necessary part of the process.
- Workloads are continually increasing (with no end in sight), yet organizations still expect their staff to deliver high levels of service excellence and/or to continue to meet an ever increasing number of deliverables.
- Possible Solutions:
- If new priorities arise and work must be added, management should strive to understand their staff’s current work capacity, and when required, identify other work that can be removed or delayed.
- Is the new work required? (or nice to have?)
- Is the new work a higher priority than other work already assigned?
- Can some work be extended in its timelines?
- Can some administrative work be delayed or eliminated?
- Can certain meeting participation be reduced or eliminated?
- Can any work deliverables be delayed or halted entirely?
3. Client expectations are not being re-set or re-communicated during transitional times.
- Organizations are not sharing with clients the short-term impacts of the change on their services and/or relationships, requiring staff to bear the burden of sheltering the client from any and all impacts.
- Possible Solutions:
- Clients should be engaged early in the change process and made aware of the pending changes. There should be an open discussion around impacts and potential changes to service levels during the transitional times. Clients should be provided a contact person in the event that extraordinary impacts are felt, or should they require additional assistance at any time.
4. Staff engagement is a popular term, but one that is not well understood or implemented in practice.
- Staff engagement is not an event (e.g. annual employee survey), rather a systematic approach to prioritizing, planning, implementing, and following through on the involvement of staff in the achievement of an organization’s objectives. (Note: Low morale is a clear indicator that it is not going well.)
- Possible Solutions:
- Staff engagement should be a measured indicator in the performance measurement framework within every organization. It should have its own unique section on every dashboard in every organization. It should be the responsibility of every manager at every level. Some indicators could include (in addition to annual survey results):
- # of regularly held 1×1 meetings (or bi-lats)
- # of regularly held team meetings
- # of employee recognition events
- # of ADM/DM Open Forums (two way meetings)
- # of improvement ideas submitted
- # of hits on the “tell us what you think” button
- # of page visits (i.e. news, highlights, etc.)
5. The role of internal communications is massive during times of change, yet it is approached in an ad-hoc and reactive manner.
- Everyone says that internal communications is a top priority throughout times of change, yet it is seldom integrated into the transformation approach or structure, rendering it too late to the party to be truly effective.
- Possible Solutions:
- Assign dedicated internal communications resources directly to change initiatives, starting in the early planning stages
- Create horizontal teams of cross-functional experts in the areas of transformation oversight, change management, project management, and internal communications
- Create centres of expertise for critical competencies related to change management, i.e. internal communications, project management, change management to ensure the expertise is available to better structure these approaches and activities
Perhaps the largest lessons being learned so far relate to the gap that exists between what we say and what we do. In order to be more successful in this next phase of transformation, it would be prudent for us to better bridge that gap. Sure there are limited resources, and challenges associated to this approach. But we’re up for the challenge. We all know who will be implementing the changes at the end of the day, the staff, so we should all make it a priority to better position our organizations (and our people) for transformation success (and sustainment).
Practising change management in the private sector taught me much about what to do and what not to do. I believe the lessons learned are applicable in many different sectors and business environments. Although I carry these lessons with me always, sometimes they need to be put aside for a moment.
For the purpose of this blog, I am sharing the lessons learned primarily through my experience working within the public sector. I have noticed some trends that appear to be common across many government departments and agencies. These observations formed the basis for this blog and the 7 lessons learned presented below.
