Thursday 19 March 2015

Three Essential Ingredients for Lasting Change

We are regularly told on LinkedIn that change is difficult because “people do not like change”, but if that’s true why do people clamour to change their mobile phone even before the current contract is up? Why are shops always full of people looking for new clothes? Why are hair salons busy with people wanting a fresh hairstyle, and why do we sit on the train in the morning, quietly admiring our new shoes? (OK, maybe that last one is just me then, but you get my drift.)

I think what is probably more accurate to say is that people do not like imposed change. Successful, lasting change in the workplace needs to be handled carefully, and people need to be involved. These are the three essential ingredients for successful change I have come to understand over many years of involvement in structural and business change:

It’s far better to say to people “Let’s move over there because it’s better” than it is to say “Come over here – my place is better.” When I introduce change I use a mechanism that involves people so that they contribute to the nature of the change and so feel part of it and buy into the change.

Here’s how it works; I produce a brief proposal document. There are certain guidelines for it: no more than five or six pages; writing should be both precise and concise. I consider the audience and cut out unnecessary words – often adjectives – and no “weasel words” such as “fairly”, “comparatively” and so on. When writing about things that have been measured I always include numbers and evidence.

I also try after every sentence to determine what the reader might ask. If I anticipate questions I should answer them in the following sentences and – I know this makes me sound ancient – grammar and punctuation matter!

In addition to the handful of pages I always include two appendices, one for FAQs for questions I anticipate might be asked of the overall proposal and one to list reviewers and contributors as the document is socialised. I might also include other appendices if I need to add further evidence or examples to help people reach a conclusion.

I then circulate it to a group of people who will have knowledge around the proposed area for change, and who are most likely to be affected by any change. Once they have added comments, asked questions and/or proposed amendments we get together as a group and discuss the proposal. The outcome of that meeting should be a revised document that has the broad agreement of everyone at the meeting. Their names are added to the appendix I mentioned above before the document is given a wider audience. I then collect comments and concerns from the wider audience and again, the document can be amended – usually at this stage the alterations are minor and a new, hopefully final, version can be distributed.

By working in this way people feel part of the change. They have had a say in it and we all have a better understanding of each other’s view and have achieved at least close to a consensus. The added benefit is that the change has been discussed over a period of time and so people are already making that emotional shift to the new status quo.

Look, I know, and you know, that the bright idea you had in the shower this morning is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and will revolutionise your implementation processes overnight. You will no doubt receive a substantial pay increase, lavish praise from the CEO and a job title to impress people at dinner parties.

However, not everyone will see your wisdom instantly.  Hard to believe, I know, but there could be things about their job or the processes around it that you haven’t fully understood or even addressed.

They will need time to consider, and the opportunity to contribute, to feel they have been heard. All this takes time and all you will achieve without patience is a badly thought through change that will not endure because it was “your” idea, not “our” idea.  Which segues neatly into my third essential:

An open mind

Whenever I draft a proposal document, it is exactly that – a draft. It often undergoes substantial changes by the time the final version becomes an agreed change, and those changes come from other people, not me. I don’t have all the answers, or sometimes even all the facts. More importantly, I can never fully understand other people’s emotional responses, their values and their motivations.

The collaboration process feeds those things into the mix and the end result is better for it. When I am mentoring new managers who find delegation difficult I always tell them “Just because it has been done differently to the way you would do it doesn’t make it wrong, it might even make it better.” The same applies to introducing change; listen to and incorporate input from others. It will probably make your proposal better, and it will certainly make it enduring.

If you would like a template for the proposal document I use, including the principles and some guidance, message me with your email address and I’ll be pleased to send it to you.

