Not all business strategies require the same degree of change to be considered successful. Many are simply a continuation of an already established path and destination. Others identify change in some areas of the business but those changes do not represent a significant departure from the status quo. Some strategies however require transformational change. These strategies are usually required when companies are either in deep trouble or pursuing significant and new market opportunities.Read More›
Process… just the mere use of the word can spread fear and panic in the workplace. This sad reality exists for a reason – 100% of companies unnecessarily suffer from a process problem. They suffer to varying degrees, but they are nonetheless suffering. The good news is bad process is one of the easiest things for leaders to remedy. By simply being willing to stop the madness and reclaim the asylum from the lunatics (inept leaders, lazy managers, and fee happy consultants), huge gains in morale and productivity can be quickly achieved.
With the plethora of conflicting information written about process design, implementation and management, combined with the nightmares we’ve all experienced as a result of bad process, many executives fear the pain associated with flawed process less than they value the benefits created by good process. How sad it that?
Here’s the thing – It’s not what you know, but what you don’t know about process, or perhaps what you’ve allowed process to represent that has left you fatigued and frustrated. I’m going to crawl out on a limb and make a bold claim: by the time you’ve finished reading this piece you’ll find the topic of process no longer creates untold amounts of brain damage, but has transitioned to something you’ll find altogether invigorating – trust me on this one…
One of the ways successful companies gain a competitive advantage is through creating process advantage. The problem is most companies are buried in process disadvantage. Good process is sophisticated (not complex), efficient (simple) and effective (usable and value added). Good business processes serve as the central nervous system for your organization providing a framework for every action, decision, activity or innovation to flow from and through. There are many who would say process stifles creativity and slows production, and while I would concur this statement is usually the case with bad process, nothing could be further from the truth as it relates to good process. Good process serves as a catalyst for innovation, which in turn optimizes and accelerates engagement, collaboration, work-flow, and enhances the overall productivity of business initiatives.
So, here’s where the fun and excitement comes in – I want you to place your business processes under the microscope using the following 7 points as filters for what processes you create, keep, refine or discard moving forward:
- The Right Mindset: If your business processes are perceived as a rigid set of mandates and rules, rather than a set of flexible guidelines – you’re in trouble. Good process should provide a fluid framework to inspire creativity not stifle it. Sound process encourages the use of good judgment, it shouldn’t insinuate people don’t have any judgment. Believe it or not, good process should allow people to take risks not preclude them from doing so. The debate shouldn’t be one of systems vs. talent, but systems and talent.
- The 20% Rule: I’ve yet to encounter a business that couldn’t eliminate 20% of their existing business processes and be better for it. You; yes you, are allowing the expenditure of precious time and resources on silly processes that add no value whatsoever – they should be eliminated immediately. Bad process is indicative of an unhealthy mindset that justifies anything currently existing as valuable. The fastest way to inject a breath of fresh air into your business is to give permission space to your workforce to tell you where bad process exists and then to do something about it.
- Design Matters: While good process can be inspired from anywhere, it should be designed by those closest to the work. Imposed mandates from above while often well intended, are rarely as effective as organic initiatives created by team members who most frequently interact with said process. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing consultants to “install” a “best practice” process. Rather, allow your team to create a next practices solution. By choosing the latter over the former you’ll save considerable time, money and frustration.
- Simplicity Matters: If your process isn’t simple, it’s going to be very expensive, not very usable, and probably not sustainable – put simply, it will fail. Whether evaluating new processes, or determining which ones to reengineer or discard, make simplicity a key consideration. Remember this – usability drives adoptability, and simplicity is the main determinant of usability.
- Don’t Think Product – Think Outcome: I know this will offend some, but process is not a new software program or application. While toolsets can enhance process or can become a by-product of process, they do not in and of themselves constitute process. Don’t get caught in the trap of perpetual spending or development as a solution. Recognize if you’re caught in this trap it’s a symptom of bad process not a reflection of good process.
- No Band-Aids: Good process is not reactionary. A series of bubble gum and bailing wire solutions put in place in haste as a knee-jerk reaction to the latest problem is not good process design. Process by default will never provide the benefits of good process engineering by design. Think long-term, and if you must, bridge with a phased solution, but be planful in approach.
- No Panacea: While good process will help optimize any business, it will not make up for shortcomings in other disciplines or functional areas. Process is not the main driver in business, but merely a critical support system built for enablement, delivery, accountability and measurement.
