Leading Change – Not Another Version of Wonderland – Scenario Planning Part 2

The White Rabbit in a hurry

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” Alice in Alice in Wonderland!

In scenario planning, scenarios provide a way to think about the uncertain aspects of the future particularly those that seem most unsettled and worrying.

Building and using scenarios can help organisations explore what the future might look like and the likely challenges of living in it.

As I explained in my last post a scenario is a story that describes a possible future. But no one view of the future will be correct. So scenario builders create sets of scenarios. These scenarios address the same questions and include everything that is likely to persist from the present into the future.

Each scenario describes a different way that the future might play out.

Scenarios are based on educated guesses and intuition and they need to be supported with very good information and strong analysis!  They are very carefully crafted structures.

But they are written as stories so that they can make that future seem vivid and compelling.  Without that, the real value in determining how the organisation might respond will be lost!

Using graphics, images and illustrations makes scenarios more comprehensible. They are particularly useful when the scenario needs to contain a lot of complex statistical information.

Scenarios  are not predictions – they are a way of dealing with uncertainty but no one has a crystal ball.  Factors will change!   But they provide a way to have a conversation about the future at strategic level.

Scenarios are a way to consider the potential implications of different events.  They mean teams can think through possible responses.

They provide a great way to get a group in the same room and using the same language.  This can be for a possible future or to help with thinking in a common way about current events.

Scenarios support a positive conversation about how to deal with future uncertainties and for making more successful strategic decisions

In my last post I mentioned that Shell has used scenario planning for quite a while! Well they have produced ‘Scenarios: An Explorer’s Guide’ for people who would like to build and use scenarios, and also for those who want to enhance their scenario thinking skills.  I will be providing a very simple guide to scenario planning here on Friday.  But if you wish, you can download the Shell guide at this link.

  • Leading Change – Your Vision in an Uncertain Future – Scenario Planning Part 1 (wisewolftalking.com)
  • Is Your Agency Doing Scenario Planning? (threeminds.organic.com)
  • Scenarios: mapping the possible (cognitive-edge.com)
Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her atwendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Leading Change – Your Vision in an Uncertain Future – Scenario Planning

Image via CrunchBase

Every successful change programme starts with a vision of the future.  But where is your vision going to come from, when the pace of change is continuing to increase?

Scenarios are now widely used by governments, businesses and voluntary organisations to help them plan for the future. This can be done on a large or small scale; as part of a wider planning exercise or on their own as a way to develop thinking inside the organisation.

Scenarios are not simply snapshots but fully fleshed out stories of potential futures.  Each is researched in detail to allow the reader to fully imagine themselves in this future world and consider how they would respond.

Scenario Planning was first used by the Rand Corporation in 1948.

By the 1970s the technique had been further developed and was being used by the Royal Dutch Shell Company.

As faith in traditional planning tools weakened, interest in scenario planning grew stronger.

Both Sam Palmisano at IBM and Steve Jobs at Apple have used scenario planning successfully to help their companies deal with global change and uncertain futures.

Many organisations plan for the future or, at least, for a future that they believe or hope will happen.  Usually, this future is based on ‘best’ or ‘worst’ case projections of current trends.  And surprise, surprise, it often bears an uncanny resemblance to the present state;

  • Customers will continue to do and think as they do now!
  • They will make similar choices to the ones they make now!
  • Supply chains will stay the same!
  • Competitors will offer similar products and services!

So the organisation itself will continue to do more or less the same as it does now!

This approach works best in stable, predictable environments!  But for most of us now, that stable and predictable environment no longer exists!.  We are all facing greater uncertainty and experiencing more change than ever before.

We need an approach that helps us to

  • Make sense of what is going on,
  • Spot new trends and events
  • Prepare for that uncertain future
  • Make changes to what we do and how we work  ,

Scenarios are a tool that we can use to help us imagine and manage the future more effectively.

The scenario process highlights the principal drivers of change and the uncertainties facing organisations today!  It explores how they might play out in the future.

The result is a set of stories that offer alternative views of what the future might look like.

Through discussion, they allow us to explore what we would do differently in each scenario.  Then we can identify success criteria, consider new ways of working and define new relationships.

With each scenario, the factors, and how we might respond to them, will differ!  But we can practice what we might do and begin to plan for it!