1. Assemble the right team of experts, including Project Management (PM), Change Management (CM), and Communications
- Create strong (and integrated) working relationships across PM and CM roles
- Think differently about communications, be strategic in its application
- Assign dedicated project management, change management and communications resources sooner rather than later
- Strive for CM rigour in the same manner as PM rigour
2. Start planning early and continually integrate all efforts
- Planning is an on-going process and needs continual time and effort to keep it relevant
- It also requires an integrated and enterprise-wide approach that is also surprisingly agile
- It will take time to define the details and once you do, the entire enterprise may shift towards a new direction
3. Do not over-saturate your organization with many concurrent major changes
- But if you do … assign dedicated resources to coordinate and integrate all concurrent projects
- The corner of many desks is usually not the way to go …
- Be sure to plan extensively to avoid collisions and manage inter-dependencies
- Adopt creative thinking around resources and work assignments
4. Be mindful of your enablers, partners, and stakeholders and engage them in the process early
- You have more dependencies than you realize, you need support from enabling functions (HR, Finance, Legal, Procurement) in order to be successful
- Start working with partners early to benefit from the identification of opportunities to work differently
- Horizontal collaboration is the new normal and we need to strengthen our existing channels for working together
5. It takes time to reorganize and redesign org structures and working relationships
- Always write team mandates and clarify people’s roles (using a RACI format)
- Never under-estimate organizational history and culture
- Recognize that your people cannot even begin to think in terms of integrating services until they understand the process of integrating themselves and their people
- People are invested in the current state and don’t ‘believe’ things really need to change
6. Be mindful of your governance and approvals processes and streamline them wherever possible
- Executives and Sponsors should communicate endlessly to senior management committees and governing bodies to bring them along in the process
- Change is complex enough without factoring in lengthy delays caused by governance
- Define a diligent but streamlined process for gaining approvals for critical decisions
7. Accept that operational requirements will always trump change agendas
- Get ahead of the curve and communicate to clients that it is not business as usual
- Set new/modified expectations with clients for the duration of the change process
- Manage the concept of trade-offs and reset expectations as required
- Set new/modified priorities with staff for the duration of the change process
- Avoid calling everything a priority at all times, as staff need clear priorities when caught in the daily demands of heavy workloads
All of these lessons learned are either foundational pieces or they are related to the importance of setting realistic expectations during times of change. Perhaps a general acceptance that there will always be trade-offs associated with any major change is a great place to start. Those trade-offs inevitably require us to respond by doing things differently.
After all, when has the adoption of any major change ever afforded an organization the luxury of operating their business as usual? Instead, let’s embrace it for what it is. Let’s start taking more concrete steps to better lay the foundation required for everyone to be successful in their own change management process.
As an experienced change management practitioner, I have always felt that the premise of change management involved an organization moving from a current state to some future improved state. We would then utilize an improvement-based methodology (i.e. Lean, Six Sigma, TQM) to identify waste or opportunities, and their ultimate removal would deliver improved business results.
So what is the premise of transformation? Is it the same as change management? I believe it is not the same, or at least, not always the same.
Transformation: The Premise
Transformation seems to be more about doing things differently, and that is inherently not the same as merely improving things.
This transformation stuff feels like a real game changer to me. So I think it will be important to start harnessing our collective efforts in new ways. And what better way to do this than to adopt some new principles to guide us on our journey through this new reality. I am offering three for your consideration, basically I just want to get the ball (and conversations) rolling.
Transformation: The Principles
- Bury the Past (and Present)
Transformation Principle: Spend less time discussing the past/present state and more time defining and moving toward the future state.
This first principle arose after witnessing the copious amount of time that SME (subject matter experts) spend reviewing, documenting and analyzing their current processes as an initial step to defining a yet to be determined future state. It simply struck me as a step that could be shortened or entirely eliminated if an organization is seeking innovative solutions or looking to do things differently.
The reason for this is simple:
- The past/present is not necessarily the basis for the future
- People will take forward their expertise but not necessarily their practices
- People will need to learn to apply their expertise differently and find new ways of doing their work
In order to be successful, people will need to let go of the past/present and accept that the future will be an entirely new reality for everyone. Basically we all need to leap (i.e. leap of faith towards a yet to be determined future state) in order to actively contribute to this new reality.
2. Leverage People’s Strengths
Transformation Principle: Assign fewer tasks with the intent of stretching or developing people and more tasks according to people’s strengths and intrinsic wiring.
This second principle came to light after seeing so many of our clients asking some great questions about the future, and being motivated to do things differently, yet struggling to come up with the answers required to move forward.
I believe that many of us are not overly comfortable with abstract and conceptual tasks. Sometimes I refer to these tasks as blank page exercises. We are either wired for them or not.
Where possible, in this new reality, we will need to fight our tendency to ‘just’ delegate, and embrace the concept of the ‘right’ delegation.
The reason for this is simple:
- People will need to accept that some are intrinsically wired for strategy and innovation, and others are not
- People will need to stop delegating strategic tasks to technical experts (and vice versa) (wherever possible)
And if we do decide to stretch and develop our people:
- We need to provide them with the structure and tools necessary in order for them to be successful
- We need to support them more and plan for the additional time it takes to build new skills and competencies
In order to be successful, people will need to better understand their team’s strengths and employ their resources to the best overall effect. Let’s face it, in this new reality, or at least in the race toward the new reality, time is of the essence. It just makes sense to play to people’s strengths and get things done well in a timely and efficient manner.
