Implementing Process Change

As process consultants working in organization development, we sometimes find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum when an implementation falters. There is no enduring benefit to retaining us without implementation, yet the action to get things going is often outside our scope by the client’s choice.

To see what can be done about this, we can start by using a process rule: when there is trouble at a particular process step, the root cause will often be found in a prior step. So…

  1. We start an engagement with a client via a process consultation wherein we explore
    1. The problem statement,
    2. A scope of work and how it will address the problem,
    3. The structure and configuration of a proposed engagement, i.e. how much of the scope will be assigned to us,
    4. How we will interact with the client’s people, and
    5. Any other collateral issues that may impact the engagement.

This consultation generally takes place through one or more conversations with the owner of the problem and may include his or her lead delegate(s), including the process owner, i.e. the person who is accountable for ensuring that the process giving rise to the problem actually is working correctly.

  1. Once agreement is reached, we begin work. Our deliverables generally include…
    1. An issue analysis aimed at reducing the situation surrounding the problem to a manageable level followed by a problem analysis leading to a focussed solution, both arrived at by working with the client’s key people in one or more facilitated groups;
    2. Further work with the client`s key people to flesh out the selected path forward to the necessary level of detail;
    3. A new or revised process, documented to the point of implementation;
    4. Training of those people who will be involved with the new process.
    5. Implementation of the solution by the organization’s people.

There may also be what we call Process Pathologies that cause a problem to emerge. Let’s look at each and add a brief discussion of what might have been done to avoid the trouble.

Wrong Project Charter

We started with the wrong project charter. In this instance, the onus belongs to the process consultant to ensure that the process consultation is done accurately. This could require:

  1. More in-depth conversations with more people to ensure that our understanding of the situation is accurate and using W-5 till we get no more information.
  2. A “Friendly Audit” of the current state of the organization as a first step in the engagement leading to a final agreed scope,
  3. A frank discussion with the problem owners on the feasibility of finding a rational solution (please refer to our blog on “Wicked Problems”. . .

Insufficient Process Detail

Our documentation of the new process lacked the detail necessary to allow a client to structure an implementation. In this case, the onus rests both with the client and the process consultant to ensure that the requirements to implement are identified and understood. This could require:

  1. Drilling further into the organization to understand exactly how work was being done before and what would be necessary to effect the change;
  2. Identifying and surfacing the informal processes and relationships impacted by the change and including them;
  3. Identifying what tasks will stop and what will replace them, including the impact on the people who are used to doing things in a certain way;
  4. Identifying individual workloads and how they would be affected by the change in order to make necessary adjustments.

Bumping into this issue need not result in implementation failure. Both the process consultant and client have every advantage to undertake the work of clarification and clear the path to the benefits sought.

Wicked Problems

Origins

In 1973, Rittel and Webber published an article entitled Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning[1] that has had a lasting impact on management thinking. The paper identified two types of problems: “tame” problems that were definable and amenable to scientific solution, and “wicked” problems that were not.

Criteria

They argued that virtually all social problems were wicked and offered ten criteria for determining whether a particular issue or problem could be termed “wicked.”

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation;” because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error and every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong.

A Google search in 2017 turns up 840,000 hits suggesting that the concept continues to be widely researched, explored and applied. One of the more interesting applications comes from the world of systems theory and thinking: consider a wicked problem as an open system – a system that receives feedback from multiple, unknown sources.

Approach

We at RANA are not inclined to be definitive about the criteria for “Wicked Problems” or how many must be met in order to be deemed wicked, but we do consider the concept to be an ideal way to depict how an organization sometimes deals with its external environment. In fact, some organizations encounter a “Wicked Problem” totally unexpectedly, even though the signs were very much present the whole time, e.g. the Mortgage Bubble crisis causing economic collapse.