The discussion about scenarios can help groups build a shared understanding of how to respond to the increasingly complex changes taking place in the world about us.

The great strength of scenario planning is that it can be used to look at today’s challenges from a different perspective. The process of identifying and examining how current factors and trends might play out in the future helps us focus on the likely impact of those trends on our own organisations.

Quite often, participants find that the impacts are going to be bigger and happen sooner than they had realised.

Ultimately, we can use scenario planning to help anticipate, prepare for or manage change.

I’m going to consider this theme further this week.  But if you have experience of scenario planning and its impact on your organisation, can you share it here please so that others can benefit

Related articles

  • Is Your Agency Doing Scenario Planning? (threeminds.organic.com)
  • Rehearsing the future [Guy Rigby] (ecademy.com)
  • 4 reasons why an increased pace of change means greater unpredictability (rossdawsonblog.com)
  • 1o Ways to be Better at Visioning (wisewolftalking.com)
  • Kotter Model Step 3: Create a Vision for Change (wisewolftalking.com)
Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her atwendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439


Handle with care – bad news for the boss!

A Meeting with the Boss
Image by David Panevin via Flickr

I’ve written here before about giving bad news! Delivering bad news to anybody is difficult, but delivering bad news to your sponsor or line manager is one of the toughest and most stressful things you  will do in your working life!

It doesn’t matter whether or not it is your fault, it is still uncomfortable.

Regardless of  whether the failure is your fault, it can be embarrassing.

If you have an open and positive relationship with your boss so much the better, you can talk about handling bad news before you have any to deliver.  Be wise and see if you can reach an agreement in the early stages about what to do when things go wrong!

If you are unlucky enough to have one of those bosses who always reacts badly when receiving bad news,  it will need careful handling,

So when something has gone wrong – what can you do?

  1. First, don’t put off delivering bad news until the things get worse. Most problems left unresolved get worse over time, so waiting to tell the boss doesn’t help the situation.
  2. Gather as many facts as possible! You will probably be asked several questions about how it happened. You should be able to give a convincing, honest and well-informed answer!
  3. If possible you should also have a convincing plan to put things right.
  4. If it means a delay to delivering your process, programme or project, be clear about what that means in terms of time, resources and ultimate delivery.
  5. If there are increased risks, show how you plan to mitigate them.
  6. Deliver the message clearly and directly. If you have made a mistake or forgotten something, it really is better to confess and apologise.
  7. Don’t stimulate a blame culture. Try not to deliver bad news in a way that embarrasses the boss and reflects directly on them.  Don’t start playing the whose to blame “tit-for-tat” game, if you can avoid it.
  8. If some one more junior in your team made a mistake then stand by them – it’s your team! But don’t defend the indefensible!
  9. Try to deliver bad news in private if possible. If you have to report the problem to a board then try to have word with your boss and/or the chair beforehand and agree how it will be handled.
  10. If you can, follow bad news up with good news and go on to talk about success.

Remember that we have all made mistakes including your boss.    But make sure you learn from this experience! If you got something wrong and you are trying to do a good job, make sure  you have all the training you need and that you have sufficient resources.   If you don’t, then speak up and show that you intend to do all you can to make sure you have no further bad news to deliver!

Goldfinger, the Elephant and making partnerships work!

Source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/laszlo-pho...
Image via Wikipedia

The benefits of partnership have long been extolled for public, private, voluntary and community organisations!  And the benefits of true partnership are invaluable in managing change across an organisation. But the word ‘partnership’ is probably one of the most abused in the modern business lexicon.

First a little background on my interest in partnership!

Many moons ago when I was a Civil Servant, one of my more interesting roles was to Chair the Elephant and Castle Employers’ Group in South London.

The Department of Health has a long standing relationship with the Elephant and Castle.  Metro Central Heights, a striking multi-story complex, was once Alexander Fleming House and headquarters of the Department.  The building was notorious!  Designed by modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger, it won him a Civic Trust Award in 1964 but it may also have influenced Ian Fleming’s choice of names for his villain! The Department continues to have staff at the Elephant but now in rather more comfortable accommodation.

