Three year olds and surfers

The other day I was thinking I could get a 3 year old to eat something he had not tried before. My husband just laughed and reminded me that the child’s favorite word is no and trying new things has never been a priority for kids. He was right. Little kids are very change resistant, especially when it comes to food that looks healthy.

We don’t get any better about change when we grow up. We all like our comfort zone.

But we all know that change is constant and usually targeted at improvement. So we need to be like surfers, not 3 year olds. When I was on vacation this year we stayed on the beach. When we got up the surfers were already out there waiting for waves. And all day they were out there ready and waiting for the big change (a big wave) to come along. Of course we don’t really want to wait for change, we need to make positive change happen. I think there is great power in having an organizational culture that understands the dynamics of change and how best to implement change successfully. To ensure this, the organization needs competency in Change Management and buy-in for change at all levels of the organization. It works, I have seen it happen. I have also seen big losses caused by ignoring change management.

So we don’t want to be like 3 year olds and we don’t want to be patient surfers just waiting for change. Like people who turn houses, we need to always be making things better.

5 Reasons People don’t like Change

Projects are about improving or fixing things. So it should be easy to get people excited about the change that comes from the completion of a project, right? Not really. People don’t change. Status quo is easier. Here are the top reasons people are resistant to change.
1. Preparing for the change requires a lot of work. We have to learn new processes, systems, and new ways of doing things. This causes anxiety – what if I can’t do my job as well after the process changes? What if the new system is impossible to use?
2. There are uncertainties around change. We really don’t know how things are going to go after the changes are put in place. Uncertainty is scary!
3. The organization usually tells us why this is good for the business, or sometimes not. But what does it do for me? We don’t always get that message and lets face it, what’s in it for me matters. We have to take time out of our very busy schedules to get ready for the change so it helps to have strong motivation. Sometimes leaders don’t provide that motivation.
4. Many of the C levels in organizations didn’t get to the top by worrying about people’s feelings. They are not the touchy-feely type (I didn’t say everyone). They do know how to network and they can be friendly but the CFO doesn’t need to be expert in HR. So worrying about whether the people of the organization have concerns about the major changes in progress often isn’t at the top of the Executive to do list. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore that the people of the organization have to change and there are going to be some negative opinions about almost any change. This has to be taken into consideration and dealt with. Managers have to talk to their reports to understand concerns!

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach


5. It could be that the people really understand and want the change. However, if major changes often fail in the organization, there is no trust that this project is going to succeed or even be completed. And one thing we all don’t like is feeling like we are doing a lot of work for something that might be abandoned or just won’t work.
So most Change Management theories say you must win the people of the organization over that the change is great, will be successful and will improve the lives of the members of the organization. Promoting the change as a marketing campaign (with the organization as the audience) can work wonders.

Super Sizing works for Fast Food – not business!

“Lean” organizations are so common today. Doing more with less is such a popular slogan. While the Portfolio of projects, initiatives and tasks is “super-sized”, the staff to complete all of this work is not big enough to get it all done. If resource demand is much higher than capacity, some things just aren’t going to get done, projects will fail, mistakes will be made and people are going to be very unhappy. This is a sure way to lose the best people.

Your organization will always have tons of ideas for improving business, improving processes or buying the latest technology. But you can’t do it all! However, you can stick to a very solid corporate strategy and prioritize what gets done based on the strategy.

Right-sizing the Portfolio of Projects and Initiatives:
1. Develop a clear, solid Strategy based on your organization’s core competency.
2. Communicate the strategy so that everyone knows how to translate the strategy into what gets done.
3. Develop a method to determine value of projects and initiatives (relate to strategy and other benefits to be realized).
4. Prioritize the portfolio of projects and match resource capacity and demand.

While your organization certainly is made up of superstars, they aren’t super human. There really are only 24 hours in a day and you really do have finite resources.

The Power of Owning your Results

I was recently asked what did I learn early that I have been able to use throughout my career. My answer is the power of taking ownership of your results.

This goes back to a time when I was in an organization where people were very de-motivated. Things just weren’t going well. We were doing some projects that we really didn’t think we should be doing (weren’t feasible) but we had no choice. We had to do what top management said to do.

At one point we landed a very big project with a good deal of risk, visibility and pressure from our top leader. We had a very lean project team and a very tight schedule. There were team members that didn’t get along. Since many team members were thinking more about polishing up their resumes and getting out of this job nightmare, I was very worried about our ability to pull this off. But I am a stubborn and determined Project Manager.

This will sound crazy but stay with me! I took these very cynical Engineers to a motivational presentation. I expected that most of them would just be happy to get away from the office for a day but they listened and really got it. What we brought back to the office was the concept that we owned the results of our work. We, as a team, could do this successfully if we all stepped up and agreed that we were going to ensure success. We realized we had control of our destiny. We were very motivated.

And it worked so it is a very cool story! We had all kinds of trouble (such as learning curve for all the new things we had to figure out, one key team member left one month before the end of the project et.) and worked more than we ever had (many long hours). We were successful, the project was on time and the top leaders were very impressed!
So when I am trying to turn around negative attitude in the workplace and get people motivated, I remind people that things don’t happen to us, we make things happen. A little bit corny but it works!

