Part 9 in our Change Management Considerations Series
Effective change management absolutely requires us to cut loose our curiosity. Our curiosity must be extreme. Our curiosity must be continuous. Situational awareness must be uppermost.
First things first – a Culture Inquisition is imperative. Inquiries into the nature of the current culture must be intense. The inquiries must be safe for stakeholder participation – no possible retribution regarding their individual responses. Responses must be structured into a form for analysis and include the ability to identify the perceptions of the overall organization, sub-organizations, and work groups. It should be an Electronic Interview, not a survey. It should incorporate the principles of the Delphi Technique:
Early on in the Apollo program there were meetings of 10-20 scientists and engineers to address key problems. We were getting nowhere in these meetings. Different individuals had their opinions and dug in on their solutions. It got to a point very quickly that giving in would damage reputations. Putting forth a differing or wrong point of view could cost relationships. Chaos reigned. Emotions were high. Personal accusations were becoming fierce. Then, a miracle.
One gentleman from the Rand Corporation suggested we use the Delphi Technique to address the issues. Most in the room nodded in agreement, I had no idea what they were talking about.
Thankfully, the gentleman went on to explain: we put a problem, or question, or issue we want to resolve at the top of a piece of paper. Everyone gets the paper and writes their opinions, suggestions, solutions, consequences, etc., without identifying who they are. We then have someone external to our group review the responses and construct the data for us to discuss and analyze further.
This process brought up a lot of new issues and thoughts that on the surface appeared outlandish but turned out to be shear genius and right on. Several things thought to be readily acceptable by the group were discarded as controversial detail became known. It was amazing how everyone began focusing on the problems instead of each other or themselves. When new issues were identified and positions began to development amongst the participants, a new Delphi round was conducted with the new issues. It really worked.
One outcome of using the Delphi process was that it soon became necessary only for the most highly controversial clashes of opinions. Team members became more comfortable in speaking up.
This approach, applied to our Culture Inquisition, would enable us to acquire meaningful understanding of the issues affecting change implementation by:
- gathering the real perceptions people have about issues,
- minimizing the effects of political pressures on employee communications,
- structuring intelligence data for effective analysis,
- uncovering hidden barriers and issues,
- enabling ALL stakeholders to participate in change definition and implementation,
- removing the fear of retribution for expressing unpopular opinions,
- identifying misunderstandings,
- identifying ineffective processes, rules, and protocols,
- identifying the key elements essential to workforce focus,
- enabling management visibility and control over change activities, and
- enabling development of plans and support for continuous improvements.
The components of the quest for authentic information about the culture include:
- Determining the functional areas, or key activities, for investigation.
- Developing the questions/issues for measuring the perceptions of those in each functional area.
- Identifying the demographics – teams, work groups, organizational units with a minimum of 3-5 members to focus analysis and protect anonymity.
- Creating the Electronic Interview for gathering perceptions of each functional area. Three responses for each issue being required:
- Status perception on a Likert scale,
- Importance to the respondent in doing their job,
- Text comments – comments and suggestions.
- Enabling the Electronic Interview through a third party – securing anonymity.
- Organizing responses for analysis in a relational database – providing summary indexes and drill down into demographic areas.
- Analysis of data including:
- Prioritization of concerns by each demographic group,
- Development of themes from comments – identification of the consistency of perceptions across demographics,
- Validation of findings with key individuals and focus groups,
- Identification of additional issues (surprises) for further analysis.
- Developing action plan with validation by stakeholders.
- Developing continuous Culture Situational Awareness – managing the culture.
The Culture Inquisition begins by considering what functional activities have the most effect on change implementation.
There are numerous activities, or functional areas, that affect what is done and how it is done. Each organization is unique and is influenced by these functional areas in varying degrees. Initially, we should prioritize/customize no more than 12 areas for our interview. Among the functional areas that influence the effectiveness of the culture are:
- Action Bias
- Career Development
- Change Leadership
- Critical Thinking
- Day-1 Culture
- Decision Making
- Emotional Intelligence
- Employee Value
- Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
- External Perceptions
- Influencing Others
- Job Satisfaction
- Management Style
- Management Support
- Motivating Others
- People Skills
- Perception Management
- Performance Management
- Risk Management
- Strategy Development & Alignment
- Team Building
- Work Environment
- Working from Home (WFH)
Functional areas are operational enablers that are critical in meeting accountabilities. They are both supported and restricted by the perceived culture. Their influence and importance varies from group to group. Definitions of these enablers, as they pertain to a specific organization, will set a basis for what needs to be measured. For example for Action Bias, we could start with this definition:
Demonstrated tendency to avoid procrastination by taking quick and decisive actions. Requires embracing empowerment, clear rules of engagement, reductions in approvals, clear problem definitions, clear goals, and effective communications protocols.
Experience with statements or questions that elicit valuable insights into the perceptions of participants have indicated that a general statement triggers more thinking about the issue. A specific question keeps the respondent too focused on just that issue. A more general question fosters more thinking. As an example, for Action Bias:
Current practices are best described by:
A. Decision making is timely and actions are taken quickly.
B. Procrastination rules – it takes forever to make decisions and initiate actions.
Responses to this question in the past have given rise to extremely valuable insights. Figure 1 shows how the question was presented to participants.
We then consider what we could ask people, via our Electronic Interview, to measure the perceptions of this functional area. For example:
A question or issue is stated, and the participant selects 2 options to express their satisfaction and importance of the issue. They are asked to add confidential comments and recommendations in a text box. In practice, this stated issue has given rise to critical comments related to all the details in our definition.