We recommend the following approach when dealing with wicked problems:

Discover the problem

  • Name it as a situation statement
  • Describe it: to the best of your current knowledge:
    • What is it?
    • Where is it showing up?
    • When is it showing up?
    • How much is it showing up?
    • Do we know why it is showing up at this particular time?
  • Select some key people to spearhead managing the Wicked Problem
  • Set up a positive and collaborative framework for moving ahead

Trace its origins

  • Describe where you think the problem originated, perhaps what changed to cause it
  • Describe the role that people (human factors) played in originating the problem

Determine its impact

  • Determine what is the overall impact on the organization
  • Determine the impact on the various groups or individuals
  • Describe each person’s role
  • Identify possible outcomes for each of the groups or individuals involved

Trace a path forward

  • Establish some key actions to address the parts of the problem
  • Anticipate constraints and risks and strengthen the key actions accordingly
  • Identify those impacted as the target community for taking action and making changes
  • Communicate with those in the targeted community to let them know what is happening

Act

  • Move forward on the key actions and monitor the effect carefully
  • Manage each person’s expectations
  • Reward all collaboration
  • Make progress visible to all and get feedback
  • Choose the next step based on the feedback received
  • Add more key actions based on success or rethink if the key actions didn’t work
  • Gradually work on each part of the Wicked Problem until its impact becomes manageable

Review

  • Integrate solutions to the organization’s other processes, e.g. Business Planning
  • Reinforce the emerging solution as a standard for the organization
  • Determine what is necessary to avoid a recurring Wicked Problem of the same kind
  • Credit all those in the organization who participated in managing it to a solution

Complicating Factors

There are complicating factors when a “Wicked Problem” emerges in an organization:

  • More often than not, organizations are operating with information that is either blatantly false or at least distorted (check out Chris Argyris on this);
  • Most strategic decisions taken in organizations are oral in nature, are taken by well-meaning but ill-informed executives and are not based on any factual information;
  • Most Business Plans in organizations are far too rooted in the past as a clerical exercise, rather than providing an appropriate framework for flexing towards the future.

Also keep in mind that some wicked problems have no solution that carries a reasonable probability of success:

  • sometimes doing nothing is not an option;
  • so we would encourage picking a piece that the organization could actually do something about and that is, at least, constructive.

This is where the management of expectations comes in.

[1] Rittel, Horst W. J. & Webber, Melvin M. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in Policy Sciences 4 (1973) pp. 155-169

Dedicated Teams in Change Management and Business Transformation

Background

The word and the idea of “team” has become a panacea for all that ails the organization. The idea is that a group of people, whose sole objective is to accomplish a task, will surely succeed, due to its single focus. This is great in sports, where the idea originated but unfortunately, it is not the case, particularly in change management and in Business Transformation.

Dedicated Team Pathologies

  • The Velcro Effect:  Velcro is very useful. You can apply something to something else and it will adhere firmly, until you peel it off. Many dedicated teams were “velcroed” to the side of the organization at one time and because they had no real home, were peeled off just as soon as the organization suffered financial hardship.
  • Goal Fixation:  It seems normal to think that if a team has a goal to achieve, then they will do so with a high degree of efficiency. But change management and Business Transformation are not goals; they are an endless journey or process. If the organization can afford to have a full-time team dedicated to what is essentially a process, then so be it. But an ongoing journey doesn’t sustain a focus, which is what the dedicated team needs to thrive (“I need to score enough goals to win the game”).
  • I’ve Lost My Home:  The functional hierarchy is based on the notion that everyone has his or her place in the power triangle of the organization. Dedicated team members need to relinquish their place in this structure and identify with the team. If the organization perceives that the team is not providing value, then every member is tarred with the same brush. And when the team gets disbanded, it is very rare that the team member returns to his or her former function. More often than not, they are released from the organization and/or go somewhere else.
  • What Was It Again?  Very often, in change management, there is lack of clarity on what the end goal actually is, especially when the idea of goal and journey are confused. Any semblance of a lack of focus causes the team to falter and start performing accessory and non-value added tasks. This gives the team the reputation of being a group of drones, causing the organization more grief than good. Shortly afterwards, the end comes…
  • Who’s the Boss?  Human beings do not behave any better in teams than they do normally. They compete, they jockey for position and they try to get their ideas heard at the expense of others. If the organization’s leadership imposes “a party line,” this contravenes the idea of a team, i.e. a group of people working cooperatively. If the leadership doesn’t, then there is an excellent chance for internal chaos to reign supreme in the team.

What’s the alternative?

The alternative is simple: by all means, form a team, e.g. a change management or business transformation team, but leave people where they are and have them dedicate 20% of their working day to implementation activity. Then, charge each team member with specific tasks related to the change process. By the way, this won’t work if they organization simply states that the team members will devote 20% of their time. It needs to be enshrined in the job description, the time needs to be tracked and performance needs to be measured. Also, there is no need for the same people to be part of the team on an ongoing basis – team members can change, as long as the process of change doesn’t.

