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.


Do you have a solid enough foundation for the matrix?

If you are working within a matrix organizational structure, you are probably aware that optimal environments are described as being larger organizations, highly professional environments, and those requiring resources with diverse skill sets.

At first glance it may seem that many organizations should do well working within a matrix structure since they appear to meet the above criteria. Yet many organizations fail to achieve real and sustained success.  Why?

Perhaps their foundation has some cracks …

If we look back at some of the research around matrix structures, we’ll see that the above criteria are only half the picture. In addition, matrix organizations are optimally suited for environments that are highly collaborative, have people with strong interpersonal capabilities, and have appropriately placed authority to make critical decisions.

This is where it gets interesting. For example,              Does everyone within an organization have to collaborate well or just a few? What are appropriate interpersonal capabilities in the workplace and when are they considered strong?  Who should be authorized to make decisions at what level and when are they considered critical? Subjectivity will greatly influence an individual’s response.  In fact, anyone working within a matrix structure could find examples within their organization to satisfy this level of ambiguity.

To understand if your organization is well suited for a matrix structure, you need criteria that are more objective and definitive in their application. You need to take a long hard look at your organization’s foundation.

For example, how well does your organization adhere to the following criteria:

  • Documented and understood roles and responsibilities across management levels
  • Operational weekly plans in the hands of Chiefs and Managers
  • Documented business critical processes including defined standards and requirements
  • Mature issues management processes and documented escalation procedures
  • Activity time sheets in the hands of Staff
  • Performance measures in the hands of Directors
  • Dashboards in the hands of Senior Management
  • Documented and understood governance and lines of reporting

Basically, if your organization is not operating in an environment of accountability with strong governance, you may not be reaping all of the potential benefits of the matrix structure. In order to reach your potential, you may need to work on some of the fundamentals of accountable management.

You may not achieve all of the criteria on the list, but in the process, you will ask yourself enough hard questions to determine the best next steps for your organization.  It’s all a matter of timing and you may want to ensure the foundation for the house is solid before expecting it to effectively support the matrix walls.

Change Management within the Public Sector: The Path Forward

by Kathy Roy

After working for many years in change management within the private sector, I thought it would be a relatively easy transition to work with public sector organizations.  After all, the Government of Canada is definitely embracing change, so my particular experience and skills must be required, right?   Well the answer has been both yes and no, it all depends on the day of the week that you ask me!

I have found many differences, but one of the foundational differences lies in the manner that programs define their outcomes for success.  In my experience with the private sector, it was typically linked to efficiency and financial gains. In my experience to-date with the public sector, it appears to be more heavily linked to oversight and elimination of risk.  Yet efficiency is consistently being used to describe the Government of Canada’s future direction.

Let’s talk about the gap. I believe a major difference lies in functional complexity. Within the public sector, complex org structures and layers of oversight have created tangled webs of processes, roles and mandates that are not known, documented nor understood across different functional groups.  In an attempt to improve the situation, public sector organizations appear to be continually seeking the next new initiative to further explain the complexity.

The challenge with that forward thinking approach is that organizations rarely look back and clean up the debris left over from previous initiatives. As a result, many public sector employees have shared with us their confusion and frustration over oft-times conflicting principles, mandates and direction.

But let’s focus on a path forward. We have an opportunity to embrace change, and the future looks bright. Many dedicated public sector employees have both vision and hope for the future. They are simply looking for a clear path forward. And perhaps this time they are looking for a different path forward.

The first step is to clean up the debris.  This is where the path to efficiency is the same whether we are talking the private or public sector.  It involves the definition of strategic work in terms of outcomes and objectives, and the definition of daily work in terms of required inputs and outputs.

But how does an organization identify its state of readiness? How do they even know where to start?

They start by determining their organizational readiness.  They must take a hard look at their current state, and define the business they are in, in order to redefine their functional work around outcomes.  It also requires the elimination of functional work that is no longer contributing to outcomes.

They also must assess their management readiness. They need to take a hard look at the attitudes and behaviours exhibited by management. They must have a clear vision of the future, and set objectives that will deliver upon that vision.  They must also work collaboratively and cooperatively in order to make the tough decisions required to succeed through change.

One great thing about facing change is that millions of organizations have already embraced change, to differing degrees of success.  Readiness can be determined and assessed.  Starting points can be defined and applied. The research is steep, and the lessons are repeatable.

