Friday, September 28, 2012

Football & Soccer: Who’s Managing? Who’s Leading?

Is Business a Sport?

Well it’s football time here in the US and baseball is heading into the World Series.  Soccer (European football) is in start-up and hockey is locked-out.  I often wonder what or obsession with sports tells us about how we run our businesses.  Are sports and business connected?

Think of an American football game.  Everything is measured right down to quarterback ratings that cannot even be explained.  The team concept is that everyone has a clearly specified job and that the team succeeds when everyone does their prescribed task.  Wise coaches on the sidelines provide the thought capital to conjure up the next play; only when a play breaks down are players allowed to be creative – and even creativity is within tight boundaries.  At the end of the day, win or lose, every play is broken into its multiple components and analyzed to polish positives and eradicate negatives.

Baseball takes individual statistics to the extreme and precision of play to the ultimate.  In baseball every rotation of the ball is measured and when the ball is actually put into play every player knows the detailed response they must execute.  If your not aware of stats or tactics there isn’t much to do at a ball game.  And I love baseball’s honesty – it doesn’t even pretend that teams are headed by coaches; the main man is known as “the manager.”

Other sports like soccer and hockey have a different nature.  Sure they count goals and know who scored them; they know how long someone is on the playing surface; but coaches don’t control the game, the players do.

During a game of soccer or hockey the coaches do little more than make sure they have the right people in the game.  For the coaches all of the work is done before the game.  Like their counter parts in football and baseball, they get players to buy into a system and each other; they develop skills; and they teach plays.  But here is where the comparison ends.  The coaches can’t control the strategy or tactics of play.  They can explain that players should exploit a particularly vulnerable “defensive midfielder” or shoot high to the goalies weak glove side – but they can’t control the players tightly enough to make these things happen.

Americans often say that soccer is boring or they can’t follow the puck in hockey.  Maybe another reason is that the dynamic flow of these games is counter to the mechanical static nature of football and baseball – the games they have played and love.  In football and baseball there is plenty of time to socialize, analyze, and eat; in soccer and hockey there’s no time to understand what just happened or forecast what’s about to happen.

So, do values and principles embedded in these sports carry over into business?  I think they must.  An executive's understanding of coaches, players, and teams must influence how they run a business. 

I believe that if you have been groomed on games like football and baseball then you will tend toward certain characteristics like a fixation on numbers – starting with profits and all of its derivatives.  Stemming from profits runs an OCD about metrics, rewards and holding people accountable.  This style produces results but the style is more the management mechanics of command and control than the leadership dynamics of flexibility and empowerment. 

Conversely, if you're into games like soccer and hockey (or basketball that was invented by a Canadian trying to bring hockey into the gym) then I think your business models are built from different influences.  For example, you probably see inter-changeability of roles and fluidity of leadership.  You’re also more likely to encourage horizontal achievements and group rewards because you see individuals as collective contributors more than individual heroes. 

Although this sports hypothesis is general I find that it has some application at a national level.  I’m a Canadian and a naturalized US citizen.  This sports insight was valuable in my transition to consulting in the US.  During my transition I found that I was often in a mind warp with my clients.  My hockey mind was competing with the football/baseball models held by many of my clients.  To be effective I had to change my starting perspective by understanding their preferred sport.  In my executive interviews I began probing on sports (yes, with women executives, too).  These interviews grounded me in where to begin, but not where to end. 

Conversely, my initial cultural alignment is better in Europe and many parts of South America where soccer aligns with my hockey background.  The same cannot be said for my experiences in Asia where my hypothesis just doesn’t hold up.

For me Asia is a duality.  Usually there is a strong hierarchical managerial type of authority that can even be manifested in deference from subordinates.  Yet there is also a strong collectivism in organizations – people can discuss issues forever, trying to come to a consensus decision where everyone is recognized and no one loses face.  It’s almost like management from above and leadership from below.

So, what’s the lesson here?  Well first of all I believe that many executives come to the business world holding sports orthodoxies that they transfer into their organizations.  And second, like most sports analogies this one has its limits – it can be helpful in many situations and misleading in just as many.

That’s just my opinion.  I could be wrong.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Change Management Wisdom From My Top 5 CEO’s!