Steve Syder is a Registered Project Professional, a Fellow of the APM and an RPP Assessor. He has in his time implemented Programme and Project Management practices for organisations as diverse as the UK Hydrographic Office, EDS and Orange amongst others. Until recently he was Director of Programme & Project Management at OpenBet, and he has now turned his attention to the structure and governance of the BI function at Tyche Consulting.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

How to get attractive 20-somethings to invite you for coffee (and pay)

I became a freelancer back in 1992, before MS Windows had conquered the world and gas lamps were just beginning to disappear from the cobbled streets of England.
I stumbled into freelancing by accident really, wooed by a recruitment agent who waved the promise of a large amount of money at me because I had at the time a specialist skill that was in short supply and (relatively) high demand.
That agent was excellent. He knew his clients well, and had worked hard, not only to build a good relationship with them, but also to understand their business and their business needs.
I worked through no other agency for the next five years, and in the following years I worked with other agents who had a similar modus operandi.
Skip forward a decade or so and there has been a dramatic step-change in the way recruiters work, and not for the better. The true skills of a recruiting agent seem to have disappeared, to be replaced by little more than the ability to do a word search on the agency’s database, which in turn generates an automated email, usually starting with words to the effect “Please forgive me if this email is inappropriate” (it usually is) and usually ending with “If you know anyone suitable for this role please let me know.” (They would call it networking, I call it doing their job for them).
There is no relationship with client or candidate in this activity. There is no understanding of the client’s business or business needs, other than an ability to spout parrot-fashion from the company’s web site or the job spec. Many recruiters who contact me do not even understand the words they are saying.
I’ve lost count of the number who have called me about programme management and confidently asserted that “You need a Microsoft Project qualification” when the job spec had asked for MSP.
There is no attempt to match the candidates’ aspirations or requirements with this approach. On more than one occasion I’ve had a recruiter on the phone utterly astonished that I’m not about to up sticks and move to another part of the country – or even another country – purely so they can earn brownie points and commission.
Of course, there are still some good recruiters out there – the one who placed me in my current role was old-school and gave great service to me and the client alike – but so many of them are straight from university with no concept of the job being about more than matching words and firing off emails.
The other thing they do, of course, is invite you for coffee. I’d love to believe that this was a bid to get to know candidates better, but, having drunk lakes of coffee in the company of gauche twenty-somethings, I can tell you it isn’t. It’s nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for new recruits. The theory might be good but the practice is mind-numbingly time wasting. They seem not to understand the purpose of the meeting; they’ve just been told at work it’s something they must do.
I’ve yet to meet a recruitment agent under (at least) 30 who can empathise with the career and personal needs of someone my age and who has the ability to ask probing questions to understand what I offer. Mind you, it’s not just the newly graduated who are at it.
Two or three times I’ve given more experienced agents the benefit of the doubt when they have said “Oh no! I’m different. I’m keen to build relationships and understand you and the client to benefit all parties.” Off I go, drink my coffee, give it my best pitch to tell them what I think they need to know, answer their questions and swap business cards, only to never hear from them again.
Now you might think that, having met me they’ve decided I’m best avoided, and of course, I can’t be blameless. I’ve only written approximately 400 versions of my CV since 1992, and I’ve been told by people in their first job “It’s too long” and “It’s too short” in roughly equal measure. I’ve tweaked it, pimped it, preened it, added key words, removed key words and even paid a couple of times to have professional rewrites. I’ve devoted many hours to honing my personal brand via my web site, my LinkedIn profile and Twitter postings, including publishing case studies and a Prezi version of my career history, but perhaps I should have done more.
However, if anyone thinks I haven’t done enough, it begs the questions “How come I’ve been working for the last 23 years since I gave up my permanent role and why are my LinkedIn recommendations so glowing?”
What’s my conclusion? Now more than ever before job sites are a waste of time, and firing off a CV to a recruitment agency is pretty pointless. Work seldom comes to the freelancer, (s)he has to proactively find it, either by maintaining a good professional network or by targeting specific companies.
Just about every role I’ve had for at least the last decade has arisen from my personal network and/or from a decent recruiter taking the trouble to actually read my LinkedIn profile.
Meanwhile, I’m left to lament the almost complete passing of the diligent recruitment agent (diligence in that area now seems to be the exclusive preserve of head hunters) and, even more melancholy, wonder why there were not weekly occurrences of very attractive twenty-somethings saying they’d like to meet for coffee back in the day when I still had hair!

Steve Syder is a Registered Project Professional, a Fellow of the APM and an RPP Assessor. He has in his time implemented Programme and Project Management practices for organisations as diverse as the UK Hydrographic Office, EDS and Orange amongst others. Until recently he was Director of Programme & Project Management at OpenBet, and he has now turned his attention to the structure and governance of the BI function at Tyche Consulting.