Monday, August 31, 2015

Contracts Written in Disappearing Ink

Credit: Peter Kaminski
They say "A Picture Paints A Thousand Words." If that is the case, then it stands to reason that a thousand words must paint a picture. But what happens to the picture if you start to erase some of the words?

According to Mario Elia; a Doctor from London, Ontario; this is what the Province of Ontario is doing with it's contract with Physicians. They agreed to a certain rate of pay, but are now changing the game to suit their own purpose. Essentially, they have made election promises and expect the doctors to pay the bill.

Now I'm not going to get into the political side of this issue. We are currently under Liberal Party rule, but the same thing was done by the New Democrats under Bob Rae (referred to colloquially as Bob Rae Days), and the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris made dramatic cuts to health care as well. I personally have a very difficult time trusting any politician.

This story is, however, an excellent illustration of #EthicalDebt at play.When (if) our government goes back to the bargaining table, our physicians (if there are any left in Ontario) will have a hard time agreeing to any contract. They will be, justifiably so, suspicious that the contract may be written in disappearing ink. I chose the image that accompanies this post because the artist says:
« The [Buddha] board has a sandstone-like texture that turns ink-black when you paint on it with plain water. Over the course of 20-30 minutes, the water evaporates, and your drawing disappears. »
For how long is your signature a sign of your commitment?

Do your contracts (or the spirit within which they were signed) only last as long as circumstances are in your favour? ...or do you stand by your word?

If I asked your business associates or customers the same question, would their answers agree with yours?

So, you are different. That's great! What about the people you manage? Have you said one thing, but put your people in a position that they can never deliver? Have you already identified the "scape goat" for your failed promise?

Ethical Debt is a line item on your moral balance sheet. You can talk all you want about honesty and transparency, but when the people look at the picture that is you, does the image align with what the public relations department has painted, or were they painting on a Buddha Board?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Keys To Collaboration - A Review

They say Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Unfortunately, teamwork can also cause nightmares. In The Keys To Collaboration: How to Build A Great Team or Fix the One You've Got, Lane Sherman provides practical and actionable guidance for success among teams. Many books on the subject of teamwork rely on broken metaphors or sports analogies. This book is for the busy professional who doesn't want to waste time reading such drivel, but wants some clear, no-nonsense direction.

In Part One, Mr. Sherman correctly points out that not all collections of individuals working toward a common goal are actually teams. An often overlooked consideration is the difference between Working Groups and Teams. This distinction is critical for leaders, as all other collaboration efforts hinge upon it. He then goes into the details of his Five Key Factors of Collaboration and explains the tasks that you, as a leader, will need to undertake.

In Part Two, the author guides you through the key conversations that will ensure that the team members are equipped for success. These conversations are related back to his Five Key Factors in a manner that is easy to understand and builds upon the foundation that was built in Part One.

Part Three covers the day to day management of the team. It is interesting to note that while entire books have been written on this part, it is one of the smallest parts in the book. This is the main differentiator between this book and others that you may have read on the subject of teams. The mechanics of team leadership are actually pretty basic. However without the first two parts, perfect execution of management does not guarantee success... which then makes the fourth part of this book so critical.

Part Four is most likely the reason you will purchase this book. Either something went wrong and now you need to fix it; or you want to avoid the dysfunctional teams you've had in the past. Here, the author provides six steps that again, build upon the foundation of his Five Key Factors of Collaboration to guide the team back to the path of success. Even if you are just starting a new team, this is an important section so that warning signs can be identified and corrections made early.

Parts Five and Six deal with tools and activities that will be very useful to most teams, but especially remote teams.

With almost 20 years of professional experience working with both groups and teams, I can vouch for the value of this book. You will certainly find yourself referring to it again and again, especially if you collaborate with dynamic teams.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who's Your Best Teacher?

Your best teacher is your last mistake.
Unknown image source. Please advise if you know who to credit.
I saw this today, and initially thought "yeah, that seems true," but then I quickly changed my mind. While recognizing the lessons that a mistake teaches is important, there exist many better teachers. The problem with this statement is that some mistakes are so expensive that they may render the lesson useless.