Help Me Figure It Out!
“Whatever happened to naked fear?”  The CEO on one of my first change jobs caught me off guard with this question.  It influenced my career.  So I got thinking about the top CEO’s I’ve worked with and culled out some other mind breakers that have shaken me and formed my prejudices about organization transformation.  I chose the top 5.  Here they are – in chronological order.

1. Whatever Happened to Naked Fear?
This happened early in my career.   A lot of the executives in the 1970’s had learned about management and leadership as officers in World War II.  They understood the need for clarity of mission and discipline in execution.  Usually the mission devolved from on high and execution was within defined parameters.

I was na├»ve and had bought into some of the new theories about “humanity” in “personnel management.”  There was an emerging idea that people should participate in defining the mission and be empowered to execute within broad parameters.

I came up against a grizzled veteran who was struggling to see the benefit of a new way.  The old way worked.  We had won the war.

My struggle isn’t with the executive, because in many ways I’ve come to believe in his type of strong leadership – particularly in this era of record low employee engagement.

My struggle is with the incessant volumes of literature that paint participation and empowerment as new.  It isn’t.  We know more about it.  We’ve polished it more.  We aggrandize it, but it isn’t new.

Lesson #1:  Empowerment and participation aren’t the only way.

2. There’s Nothing Attached to the Strings!
I was consulting to a CEO to implement some new management techniques in the business.  I worked with him, his executive team, and project teams for several months to come up with the definitive implementation plan of: issues, goals, projects, and accountabilities.  As he signed off on the tome he sighed:

“People think all I do all day is sit up here and pull strings.  Well I do, but there is nothing attached to those strings.”

That simple comment taught me the fallacy of the CEO.  We tend to believe that with all of their positional power and personal influence that they can do miracles.  In change management the #1 reason for failure is cited as the “lack of leadership commitment.”  Don’t believe it for a minute.  Leaders are committed, but they need help tying the strings together.

Lesson #2:  Knowing the answer is only half of the solution; knowing what to do with it is the other half.

3. Don’t Believe What You Believe!
I was consulting to the CEO of a private company that had won a multi-billion dollar, long-term contract to privatize and manage an iconic government service.

We had about a dozen bi-party “tables” examining the major transition issues.  We were in heavy negotiations with government officials.  Things were not going well.

My CEO and his counterpart convened a meeting of “table leaders.”  There were about 30 people in the boardroom.  It turned into an emotional, pressure filled “knock ‘em down drag ‘em out.”  The two CEO’s were bulls at center stage.  We were scolded and told to get back to work.

That night my CEO called me and asked if I wanted to play golf the next day.  I agreed to meet him for lunch on the verandah of his club.  As I walked up to his table you know who was sitting with him – his counter-CEO.   The whole meeting had been staged.  They were both angry about the “table gridlock” and decided to blow the whole thing up and lay down the law.

As we teed off my CEO told me to “never believe what you believe.”  Since that day I’m the first to examine: orthodoxies, paradigms, myths and legends.

Lesson #3:  When you're working with CEO’s there are no rules.

4. It’s About More than the Money!
About a decade ago I was asked to lead a customer loyalty initiative for a large global manufacturing company. 

In my first meeting with the CEO I asked why customer loyalty had become a priority.  He said that he was near the end of his career; he’d made a lot of money for himself and others.  But he felt that leaving might be like taking his hand out of a bucket of water.  Before long there would be little evidence of his time at the helm. 

He was searching for something that had sustaining power.  He wanted the customer experience to differentiate the company in what had become a price-driven commodity industry.

One thing he knew was that deeply ingrained silo metrics were getting in between employees and their customers.  Sure, numbers were essential for setting goals and understanding performance; however, they got in the way of people doing the right things.

He rejected the adage: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  He had concluded: “if you're measuring it, you're not leading  it.”

Much of our job was to set up a tension between internal metrics and external outcomes.  Resolving the tension was usually a matter of how strongly the company believed in its stated values about employees and customers.

Lesson #4:  Beware of metrics – they work.

5. I Can Create Meaningful Work!
Recently I finished a two-year assignment in Asia.  We were asked to transform a large complex organization.  The project started in the usual way – working with the CEO and executives to describe the current and future states.  It was boring and uninspiring.  Their business sounded just like all others in their industry.

Yet, the CEO was an energizing leader.  He was far from boring and totally inspiring.  He emoted a passion that wasn’t in the written words of mission, strategy, and business plans. 