Good process comes as a by-product of clarity of purpose. It is the natural extension of values, vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives and tactics. It is in fact working down through the aforementioned hierarchy that allows process to be engineered by design to support mission critical initiatives. Recognition of the fact that you don’t start with process design, but that process design should be used as a refining framework to enable better execution is critical to the development of good process. Process is the part of the value chain that holds everything together and brings and ordered, programmatic, yet flexible discipline to your business.
Good process results in a highly usable infrastructure being adopted across the enterprise because it is effective for staff, and provides visibility and accountability for management, all of which increase the certainty of execution. Good process across all areas of the enterprise will result in elimination of redundancy and inefficiency, better engagement and collaboration, shortening of cycle times, better knowledge management and business intelligence, increased customer satisfaction, and increased margins.
I encourage you to not let apathy, negative experience based upon results of bad process or flawed implementations, or the fear of the unknown keep you from benefiting from the numerous advantages created by good process engineering. I would also strongly encourage you to evaluate all of your current processes so you can discard or re-engineer (simplify) bad process and improve upon good process, striving for excellence in process design. Now go to work and unleash some goodness of process…
The sustainability of any organization hinges on leadership’s ability to understand, embrace, and implement change. Whenever leaders are surveyed about what keeps them awake at night, “change” is usually at or near the top of the list. When change initiatives fail, so do leaders. When brands fall into decline, and organizations implode, it’s often due to a company’s inability to change. In today’s post, I’ll share three fresh approaches to change.
Try to envision a future without change… it’s nearly impossible to do, isn’t it? A world without change, a world frozen in time, a world stuck in a perpetual state of status quo – it’s certainly uninspired, and for me, it’s altogether unimaginable. While most of us hold a worldview that embraces, if not demands change, this isn’t always the case with business leaders. Sure, most leaders talk about change, but do they really lead it? Talking about innovation is not the same as bringing it to life.
The best evidence of the importance of change leadership is what occurs in its absence– mediocrity, irrelevance, and ultimately, obsolescence. Leaders concerned with the cost of change should be far more concerned about the cost of not changing. The best of human ingenuity and accomplishment are experienced through change. To learn, create, advance, develop, and sustain, we must change. If you accept this premise as true, then my question is this: why do so many businesses struggle with the practice of change? The answer is regrettably obvious– many leaders are simply inept at leading change.
Following are three ideas, which will help you lead change more effectively:
#1: Pull Change Forward
Stop talking about change as a theoretical future state and pull it forward into the present. Change is the path to the future, but the future isn’t some ethereal, distant event – it begins in just a fraction of a second. While all great leaders must navigate the present, they must do so in anticipation of the future. The best leaders understand the present is nothing more than a platform for the envisioning of, and positioning for, the future. If you want to lead more effectively, shorten the distance between the future and present.
#2: Change Is Not a Process – It’s A Mindset
Leading change is far more than a process– it’s a cultural mindset. Change requires leaders to embrace dissenting opinions, give voice to positional differences, and to constantly challenge static thinking. While leading change does require skill, it first requires a decision to value change, and then it demands the courage to act. Leadership isn’t about being right; it’s about achieving the right outcomes. Change must be more than a buzzword used by leadership – it must be embedded within the strategic vision, cultural design, and operating fabric of the enterprise. Leaders who protect the status quo through control must surrender to change in order to secure the future for their organization.
#3: Leadership IS Change
If there are no visible signs of change in your organization, I would suggest your leadership isn’t leading. Change must become a leadership competency and priority. Leaders who fail to deliver change will be replaced by those who can. Leadership is nothing if not fluid, flexible, and forward moving – none of these things can occur without an emphasis on change. In fact, I would go so far as to say “leadership IS change.”
Bonus: This is where it gets tricky – not all change is good change. Just as a lack of change can bring demise, Ill-conceived change, change solely for the sake of change, or change driven by hidden/self-serving agendas can ruin even category dominant brands. Make sure the drivers for change are in alignment with corporate values and vision, serve the best interests of the consumer, and lead to a higher purpose.
If you’re in a leadership role, it’s in the best interest of the organization, and those you lead, to embrace change at every level.
The fastest transition from inept to adept occurs when leaders turn the topic of change on themselves. When was the last time you changed something about you? Not someone or something else, but your thinking, your philosophy, your vision, your approach, your attitude, or your development. Most leaders are quite skilled at embracing change – except when the focus of the change initiative happens to be on them.
Turn Innovation Inward.
