Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

The WelcomeMat to Your Culture: Your Hiring Process May Be What’s Keeping Your Organization From Improving

Friday, May 1st, 2009

doormatLast month, I wrote about Buckminster Fuller’s trimtab analogy for organizational change. Essentially, you must identify trimtabs, those few vital changes that would break up the status quo, in order to change the direction of the culture of your organization. These trimtabs are not low-hanging fruit, but rather they are the key systems of your organization. Once you find them, form projects and fix them. At the end of the column, I promised I would share the one trimtab every organization should work on right away: the hiring process. There is no organizational process that I have seen that has a bigger impact on a culture than the hiring process.

I’ve had many frank discussions with executives in which they confess their absolute frustration with the slow, unresponsive, bureaucratic culture they are leading. As one manager said “We’ve thrown fish, we’ve moved cheese, none of it works”.  Despite their best efforts, the culture only seems to endure and perpetuate itself. I usually give the same reply: How is your hiring process? Think about it. What is the first experience a new employee will have with your agency?

One of my workshop participants, a recent hire to government, put it to me this way:

“I had to fill out ridiculously long forms; I couldn’t get hold of anybody to help me; I got notified of my interview a day before; was told the wrong place to go; had to take a test that reminded me of my drivers exam; and then I waited and waited and waited and called and waited some more. Finally I got the offer, showed up for work and goofed around for a month before I could get a phone, a desk and access to the computer system.”

What have we just told our new employees about how we do things around here? You never get a second chance to make a first impression. (Compounding this problem is the generation gap. Many of us grew up being told that if you wanted something, you had to wait for it. The TiVo Generation has a different perspective. When they start a new job, they want to hit the ground running.)

But that’s just the half of it. The unresponsive, cumbersome hiring process may create the wrong impression for new employees, but that pales in comparison to the cancerous effect it has on existing employees. (more…)

Focus: Getting Things Done Often Means Knowing What Not to Do

Friday, May 1st, 2009

focusIn my last column I talked about guerrilla warfare — how to create change when you are not in charge. This month I want to flip it around. What do you do when you are in charge? You have a vision — there is so much you want to get done. How can you get everyone on board? How do you get all these people to move from here to there? How do you get it all done? It’s simple — you don’t. So much is possible when you realize you can’t do it all.

 

One of my favorite quotes, usually attributed to the Archbishop Oscar Romero, is: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

Put another way, it’s not important that we do everything well but that we do the really important things really well. What are those vital few things that, if done extremely well, will fundamentally transform your culture?

Buckminster Fuller, the late inventor/futurist/leadership sage, introduced the trimtab as a metaphor for creating change (so much so that “Call me Trimtab” is on his tombstone).

“A trimtab is a nautical device that acts as a small rudder used to turn the larger rudder of giant ships, offering tremendous leverage in terms of steering and changing the direction of the ship. Fuller, drawing upon his naval experience, saw the trimtab as a powerful metaphor for effective individual leadership: small and strategically placed interventions can cause large-scale and profound change.” (Leadership By Design: How One Individual Can Change the World. The Leadership Principles of Buckminster Fuller. Medard Gabel and Jim Walker, 2006).

The metaphor works as follows. Imagine your organization/department/bureau/section is a ship. You are the captain. As the captain, you realize that the ship is going the wrong direction. How do you get a large ship with a lot of momentum to stop, turn on a dime and (more…)

Guerilla Warfare: How to Create Change When You Are Not in Charge

Friday, May 1st, 2009

guerilla-warfareNearly every management theory — and all the accompanying books, consultants and seminars — starts with the same assumption: You need great leadership to pull “this” off, whatever “this” is this time. Whether it’s performance management, strategic planning, process improvement, customer service or some other strategy du jour, they all start by saying you need “buy-in from the top.”

That’s one of the main reasons conference attendees often leave more discouraged than excited. They recognize that while they “get it,” the people leading the organization will never reach enlightenment.

In the workshops I lead, I get three very predictable reactions. Senior managers always say, “This is great, but I don’t think we can get buy-in from the front line.” Front-line workers always say, “This is great, but senior management will never go for it.” And the middle managers just say, “Tell us what you want, and we’ll do it.” Everyone is waiting for Godot.

So how do you create change when you’re not in charge? That’s probably the question I get asked the most after addressing an audience. When top leadership is not supportive of a change initiative, you have only one recourse left — go underground. Here’s how:

1. Find a supportive manager. Guerrilla warfare starts with two people — a brave change agent and an enlightened manager. No matter how backward your organization may be, there is at least one manager who “gets it,” who wants to make her unit the best it can be. Find this person and indoctrinate her. Attend a seminar or conference together. Take her to lunch. Give her an article, a book, a Web site — just do something to pique her interest. Discuss how the proposed change initiative (its concepts and methods) will impact the things she cares about.

Often, this enlightened manager will be you. In that case, you play both roles. Be the change agent you want to see elsewhere. That is, you may not be able to impact the whole (more…)