One evening the CEO invited our team to dinner.  I took this informal opportunity to dig deeper into why he took on this challenging job.  His passionate response was surprising and revealing.

He knew that his position gave him tremendous power to shape the working lives of young people in his country.  His view was that his country had gained its economic strength by doing the outsourcing work from the west.  He believed that he could influence the creation of thousands of creative-content jobs, not only in the company he led but also throughout the nation.

This was a turning point in our work.  When we better understood him, we better understood our job.

Lesson #5:  CEO’s have a passion that drives them.  You’ve just got to find it.

Our leaders influence our lives.  These CEO’s deeply shaped the way I do my work.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Korea: Psychotic Gangnam Style

"Where did these cars come from?"
Gangnam Style.  49,000,000 hits on YouTube!  Have you seen it?  It’s psychotic.  It’s the new Korean pop (K-pop) music video by Psy (short for Psychotic) that parodies the lifestyle in Gangnam (the most chic district of Seoul, South Korea).

I worked in Korea for 26 months.  Our team worked to transform one of Korea’s largest public companies.  We used innovation as a lever to engage employees and open the organization to new possibilities.  The more I understood what was happening outside our office the more effective I became inside. 

Gangnam Style lays open the schizophrenic culture of Korea.

I don’t claim to be an expert in interpreting Gangnam Stlye.  There are many others who have done this.  What I do see is that Psy is bringing out the vast cultural under currents in Korea.  For example, the video opens with him playing on a beach, which turns out to be a children’s sand box.  This is interpreted as a caricature of life in Gangnam where material excess is nothing more than a hollow imitation of hollow lives.

Psy has a point.  I have worked in most regions of the globe and I can’t think of a country with as much internal turmoil as Korea; turmoil that could explode.  Let’s take a brief look at modern Korea.

In 1960 the average per capita income of Koreans was $100.  Today (although I see lots of different figures) that number is in the range of $30,000 – compare that to something like $40,000 in the US.  The exact figures aren’t important.  What is important is the rocketing economic growth that took place in Korea over just a few decades.  The most accelerated time of growth was 1960 to 1997 – this is known as the Miracle on the Han (the river that runs through Seoul and much of the country).  Since 2000 the Korean economy has had steady annual growth - in the 2% to 4% range.  Korea is now the 15th largest economy in the world.

Just think of what this exceptional economic growth means to this country of 48,000,000 people and the impact it is having on a country that is now experiencing aging at a pace that is unprecedented in human history.  The percentage of Koreans 65 (born in 1947 or earlier) and above has sharply risen from 3.3% in 1955 to 10.7% in 2009.  Korea's population shape has changed from a pyramid in the 1990’s to a diamond in 2010.  The top of the diamond is an aging class that knows starvation and poverty coming out of the Korean War; the young class knows prosperity and the materialism of the west; people torn between these two worlds populate the middle of the diamond.

Although the middle is torn, it is also the layer that keeps the country politically stable and economically prosperous.  Above them are their parents who rarely greet their peers with: “How are you?”  It’s more likely that they ask, “Did you eat today?”  The parents are steeped in the teachings of Confucius with its hierarchy of respect and deference flowing from king to teacher to father.

Below the middle are the youth.  This is a wholly brand conscious, hip layer that is rejecting the past.  They see that their parents and other elders have sacrificed but now the young want to benefit from the prosperity of the nation.   Big shifts are evident in the attitudes of women who are well educated, have good jobs, and resist giving up Zara and Gucci for marriage and children.  Oh yes, obesity is becoming an issue as abundance and western food chains hit the streets.

The people in the middle recognize the strictness of the past.  They want to tone down the education system where scholastic high school seniors study 18 hours a day 7 days a week.  They also recognize that deference to the ideas and traditions of their elders is not progressive.  This is an anachronistic society.  The middle has to tie together kimchi (vegetables marinated underground for a year) and street carts with bullet trains and 103% penetration of cell phones.

So, when I see Psy in his energetic gyrations I see someone who is channeling the undercurrents in his country.

Where’s it going?  I don’t know.  The top of the diamond is stifling; the bottom of the diamond is unstable; the middle is getting tired of the straddle.  Soon Korea will need another Miracle on the Han.

Oh well, don’t worry; be happy; watch Gagnam Style.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The End OF Change Management As We Know It?

Now Just Hit The Shot!
What do we really achieve as Change Management practitioners?  Or maybe the question is: “do we make enough difference to justify our cost?

