Francis Wade | Acceptance an essential first step in transforming company
Most organisations are led by executives who see the world differently from their employees. They can envision a particular future, anxiously acting to grasp hold of it.
How can companies make sure that executive impatience doesn't produce a reckless rush to failure?
We live in a world in which changing one's computer, smartphone or automobile is as easy as completing an online order. The hard work to ensure technical interoperability has been done elsewhere, by someone else. It's so easy; it seduces corporate leaders into thinking that all changes are simple.
However, the most complex corporate transformations involve far more: behaviour changes implemented by lots of people, sustained over time. These are by far the most difficult transitions to implement.
The proof can be found in what we see at the individual level. We know how hard it is to change a personal habit, even when we are motivated. Case in point: more than 25 per cent of cardiac patients are unable to implement an exercise program after their heart attack.
Getting employees to change their behaviour is just as difficult. One reason is that new practices suggested to them are disconnected from their needs. To remedy this problem, many executives try two tactics.
Some attempt to scare employees with threats of losses or layoffs that are intended to make them afraid. For example, they may put in place a new Jack Welch-ian performance management system that annually rids the company of its lowest performers. Predictably, people resist these efforts.
Some companies try to slip changes in when employees are not paying attention. For example, a new system is announced, but the need to make difficult behaviour changes is downplayed. This approach ultimately fails when employees must get involved to make the system work.
These techniques militate against the end result that the company needs - a sustainable solution. Fortunately, the best practice is simple. Instead of trying to sell, motivate or convince employees they need to change, engage them honestly in solving the problem at hand.
One way is to include them in conducting a ruthless inventory of current reality. It may sound paradoxical, but leaders who resist or deny the status quo generate suspicion. They put themselves in an unnecessary war with 'what is', which saps and blinds them, giving employees good reason to doubt their competence and trustworthiness.
Embracing reality, in examples of Business Process Improvements, is a more enduring strategy. Here are three steps to take that rely on engaging knowledgeable employees working in cross-functional teams.
1. Accept what is not working: Oftentimes, I run into corporate clients who are in a rush to change. They dismiss the way things are, already picturing the perfect solution. As they fixate on the future, they fail to understand the precise causes of the problems they have today.
Unfortunately, these reasons usually are not simplistic. They are hidden from the executive suite, where complexity is often understated in favour of a bombastic "Get on with it!" It also helps bypass the embarrassment of poor performance.
Solution: Engage day-to-day, expert employees in understanding the root causes of problems.
2. Accept what is working: Many employees who perform steps in a corporate process quickly learn how to become "unconsciously competent". That is, they develop critical skills which become so matter of fact they don't think about them overtly.
When asked, they fail to mention these habits because they no longer remember learning and using them. As a result, without help, they aren't surfaced. They get lost.
Solution: Use a skilled facilitator and team members to reveal obscure elements of the process.
3. Accept that "solutions" cause new problems
In complex systems, solutions often cause unforeseen difficulties. For example, as wonderful as smartphones are, everyone who possesses a device has the challenge of keeping the battery charged. This particular habit is rarely anticipated by new users who cannot foresee why they need to own multiple chargers.
Solution: Bring a critical eye to proposed solutions, especially if they originate from outside the company.
At one level, acceptance implies commonsense corrections in judgement. However, these three points reflect tactics that engage essential employees who are often excluded. They are the ones who will actually be executing the improved process, so companies must win their hearts and mind up front.
When leaders fail to accept reality, they lose the followership of their employees who sometimes even question their sanity. By contrast, actively involving employees at all stages turns them into advocates. It is one way to incorporate different points of view that must be included to tap into the best information possible. Also, it is good change management.
Companies that accept the need to build on the wisdom and involvement of their employees are doing more than being nice. They are ensuring the success of their transformation efforts.
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity'. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.