Innovation continues to be a hot topic, and rightly so. Few things can change the course of a project, career, company, category, or industry like successful efforts in innovation. That said, there is one aspect of business often-overlooked by change agents when it comes to innovation, and it also happens to be the area that offers the greatest potential returns – leadership. If we’re consistently talking about the importance of leading change, it should be just as important to recognize the importance of changing how we approach the practice of leadership. The truth of the matter is if leaders spent half as much time applying the rigor and discipline of change to themselves as they do talking about the practice to others, I wouldn’t be authoring this post.
The Practice of Leadership is in need of a Makeover – an Extreme One.
“Leadership” has been inappropriately hi-jacked by the politically correct who mock it, the avant-garde who belittle it, the naive who discount it, and the public who seems to be growing tired of hearing about it. There was a time when the dismissive attitude people displayed toward leadership befuddled me. I was left wondering how we could have arrived at such a place? How could something so valuable be trivialized by so many? Then it dawned on me – people are tired of leaders who talk about change, but fail to embrace the concept they too must change.
Are We Better Off Today?
Think about this for a moment – with all our experience and all the research, with all the resources and all the focus on leadership, do you find it perplexing, if not altogether disturbing, that our world has never been more lacking for true leaders? Casual observation might lead you to conclude leadership has devolved rather than evolved. If you pay close attention to the media and world events, it would appear those serving themselves greatly outnumber those who place service above self. Here’s the thing – we’ll never all agree on what leadership is, or is not, but I think most reasonable people will concur it’s time for a change.
Society has essentially commoditized leadership resulting in a leadership bubble of sorts. Because leadership has become the latest version of an entitlement program, too many unqualified leaders have been allowed to enter the ranks. When leadership is perceived as little more than a title granting access to a platform for personal gain, rather than a privilege resulting in an opportunity to serve, we’ll find it difficult to convince leaders of the need for change. We’ll also continue to find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. We must either convince poor leaders to change their approach or we must change leaders.
It’s The People – Always.
At its essence, leadership is about people. At its core, leadership is about improving the status quo, inspiring positive change, and challenging conventional thinking. As long as positional and philosophical arguments are more important than forward progress, as long as being right is esteemed above being vulnerable and open to new thought, as long as ego is elevated above empathy and compassion, as long as rhetoric holds more value than performance, and as long as we tolerate these things as acceptable behavior, we will all suffer at the hands of poor leadership resistant to change.
Don’t Wish for Change – Demand It.
So, how do we get leaders to change – we demand it. It’s less about structure and more about vision and philosophy. Nothing inspires change and innovation like great leadership, and likewise, there is no more costly legacy system to maintain than poor leadership. It is tolerating poor leadership as the norm, and not the exception, which allows the status quo to prosper, and the inept to thrive.
Organizations should strive for and demand that a culture of leadership replace rigid frameworks. We must transition from highly structured organizations to loose communities of collaborative networks. Complex decisions should no longer be reserved for someone sitting atop a hierarchical structure, but must be driven to the absolute edges of the organization. Think open-source not proprietary, adaptive not static, actionable not theoretical, and progressive not regressive. The best way to create a culture of leadership is to value and reward authentic and effective leadership open to change. Create a culture based upon an ethos that empowers, attracts, differentiates, and sustains. The only culture that flourishes over the long haul is a culture of leadership. A culture of leadership can only exist where the willingness to change is valued.
To restructure or not to restructure? That is the question many a business is forced to ask at some point during their life cycle. The mere discussion of corporate reengineering can cause fear, anxiety, and in some cases even panic. This is so much the case that some CEOs will avoid restructuring initiatives at all costs. There are even some business theorists that warn against undertaking complex restructurings because of the great risks involved. My question is this; since when have fear and avoidance become prerequisites for success as a CEO? Give me real leaders who possess courage, vision, and a bias toward action, and spare me the timidity of mediocre managers posing as leaders. In today’s post I’ll examine the benefits of, and the need for corporate reengineering…
In an earlier post entitled Leadership Is About Breaking Things, I stressed the need to shatter anything that embraces the status quo. Anybody could be a CEO if business were a static proposition. If change and innovation weren’t key contributors to sustainable success, and the enterprise could just run on auto-pilot, you could replace the CEO with a General Manager. The fact is business is not a static endeavor. Quite to the contrary; there are few things that require as much fluidity as effectively growing revenue, increasing profit and driving brand equity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that CEOs who are not consistently reengineering elements of their business fall into one of the following two camps; 1) They have a perfect business, or; 2) They are an ineffective CEO.