Anyway, for my sins, I chaired the group on behalf of the Department and we were successful in a number of areas.  For example, we persuaded the London Borough of Southwark to improve street lighting and they refurbished the miserable under-passes!  Our fame spread and somewhere in the archives of the Open University is a talking heads video of me extolling the virtues of community partnership.  We had strong partnerships with the local authority, police, transport providers etc.

In chairing the group, I drew on my experience of matrix management in managing IT projects.  Projects, and organisational change programmes in particular, have always drawn heavily for their success on the ability of project and programme managers to develop and manage partnerships across organisations.

So I believe it is worth looking more closely at what partnership really means!

I believe a partnership is a joint working arrangement where the partners

  • Work otherwise more or less independently
  • Agree to co-operate to achieve common goals or outcomes
  • Plan and implement a jointly agreed project or programme, often with joint staff or resources
  • Share relevant information and pool risks and rewards.

Whether the partners choose to engage usually depends on answers to the following questions?

  • What will the partnership deliver that we could not deliver on our own?
  • Is it clear what our role in the partnership will be?
  • Do we know how long the partnership is going to last?
  • Are the aims and objectives of the partnership clear?
  • Are we clear what we are expected to contribute?

If you are going to engage in partnership there are some pitfalls to avoid.

Competition

Competition between different parts of an organisation can be positive but in cross-organisation programmes it can be menace.  It takes work and leadership at the start of a partnership to build the partners into a team and develop a sense of common purpose.  This is where time needs to be spent, not on later point scoring because you did not make the initial investment!

The Wrong People

A partnership needs people with the power and authority to get the job done.   They may not need to be senior but they do need real delegated authority.  If every decision needs to be referred to the top of one partner’s long management chain before it can be made, you have the wrong person or it isn’t a partnership!  It also important that partners cannot pull rank on each other!  Partners need to be equal, or to agree to act in an equal way for the purposes of the partnership, and you might need to record this in formal terms of reference!

Mission creep

If a partnership works well, the partners will usually enjoy working together!  This means they will look for other things to do.  This can get in the way of delivering the overall change.  This is one reason why the task or outcome needs to be very clearly defined at the beginning.

Culture clash

Even within one organisation different cultures can emerge in different divisions.  This can make working together difficult.  Again this is where leadership and time taken at the start to build a team and develop a sense of common purpose pays dividends.  Aim to get people to talk explicitly about differences and then find the common ground and the shared vision.

The Eternal Partnership

As the name says – this goes on forever!  Long after its usefulness wears out, no one wants to call a halt.  So the relationship slowly withers on the vine with useless meetings, frustration and wasted resources.  Someone needs to call a halt, agree an exit strategy and close it down.  If you want to maintain your credibility as a programme manager, be the one who recognises when the job is done.  Arrange a closing down ceremony and write the thank you letters to the participants; most will be grateful and the others need to be helped to move on.

It takes time to develop the trust between partners that is required to make partnerships work well.  But my word good partnership working can be powerful!

I would love to hear your experiences of partnerships good and bad!  Are there other lessons we can share?

As for me!  Well I’m heading back to London SE1 soon to see that old Elephant – I remember it well and with great fondness!

Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her at wendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

 

Managing Change! Is it painful? You bet it is!

How urgent is your amoeba?

Most of us who work in the field of change management have signed up to the Kotter model of leading change.  And Step One in the model is to create a sense of urgency.  But what exactly does that mean?

When I put the words ‘creating a sense of urgency’ into a search engine I came up with all kinds of good things!  For example,  inspiring the team to work together towards a goal!  Lots of pleasant and positive stuff.  Sounds good doesn’t it –  makes you feel good!  The problem is,  it doesn’t work if you want to make a fundamental change in an organisation.

Kotter reckons that for change to be successful, 75% of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change. In other words, you have to really work hard on Step One, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps.  And there are no pleasant and easy answers.

It is hard to persuade groups of people to move a long way out of  their comfort zone!  They will not move unless they understand that staying where they are is not an option! That means convincing them that staying where they are is going to be painful or is simply no longer possible.

As my old lecturer in change management said somewhere back in the 90s – unless the pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of moving, you usually stay put! He started the lecture with a picture of an amoeba and gave us a lecture on the fundamentals of stimulus!