I occasionally say "Nobody is completely useless, they can always serve as a bad example." A better teacher is someone else's mistake. The beauty of this teacher is that it doesn't cost you anything.

Now if you just spend your time looking at other people's mistakes, you may be making the mistake of not focussing on your own business. That's where Management Consultants come in. Yes I know, we're not free (in fact most are not cheap either), but the money invested in hiring a management consultant can at least be budgeted.

So, your "best" teacher may actually be a management consultant. You focus on running your business, and hire me to address the concerns that are keeping you up at night.

Let's talk. Give me a call for a free consultation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Company Culture vs. Freedom of Speech

Credit: Manymeez
Ontario's electricity distribution company, Hydro One, has fired an employee for interrupting a live interview with the now famous FHRITP taunt. For those of you who are not familiar with the FHRITP taunt, it equates less vulgarly to "have sexual intercourse with her". The language used is quite profane and the way it is delivered, in this case anyways, is one of encouraging the male being interviewed to not take the lady seriously, and to view her merely as a sex toy.

So now that I have given you the background, let's discuss Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello's decision to fire the individual in question. Some people have pointed out that the individual in question was not, at the time of the incident, representing Hydro One; and in fact, even Marcello acknowledged that the Hydro One leadership didn't know that he was an employee when they first discussed it. This person was not wearing any Hydro One branding, so Hydro One's reputation was not at stake. For these reasons, may people feel that he is being unfairly punished for exercising his freedom of speech. Many people feel he shouldn't have been punished at all, while others feel that the punishment was too severe.

I submit to you that he is not being punished at all. He is merely experiencing the consequences for his actions. He had, and exercised, the right to say whatever he wanted wherever he wanted to say it. Good for him. Was the statement that he made worth losing his job over? ...his reputation? ...his pension? I kind of doubt it. It's not like he was protesting some great injustice. He was being a buffoon. He was wasting the fifteen minutes of fame to which we are supposedly all entitled.

What about Hydro One? While their former employee had the right to free speech, I would suggest that Hydro One has the right to determine what kind of person fits in its culture, and what kind does not. Somebody who is willing to use that kind of language on a public (and recorded) platform, would also use that kind of language in a private setting where, perhaps, a single female employee is surrounded by men. This is not a question of defending Hydro One's reputation. This is a question of showing the women who work for Hydro One that the statements of equality that they make are not mere rhetoric. It is a question of doing what is right, regardless of the fallout.

No doubt some left-wing labour lawyer is going to try to take Hydro One and Mr. Marcello to court over this dismissal. I hope that when the dust settles, a precedent is set that gives companies the courage to respond in a similar way in the future. Our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters deserve more respect than morons such as this former Hydro One employee have demonstrated.

Well done Mr. Marcello and Hydro One! In my opinion, you have earned a healthy #EthicalCredit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gambling on Bailouts

Credit: Phil Long
So, according to the Business News Network (BNN), "Canadian taxpayers [will] lose $3.5B on [the] 2009 bailout of auto firms". Does this surprise you?

If a company cannot make it on it's own, what made anyone think that bailing it out of trouble would change anything? It's just a matter of time before the big automakers come, hat in hand, looking for more. Of course, the unions wouldn't agree. As reported in the BNN story, the unions would rather see the government strong-arm the companies into expanding operations. After all, the unions are big business, and they want a bailout too. That $3.5B would have been much more usefully invested in public transportation, or some clean energy venture.

If you open a generic donut shop next to a Tim Horton's, should you be surprised that it fails? One of the reasons that the Future Shop stores are closing is because they are often located in the same neighbourhoods as Best Buy. I'm just glad that nobody from the government offered to bail them out. The fact of the matter is that poorly run companies close. Likewise, employees who demand concessions that force the companies into a bad position, lose jobs. It's all very unfortunate, but not very surprising.

