Monday, December 17, 2012

What Change Management has to offer Newtown and Aurora

Change Is Possible
I’m a change management professional, not a politician or lobbyist.  For me gun violence is a reality to be changed, and it can be changed.  It is not an element in the periodic table.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was born Canadian and am naturalized as a US citizen.   That means that my core value set is often different from many of my American friends.  I don't need to be armed to protect myself from my government or fellow citizens.

In addition, earlier this year – before the Aurora shooting – I witnessed a shooting incident.  It was in a restaurant facility where a crazed husband stalked his wife injuring her and a friend before turning the gun on himself.  The emotions of the patrons ran from: being perplexed to being catatonic to be being terrorized to being thankful.  If any of the Texas diners were packing concealed heat that night they were using a table to protect themselves, not a glock.

So I have a bias.  I believe the level of gun violence in the US can be reduced; not eliminated, but reduced.  I believe there is more to be done than mourn the victims and pray for the families.

What can we learn for Change Management?

1. Recognize the Issue:

Rationalizing the status quo will get us nowhere.  We need to accept that we are not doing enough to protect the innocent – particularly children.

2. Paint a Monet:

There is no detailed answer.  We need to paint a Monet where we can kind of see a pond, a bridge, and a tree.  We can fill in the details as we travel toward our aspirational vision.

3. Create Pressure Through Dialogue:

We need to talk.  We need to create grass roots awareness and pressure.  We need to castigate assailants and memorialize victims.  We need everyone in the gun violence supply chain to feel the pressure and modify their behavior.

Be clear, I’m not talking about big government passing intrusive laws.  I’m talking about a government that leads by facilitating and following.  A government that funds research and creates opportunities for fact based debate.

I believe that we can create a culture that responsibly questions the national attitude toward: gun ownership; the power of firearms on our streets; and even the open worship of gun violence in our entertainment.

We can renew ourselves.  We don’t need a big change in laws to control guns or their aggrandizement in our society.  Prohibition and censorship are not answers.  Responsibility is.

We’ve Done This Before!
Pollyanna, you say!  No, historian.  Look at big tobacco.  Fifty years ago it was out of control.  Big money in big tobacco was enticing vulnerable youth into a life of bad health and likely early death.  Bogie and Bacall gave rise to the Marlboro Man and Camel’s Joe Cool as icons of our culture.

I’m not an apologist for the tobacco industry, and yes I recognize that many laws and regulations have been passed to define where big tobacco can play.  However, I also recognize that public outrage – usually in the name of our children – created limitations that were inconceivable only a few decades ago.  Sure, maybe it was a bad idea to let everyone smoke in packed movie houses, but now you can’t smoke on a restaurant’s outdoor patio.

We didn’t outlaw tobacco and there is no need to outlaw guns.  What we did was classic change management: we recognized the issue; we envisioned an ideal future state; and we created a public dialogue that pressured big tobacco to become a responsible corporate citizen.

We know how to reduce gun violence in the US.  We know how to protect our citizen’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  There is no “paint by numbers” answer, but there is a reward.  

The reward is the hard work of moving forward.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Innovation – The Link in the Virtuous Value Chain

Innovation Links Employees & Customers
I get tired of hearing that “70% of change initiatives fail.”  Firstly, I’m not sure of the context and accuracy of this urban myth.  Secondly, to the extent that it is true I don’t hear of many solutions other than the tautological: “we need better management of change.”

Since this 70% mantra has been around for more than a decade maybe its time to question why we haven’t solved the problem.  Let’s step back and look for other correlations and trends.  I see two:

  • Employee Disengagement:  It’s astounding.  We’ve worked for decades to disconnect employees from their employers.  Now that we’ve hit all time lows in employee engagement we seem surprised.
  • Customer Dissatisfaction:  No matter how hard we work at the customer experience we find that levels of customer loyalty keep dropping in this world of mobile “show-rooming” and social media.  Customers are now in charge of brands; not company’s.