3. Trust People’s Instincts
Transformation Principle: Spend less time on absolute risk elimination and more time following people’s instincts.
This third and last principle is a recurring thought I have during many meetings that I attend. We have become accustomed to silencing that inner voice we all have, and have not practiced enough the necessary art of saying what we think (and what we already intuitively know).
I believe that we need to take more personal risks and cut through the lengthy discussions by making more recommendations that require concrete decisions.
The reason for this is simple:
- People will need to accept that absolute elimination of risk is counter-intuitive to achieving innovation.
- People will need to take more personal risks and make more clear recommendations for decision.
- People will need to get everyone pulling in the same innovative (and intuitive!) direction.
In order to be successful, people will need to trust their instincts more and better harness their collective energy in new and different ways. But the catch here is that everyone needs to adopt this principle, otherwise some brave individuals will find themselves on the end of some pretty strong opposition.
Transformation: The Conclusion
In closing, I think that we should all adopt some shared principles to guide our transformation journeys. I have offered three for your consideration, and I hope that they may inspire you to have these types of conversations with your own teams. Transformation is indeed a new reality for us all, so our ability to harness all efforts, and build momentum and enthusiasm will not only increase our immediate chances for success, but it will better prepare us to deal with the next major change or transformation that is surely lurking around the next corner.
“When people see and feel the buildup of momentum, they will line up with enthusiasm.” (re: The Flywheel Effect from Jim Collins, Good to Great)
Senior Executives in a variety of federal departments are making significant changes in response to new demands for their businesses and services. They are aware of the gap that exists between their current and future state, and recognize that their success will be defined by both the achievement of their goals, and by the effectiveness of the journey. In order to be successful, their leaders must possess certain strengths to deliver on both accounts.
Metaphorically speaking, their leaders must be striving to perfect their golf swing.
We’ve observed that the leaders most relied upon for moving an organization from its current to future state are Directors. They are the backbone of their organization, and as such, they are the individuals most heavily tasked with the conversion of the ‘what’ into the ‘how’.
Yet surprisingly, this level can be one of the least defined and non-standardized within any organization. In many cases, Directors are left to determine their own role and develop their own tools to meet their own needs. Each Director’s approach may be different, and there have been few attempts to standardize them. In other words, their golf swing is often ad-hoc and imperfect. When perfecting a golf swing, how do you get a number of key techniques and attributes working in harmony?
Let’s define some standard characteristics that Directors who are seeking to take their teams to next level performances should possess. Perhaps the answers are all hanging in the balance.
1. The ability to describe a vision and sell the dream.
They should recognize the importance of a high level vision and act as champions for its attainment. They should respect the time and commitment required to achieve next level performances and not dilute or minimize the effort required. They should strive to find that balance between acting with urgency and respecting the inevitable complexity of all things.
2. The ability to prioritize their many priorities.
They should require on-going strategic alignment with their boss. They should ask lots of questions about priorities and focus their energy on delivering strategically focused outputs. They should strive to find that balance between supporting the overall work of their team while challenging (or eliminating) the aspects that are less strategically aligned.
3. The ability to leverage their chain of command.
They should build a strong functional management team that places appropriate accountability in the hands of the managers. They should be a masterful delegator who shares the departmental workload across their entire team. They should strive to find that balance between respecting individual subject matter expertise while still holding team members accountable for the greater team’s performance.
4. The ability to effectively collaborate with all levels of the organization.
They should plan their communications and determine the most effective means of collaborating and sharing information. They should ask lots of questions and continually seek to engage others in forward thinking discussions. They should strive for the balance achieved when a leader is working for a Senior Management Team, and also for those people who report to them.
5. The ability to hold people accountable in a positive and constructive manner.
They should see accountability as a means of building their team. They should communicate positively about expectations and deliverables. They should provide constructive feedback in an open and transparent manner. They should strive to find that balance between engaging people in the process while still challenging them to achieve outstanding results.
6. The ability to embrace structure and standardized management tools.
They should seek to achieve next levels of performance through consistency in their commitment and actions. This consistency should require discipline and compliance to both a structure and its standardized management tools. They should strive to find that balance between embracing standardization while still respecting the human factor in all that we are and all that we do.
The Next Level Director should strive to possess these standard characteristics. They should embrace the challenges associated with their role and recognize that finding that perfect balance is a key ingredient to perfecting their golf swing.
By doing so, they would increase the contribution of every member of their team and successfully lead their organization to achieve any future challenges that will inevitably arise during the next major golf event.