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I was reading through an old book from uni days – Joel Barker’s Future Edge and came across an old article I wrote on pardigm shifts.  Some excerpts with a change management flavour…

Listen to the music

The first music CDs were a whopping 12 inchs…yes, same size as a vinyl album. Its one of my favorite stories in creative thinking workshops.

By 1976 Sony had engineered CD audio technology but saw no commercial value in them. After all at that size, they figured the average CD would hold 18 hours of music and cost close to $US 200. They were blinded by the paradigm that the CD should mirror its vinyl predecessor. They accepted the size as a certainty. Enter the folks from Phillips who approached Sony in the late 70s wanting to establish international standards for CD. The travelled to Japan and rather nervously showed Sony their CD prototype CD…roughly the same size as what we have today. The lights went on for the Sony designers – they had missed the key – figure out how much you want the disc to hold because that will determine its size. Moral of the story, look beyond the boundaries of what you are doing to see the potential future.

Hotel – Motel

Kemmons Wilson was a traveling salesperson from Memphis, Tennessee. He regularly drove on the intestate highways to various jobs and wanted to stay at a hotel, near a highway, with simple food and adequate parking. None really existed at the time, so he set up a small no frills hotel on a busy highway which he dubbed a “motel”. From such a humble start his company, Holiday Inn, would become the largest motel chain in the world.

Time is not always on your side

In 1970, the Swiss had more than 65% of the world watch market and more than 80% of profits. They had dominated the industry for over 60 years with their innovation and quality.

 By 1980, their market share was less than 10 %, with 52,000 watchmakers losing their jobs in 3 years.

What happened? They didn’t anticipate the future or consider how technological change could be applied to their industry. While the Swiss, rather ironically, invented the electronic quartz watch, they saw no application for it in a world where watches had always had moving parts and precision engineering. They were happy to let Seiko of Japan use it. Within two years Seiko and the Japanese watch industry had gone from 1% to 35% of world market share. The Swiss never really recovered although in the 1990s they rebounded slightly. Moral of story, consider all possibilities, observe trends, and get to know what might lie ahead for you and your organisation. Time, is not always on your side.

 Going up!

In 1852, Elisha Otis built the first elevator that would not crash thanks to his newly invented emergency breaking mechanism. To prove its safety, he had a passenger ride in the elevator about 100 feet up in his test lab in front of an intrigued audience. He then cut the cable! The elevator descended slowly and safely. The willing volunteer passenger exited unharmed, but was never heard of again. Otis established himself as a leader in his industry and his surname now appears in elevators world wide. And his story proves the point that demonstrating a concept will always help people understand it better than by talking about it.

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To identify the true ingredients in a High Performing Team, Larson & LaFasto studied hundreds of teams from across industries and geography. These characteristics have been used around the world to assist in developing teams.

1. Have a clear, elevating goal

The goal must challenge the individuals and the team and have a sense of urgency due to the performance objective to be accomplished.

2. A results driven structure

Clear channels of communication, monitoring and providing feedback to individual performance and clear roles and accountability for actions comprise a results driven structure.  This allows the team to perform and understand what the guidelines and responsibility are for each team member. l

3. Competent Team Members

The best equipped people to accomplish as task are seen as being competent.  These team members can achieve the desired goals and work effectively with others.

4. Unified Commitment

“Team Spirit” is the sense of enthusiasm or pride that is felt by team members that are committed to achieving a common goal.  .

5. Collaborative Climate

Creating the right climate with honesty, openness, consistency and respect.

6. Standards of Excellence

Standards determine the performance needed for a team to accomplish a goal. 

7. External Support & Recognition

This exists primarily if the team is given the resources needed to achieve their goal.  Research shows the lack of external support and recognition was a common reason why teams failed. 

8. Principled Leadership

Effective teams have effective leaders. For this to happen within teams, the following three things occur:  1) the team members know what to expect from the team,  2) it is understood what the team leader should expect from team members  and  3) leadership principles that establish a supportive decision making process that encourages team members to contribute.

  1. Use face-to-face communication. Put the leadership team in front of employees to provide information and answer questions to gain credibility with employees. And always give them a dot point summary so they stay on message!
  2. Communicate on a regular basis with consistent and clear messages. It’s better to hear you are communicating too much than people saying they don’t know what’s changing.
  3. Be aware of employee anxiety. When a significant change is announced, employees will naturally be focused on themselves and their futures with the organisation. Ensure communication addresses their key concerns.
  4. Don’t lie, stretch the truth or use smoke & mirrors. When employees ask questions, make sure you and the leadership team give a straight answer. People appreciate honesty even if they don’t like the answer.
  5. Use FAQs and talking points. Share talking points with team leaders and keep FAQs current to make sure everyone has the same source of information. Consider posting information on your intranet site to provide instant information and a place for employees to ask questions.
  6. Listen. It’s easy for leaders (and change managers) to get into a “tell” mode and forget to listen for reactions, discussions and concerns.

Early in my career I was a ‘spin doctor’ or Employee Communication Consultant as my then manager preferred to call me. I was responsible for spinning stories about organisation restructures, product launches and service quality to the staff at the “front line”, “coal face”, or “in the trenches”.  (We used a lot of war references in the 90s).

This was the pre-internet era when you had to go out and face your audience to deliver the message or post them a briefing sheet via internal mail.  Presentations were done with 3M ‘transparencies’ on an overhead projector and handouts were printed in colour only on special occasions. There was some email, but certainly no intranets or websites to hide behind…it was an era of real communication where you had to engage and influence people…or leave the room pretty fast at the end of your session.

We often joked that like a magician, we had to be good with smoke and mirrors, and sometimes make a white dove appear. Mainly because the underlying messages were often about restructures, job changes and increased workload. Hardly good news stories.  Invariably the ‘smoke’ was key phrases and management jargon (eg, moving from talk to action, rightsizing, creating a business imperative, quality circles), the ‘mirror’ was complex diagrams, tables and charts (with the arrows pointing upwards) and the occasional ‘dove’ was a workshop, review or some type of event to keep people distracted.

Thankfully today leadership teams believe more in delivering straight messages, transparency and telling it like it is. Although the fancy diagrams and charts still get wheeled out.  As a change manager, I’m relieved that the smoke and mirror approach has been replaced with knowledge, attitude and action.

In sum, delivering clear communication for:

Knowledge – helping people understand the business context for the change, the roadmap and how they will be involved and impacted.

Attitude  – using honest messages to inform and influence peoples’ attitude to respond to change in a positive way and consider how they can best contribute.

Action – helping people to take the appropriate steps to ensure the change is successful for them and the organisation.

At heart, the communication objective for a change program must be to keep employees engaged, informed and aligned.  A far easier and commonsense approach than trying to spin and sugar coat a message.