Category: Change Management


Snapshot of the Next Level Director

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.

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.

Our New Space: Designed for Collaboration to Help Our Clients Transform

Mash-ups. The world seems to love them. Everything from Web content to songs and videos are being mashed to create new energy, ideas and outcomes. Why not clichés? If we take the ideals of “Location, location, location” and “Timing is everything” and mash them up, they pretty much form a foundational piece of Systemscope’s announcement that we have moved into a new, larger office space in Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Systemscope is one of Ottawa’s leading strategic consulting firms, specializing in business and service transformation. “Transformation doesn’t happen in a box, or simply through a tool … it requires a collective conscience around a business challenge, where collaboration can produce a clear path forward,” argues Systemscope Partner and Government Service Excellence Practice Lead, Stephen Karam.

With this in mind, “Location, location, location” embodies not only the physical address of the new Systemscope offices, but the layout as well. Systemscope chose the former Shopify offices as its new home primarily because the footprint of the office space makes it ideal to foster collaboration, creativity, and innovation, which are essential in the transformation process for the company’s clients.

The new offices are anything but typical. The new Systemscope environment boasts a variety of creative office spaces including:

  • communal offices for the company’s three Practice Areas (Government Service Excellence, Enterprise Information Architecture, and Strategic Business Consulting)
  • an expansive boardroom for hosting clients in more formal, facilitated workshop settings and for firm-wide strategic planning;
  • the “Systemscope lab” – a glass enclosed central room where multiple practice teams can work together to cross-fertilize ideas among different project and practice areas, and formally develop architectures, models, methodologies and more; and
  • finally, and perhaps most significant to our quest for optimized collaboration, there will be the “Systemscope Lounge” where employees and clients can meet in a central and casual environment to stimulate the creative and out-of-the-box thinking for which Systemscope is known.

This collaborative approach is the key to Systemscope’s successful service offerings, and is entirely reflected in the design choices for the new space. A significant portion of the new office is dedicated to casual common spaces including the lounge, a kitchen, a library, a shower facility (for those who wish to bike or run to work), and even a yoga ball. Even the senior partners of the firm, Denis Barbeau and Stephen Karam, insist on maintaining a shared office in order not to lose touch with the ethos of the firm.

In a further attempt to enable the nature of Systemscope’s collaborative practices, Systemscope will introduce the practice of having monitors showcasing the range of Systemscope’s work and client successes to date. “We are so busy and so focused on current projects that it is easy to lose sight of the excellent work we have already completed. This showcase is a constant reminder for us, and our clients, of the successes of the past and the full range of Systemscope capabilities.” says Kellen Greenberg, Director of Strategic Business Consulting.

“Collaboration doesn’t happen in isolation, and it must respect the systems of human and organizational behaviour” maintains Denis Barbeau, Partner and Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting. “Systemscope has picked a time in government where collaboration is needed more than ever and our new location is built just for this purpose.”

Our New Space!

 Learn More:

Systemscope Claims Old Shopify Digs – Ottawa Business Journal profile
Our New Space: Designed For Collaboration to Help Our Clients Transform by Denis Barbeau, Systemscope Partner
Introducing the Systemscope Lounge – Our Creative Commons by Denise Eisner, Senior Consultant

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.