What do great CEOs do when the business model, the strategic plan, and the revenue hurdles don’t seem to be in alignment? They make changes. They don’t sit idly by and watch the business lose market share, suffer margin erosion, see their competitive value propositions vaporize, or watch their brand go into decline. Great CEOs are willing to make the tough decisions…that’s what they’re paid for. Facing reality, and being able to make what are often times very painful organizational/structural decisions are the hallmarks of great CEOs. With less than 60 days before we enter 2012, I want you to do a gut-check: who and what are not going to be part of your business next year? And who and what need to be added to your business next year?
In an attempt to avoid confusion as to what I’m speaking about, I put together the following definition of corporate reengineering: “Corporate Reengineering is leadership recognizing, taking ownership over, and acting to correct strategic or tactical business flaws, and/or to realign elements of the enterprise with current or anticipated changes in market conditions consistent with the corporate vision.” This isn’t rocket science, rather it’s just plain-old, good leadership. It is actually the fiduciary obligation of a CEO to make the needed changes to protect shareholder value.
So why is it that so many CEOs shirk their responsibility, stick their heads in the sand, and avoid making necessary changes? It is my experience they either lack the personal skill sets, or haven’t built the right executive team to lead change, they just don’t recognize the need for change, or they just don’t care. The good news is there is a cure for all four of the preceding problems: Items one through three can be solved with an emphasis on leadership development and talent management, and item four can be solved by holding the board of directors accountable for CEO performance and firing an apathetic CEO. Following are six representative tips that will help you recognize the need for a reengineering initiative:
- Unusual declines in revenue, margin, market-share, customer loyalty, or brand equity.
- Even if the above areas are not yet in decline, but you are witnessing unusually slow growth or zero growth you still have a problem.
- The inability to recruit or retain tier-one talent.
- Current or anticipated changes in market conditions that will adversely impact your business model.
- Obsolescence of intellectual property, products, services, solutions, or competitive value propositions.
- Perhaps the greatest reason to reengineer is to exploit an opportunity. Windows of great opportunity are not static, and won’t stay open in perpetuity. If you’re not organized properly to exploit the right opportunity it will pass you by.
The bottom line is this…Bleeding is not a healthy thing. Whether you’re experiencing a slow bleed or you’re hemorrhaging, both instances can be fatal without treatment. If your company is in products, services, or businesses that you wouldn’t enter into if you weren’t in that particular arena today – GET OUT! Stop the bleeding, and reinvest your financial and non-financial resources into more profitable endeavors. I don’t believe corporate reengineering to be evil, but even if it is, it is a necessary evil…Thoughts?
At one time or another all great leaders experience something that is so big, so impactful, that it literally changes the landscape. It’s what I call a “Game Changer.” A game changer is that ah-ha moment that creates an extreme, disruptive advantage or improvement. What’s interesting is that the best leaders proactively focus on looking for game changers. Sure, great leaders never lose sight of their core business, they pay attention to managing risk, etc., but they expend far more energy intentionally searching for opportunity, but not just any opportunity – a game changer. In the text that follows I’ll not only provide you with a blue print for finding game changers, but I’ll also ask you to share your experiences and insights as well. I hope this post is a game changer for you…
As most of you know, I spent last week at the World Business Forum in New York. I listened to esteemed business school professors, two Nobel laureates, bestselling authors, and some of the world’s most successful CEOs. These were all people who have personally experienced game changers, and some have experienced them many times over.
While there were clearly a few moments last week that I found instructionally valuable in terms of creating a game changer (Nando Parrado), there weren’t nearly enough of them. There was far too much rehashing of old ideas spun as new. A game changer doesn’t maintain the status quo, it shatters it. It was this taste of disappointment that led me to share my personal process for finding and implementing game changers – I call it SMARTS(C) (Simple-Meaningful-Actionable-Relational-Transformational-Scalable).
Simple – While not all game changers are simple, the best ones usually are. In most cases simple can be translated as realistic, cost effective, quick to adopt, and fast to implement. Don’t get entangled in complexities, get heavily invested in simplicity.
Meaningful – It must add significant value to your core business, and if it doesn’t add to the core business it better add even more value. Here’s the thing…most leaders get sucked down into the weeds and they spend too much of their valuable time majoring in the minors. If it’s not really meaningful, it’s not a game changer so why do it? Focus on value creation.
Actionable – It’s not a game changer if whatever “it” is never gets off the drawing board. If you cannot turn an idea into innovation, if you can’t put thought into practice, it’s not a game changer. By definition game changers happen, they exist, they have life. They don’t lurk in the shadow-lands of the ethereal and esoteric, they become reality.