There are many people with new clean energy ideas that don't have the funds to get started. If the federal and provincial governments are prepared to just throw away $3.5B, imagine the jobs that could have been created if they just gifted $1M to 3,500 companies in the clean energy sector. Imagine the progress that we could make on climate change? Rather than Canada being a manufacturer of greenhouse gas emitting machines, I for one would like to see Canada become the world leader in clean energy research and development.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Blessed are the Flexible.

"Flexibility" credit: Shelley Rodrigo
Is agility in government even possible? According to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Canada's Public Policy Forum, it may be. While I would certainly applaud any effort to make government more effective and efficient, my experience in the software industry tells me that their biggest risk will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Software development methodologies have evolved quite dramatically since the days of Alan Turing. Usually, its evolution was brought about by advances in technology that made the next methodology possible. Where programmers once had to manually colour in little numbered boxes on punch cards in order to convey their instructions, we can now write computer programs that are almost natural language. I don't imagine the day is too far off when computers will be programmed in a conversational manner similar to the science fiction of the 1980s.

I had the good fortune to witness the evolution into Agile Software Development. This approach did away with complex, fully documented designs that required multiple sign-offs in order to proceed, and even more sign-offs to change; and was intended to replace it with high-level designs, and multiple smaller steps allowing for course correction as needed. The problem that many development shops faced was that the move to "agility" was misinterpreted as doing away with all up-front design. They effectively threw their software babies out with the design bathwater. The promises of agility were often not realised because entire sections of code had to be rewritten for the lack of forward planning.

The authors of the above mentioned report make some very good observations. The identification of: AdaptabilityInnovationCollaborationVisibility, and Velocity as key elements that define agility is a good start. Furthermore, the approaches they suggest for the public service leadership to achieve agility certainly have merit. However, I feel that two elements still threaten our proverbial baby. A clear definition of agile, and buy-in from all stakeholders.

It is imperative that the pillars of public service such as accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency be preserved. They may be modified to reflect the new reality, however they must not be abandoned in the same way that many programmers abandoned forward planning. As a tax payer, I still expect my government to work for me in the most efficient and effective way, and I still expect them to be accountable. There is no more room for multi-million dollar boondoggles.

In order to succeed, this move to agility will involve a complete organizational transformation. Anyone who has studied the subject will tell you that one of the key elements to success in such transformation is obtaining stakeholder buy-in. And at the risk of sounding cynical, I suspect THAT will be the biggest hurdle. Whether it is the combative relationships between management and the various unions; or the partisan political influences on the civil service; or the arm twisting of the unions and other lobby groups on politicians; or the fiefdom building efforts of middle-managers; I find it very difficult to imagine a restructuring plan that would satisfy the various stakeholders enough that they would not only tolerate it, but become its champion.

I hope I am wrong. As with the software industry; when it is done correctly, there are huge benefits to be had by being agile and receptive to change.

There's a proverb to the effect of:
Blessed are the flexible.
They shall not get bent out of shape.

Here's to flexibility.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Let's Play Damage Control

Credit: US Navy (CC-by-2.0)
Have you ever tried to put toothpaste back in the tube? Maybe shaving cream back into the can? How about words back into your mouth? The first one is hard; the second one, much harder; the third... impossible.

I was reading a story today about a father of a young girl with #CerebralPalsy. Dad would regularly bring his daughter to a particular indoor play establishment in Guelph, Ontario. Though the establishment had a policy of socks only, an exception has always been made for this little girl because she needed to wear her shoes and braces in order to climb on the play structures. I don't want to mention names (against my instinct as a father of a special needs child), because I am trying to make a general point, not point out a single incident. Having said that, if you are on Facebook and live in or near Guelph, Ontario; you probably know to which incident I am referring. As it turned out, at this particular visit, the owner of the establishment was present, and enforced her rules much more stringently than any of her employees have in the past. The father and daughter were shown the door, and forced to drive to a neighbouring town to complete the play date. As a result of the angry posts of this girl's parents, the establishment in question was so overrun with negative feedback that they decided to shut down their Facebook page. Unfortunately for this company, all that they accomplished with that action is to remove themselves from the conversation. 