Human Energy, a primer…

One of the basic needs of any organization  engaged in doing work is energy. Of course, this energy is human as well as technological. The word “energy” applied to organizations comes from the original Greek ενέργειας, and is found in the work of the old philosophers Aristotle and Hereclitus to mean “at work.”

People thrive when there is there is something they can aspire to in their work, i.e. they understand and buy into the WHY of the organization.  Of course, the energy that is produced by such aspiration needs to be guided by clear goals and objectives to give the organization focus and direction.  It also needs to be positive and we at RANA talk about what a “positive field” can accomplish, that is, that overall feeling of accomplishment and well-being as people accomplish tasks collaboratively. So a “positive field” actually equals the “energy” of people “being at work” and contributing to a common goal. RANA thrives  when we get organizations excited over the positive destinations they create by learning and applying new ways of doing things. The organization gets “energized” and also learns how to energize itself. And this takes us inevitably to leadership and the need for leaders to provide energy to their organizations. They become the driving force for moving the organization forward, very much like moving an entire population from Heresville to Theresville. Even if it is some psychological and physical distance away…

Making changes on the margins of the organization’s activity hasn’t worked very well in the past and doesn’t really mobilize the energy of its people. A more fundamental transformation is required, i.e. changing the “form” of the organization to align it with why it is in business. Process alignment is how this is achieved. In a negative field, a great deal of work gets done to achieve very little. There is confusion, duplication, work arounds, and frustration in how operational activity is being carried out. This feels like a lack of trust, and it sucks the energy out of a workplace. In a positive field, the people of the organization energize their work: the tools that were used to control them are now the processes for which they are fully accountable. They get to make the decisions on how to best achieve the purpose of the organization at the operational level. Imagine the different kind of leadership you need for such an organization: far from the controlling, detail-oriented workaholic manager of yore, you now have a leader that has confidence in the capacity of the people of the organization to do the job and to do it well. This propels the organization and its people forward towards the success they are hoping for.

How Management Limits Productivity in the Organization

Background

Recent political and social events are telling us that people in society are feeling powerless. One simple example is the decreasing attendance at the voting booth, particularly among the young. It appears that a great many people have “given up”, just want to do their job, whatever it is, and call it a day. Volunteerism is on the decline for this reason. There is a parallel effect inside organizations.

The Effect of Power Down

Despite attempts at other designs, most organizations today continue to operate under the traditional functional hierarchy. This is the pyramid structure that stretches from the base, where most of the employees that “do” are located, to the peak, where a single person “directs” the strategy and activity of the organization. In between are those who “manage”, i.e. who try and interpret strategic direction from on high to those in the trenches below. What emerged in the 20th century was the Paternalistic Organization, whose role it was to ensure a “career” for the participants in the organization.

Over the past 40 years or so, the Paternalistic Organization has eroded to the point where in many respects, it’s “every man for himself.” If you can’t be productive, then out you go. The problem with this kind of focus on productivity is that most organizations don’t have the means to allow their employees to be productive and contribute fully to start with. Management theorists have spoken about the need to “empower” or “enable” employees. In practical terms, this should mean providing the employee with the working environment and the skills-set that will give them the best chance to contribute in a very real way to the organization. However, by the time executive management figures out the strategic direction of the organization and managers interpret this into operational terms, the employee who is delivering the product or service of the organization is severely limited not only in what he or she can contribute but the means by which to do so. In harsher terms, it is the organization itself embodied in its management that is limiting the employee’s capacity to contribute. Nor does the employee get any sense that whatever he or she does will actually be accepted or appreciated by the organization. Rewards schemes are paltry attempts to “improve motivation” or “nurture innovation” inside most organizations that neither wish to understand the employee’s motivation nor endure any form of innovation. If you then pile on other social constructs such as legacy-based conflicts between men and women (where women are still paid less than men for the same job), you end up with an organization that has to keep a huge contingent of employees that are operating far below their potential because they feel that they can’t.