These questions disturb me.  We may be the only profession on earth that develops business on the strength of the rallying cry: “70% of change initiatives fail.”

Let me be clear about what I mean by Change Management.  I’m not talking about the mechanics of project management to launch an idea, flip an ERP switch, or have one company buy another.   In all of these cases something eventually changes if you follow and force the steps of good project management.  What I’m talking about is whether we can transform an organization by changing its fundamental approach to business so it is better positioned to cope with its changing world.

I know that we do a lot of good.  We do remedial business education; build capability; and position people for success.  Those who work with us love us; they say it is a career changing experience.

However, at a point in time in most transformation engagements the client hits fee fatigue and the work ends.  We leave declaring victory on the strength of our other rallying cry: “change is a journey.”  How is this possible?  We all extoll the fact that the world is changing at an exponential rate, but we tell our clients that our work is a journey.  In effect we bring them to the brink of success then let them be dragged back into the tar pit as we fly off to our next opportunity.

I believe there’s something wrong with the way we work if we’re comfortable in the world of “70% of our work fails on this journey of change.”  Where is the issue?  I’m not sure, but sometimes I think we’re just too nice. 

Most of our change management methodology is build on the principles of participation and empowerment to generate ownership and sustainability.  This is great in organizations with high employee empowerment and engagement.  But these aren’t the types of organizations that typically engage change management agents. 

Organizations in need of transformation are rarely hot spots of engagement.  Have you looked at employee engagement data later?  A trickle of decline has turned into a torrent.  Clients need us because their employees aren’t empowered or engaged.

Sure, individual empowerment trumps obedience in the ideal world; but we’re rarely afforded the time and resources to change organizations one person at a time.  Our lever is to influence mass movements within the organizational setting.  It’s our job to find and force the “tipping points” to initiate these movements.  Friendly facilitation may be a barrier to transformation due to:

  1. Lack of Resources:  Today’s organizations are lean; the fat is gone.  We are often working with and through people who have “a real job.”  They’re working with us in the fringes of their time.  Often they miss the deadlines for their change tasks or complete them with perfunctory poor quality.
  2. Lack of Capability:  Often we’re working with staff who have no passion or potential for the work, or we’re working with high potentials that we need to teach.  We spend lots of time with either “encrusted resisters” or “neophyte sponges.”
  3. Lack of Leadership:  We all know the face of leadership, and that’s exactly what we get.  A face with platitudes but no commitment.  Well, what do we expect?  Executives have dozens of competing priorities.  They never have enough time to give us the attention we’re seeking.

Are these symptoms sentencing facilitative change management to its journey of 70% failure?

Maybe it’s time to inject confident strength into our work.  I fully understand that we need to draw on people and knowledge from within the organization to develop solutions.  I know we’re the caddies; we never get to hit the shot.  However, there comes a time when the caddie has to push the seven iron into the golfers hands. 

Our biggest issues in change management are that often client team members don’t do their work, are absent from the project, and cancel meetings.  This is exacerbated when executives don’t make the needed decisions.  When this happens we need to intervene with strong conviction to:

  • Select Teams:  The criterion for participation is not “availability.”  Client team members need to understand organization dynamics; be passionate about making changes; and be willing to take risks – even with their careers.
  • Replace Participants:  No passengers.  No shirkers.  Members have to own their commitments.  Replacement is the answer for missed deadlines and poor quality work.
  • Remove Resisters:  A big part of change management is “change – management.”  If key stakeholders don’t want to play then we need to ask that they be removed from the line of sight.
  • Be an Irritant:  Our primary purpose is change, not developing relationships.  We’re not about: cooperating, coordinating, and integrating.  Our careers are dependent upon the organizations transformation, not its politics. 
  • Take up the Slack:  Stop waiting for others to do their work or coaching them when they can’t perform.  Reallocate the work or do it for them.  Get the result and move on. 
  • Feed the Executives:  Do the executive level work for the executives.  Executives want to look good.  They’ll demonstrate their commitment as long as everything is done for them.  Clear the path, write scripts, and make decisions inescapable.

I know there is a school of thought that says change can’t be imposed from the outside.  There is a belief that our job is to reveal change to people; have them learn heuristically and change through epiphany.  Well has this delivered high returns?  Isn’t it time to change the practice of Change Management as we know it?