So, what went wrong? Well, as with most similar incidents, this is the result of a comedy of errors.
1) Employees should have brought the exception to the attention of management.
I understand that this would have been a tough thing to expect of an employee. "Uhm, boss, yesterday I broke the rules, and I thought you should know about it." But maybe, the first visit would have been the place to cut this off at the pass. If the owner had a reputation as being an ethical entrepreneur, her employees might have been willing to ask the father for his contact information and say "I'm sorry, but right now I have to enforce the rules. I will discuss this situation with my boss and have her call you to discuss what options are possible in the future." While the father and daughter would have still been upset, they would have had the comfort of knowing that it was not impossible, just not possible now.
2) The owner and the father should have looked for alternatives that would address all concerns.
Now I don't know what would have been a possible alternative, I know very little about Cerebral Palsy, but a dialog with two experts (the owner as an expert in play structures, and the father as an expert in Cerebral Palsy), must have been able to come up with alternatives. Would it be safe for the little girl to where dad's socks over top of her shoes and braces? If not dad's socks, perhaps some other rubberized covering.
3) The organization should have stayed in the conversation.
Here is the attempt at damage control that the owner put out on Facebook just before the page went down:
The parents have since argued (adequately in my opinion) the first two points.
It was bad enough that the owner didn't stay in the conversation directly with the parents. Had she done that, and conveyed a sense of empathy and a desire to find a solution, the parents would probably not have launched their campaign to boycott the establishment. The entire thing would have been resolved without threatening the bottom line. 
In fact, the parents would probably have bragged about the care that the establishment had given them and the owner may have been sitting on a nice Ethical Credit. Instead, buy "pleading the fifth" and shutting down the Facebook page, the owner is now burdened with Ethical Debt, from under which she may never escape.
In The Art of the Start 2.0, @Guy Kawasaki points out how lawyers should be used. Rather than asking a layer if you should do something, Kawasaki says that you should say "This is what I want to do. Now, keep me out of jail." In my opinion, if you need a lawyer's advice on how to handle an irate customer, you've let it go too far.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What's the FUTURE of SHOPping?

Based on photo by Andrew Todd Phillips (CC-BY-SA-2.0)
Here we go again! CBC is reporting that another 1500 retail jobs are lost in Canada as Best Buy shuts down its Future Shop subsidiary. Best Buy bought Future Shop in 2001. I would have expected them to have sorted out the competing stores well before now.

I get it, big fish eat little fish, and there will always be a bigger fish. As I understand it, the employees are being well treated and presented with choices. But this still annoys me. Another Canadian brand dies at the hands of an American company.

The Government of Canada should force any companies that buy Canadian businesses to leave the country if they find that they cannot make it here, and restore the brands they destroyed. In this case, it should be the Best Buy stores that are closing, and the Future Shop stores that remain. It may sound like semantics, but every day, Canada is losing a little of its identity.

Admittedly, the real trouble is that Future Shop shareholders valued the $580M more than the pride of owning a piece of a successful Canadian brand. I suppose in hindsight, they are probably happy to have been rid of it instead of having to do battle with the American giant.

In the end, this is another example of a retailer shooting itself in the foot. They say it's because they are losing to online shopping, but they are hosting online shopping websites. Retailers have to provide value to the consumer that cannot be matched in the online world, and focus their efforts on that. Here's a common scenario. You go into a retailer and stand in the aisle comparing two products. Magically, a sales associate appears and asks if you need help. You say "Yes, I'd like to know what's different between these two brands other than the $50 price difference." And the well meaning sales associate proceeds to read the two boxes. You walk away thinking to yourself: "I should have just read the reviews online and ordered it there."

Monday, March 23, 2015

What Makes a Great Leader?

Credit: Scott Maxwell
I read a discussion today from McKinsey & Company entitled Decoding leadership: What really matters. The authors discuss a study they conducted to try to identify "what sort of leadership behavior organizations should encourage". It seems that the researchers really conducted an exhaustive study. I congratulate them on their work.