The Question vs. the Answer

Human beings are pushed towards having an answer, or the solution to a problem. The issue of productivity in the organization needs careful framing of three key questions first, i.e.:

  1. Why does the organization exist?
  2. What does it deliver?
  3. How does it deliver?

Anyone reading these questions would think: “Oh ya, we do that… It’s part of our planning process.” The reality is that most organization that ask these questions – if they do – provide a quick and automatic response, rather than thinking them through. The “Why” is absolutely essential: it is the one question whose well-thought out answer will inspire and drive productivity. The “What” shouldn’t be answered until the fundamental purpose of the organization is clear, much less the “How”.

RANA’s Why

RANA exists to remodel organizations in such a way as to give employees a meaningful voice:

  • Remodel means helping the organization get to its inspirational “Why”;
  • Meaningful means that the employee has the capacity to contribute ideas and measurable effort to the organization.

This requires a change of emphasis from the top of the organization downward. And this in turn requires transforming the way the organization thinks about itself. In so doing, the word “productivity” will start to make more sense. Far from being a vague concept and efforts at “making employees more productive”, it becomes a way of marrying the purpose of the organization with its people at all levels:

  • People will work in teams with accountability for tasks and authority to make decisions;
  • People have control over the tasks they are charged with and how they perform them;
  • People are constantly informed as to how they are contributing;
  • People are looking for improvements continuously;
  • People feel pride in producing a high quality product or service at the best possible price;
  • People trust their management to make the best possible decisions for the organization;
  • People feel free to offer advice based on their line level experience.

RANA’s How

RANA’s approach to helping client organizations remodel themselves follows seven simple and powerful steps:

  1. We ensure the organization is clear on Why it is in business.
  2. We focus the organization on it its Core Competency, that which makes it unique.
  3. We inventory the organization’s work processes, i.e. how people are doing things.
  4. We ensure that each process contributes to the why and the core competency;
  5. We ensure that each process has a someone who owns it;
  6. We train the owners in how to exercise their accountability and authority;
  7. We make sure that all employees are fully informed and involved.

The means by which RANA delivers its Business Transformation service to clients are:

  1. Facilitation of work groups:  In order to begin the process of transformation and to see it through to success, all levels of management from executive management to line level workers need to work together in teams to contribute their ideas. RANA’s expert facilitators ensure that ideas are captured and integrated to the transformation plan.
  1. Learning:  There are some fundamental concepts to understand and master when it comes to a process orientation leading to success. RANA provides short workshops that provide just in time learning to all levels of the organization.
  1. Coaching:  People work better when they are given personal attention. RANA provides coaching at all levels of the organization, dealing for example in how process ownership, accountability and authority feed an overall culture of productivity.
  1. Project leadership:  For some aspects of the transformation, the organization may not have the skills to make a change; RANA can field experts who can set things up for passing on to employees.
  1. Research and development:  Some organizations may need processes that are unique to their organization. RANA’s extensive data base of processes and its linkages to others provides a valuable source of information to the client organization.

Foundational Processes

What is a Foundational Process?

Talking about Core and Support Processes makes no sense without a Knowledge base. All processes related to how Knowledge flows through the organization are called Foundational. These include:

  • Communications Management, broken down into:
    • Internal communications, i.e. how the organization engages in dialogue with its people; and
    • External communications, i.e. how the organization messages outwards.

Of course, Communications can also be broken down into:

  • Formal communications, i.e. messages that have a form and clear objective behind them; and
  • Information communications, i.e. the “bush telegraph” whereby most information gets around the organization.
  • Information Management, which is the way in which the organization manages the flow from:
    • Data (i.e. raw information being collected by the organization for whatever purpose)
    • Information (i.e. data transformed into a more useful form, for example, collated under headers)
    • Intelligence (i.e. the key information that is likely to inform decision making) and
    • Wisdom (i.e. the few key bits of information that are actually used for decision making by the organization’s leadership.
  • Information Technology, which is the entire structure of hardware and software that supports the knowledge structure of the organization.

Where do Foundational Processes come from?

There is nothing more fundamental than Knowledge, when it comes to a group of people called an “organization” working together. So Foundational Processes are well named and they talk to the fundamentals of though and speech: we think something and in order to “get it out”, we have to articulate it in spoken or written words. So, the source of our Knowledge is each other, collated over time. The challenge for the organization is to determine which bits of knowledge will eventually inform strategic decisions. The entire fields of IM and IT are devoted to figuring out how to bring information to bear on decision making in the organization (if not, they should be).