So what can you do for your group?  It isn’t simply a question of showing them the sales figures and expecting them to respond.  You need to work with them through the figures and then help them think through the consequences!  Not just consequences for the organisation, but for them.  What will it mean for me in six months if the sales figures do not turn up?

Let them understand and absorb the threat of of failing markets.  Or more optimistically, new technology and new competitors.

Then work with them to think through options for the future and how they can move forward.

Share the pain and then how you can share the gain.

Show them what they have to  gain from making a change.  This may not be much but there will always be something!  If the facts mean potential redundancies, work out how can you work together to mitigate the effects.

Are there new working patterns that you can adopt, for example flexible or short-time working?  Are there new markets that they know of that you can open up?

But you need to be careful.  There is a difference between sharing the pain so that together you can make a change  and creating panic.

Do your homework before you start.   You need to prepare well – you will face some challenging questions!

You are the leader and you need to remain in the leadership seat.  Keep your nerve.

It aint easy but then no one said being a leader was easy!

You must follow up with good information about your plans  after the initial meeting.

Don’t be naive when they will leave your meeting or presentation, the rumour mill will get to work.

Make sure you leave sufficient time in your diary afterward the initial event to deal with the consequences!  And the questions they wish they had asked but did not ask at the meeting.

If you have experience of creating a sense or urgency, please share your war stories.  If you have a change to make – I hope things go very well for you!

If you have any questions or comments, I would be very happy to receive them.

Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy –  she can help you – email her at wendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

MANAGING CHANGE – COMMUNICATIONS – MAKING YOUR PLAN

A recent post talked about building and maintaining active support for your initiative among those who can make a real difference to your outcomes! This is imperative for change programmes and projects.

Making sure that your colleagues and key stakeholders are aware of the activities you are undertaking, is vital to ensure your success. It helps to maximise opportunities for synergies,  allows people to learn from each other and wins you support.

When you have analysed the people and groups around you, you will be ready to develop your communications plan.

A communications plan is a written document that describes

  • what you want to accomplish with your communications (your objectives),
  • to whom your communications will be addressed (your audiences)
  • the ways in which those objectives can be accomplished (your key messages, strategy and tactics)
  • when you will accomplish your objectives (your activity schedule),
  • how you will measure the results (your evaluation)

Keep it simple. Your communications plan doesn’t need to be pages long – just clearly presented and easy to understand.

Make it focussed. Don’t try to do everything, be realistic about what’s achievable.

Every communications plan will be different but most should include the following key information.

Objectives

Be clear from the outset about what you are trying to achieve – it is the vital first step in creating your plan.

When considering your communications objectives, ensure that they complement the overall objectives of your initiative.

Make sure your objectives are SMART

Are they:

  • Specific?
  • Measurable?
  • Achievable?
  • Realistic?
  • Timely?

Target Audience

This is where the work you have done already to identify your stakeholders comes into play. The success of any communications activity depends on knowing your audience.

Once you have identified your target find out as much as possible about them.  This will help you to ensure you are using the most effective routes to communicate with them.

Once you’ve got an initial list, try to identify some overall priorities.  This will help you ensure that the majority of your time, energy and resources are concentrated on the most important audiences.

Key Messages

Once you have identified your target audience, think about what messages you are trying to communicate.

Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your overall plans? You can download a template for a SWOT analysis at this link. See how you can turn your weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities even before you begin your communications plan.

Developing key messages will help you to be clear about what it is you want your target audience to ‘hear’ or understand as a result of your communications activity. The messages may well be different for each of your target audience groups, although there will be many that are common for all.

Avoid statements that are too complex. Cutting the waffle and aiming to be as succinct as possible is the best way to create messages that work. A good way to try your messages out is to see if they pass the ‘elevator test’. Imagine you are in a lift between floors and only have a minute to explain your message to a companion beside you. Would they understand what you are trying to say?

Strategy

Now you are ready to consider the overall strategic approach that you are going to take to achieve your communications objectives. Your strategy should be about what you are going to do to achieve your objectives, rather than how you are going to do it.

The strategy provides a unifying ‘big picture’ into which all of your individual communications activities fit. For, example, are you going to actively engage with your key stakeholders at regular intervals? Perhaps you are going to promote the achievements through your company websites or will you publish a regular newsletter!

Set out the principles of how you intend to communicate!