A survey 189,000 people in 81 medium to large organizations, identified 4 key leadership behaviours that the strongest leaders possess. While that is interesting, what I find alarming is that the list of "20 possible types of behavior" that they used does not include  any mention of Ethics or Integrity. In fairness, some of the behaviours might be seen as ethical traits, but they aren't traits that would prevent Ethical Debt.
Where is the mention of Honesty, Fairness, Trustworthiness, Beyond Reproach, etc. Sure number 9 is "Foster mutual respect", and while that is important, it doesn't scream out "Always do the right thing".

My grandfather used to be an accountant. I remember a story that I heard about him that went something like this:
Someone approached one of his clients and asked for an introduction to my grandfather as they were looking for someone to fix their books so that they wouldn't have to pay so much tax. Apparently, my grandfather's client told him "Don't bother asking Mr. Rochow, he would never do that kind of book-keeping."
That is the kind of ethics that all leaders should possess and cultivate in their organizations. You want a reputation that is so ethical that nobody would ever even consider asking you to do something that is not above board. That is the way to avoid Ethical Debt.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Do You Feel The Heat Yet?

A Frog in a pot
credit: James Lee
I read this article from CBC Marketplace today. I won't spell out what my initial thought was verbatim, but suffice it to say that it was along the lines of "how dishonest is that?" Basically, what Marketplace is reporting is that food packages have been shrinking in order to keep "prices" constant. They provide several examples such as:
«Last year, Maple Leaf Foods shrunk packages of 500 g of bacon to 375 g, a 25 per cent reduction.»
I'm sure that such tactics do not fool anyone who has taken a Home Economics course in school. But what about the people who haven't? This kind of tactic is preying on the segment of the population that need value the most. The other day as a treat for my son, I took him to McDonald's for lunch. I don't remember the last time I ate anything from that particular fast food chain, so imagine my surprise at how small the "Big" Mac is now. When I mentioned it to my wife she said, "Yeah, they've been getting smaller for a while."

It reminds me of a story I heard many years ago. If you want to cook a frog, you have to do so slowly or it will become rubbery. (I don't know why anyone would want to eat a frog, it's just an illustration.) To maintain the perfect texture, apparently you put the frog into a pot of cold water and then, ever so gradually, turn up the heat. The frog will get cooked without even noticing that it is taking place.

Now I have long since maintained that one has to be vigilant when shopping. But this, in my opinion, is another question of corporate ethics, and #EthicalDebt. I used to hold Maple Leaf Foods in pretty high regard. Now that they are pulling this stunt, I will scrutinize all of their products much more closely. It won't take too many more incidents like this before that brand is forever tarnished in my eyes.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. Is this practice dishonest, or is it justified? Which would be more likely to cause you stop buying your favourite brands: 1) a gradual increase in price, 2) a gradual reduction in package size?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is Ethical Debt?

As ethics are the moral compass of a society, and society is constantly evolving,
are questions of ethics still valid?

« Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. »
("The more things change, the more they stay the same.")
-- Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes, January 1849.

Each generation thinks that the next generation is wild and reckless. My grandparents were likely taken aback by the introduction of Rock and Roll to modern society. They would certainly have preferred the works of J.S. Bach. However, if I'm not mistaken (and I might be) J.S. Bach was branded a heretic in his day! Now there is obviously a huge difference between socially acceptable music and ethics. I suspect however, that societal ethics don't actually change as much as we might think.

If one considers the Occupy Wall Street movement that started a few years ago, the protesters were against corporate greed at the expense of the less fortunate. Basically, as the theory goes, 1% of the population is living off the backs of the other 99%. Now I don't entirely buy that, however the point of Ethical Debt is that, as far as most people are concerned, this could be true. Ethical Debt must be managed in the same way as financial debt. The impact of financial debt is obvious. We can only continue incurring more financial debt for so long before our creditors pull their purse strings tight, and refuse to offer any more. There may be situations where debt must be incurred, however the longer that debt stays on the books, the more expensive it is to remove it from the books.