In all cases, an effective step by step approach can be adopted and implemented.  But one thing is certain: The success of the implementation will be dependent on the extent to which an organization knows itself, and has cleaned up its current state.  And there are no new initiatives out there that can replace this fundamental requirement.

Efficiency Gains in the Public Sector – What is behind all this talk anyway?

So your workplace has been asked to identify savings through efficiency gains. I believe that if I were to ask ten different people for their interpretation, I would probably get ten different responses. So let’s start back at the beginning with a general definition.

What is efficiency?: Efficiency describes the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose.  Source: Wikipedia

So if we accept this description, it’s safe to assume that in order to improve efficiency, one must make even better use of their time or effort for the intended task or purpose.

But does the public sector in general terms measure time and effort (i.e. work hours)?  And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks?  Not that I’ve seen.

So let’s look at a private sector approach.  When faced with improving efficiencies, organizations primarily focus on waste. In order to make better use of time, they eliminate the recurring problems that cause ‘lost’ time. Once removed, more time can be well spent on the intended task or purpose.

Conservatively speaking, it is estimated that approximately 20% of all work time is ‘lost’ for a variety of reasons.  Imagine the amount of time you (and your team) spend waiting for call backs, looking for information, waiting for approvals, seeking clarification, clarifying expectations, and reworking deliverables.  We all know that not every hour is created equal.

But again, does the public sector in general terms measure their time ‘lost’ due to issues or problems?  And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks?  Again, I think not.

I recognize that these answers may not be very exciting, or sophisticated in their approach. But what is wrong with that? I get the feeling that people are looking for complex solutions to basic challenges.

If the public sector wants to gain efficiencies, here’s what I feel they need to do:

1. Subscribe to the premise that what isn’t measured, isn’t managed

  • Start measuring efficiency – this means integrating ‘time and effort’ (work hours) into their dashboards and reporting systems
  • Start documenting issues/problems – this means integrating problem logs or sheets into their daily work
  • Embrace data and documentation by holding open and transparent discussions about results at all relevant meetings and bilats

2. Leverage the untapped power of setting tangible targets and measureable plans

  • Integrate targets and plans into the daily world of work and have those expectations clearly indicated on dashboards and reporting systems – this means that all departments need to know with absolute uncertainty when a performance falls within expectations, or short of expectations (good day/bad day principle)

3. Put accountability back in the workplace and into the hands of the Manager

  • Did you know that some estimates state that Managers control as much as 90% of an organization’s assets!
  • Redefine the role of the Manager as responsible for their processes and people – this means giving them the authority to make decisions and hold them responsible for results

4. Walk the talk about client service

  • Review the work of the department and reduce the amount of work that is not directly impacting the client – this means reprioritizing work around strategic outcomes instead of administrative tasks

In short, we need to get our hands on better data, set more targets, better engage our Managers, and refocus our efforts on the client.

So in an increasingly complex world, why not remember those lessons from the past. It might do us all well to dust off those basic management principles forged over time yet somehow forgotten in this exciting age of technological advancements.

Finding Savings within the Public Sector: Getting back to basics on people and data

By Kathy Roy and Kellen Greenberg

Regardless of a public sector organization’s intent to cost-reduce, realize efficiency gains, or improve effectiveness, Managers are being asked to find ways to do more with less. So the time is right to get back to basics and discuss some key steps that all Managers can take to identify cost savings opportunities.

There are many different approaches that an organization can take to reduce spending year-over-year. Some approaches involve new technological improvements, while others include innovative ways to streamline and consolidate processes. However, in times of fiscal constraint, many organizations are looking for zero cost solutions. And even more in demand are zero cost solutions with quick implementations.

Many of our Clients are applying some ‘go-to’ solutions to achieve quick results. One is to simply ratchet down discretionary spending like travel and hospitality. Another is to find specific functions or lines of business that can simply be stopped. No wonder these are the ‘go-to’ solutions – they have quick returns and results that are tangible. But we’re writing this blog with the idea of adding yet another ‘go-to’ approach to the repertoire, and its’ application lies within the authority of each and every Manager. It is the Manager’s ability to truly leverage their staff’s involvement and their available data and information to identify opportunities for cost savings.

The role of management and their associated work environments has certainly changed over the years. The increasing role of technology and the movement towards functional org structures (and matrix structures) have certainly contributed to that change. As a result, Managers today are less responsible for making decisions that directly affect their people. So when it comes time to identify areas for savings, the process seems to have become more complicated and complex.