Ten Factors that contribute to the Success of a Business

1. Good Strategy: Sound business strategy tied to organization’s core competency. Strategy is interpreted into what gets done in the organization and the benefits are being realized!
2. Good Employees. They are empowered to do an amazing job and always finding better ways to do things. The employees are good at solving problems. They like to come to work and you aren’t even bribing them with free stuff!
3. Outstanding Leaders. They inspire, they motivate. They know what they are doing and keep up with and handle change brilliantly.
4. Corporate Culture is healthy. People collaborate, brainstorm, share knowledge. People care about their work. Not too much politics. Performance metrics measure the right things – to ensure the organization achieves its goals. For the most part, people get along together well and they are positive, glass half full types.
5. The leaders are on top of things: The business thrives in its industry. Leaders understand their market, stay on top of the industry trends and changes. They understand how to deal with the issues of the industry.
6. The organization can handle constant change. The business has the structure in place to change strategy (and associated execution) when major change occurs in the market. The organization is flexible and adaptable. The organization is agile because it has processes, procedures and standards that are just right – not over done (too much rigidity and processes causing inefficiency) or under done (everyone just does whatever!).
7. The company is proactive, not reactive. Issues are anticipated. Risk is managed. The business is quickly solving problems and making sound, rapid decisions as required to succeed.
8. The organization has creative thinkers and innovators. They are coming up with better ideas than the competition.
9. There are no silos. The functional areas work together!
10. The organization has the information and data they need to make the best decisions at all levels of the organization.

This is my brainstorming on what contributes to corporate success. I would love to hear your ideas. And if some of them sound a bit idealistic, they probably are. I am in a positive mood so that’s where the idealism comes in.

The Relationship of Change, Motivation and Turnaround

At one point in my career, I was a manager in a small, failing division of a large company. I had just started at the company and had not discovered this issue during the hiring process (ah lessons learned!). But here I was in a not so good situation, needing to figure out a way to turn things around.

I knew the problem to be solved – Projects were usually late and our products did not always meet spec. But what was the solution?

Naturally morale was low so this was one of the first issues to deal with. Low morale and low productivity go hand in hand. It was pretty much like being in a sinking ship. Since the employees couldn’t see how to fix things, chances are that most, if not all of them were busy working on their resumes and job searching. They saw the situation as hopeless; we needed to change that attitude.

Strange as it may seem, a new, very huge challenge helped turned us around. We received a new contract to produce something that we were not at all sure we could achieve. We were concerned about schedule, specs, staffing, risk and a lot of unknowns. I convinced the staff that successful completion of this project could turn things around for the division.

We saw this challenge as a way to show our skills and ability. I continued to drive home the concept that this project was the key to our division’s success. Successful completion of this project would bring good return to the division but would also convince our VP that we were a powerful team. We owned this project and were driven to succeed. The fact that this was the biggest challenge we had yet encountered was a great inspiration. We weren’t victims of failure but rather owners of our own success.
It is a good thing that we were motivated and now thinking positively as our lean staff had to work long hours to ensure on time delivery. I found the value of being a hands-on leader on this project. I figured out all kinds of non-conventional ways to help the team (testing equipment for instance) and more conventional ways such as vendor negotiations to bring needed products in quickly.

The project was a success and did indeed convince the company of our division’s value. We kept our eyes on the goal of turnaround all through the long hours and hard work required to achieve this goal. We had a vision of a better division and made it a reality.

Keeping Calm under Pressure

I am seeing companies out there asking for people who work well under pressure. I thought everyone was good at that because there are always plenty of issues and challenges in the workplace. But I have seen a lot of different attitudes when difficulties occur in the business. Here are some attitudes that are all wrong for dealing with business challenges:
1. Ignore the problem and it will go away. NOT!
2. Hand this off to someone else. You can collaborate with others, run your solution by others but complete handoff is not something you can do and expect to go anywhere in your career. We all need to be problem solvers. If you feel you must push this further up the chain of command, at least offer your ideas on resolution of the problem.
3. Let out your frustrations and rant and yell about who is to blame. I don’t think anyone sees this as working well under pressure but I have been amazed to see high level people get away with this. I do think this is becoming less common though.

So how should you deal with pressure, issues, challenges and downright disaster?
1. Remain calm and analyze the problem. What is the root cause of the issue and potential solutions?
2. Keep a positive attitude and open mind. I got this idea from people I have worked with. They say that when I worked under great pressure, I kept a positive attitude, which in turn helped keep my teams motivated. Negativity is not productive or motivating, generally this just leads to the issues not getting resolved quickly.
3. Negotiate. Some of the biggest pressures I have encountered related to the customer (internal or external) wanting it now (schedule problem) and wanting it cheap (budget problem) and wanting all the bells and whistles (scope problem). I have found that it is good to find out the prioritization of scope, schedule, cost according to the client. Which of these constraints is most critical? If it is schedule, tell them what you can do by that date and how you would phase the rest of the solution. If it is money, convince them they will have what they need without every last bell and whistle.
4. Corporate culture is key to dealing with issues. If the organization punishes people for reporting problems, there will be more problems. If the organization is consistently looking at performance, proactively anticipating issues and risks while planning mitigation and empowering people to solve problems, the business is likely to run smoother.
5. As I mentioned in item 2 above, your best move might be to all take a deep breath and remind yourselves that panicking doesn’t resolve anything. Then get people together and brainstorm solutions.
6. Keep the issue in perspective. Is this something people will even remember in a day, week or month? Is it possible you will laugh about this later?
7. Plan on getting your frustrations out from all the pressure at work by exercising – the number one stress reliever!
What are your ideas for keeping calm under pressure? If employees are constantly seeking this in their workforce, its a good idea for everyone to work on this.