Ethical Debt is not Karma

Many readers may at this point think I am referring to the mystical concept of Karma. This would be a misunderstanding. Karma implies that when you do good, at some time in the future, in some unrelated fashion, good will be done to you. The opposite side of Karma holds that when you do evil, evil will be done to you. Ethical debt on the other hand, says that when you stretch the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour, society is less and less likely to trust you. To illustrate this, let's take a look at Bill Gates. With respect, Bill Gates is renown as an aggressive businessman. He has caught the ire of many around the world for what outwardly appeared to be a profit at all costs approach to his leadership at Microsoft. Since stepping down from an active role at Microsoft, Mr. Gates and his wife have started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We work with partner organizations worldwide to tackle critical problems in four program areas. Our Global Development Division works to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. Our Global Health Division aims to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in developing countries. Our United States Division works to improve U.S. high school and postsecondary education and support vulnerable children and families in Washington State. And our Global Policy & Advocacy Division seeks to build strategic relationships and promote policies that will help advance our work. Our approach to grantmaking in all four areas emphasizes collaboration, innovation, risk-taking, and, most importantly, results. [source]
Since its inception, the Gates Foundation has given away nearly $33 Billion, yet Mr. Gates continues to be portrayed in social media as some sort of evil mastermind. How many more billions of dollars will the Gates family have to give away before the Ethical Debt is off the books?

Another illustration is the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. Is there anything that Russian President Vladimir Putin could say or do to make the world believe that he was not involved? The fact is that what Mr. Putin does speaks so loudly that nobody can hear what he says.

The opposite side of Ethical Debt (ie: Ethical Credit) is also true. George Washington is attributed with the quote: "It's better to be alone than to be in bad company." Of course, there is no way to validate that this was ever uttered by Washington, or that he is its original source, but his reputation is such that we believe it to be true.

What Does This Mean For You?

Canadian citizens are, for the most part, highly respected around the world. In fact, it is a matter of national pride that a Canadian can travel just about anywhere in the world, and as long as he or she displays a Canadian flag, open doors and smiles will be plentiful. However, an article in The Huffinton Post from the 9th of February 2015 entitled Canadian Businesses 2nd-Most Trusted In The World: Survey drew attention to the Ethical Debt balance sheet among Canadian companies. (Though they didn't call it that.)

The story points out that "Canada saw the largest drop in trust in business of any of the 27 countries surveyed." What this tells me is that Canadian companies are trading internationally on the reputation of our citizens. The rest of the world trusts Canadian businesses almost implicitly, but the people who know us best (those within our borders) don't trust us like they used to.

This is a wake-up call to all businesses. Correct your Ethical Debt before you have no reputation left upon which to trade.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Art of the Start 2.0 - a Review

If you're looking for a book to show you the easy way to start a business, keep looking. But if you're looking for a book that will tell you how it really is, this is your book. In The Art of the Start 2.0, Guy Kawasaki breaks down the process of starting a business into clear steps. What he doesn't do is sugar coat it. This book should be required reading as part of every MBA program.

If you are not familiar with Kawasaki's writing style, you may be caught off guard... in a good way. It is decidedly refreshing to read an entrepreneurial book that cuts the crap, and tells it like it is. The world is full of Nike-preneur Evangelists telling you to "Just Do It", but very few telling you "How". Don't expect this book to take away the fear of starting a new venture, but you can expect this book to help you avoid certain key mistakes.

I have read the first Art of the Start ten years ago, this is much more than just a rehash of version 1.0. This book is filled with many new concepts that didn't even exist 10 years ago. To say that this is just a better Art of the Start is like saying the Ferrari is just a better Model T. In version 2.0, Kawasaki revisits several areas that were covered in 1.0, but where changes in society and technology require a new approach. Since my copy of The Art of the Start 1.0 grew legs and walked out of my library, I can't tell you how much of my impression that this version is better is attributed to the revision, and how much is attributed to me being ten years older and more mature. But either way, whether or not you read The Art of the Start, you owe it to yourself to read this revision. You won't be sorry.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What to do in a Crisis

When written in Chinese, the word "Crisis" is comprised of two characters, one that represents "Danger" and one that represents "Opportunity". Combined they refer to dangerous opportunities.
That explains a lot. Whenever I have encountered crises, I have always experienced a sense of dread for a pending danger. The challenge is how to react to that perception of danger.