But let’s not mistake complications with barriers. Many Managers are exploring new ways to involve their staff and leverage data and information to identify cost savings opportunities. They believe that a more engaged and involved workforce will collaborate to uncover the ‘right’ areas for cost savings. And they further believe that those ‘right’ areas for cost savings can then be validated and tested with data and information. By working with their team, and in spite of the many ‘obstacles’ and ‘unknowns’, they can deliver innovative solutions to do more with less. This should also be the goal for Managers that have become overwhelmingly fixed in their resource allocations.

So what exactly do we mean by leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?

Leveraging staff involvement

Staff are experts in the daily flow of work. They know what works well/what doesn’t, which work arrives on-time/which doesn’t, and where the delays/expediencies exist. Yet in many cases, they are either not asked or are not offering up this wealth of knowledge for consideration. Engaging the staff in the process is not just an expedient way of pinpointing the bottlenecks and backlogs, but also allows Managers to find hidden gems of opportunities. Further, this is something that both Managers and staff should be excited about, despite our knee-jerk negative reactions to reducing costs. Finding the ‘right’ types of efficiencies does more than just save money, it makes the work and the workplace more enjoyable and satisfying for everyone.

Leveraging available data and information

All work environments are full of activities and outputs. These activities and outputs are currently being overseen with varying degrees of formal documentation and discussion. Ideally, a Manager would have the right data and information to validate the potential opportunities identified for cost savings by their staff. Or, at the very least, they would be continually identifying ways to better document and define the work that is getting done. The forbidden fruit appears to be the data that speaks to resource allocations for many `non-measured` functional tasks. Despite the challenges in having data in this area, having detailed knowledge of `at work` days for all team members would go a long way to determining the total capacity of a team or division.

Managers that leverage both staff involvement and available data and information are in a much stronger position to not just find efficiencies by putting a hold on functions and spending, but by making precise decisions about the daily work of staff that optimize gains and minimize impacts.

But first, how does one go about leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?

  • Involve key staff in the opportunity identification exercise – i.e. tell me where the frustrations lie
  • Track both activities/outputs and frustrations – i.e. what got done this week and what got in our way
  • Analyze financial information and understand its conversion to functional organizational structures – i.e. how many FTEs does it/should it take to deliver work/outputs
  • Map current work processes to validate major opportunities/delays and their associated costs
  • Identify major functional rubs and gaps in the flow of work and their associated costs
  • Identify major areas of administrative burden and their associated costs
  • Require more detailed reporting of `at work` days to understand the team`s total capacity for any given week – i.e. ensure they are ramping up for peaks and are all hands on-deck when required
  • Review and understand the team`s available data and information, and share findings back with the team on a regular basis – i.e. here`s what the data tells us

Armed with increased staff involvement and available data and information, a Manager can then make the necessary decisions to deliver savings both within their own team and across their broader division. For example:

  • They can understand not just the ‘peaks and valleys’ of workload, but also how resources affect service delivery and subsequently make decisions to adjust resource levels in the ‘right’ places, minimizing impacts to staff and service levels.
  • They can share the right data horizontally and vertically across the organization to ensure that savings measures from across the organization are aligned in the broader horizontal process of a department and don’t end up finding savings in one area while propagating greater inefficiency in another.

When Managers leverage people and information effectively, they will not only deliver savings, but their day-to-day operations will be more effective. They will be in a position to continually align expectations and resources against tasks, and as a result, there will be less organizational friction and frustration in the workplace; the benefits of which are simply too many to list.

Finding savings and efficiencies is never an easy task, but it can be made less painful. Success will require that Managers both embark upon and embrace the journey!

Hear more about during Kellen’s and Kathy’s presentation on Finding Savings: Back to Basics at GTEC 2011, October 18, 10 a.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Kellen Greenberg and Kathy Roy are members of Systemscope’s Strategic Business Consulting practice.

Cost Savings: Mission Impossible or Golden Opportunity

The recent announcement that the government will be requiring major programs to deliver between 5-10% cost savings from their operating expenses has created quite a stir.  In fact, media reports are full of individuals and groups expressing their outrage at the expectations outlined in the Strategic and Operating Review (SOR).

I cannot say that I agree with the outrage.  I have seen far greater cost savings delivered and the result was not the dire situation that some would like us to believe. I believe that cost savings, efficiency gains, and productivity improvements are all possible in any organization based on the belief that all performance can be improved if one desires to do so.

And therein lies the critical choice. Leaders may either choose to view the SOR as a mission impossible or a golden opportunity.  The choice that they make will inevitably determine their level of success.