The first valuable insight we obtain is the respondents perception of the tendency for quick action vs. procrastination, based on their overall experiences in doing their job. This response shows how strongly it affects them personally.
The second valuable insight is the respondents perception of the level of importance quick action vs. procrastination has on them. If it doesn’t affect them directly, it will be less important to them.
The third valuable insight is the difference between these two responses. If procrastination is predominant and the respondent perceives it as very important, it is insufficient as a function supporting their work. If the tendency is procrastination but the respond finds it unimportant, then it’s sufficient for them. No improvement is necessary – for them.
The fourth valuable insight – respondent comments. Here are some examples from 132 comments made on Action Bias:
“Current situations requiring decisions are more complex than many give them credit for. We tend to move too fast and address issues inadequately because of our inadequate analysis of the problem. I feel we need to slow down and quit shooting from the hip. Proper analysis is different from procrastination.”
“Decision makers don’t seem to be aware of the real situation when they make decisions. They don’t ask questions and when they do they don’t listen. Resulting directives typically introduce new problems.”
“Over the year, this has gotten worse. Many managers don’t seem to feel secure in the data or the expected outcomes and have become very tentative in their management approach. As this attitude trickles down, lag times increase dramatically. Management is very indecisive and is always asking for more and more information while delaying making decisions and giving approvals.”
“Seems like everything has to be approved these days. Management control needs to be re-evaluated.”
“Empowerment evaporates more every day as management gets more and more involved. We were doing so well with agile. Suddenly there is interference and micro management from a lot of sources (Tech Support, users, other managers/directors in IT) – unbelievable. Seems as though everyone has lost their trust and confidence very quickly in my team! Recommendation – everyone go away or quit procrastinating and DECIDE!”
The comments add another dimension to situational awareness. Specific themes begin to appear in going through the comments for each question (functional areas). Highlighted in yellow above, we can see the beginnings of issues related to situational awareness, empowerment, communications, trust, and micro management. The issues these comments suggest are typically verifiable from other perspectives by comments made in response to the other questions in the Electronic Interview. This is great material to take into a focus group for discussion.
We mentioned earlier that our database of responses needs to be structured for analysis. This “knowledge Bank” of information is summarized with a roll up of averages. Figure 2 shows the summary for 75 responses to the Action Bias inquiry.
These “Indexes” are generated by converting the responses to numbers from 1-100 (lowest to highest selection in Figure 1). Importance (IMP) average is very high and Satisfaction (SAT) is not so good. The 83 under Importance is the Agreement Index and measures how closely the 75 respondents were to the same perception. The Satisfaction Agreement Index shows considerable variation of perceptions. The Sufficiency (SUF) perceived by the respondents is a measure of their frustration with this issue.
Looking a little deeper with a radar chart to show the differences in perceptions for some of the demographic groups, we see the variation of perceptions. For example, the Agile teams are more affected by Action Bias than the Water Fall (WF) Teams.
The space between the Importance (outside line) and Satisfaction (inside line) is a good picture of the amount of frustration the respondents have with the Action Bias issue. A lot of energy is being wasted as well as productivity caused by perceptions of procrastination.
We can also look further at the distribution of these 75 respondents:
We can also select one of the lines on the distribution chart to see what demographic groups those respondents are in – those that are most satisfied and those that are least satisfied.
With this relational database we have a Knowledge Bank for serious analyses. We can develop themes, priorities, and focus areas for improvements. We can then begin gaining participation of the stakeholders and validation of the issues with interviews and focus groups.
We should avoid beginning our Inquisition with interviews of “key people.” We should avoid initial “focus groups.” We should not depend on data from our direct reports. We should not send consultants out to interview people. Not yet.
A point for consideration: Starting with face-to-face interviews leads to knowledge contamination.
- Most interviewers are not skilled at getting to authentic information.
- Questions are inconsistent – wording, body language, and tone of voice affect the answers obtained.
- Tendency of interviewers is to form judgements and then ask questions that confirm their beliefs.
- Information collected by interviewers is interpreted and changed as it is reported to others.
- Those being interviewed will be cautious and will look for what the interviewer is expecting, modifying their responses accordingly.
- Initial interviews are labor intensive and scary for victims of this type of inquisition.
Envision an interview with an employee where you present results from an Electronic Interview and say “this is what most people are saying in your area, what do you think about it?”. In an individual interview as well as a focus group, it will have the same result the Apollo program groups experienced – very open discussions about sensitive issues.
The point is that interviews with people will be highly focused when they are presented with sensitive inputthey are reluctant to bring up that has already been identified by others. It becomes safer to comment and bring forth different perspectives. Revelations will come from this approach.
An additional benefit of the electronic Interview approach is that participants will have a sense of participation. They will become partners in identifying and fixing problems instead of becoming victims of defocused solutions that introduce new, unexpected problems.
Some key points for consideration about change management:
- Managing change is a continuous, day-to-day effort. It is not a one-time special project (Change Management is Management. Management is Change Management).
- Situational Awareness is the most critical aspect of managing change. Knowing what’s going on and where it’s going on is a continuous activity.
- Situational Awareness requires creating, maintaining, and supporting an environment that removes recrimination from collaboration.
- The Culture is the guidance system for what is done and how it’s done. Manage the Culture or it will manage you.
- Curiosity is one of the most powerful characteristics of those who successfully manage on-going change.
- Critical Thinking is the foundation and core for managing change.
- The nature of people, behavior styles, behavior flexing, learning styles – are among the most effective tools to practice for creating and maintaining a change effective environment.
- Do you have a trusted advisor, external to your work environment, that you can use to bounce ideas off and get honest, useful feedback?