Tactics

The tactics are the specific communications activities, tools and techniques that will make each part of your strategy a reality. Some of the most popular include:

  • Newsletters
  • Press releases
  • Information packs
  • Seminars
  • Leaflets, stickers and posters
  • Websites and social networking/blogs
  • Videos/DVDs
  • Advertising
  • One-to-one briefings
  • Direct mail/email
  • Exhibitions

The communications activities you choose should fit into your overall strategy and be driven by your objectives, target audiences and key messages.

Budgeting and other resources

How much money do you have available in the budget? How much time and other resources do you have available?  The answers will dictate the size and scale of your communications activity.

If you find yourself having to cope on a shoestring, remember that it is possible to do effective work with a small budget as long as you are realistic and well focussed.

Keep in mind your key stakeholders.

Activity schedule

Once you have decided on your tactics you will be in position to put together a simple activity schedule. This should outline how you plan to roll out each set of activities over a period of time.

Make sure you think carefully about other key dates or events that may impact on your timing and the milestones in your overall activity. At this stage you should also consider specific roles and responsibilities. It is useful to circulate your communications activity schedule to your colleagues so they can see what is coming up and identify potential synergies or conflicts at an early stage.

Evaluation

It is crucial that your activity plan outlines the criteria that you will use to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your communications activities.

How will you know if you are making an impact? Build into your plan a method for measuring results. Your evaluation might take the form of a monthly report on work in progress – a formalized writtens report or a presentation to the governance board, the programme team or another management meeting.

Remember – communicate clearly and simply – be honest!

Start early and make sure people know where and how to get access to good information.

But one warning, if you have promised any particular communication, for example, a monthly newsletter, make sure it is actually produced on time and has good quality of information!  Nothing is more frustrating than something that doesn’t arrive or looks good but doesn’t actually tell you anything about an initiative that impacts directly on you!

If you are just setting out on a change, and have not done this before, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions or if you have experience and tips to offer, I would love to hear from you.

Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy –  she can help you – email her at wendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Bewildered by the change you have to make – here is help!


Do you need to make a change in your organisation?  Does the prospect feel overwhelming?  Well why not use the simplest model of change – the Freeze Phase Model, also known as Square-Blob-Star!  This post tells you how to use it!  If you care about leading you organisation well and if you are committed to being a good manager, you have all you need need to implement this approach well!

This post appeared on my blog in July 2009.  It is one of the most popular pieces here and I believe that many readers have found it useful!  So I am have revamped it slightly with some links to techniques to use when you implement the model.  I’ve seen this approach work many times.  I wish you luck with your change and if you would like further advice, please get in touch!

In the early 20th century, psychologist Kurt Lewin identified three stages of change that are still the basis of many approaches today.

UNFREEZE

People like to feel safe and in control and their sense of identity is tied into their present environment particularly if it has been relatively stable for a while!  This creates a feeling of comfort and any challenges to it even those which may offer significant benefit, can cause discomfort. See why change hurts! Talking about the future is rarely enough to move them from this ‘frozen’ state and significant work is usually required to ‘unfreeze’ them and get them moving.  In frustration some managers may revert to using a Push method to get them moving – coercing them into a change.  The Pull method of leadership, persuasion and modeling behavior takes longer but has a much better long term effect . The term ‘change ready’ is often used to describe people who are unfrozen and ready to take the next step. Some people come ready for change whilst others take a long time to let go of their comfortable current realities.

TRANSITION

For Lewin change is a journey.  This journey may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the other side.  A classic trap in change is for the leaders to spend months on their own personal journeys and then expect everyone else to cross the chasm in a single bound. Transition takes time and needs leadership and support!   But sometimes  transition can also be a pleasant trap – it may feel better to travel hopefully than arrive – particularly for the team leading the change.

REFREEZE

At the other end of the journey, the final goal is to ‘refreeze’, putting down roots again and establishing the new place of stability – embedding new processes and developing a new culture.  In practice, refreezing may be a slow process as transitions seldom stop cleanly, but go more in fits and starts with a long tail of bits and pieces. There are good and bad things about this.   In modern organizations, this stage is often rather tentative as the next change may well be around the next corner. What is often encouraged, then, is more of a state of ‘slushiness’ where freezing is never really achieved (theoretically making the next unfreezing easier). The danger with this that many organizations have found is that people fall into a state of change shock, where they work at a low level of efficiency and effectiveness as they await the next change.