We have produced a vicious cycle: 
Employee Disengagement->Customer Defection

My question is: “How can change, or any initiative, be successful within such organizational malaise?”  Shouldn’t we solve the organizational question before we work on the change question?

We haven’t failed at change; 
we’ve failed our employees!

So if we start with employees, how do we re-engage them?  This topic has received myriad attention in the past few years, but a lot less by way of results.  We know the answers, we just can’t figure out the implementation paradigm.  

For example, if we look to Daniel Pink we can find one slice of answers.  His research shows that engaged employees need three things: Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy.  Ok, that’s a good list, but how do we take action?  Well, I have a few thoughts.  Firstly, let’s look at Purpose.  My observation is that:

Employees don’t work for their employers; 
they work for their customers!

No matter how hard organizations try they just can’t remove the desire of most people to do a good job.  Very few people wake up and say “I want to do a bad job today.”  Yet, the drive for undisciplined profits and imposition of bureaucratic controls thwart the energy of people at work – except when they are directly involved in solving a problem for a customer.  How often have you heard a customer disdain an amorphous company but love the person who solved their problem.

So, customers give employees Purpose.  But what do we do about Mastery and Autonomy.  My answer is that we involve them in Innovation through:
  • Skills.  Humans are creative by nature.  They need to regenerate and they love to bounce their ideas against other ideas.  However, often they just don’t know how to structure idea generation and synthesis.
  • Means.  Employees need “Nike autonomy” – when it’s right for the customer “just do it.”  When the issue is higher than low hanging fruit we need mechanisms to register employee ideas, and get short term funding for experiments.  These tools are not a mystery in this time of technological open innovation.  

Change initiatives will succeed if we connect our employees to their customers.  Innovation is the link in this virtuous value chain:

Employee Engagement->Innovation->Customer Loyalty

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2013 – The Social Media Generation Joins the Workforce

Connection Obsession
Oh, oh – our workforce is changing, again.

The last decade has been characterized by record low employee disengagement.  In general, employees just don’t care about creating shareholder value.  According to the research they draw paychecks and try to balance the demands of work with the demands of their life style.

Disengaged, yes; but also diligent.  Most of our current workforce comes to work, even virtually, trying to get a job done.  Our workers may have been entitled by their parents but there was an understanding, even if resented, that there was a hierarchy that needed to be appeased.

Social Media Generation
I think this is changing.  I think we’re seeing the beginnings of the “social media generation” hitting the workforce.  What I’ve seen recently is an emerging trend - even though it’s blurry.

The most intimate relationship is with their smartphone  

We’ve spent a lot of time recently in business understanding the technological impact of social media. We can now hit your i-phone with a special drink promotion as you walk past Starbucks.  We’re constantly alone together.  For many this is a “wow” phenomenon; for “kids”, it’s just life.

But what of the human (shall we say “social”) side of social media at work – that is, beyond our obsession with surfing, tweeting, and Facebooking on the job.

Those entering the workforce in 2013 simply don’t think the same as the rest of us. They have a need, and expectation to be connected.  It may be a form of narcissism, but they want to be connected, and known to be connected.

… kids have grown up inside an adult bubble

Many have grown up inside an "adult bubble" where they have been encouraged to connect by saying what they think - to their parent's and adult friends.

What they don't realize is that they were never judged inside the "adult bubble" - but they will be when they enter the workforce.  This "connecting without judgement” often means publishing without a filter or discretion.  Why else do we see endless lewd partying pictures or a frivolous obsession with kittens?

Quo Vadis?
Social media is the great leveler; however, organization life is, well, “organized.”  So, what impact will this new generation have on organization life?   
  • Will the new workforce really understand "confidentiality" and the need to protect "business intelligence?”
  • Will “whistleblower" laws be the least of a corporations confidentiality concern as we see stuff in the media that we never dreamed of? 
  • Will we be working in “open landscape” offices so our recruits can feel connected even when they’re not on the phone?
  • Will communications with the boss be only through curt text messages?
  • Will employees only commit to a one year horizon as they check their phone for more interesting opportunities in the ether?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that managers and Human Resource departments aren’t ready.

This is going to be fun!