In May 2008 the Hay Group stated that: “Leaders that create the right environment in their teams enable their employees to give up to 30 per cent more effort. The reason is simple: employees who are engaged by the right kind of leadership, who have clear goals and feel recognized for their effort give more ‘discretionary’ effort (beyond that which their job demands) – and this effort flows through to the bottom line.”

And again three years later the Hay Group states that: “A positive climate can improve an organization’s bottom line by up to 30 per cent, and reduce absence rates and staff turnover. And up to 70 per cent of a team’s climate is determined by its leader.” 

And leaders achieve their position within an organization through their attitudes and daily actions. They are positive role models who inspire their team to do their best work. They show commitment and make themselves available to their team. They are present throughout the good times, but are even more present in the difficult times.

And they understand that improving efficiencies implies that base level efficiencies are known and measured. So they put in place systems to integrate and review work performances on a transparent and consistent basis, not just when required to do so by the SOR.

Remember, according to the Hay Group: Employees who have clear goals and feel recognized for their effort give more ‘discretionary’ effort … so the answer lies in some basic management principles. In short, organizations need to improve their integrated operational planning and performance results reviewing, and better align their vertical and horizontal communications.  It’s a matter of better understanding the work that their people are doing, and driving out the non-value associated with it. More value-added work will get done and all Canadians will be the beneficiaries of streamlined service delivery.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The first step is for Senior Representatives to commit to leading the transformation process.  I hope that they recognize this challenge as a golden opportunity to improve upon some basics. And by doing so, they can set a more positive tone in the workplace. And this will not only deliver the required levels of cost savings, but also improve staff morale, which, after all, is a far greater threat to achieving and sustaining any results.

Get your organization playing off the same song sheet

Everyone seems to agree on one thing. We could all use some improved communications in the workplace. Yet everyone seems to be communicating all the time. So what is the problem?

Well, maybe that is exactly the problem. Think orchestra, only first consider their warm-up.  Each performer is doing their own thing to ensure their performance will be perfect in every way. But it sounds entirely different when the conductor raises their baton, and each performer plays off the same song sheet.

Maybe that is the missing link. Maybe organizations don’t have a common song sheet for their entire organization.  The song sheet we have been using with clients to bring their orchestra together is a Communications Framework.

Here’s how it works. A Communications Framework provides a structured approach so that everyone can share the right information at the right time. And because it is structured (and documented), people can develop the right communication habits enabling them to consistently meet their organization’s communication needs.

Just think of the letter V – it starts at the top, dips down to the bottom, and then comes back up.  A Communications Framework works through the chain of command in the same V shape.  Strategic planning requirements are defined at the Executive level and they are then translated down through the chain of command.  And in return, operational performance results based on those plans are reported back up again.  Everyone along the way is providing the right people the right information at the right time.

The problem with communication is not that we aren’t doing it enough, it’s more related to the fact that we are not communicating in a concerted manner.  Real improvements are achieved when everyone in an organization is playing off the same song sheet. Only then can they be truly aligned in their communication efforts.

Dashboards with a Difference

by Kathy Roy

I could write about Dashboards from many different perspectives: I could talk about the importance of credible data and its merits for decision-makers or I could talk about their highly visual and easy to understand look with funky gauges and brightly coloured circles. But if I did that, I wouldn’t be talking about what will really help your organization measure for success.

You see, many Dashboards fall short of expectations, and the reason for this is simple: Not all information is created equally.

Too many Dashboard development processes spend more time on the look and feel of the Dashboard than they do on ensuring they are collecting the right performance measures. In the age of data overload, it’s not the colour of your gauge that will let you hone in on the right performance measures. So how do we differentiate which are the right performance measures?

There are three key characteristics that you can benchmark against when deciding which measures to use:

  1. They must be aligned with the organization’s current direction and pressing priorities. Senior management must identify the performance measures they need to be successful then support their organization to go out and measure them.
  2. They must be understood and controllable at some level in the organization. If an organization has a poor performance in one area, senior management should be able to ask the tough questions, receive answers, assign fixes, and see the performance improve on future reports.
  3. They must set an expectation for people to strive to achieve. Senior management must align their performance measures with their planning processes in order to set targets for attainment in their work performance.

Dashboards that include the right performance measures find themselves in the privileged position of being able to achieve improved performance results. The shape and form that the dashboard takes is about usability; the data and measures underpinning the dashboard are about performance improvement. And isn’t that what all organizations are seeking when they implement a Dashboard?