If it ain’t broke…

Fast change is the term I use to describe the methods used to tackle organisational issues that don’t require a large-scale intervention, but just need a sensible, rapid and light approach to dealing with short-term difficulties or even new opportunities. The issues are often performance related and may require addressing motivation, creativity and synergy or simply provide an opportunity to talk and sort some stuff out. They usually apply to teams and projects in everything from new product development and design through to implementation and change projects or to operational units who have simply lost their mojo. A more formal slow-change approach of doing an org-wide diagnostic and transformation program would probably be a waste of time, may not address the issues and could miss the opportunity. In many cases the model ain’t broke but it may need some realignment or added zest from time to time.

Fast change can still use a good diagnostic program such as M4P (M4P has a lite version) as it would quickly identify, climate, motivational and attitude realities and provide a faster means of getting to the nitty-gritty of what needs to be addressed. But then you need to jump in and do something. Redbean has extensively researched the role of dominant subcultures in organisations.  So in addition to the obvious stuff we would also look at the subculture-triads that exist in each team or project and align their make-up with the strategic intent of the project or team.

Subculture-triads define the balance in any project or team between the core business, purpose and technology perspectives and strategies that will need to be aligned to be successful. Often, just by balancing subcultures, conflict and rivalry are resolved and motivation and attitudes improve. Yet without checking and regularly reviewing the balance in projects and teams misalignment can quickly lead to resentment and power struggles that can bring any project or team to its knees.

While fast change starts with some science ( a diagnostic tool) it quickly moves to the art of bringing people together for a common and worthwhile purpose by balancing subcultures and everyone’s needs and objectives through good old-fashioned talk. The academics call it discourse but whatever its title the process of helping project and team members yak their way through issues in a safe, structured environment not only helps with current issues but gives everyone valuable skills and tools for resolving other challenges. This learning to learn approach leaves the whole organisation more mature and better able to withstand future shocks.

So don’t be scared of change. And don’t hide from it either. We go to all this effort to establish teams and projects yet often they under perform through lack of attention. Good organisations and managers though will step in early to realign and fine tune to keep the system humming. To not do that is just wasting your time and a lot of money while making your goals and visions harder to achieve.

This won’t hurt a bit…

Redbean has two approaches to change in organisations. Fast change which is focussed on working climate, teams, projects, creativity and innovation and Slow change which focusses on the whole organisation or large change programs (e.g. new systems, transformation, mergers). Deciding on Fast versus Slow change is a strategy question yet both of them require opening the can of worms called culture . How do we do that without it getting messy?

My first steps to helping an organisation to improve/define/change its culture is to understand that which already exists. Culture and climate, its more visible cousin, are all around us in any business. If we just observed and chatted with everyone we could build a pretty good image of an org’s culture but the definition might be a little astray. Maybe not everyone would agree with it. Sloppy language, stereotyping and missing information all lead to people arguing over the definition of their company’s culture. You can end up with a schmozzle. Of course developing a strategy for improvement based upon a schmozzle will just lead to a bun fight. No it is better if we have a solid diagnosis to start from.

To avoid subjectivity and confusion there are two levels of diagnostics that can help you better define your culture. At the quick and dirty level you can do interviews and make observations and use a number of broad categories to place the culture in and then consider the attributes and how you shape up. For example is your culture unitary (one homogenous group), pluralist (made of many) or anarchist (independent)? Does it matter? Charles Handy (http://www.provenmodels.com/8/gods-of-management/charles-b.-handy) defines four types of organisational cultures that he likens to the attributes of Greek gods. These high level generalisations can be useful for evaluation, discussion and quick analysis but can also be more confusing than helpful.

This checkup is similar to your doctor taking some rudimentary diagnostics, pulse, blood-pressure, and examination to evaluate you. It can provide vital short term and critical information but may not identify underlying issues. To resist or improve an existing malaise could require deeper diagnosis, perhaps blood tests, X-Rays or cardiac stress testing. This will provide insights into underlying conditions and mechanisms that may be causing external issues.

And so it is with organisations. Behaviour and attitudes that shape ways of thinking and working do not form and exist in a vacuum. They usually have underlying causes. If you really do want to change or improve an organisation you need to know what the underlying causes are or otherwise your org will probably revert to its old ways when the “CEO’s crazy change program” is over.

Good organisational diagnostics require a bit of discomfort (to continue the analogy) – someone is going to come and examine you and you need to be willing and cooperative so that the problems and solutions can be honestly and adequately addressed.