You can find out more at the following links

More of the Freeze Phase/Square-Blob-Star Model – general introduction continued

Getting ready for the Change (Unfreeze) – some unfreezing techniques

Helping people to change (Transition) – constructive ways to manage transition

Completing the Change (Refreeze) – constructive ways to embed the change and make sure it sticks


King, Queen or Pawn – the Joys of Office Politics

Politics – activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organization Oxford Dictionaries

I don’t play chess.  I admire those who do but for me the game is too slow to enjoy.  But I do know the rules!

For me Office Politics is just like that.  You may decide not to ‘play’ but you need to know how it works.

This is particularly true if you manage a project or a change programme.  If you don’t manage your stakeholders, your project or programme may be shot down in ways you never expected.

Stakeholder management doesn’t work if you don’t make sure you understand the politics of the organisation.

Wherever you have a group of people you will have a degree of politics operating.  People will usually jockey for position, form alliances, decide who they do like and who they don’t!  People will come to the group with different personalities, sets of values and opinions. Over time a group develops a set of norms or standards and ways of working. They develop a pecking order – a hierarchy of status and influence.  This will not necessarily reflect the organisation chart.  For example, the person who controls the stationery cupboard can have quite a lot of power to disrupt their colleague’s day, if they choose to do so!

If you don’t understand the influence hierarchy you can find it difficult to get things done, particularly if you are new to an organisation.  And the hierarchy will change over time, as people strive successfully and unsuccessfully to achieve greater influence.  You need to understand the office politics even if you find the concept distasteful. You will be very lucky indeed if someone actually tells you the rules of the game!

It is far better to adopt some useful strategies to keep the effects of office politics on you and your work to a minimum.  At the same time it will be useful to be classed as inside the influence group, as opposed to being on the outside looking in. What you are probably best to aim for is to manage any effects of office politics that directly relate to you!  Then turn them in your favour, or at least minimise their effects on you and your work.

Office politics in its crudest form usually occurs when one, or more than one, person holds (or is seen as holding) a significant amount of power within the office.  This may be formal power – the CEO’s private office is usually a hotbed of office politics – or informal power.  Formal power is pretty easy to read.  Informal power is much more difficult.  Informal power can arise in a number of ways! Someone with depth of knowledge of the organisation, the key subject matter expert, PAs to top managers,  may all wield considerable power and they are fairly easy to discover.  Far more challenging are the ‘office bully’, those in a relationship with someone holding formal power and unscrupulous players of the office politics’ game.  You need to listen and observe the group you work with and its surrounding organisation to find out more about these!

What can you do? Try to get to know the politically powerful within your organisation.  Don’t be afraid of them – they are often much, more receptive to people who aren’t intimidated by them!  Make sure they understand what you are trying to achieve.  Deal with their reservations and make sure they understand that you are taking on board their views.   If someone does try to undermine you, don’t get drawn in. Simply be bold and assertive, but not aggressive.  Make your points clearly and offer good will.  If their negative behaviour persists, then ring fence them – make sure they have as little as possible to do with your work.

People often play office politics because they are unsure about their own abilities and achievements.  They try to conceal what they believe are their shortcomings behind a façade and to make others feel they are less worthy. Don’t let them undermine your self-esteem – be proud of your own accomplishments and make sure that your efforts are recognised by those who matter.  But don’t get into direct competition if you can avoid it – it’s a waste of your time! If people know you are doing a good job consistently there is far less opportunity for you to be undermined.  Forming alliances with senior managers and using them as sponsors and champions for your work can increase your own informal power.  If you have a formal sponsor, make sure they are well informed and really up to date with your project or programme and can talk about it fluently to their colleagues.   As with all stakeholder management – targeted communication of  good quality of information is key to you and your project or programme’s success.

If you want to know more or do want to play the office politics game then here are some books that might be useful!

‘Office Politics: How work really works’ by Guy Browning   http://amzn.to/efTzjO

‘100+ Tactics for Office Politics (Barron’s Business Success)’ by Casey Hawley   http://amzn.to/hkBR6r

For the really evil!