Do you run? ...

Do you fight? ...

... or, do you look for the opportunity?

I would encourage you to look for the opportunity. Be respectful of the dangers, for sure. But don't forget to look for the opportunities.

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Succeed at Organizational Change

Sometimes the Grass IS Greener
It is quite common for people to be envious of a neighbour's greener grass. Often, such envy leads employees to seek employment elsewhere. For the business owner however, that is not an option. Part of the allure of entrepreneurship is the challenge of making your own grass greener than the neighbour's. This is not always that easy. Change can be a frightening thing. However, the browner your grass, the more urgent it is to start changing. At the risk of taking this metaphor too far: sometimes all that is needed is a little watering; other times some fertilizer must be applied (please avoid b.s.); sometimes there are weeds to be pulled; and sometimes, the best approach is to torch it and start all over.

It is often said that the only thing that doesn't change is change itself. So before going into a discussion of how to change, it is important to start with a caveat. Despite my light-hearted introduction, do not institute changes for their own sake. Remember that your stakeholders are people. We are all already confronted with change in our lives at a pace that continues to accelerate. Too much change, too often can lead to burn out. If change is warranted, ensure that sufficient time is given for those affected by the change to adapt to it, and recover from it.

Regardless how severe the change, all organizational change must go through the same basic stages. Kurt Lewin referred to these stages as unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. I don't particularly like the frozen analogy, because it implies a state that can only be affected by an external force, yet the most successful changes come from within. Regardless what you call them however, it is important to recognize that organizational change involves more than just applying some specific changes. It requires effort to prepare for the change, and requires effort to internalize the change (Lewin's unfreezing and refreezing respectively).

The actual act of changing is, in and of itself, not difficult. It is a decidedly mechanical function of considering options, analyzing merit, risk, and other factors, and implementing the best option. However changes often fail, and usually it is the result of failure to adequately prepare for and internalize the change.

Preparing for change involves communicating the urgency of the situation that demands the change. This can be an uncomfortable task for an entrepreneur as it exposes frailties. Often entrepreneurs will want to present a certain air of infallibility. This would be a mistake. By conveying urgency and taking the stakeholders into one's trust, one will have an easier time of generating buy in. It is well known that people support what they help create.

Next identify team members who will guide the change effort. Ideally, this group should be comprised of representatives from all stakeholder groups. There are exceptions of course. For example, suppliers may be stakeholders, but it is not always appropriate to include them in this group. It is very important at this stage to ensure that this group is empowered to develop the required change strategy, and that this empowerment is communicated clearly to the entire organization.

There, now that we have adequately prepared, changing can take place.

Once the analysis of the change has been completed, and the change has been implemented, it is vital to communicate the empowerment of all stakeholders to contribute to the success of the change. This involves, among other things, identification and removal of obstacles. It never ceases to amaze me that a great deal of effort would go into planning and executing change, and then the change fails because the staff are blocked by an artefact of "the way we always do it." The stakeholders need to be assured from the very top of the organization that this change is sanctioned, and that any observations as to how it can be enhanced are welcome.

Immediately following implementation, it is vital to look for, and celebrate, wins. Initially, they will be small wins. Take them. Success breeds success. Communicating these wins will encourage a culture that seeks success. The stakeholders will begin to look for other ways that will demonstrate that the change was worthwhile. This will not only reinforce the current change, but it will also serve to grease the wheels of future change.

As more and more examples of success come to the front, ensure that all stakeholders are given the opportunity to learn from the collective lessons. Seek out opportunities to cross-pollinate. How can lessons from one group, say Operations, be integrated into the practices of another group such as Sales. This cross-pollination will act as a multiplier effect, creating yet more success. Often, it produces a certain amount of friendly competition as each groups strives to be recognised for their victories.

Monitoring the progress, and documenting success, failures, and lessons learned, will reinforce the change. By involving all stakeholders, and rewarding those who produced the most significant gains, the culture of the organization will evolve into one that is less stagnant and more receptive to change.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some mowing to do.


Photo Credit: Sometimes the Grass IS Greener by: tinyfroglet (