Recognising the need for change is the vital first step. It could range from need (we are going broke or failing to deliver) to desire (we could be better than this) or simply to combat or take advantage of industry/market/social shifts. Once again while I use the language of business whether you are not-for-profit or an organisation that measures success by happiness these issues will still come up. No organisation can stand still.

Enough for this week. Next time I will delve further into organisational diagnostics, how they work and what you can hope to get out of them. In the meantime have a look at this page for more on our change methods. http://www.redbean.com.au/products-and-services/

Brisvegas gets started on the 21st century

I escaped the anti-intellectual confines of Brisbane, capital of Queensland, many years ago but often venture back to see what’s happening. And there is stuff happening! Monocle magazine in the UK - the Hipster’s Times - recently included Brisbane in their top twenty of the world’s most liveable cities.

In an Australian State with a monocular view of the world this comes as a bit of a surprise. The current Premier of Queensland has stated many times he is in the business of coal mining. This affection for the world’s dumbest industry along with the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t usually make me think “great stimulating place to live”. But the people are nice :-) See what Punxie and the Poison Pens think of the Premier.

Monocle has uncovered another side of Brisbane that gives hope that some time in the future Queensland will have an economy based on a vision other than environmental wasteland – they have dug up a thriving Startup community. The irony of a bunch of geeks and entrepreneurial wannabes creating new industry on their coal-powered rare-earth laptops is not lost on me but sometimes you have to break an egg to make…

So in a State where the majority of work requires leaving home and family to work in the mines it is great to see necessity raising a new breed who, regardless of their political outlook, haven taken the view that they will leapfrog local employment deficiencies and play on the world economic stage instead. A number of startups are based in and around Brisbane and in the city itself there are several collaborative workspaces where bright shiny young things (and a few crusty grey hairs) can get together, swap ideas and form liaisons and alliances that may well take them on to the ‘next big thing’. Hope springs eternal in these spaces yet the ideas and emerging businesses are solid. For example Expedia has just announced a purchase of local brand Wotif for AU$703M.

The link above lists some of the major workspaces and in addition to these I also visited a new player, The Swarm, situated down in the sleepy end of the very funky West End. All have similar models of rentable shared workspace with various other incentives such as collaboration, pitching and venture contacts all thrown in to entice the next big entrepreneur. The benefits of these spaces are well known – working with like-minded creative freelancers, airing your crazy/brilliant idea, comfortable fast environments, access to venture funds if needed and a small step that takes your dream out of the spare bedroom and begins its long road of socialisation.

So Brissie, once mainly known for crooked cops and pineapples, continues on its path to maturity in areas such as the arts and now its economy can hopefully throw off the shackles off the quarry mentality as it develops a thriving and robust startup community focussed on a 21st century economy.

Kulcha. Cullchar. Cooltewer.

Just hand me that opener would you. Thank you. There we go. Oh it opens pretty easily. Whoops hang on Jeez GET THE LID BACK ON!  it’s full of worms – they’re pouring out…

That’s why we don’t open that can. “Culture is an abstraction, yet the forces that are created in social and organizational situations deriving from culture are powerful”. So says Ed Schein. So powerful in fact that culture is being revisited as a major contributor to the elements of an organisation that really matter – its reputation, quality, trustworthiness, ability to create and competitive advantage, to mention just a few. From green and excitable startups to crusty old institutions people are realising that without the right culture you could be riding the wrong horse.

A neglected culture is an even more powerful force since nature abhors a vacuum. So a bank with a weak culture will present opportunities for greed and fraud. A government department with a culture of disrespect will disrespect its clients. An airline with a culture of fast profits and hiding costs is not one I want to fly with. So if you want to make more money, provide better safer services, be a better charity or even have a better sporting team, culture matters.

Now you can get your knickers in a knot trying to define culture. And that is a lovely academic exercise when you can’t find anything on telly. Yet unlike strategy we can’t just redefine it when it is not to our liking.  In fact we often can’t even describe it let alone get a grip of it. But it’s still there. It’s everywhere. It is flowing through and shaping our organisations, for both good and bad, always working and changing stuff like a silent heavy hand. So you have to wrangle culture otherwise it will wrangle you.