’21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics’ by Mike Phipps, Colin Gautrey http://amzn.to/fFMHQ4

Outwitting the lovely Ondine, or making the right choices in hard times!

I watched a piece on breakfast television about a small child with something that sounded sinister, Ondine’s Curse.  This is a respiratory disorder that is fatal if untreated as sufferers stop breathing during sleep. It is very rare and the name is a reference to the myth of Ondine, a water nymph who had an unfaithful mortal lover. He swore to her that his every waking breath would be a testimony of his love. He was unfaithful so she cursed him; if he should fall asleep, he would forget to breathe. Eventually, he fell asleep and his breathing stopped. Anyway the story this morning was really about the child being able to be at home for Christmas because someone had invented a ventilator that was small enough for a child’s room!

Ventilators are usually large, cumbersome and difficult to accommodate! So this invention, not only adds to the happiness of a small child and her family, it also reduces the cost of her care to the NHS. No longer will she need expensive hospital resources, even with back up at home from community nursing staff, there will be a saving!

What struck me most was the need to take a long view when reducing costs. Inventing new equipment to reduce costs (and hopefully improve quality) long-term takes time and investment. Also, it requires creativity and teamwork! None of these qualities thrive in hard and uncaring environments. To achieve a climate that can deliver long-term ‘efficiency’ improvements while maintaining (or even improving) quality takes great leadership.

Exam question for December 2010 – do you think your leadership abilities would be up to the challenge? How are you going to maintain/improve them next year?

I would like to wish all readers a very Happy Christmas and a very creative New Year in this time of challenge! I hope you will come back because there will be lots more here next year to help you manage the changes you face!

Alice down the rabbit hole – or customer service and schizophrenia in the downturn!

I’m reading ‘Surviving Change – A Manager’s Guide’ from Harvard Business Press. It advises on managing in the downturn and opens with a discussion of different survival strategies – hard and soft!  In fact, most change is a mixture of the two and the strategy chosen usually reflects the underlying culture of the organisation!   How the mix works is critical because if it is not well managed it can become fraught with conflict and demoralising for people in the organisation; it can lead to a schizophrenic approach to customers.

The ‘hard’ approach to change is usually short-term and about economics  – cut costs and increase cash flow! If a unit, or an employee, cannot demonstrate how they add financial value, out they go with very little ceremony or concern for personal well-being. The change is usually hard driven from the top with little wider engagement.  Often consultants advise the magic inner circle and HR consultants deal with casualties that might cost the organisation.

Soft change focuses on developing the organisation to meet new conditions with high engagement across the piece from the leaders. Employees trust in the informal contract they have with the organisation and work towards its well being.

Sadly experience shows that neither soft or hard approaches work in isolation.  The hard approach works in the short term but with that alone you are usually left with a demoralised and disloyal workforce – your best employees probably left at a rate of knots when you started the change.  The soft approach can take years to embed and the market doesn’t stand still!

Most successful change is a combination of hard (rationalisation well managed) and soft (employee engagement and encouragement to learn new skills).  But if change is a reflection of underlying culture and that has conflicts within it, a change can put the whole organisation out of kilter.  What I’m thinking of here is an organisation that pays lip service to soft but is really hard.  I believe in the downturn this is likely to be an increasing problem, particularly in the service sector.

Clients of service companies, particularly in the UK public sector, like to hear how well the company manages its employees.  A tender panel may take great interest in training and development approaches but, of course, the final decision is usually made on the keenest price.  In the present climate the client is likely to continue to seek cost reductions, which mean lots of change to be managed.  This can lead a company into a kind of schizophrenia.  It flags up all the good things its HR team would like to do but finds itself increasingly having to make hard, and very short-term, decisions.  As a consequence, its own employees and its middle managers in particular, become confused and a little cynical!  In turn this impacts on the service delivered to the client – so the client pushes harder!

What is the answer.? Well maybe it starts with a little more honesty on both sides!   Perhaps clients should start being more realistic about how they expect their service companies to manage for the price they are prepared to pay.  Perhaps the companies should be a little more honest with clients, and  with themselves, about the real costs of delivering ‘cuts’  At the end of the day, a client gets what they pay for and it they want to see services well managed with employees committed to the services they deliver, they need to recognise there will always be a cost even in the downturn!