A few years ago I went back to the town I went to school in. I met up with some friends I had been to school with, (a long time ago!). When I met my friends they were sitting with an old man who I vaguely recognised. It turned out he had been a teacher at my school. We had a very pleasant evening reminiscing over old times. I enjoyed the company of my old teacher.
Like many people who post on LinkedIn, I am deeply interested in the development of leadership and management disciplines - how we can continue to make them better. One way we can improve the way we work is to identify best practices and then apply them more widely. And this seems to be a commonly accepted approach. I want to express a bit of scepticism about this approach.
I’m about three quarters of the way through Proust’s magnum opus In Search of Lost Time. This novel has somewhat over 1.2 million words. It’s long - very long - and rather little happens in it. It is made up of a series of relatively trivial events bound together by the author’s observation and comments on those events. It’s not Game of Thrones.
I can try to give you a simple explanation of the book: “self-obsessed, sickly, rich guy’s musing on life and love in early twentieth century Paris”, but such a simple explanation hardly gives you a flavour of the book. I can’t really give you a good simple explanation of the book. You need to read some of it if you want to get a sense – and quite a lot of it to get a real understanding.
The stakeholder universe is becoming ever more complex for organizations. It has always been a challenge to determine which groups of stakeholders to focus on. Current trends are exacerbating this.
Traditionally there were three main types of stakeholders organizations had to consider. Firstly, there were the owners and funders of the business, such as shareholders and banks, ensuring their needs were being met by the organization’s performance and strategy. Secondly, there was the internal audience of staff and work colleagues, making sure they were motivated and understood the organization’s direction. Thirdly, was the external audiences of customers and suppliers, making sure they were happy to keep buying and supplying.
On most projects thinking sooner or later turns to stakeholders. Unfortunately, it is usually later rather than sooner. Stakeholder management is regularly kicked off only when there is a problem with stakeholders.
I have a client whose chief executive has been talking up a strategic change. He has adopted a set of words to encapsulate, explain and encourage the change. He uses them a lot. If you listen to the words of the CEO everything will soon be profoundly different from the way they are now.
The words imply change. Radical change. As someone who spends his life helping organizations with change, I am interested in these words.
We all do it all the time: we communicate, we interpret and we connect. We communicate through our words, body language, tone, actions and behaviours. And we constantly interpret everyone else’s words and behaviours. We start doing this as soon as we are born. When we get this right we form strong connections.
There is one type of change that results in more eye rolling, cynical comments and coffee machine jokes than any other. I am talking about changes that go under names like “cultural change”, “new values” or “behavioural change”. Announce an initiative of this type and many of your team will be sceptical. They will be sceptical because they have seen it all before. They have observed many cultural change programs previously and noted that nothing really changed as a result of any of them.
Are you involved in change management? Do you take part in conversations about change management? Do you ever find yourself questioning what exactly change management is? It can at times seem like a rather vague discipline to get your head around.
Every so often, pretty much every organization embarks on transformational change. This title may be applied to a major program of systems, process or organizational change, or the transformation may be driven by something less tangible – such as altering organizational culture. Whatever it is, the organization wants to be different in a significant way.
There has been a whole lot written about the levels of success of organizational transformation programs. It makes sorry reading, but that’s not my subject today. I want to explore in this post is the inherent tension between business-as-usual operational performance and transformation. At heart, this is a conflict between doing a great job today and being able to do an even better job tomorrow.