But it gets worse. You have only two primary times to shape and/or seriously change culture – when the organisation is just starting and when it is just ending or being subdivided. In between culture is highly resistant to change. If anyone is trying to sell you ‘transformational’ culture change, beware! To effect serious change it will usually require a mature organisation to become dysfunctional/scandalised and face an external intervention, or merged or acquired and get sucked into another culture, or destroyed, split-up or rebuilt.

So if we are not at the start or the end of a company’s functional life what should we do? Excuse me for anthropomorphising but the trick is to stay healthy. And that means getting regular checkups. Just like our bodies no one can tell you how to avoid all disease, decay and effects of ageing but we can spot early signs of ill health that allows us to take action. Regular exercise also builds a happy healthy culture. Exercising strong values, rewarding commitment to service/quality/safety and providing an open and transparent workplace should all be part of a fitness regime.This continual exercise, check, repair and improve mentality should be a primary mindset in every organisation yet so few take it seriously – until it’s too late. Sound familiar? Want another deep-fried camembert cheese sandwich?

Yet some organisations do learn, grow and improve over time. Yes, if we start (<<< key word) with a certain type of culture it can in fact be maintained in a state of continual improvement. And other cultures can be modified if you are prepared to prune dead wood. But that is a story for next time…

BTW I will be talking a lot about culture and other key elements of innovation and change in this blog. There is no precise framework to this repartee but please feel free to direct me towards any topics or specific problems of interest to you in the Comments section.

Risk? What risk?

Here is another compelling argument that being an entrepreneur is a risky business! Duh!

We live in the age of the startup. It’s never been easier to build a product and start a company. And, thanks to the boom in angel investing and crowdfunding, it’s never been easier for startups to raise money… But there’s a catch: starting a company may be easier, but making it a success isn’t.

And another reason why starting Lean can avoid some pain.

 

Transforming…

After four years I have moved on from IBM where I was a Managing Consultant with the Strategy and Transformation group in Australia. I worked with some great clients and people around the planet. The writing was on the wall though when recently they changed the title of our global group to Strategy and Analysis. Yep IBM was going back to its roots, using its superiority in computational power to corner the market in big data. The emphasis on ‘transformation’ and the consulting services that went with that would reduce. And with the timing right I chose to go. But there was a deeper reason.

What I had seen during my time with IBM and hence working with large corporations and competing against other global consulting firms is that the concept of consulting is a very grey term. The relationship between most corporations and government and the large IT Services firms such as IBM, Accenture, Cap Gemini and Tata is really one of outsourced contracting – external firms doing specific projects where they provide fixed-rate expertise and implementation services in conjunction with the client.

Ultimately providing services into these large companies is unsatisfying. While working in teams and reaching your goals can be fun, and often rewarding, after getting paid for your time you were left wondering if any real change or improvement had occurred. Observing a need for change and not being in a position to facilitate it can be frustrating. So I am looking forward to revitalising Redbean Business Solutions to work once again as a consultant and not as a contractor. But what’s the difference?

Ed Schein first identified three ways consultants work with business managers: in an expert role, a pair-of-hands role or a collaborative role. Peter Block’s brilliant book “Flawless Consulting” explains how the first two of these are really contracting roles with inherit limitations and the collaborative role is where true consulting, and sustainable improvement, takes place. Consulting is defined by a number of elements including: a 50:50 relationship – the consultant and manager work to become interdependent; decision making is bi-lateral;data collection and analysis are joint efforts; communication is two-way; implementation responsibilities are shared and; the consultants goal is to solve, improve and sustain – not just implement.

Yet finding true consulting work is difficult in this day and age. And that is sad for everyone. Hard economic management requires projects with sharp edges – known costs, defined services and outcomes, planned schedules – and contracting satisfies this need. Hence the commercial packaging of most ‘consulting’ services into easily purchased products. Shaping and developing high-performance companies though requires soft but strong management – clear vision and leadership, purposeful workplaces, vibrant and innovative cultures, meaningful change – and only collaborative consulting can help managers achieve these critical attributes of 21st century organisations. Unfortunately as Schein points out “it is easier to sell products, programs, diagnoses, and sets of recommendations than it is to sell a helping attitude.”

Sometimes a contract is the right place to start so consultant and client can check each other out, to see if a stronger relationship would be worthwhile. Trust is a necessary component of any collaborative association. And that can take time.

So the next time you hire a ‘consultant’ consider what you really need – a pair-of-hands or someone who can work beside you to improve your organisation? They are very different things.

21st century thinking…