Relational – I have found that game changers enhance, extend, and leverage existing relationships as well as serve to create new ones. When you get down to brass tacks, all business boils down to people (employees, customers, partners, investors, vendors, etc.), and people mean relationships. Real game changers understand the power of people and relationships, and they embody this in both their construction and implementation. If you forget the people, you cannot have a game changer.
Transformational – I have yet to see a static game changer. By definition, a game changer causes change. If nothing changes, if nothing is created, if nothing is improved, if nothing is transformed, then you don’t have a game changer. A lesson that I learned long ago is that you simply cannot experience sustainable improvement without transformation.
Scalable – if it’s not scalable it’s not a game changer. An idea that offers no hope of a future will more often than not turn into a nightmare rather than fulfill a dream. True game changers are built with velocity and sustainability in mind. The best thing about real games changers is that they build upon themselves to catalyze other accretive opportunities.
So there you have it, now that I’ve shared my thoughts on creating game changers, my SMARTS if you will, it’s your turn to share. Share an ah-ha moment, an experience, a process, but share…This post can be a game changer to many people if those who read it are willing to share their collective wisdom. Go…
First the bad news: If you’re not willing to embrace change you’re not ready to lead. Put simply, leadership is not a static endeavor. In fact, leadership demands fluidity, which requires the willingness to recognize the need for change, and finally the ability to lead change. Now the good news: As much as some people want to create complexity around the topic of leading change for personal gain, the reality is that creating, managing and leading change is really quite simple. To prove my point, I’ll not only explain the entire change life-cycle in three short paragraphs, but I’ll do it in simple terms that anyone can understand. As a bonus I’ll also give you 10 items to assess in evaluating whether the change you’re considering is value added, or just change for the sake of change…
An Overview on the Importance of Change:
While there is little debate that the successful implementation of change can create an extreme competitive advantage, it is not well understood that the lack of doing so can send a company (or an individual’s career) into a death spiral. Companies that seek out and embrace change are healthy, growing, and dynamic organizations, while companies that fear change are stagnant entities on their way to a slow and painful death.
Agility, innovation, disruption, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment, and above all else a bias toward action will lead to the creation of change. It is the implementation of change which results in evolving, growing and thriving companies. Much has been written about the importance of change, but there is very little information in circulation about how to actually create it.
While most executives and entrepreneurs have come to accept the concept of change management as a legitimate business practice, and change leadership as a legitimate executive priority in theory, I have found very few organizations that have effectively integrated change as a core discipline and focus area in reality. As promised, and without further ado, the change life-cycle in three easy steps:
1. Identifying the Need for Change: The need for change exists in every organization. Other than irrational change solely for the sake of change, every corporation must change to survive. If your entity doesn’t innovate and change in accordance with market driven needs and demands it will fail…it’s just that simple. The most complex area surrounding change is focusing your efforts in the right areas, for the right reasons, and at the right times. The ambiguity and risk can be taken out of the change agenda by simply focusing on three areas: 1) your current customers…what needs to change to better serve your customers? 2) potential customers…what needs to change to profitably create new customers? and; 3) your talent and resources…what changes need to occur to better leverage existing talent and resources?
2. Leading Change: You cannot effectively lead change without understanding the landscape of change. There are four typical responses to change: The Victim…those that view change as a personal attack on their persona, their role, their job, or their area of responsibility. They view everything at an atomic level based upon how they perceive change will directly and indirectly impact them. The Neutral Bystander…This group is neither for nor against change. They will not directly or vocally oppose change, nor will they proactively get behind change. The Neutral Bystander will just go with the flow not wanting to make any waves, and thus hoping to perpetually fly under the radar. The Critic…The Critic opposes any and all change. Keep in mind that not all critics are overt in their resistance. Many critics remain in stealth mode trying to derail change behind the scenes by using their influence on others. Whether overt or covert, you must identify critics of change early in the process if you hope to succeed. The Advocate…The Advocate not only embraces change, they will evangelize the change initiative. Like The Critics, it is important to identify The Advocates early in the process to not only build the power base for change, but to give momentum and enthusiasm to the change initiative. Once you’ve identified these change constituencies you must involve all of them, message properly to each of them, and don’t let up. With the proper messaging and involvement even adversaries can be converted into allies.
3. Managing Change: Managing change requires that key players have control over 4 critical elements: 1) Vision Alignment…those that understand and agree with your vision must be leveraged in the change process. Those that disagree must be converted or have their influence neutralized; 2) Responsibility…your change agents must have a sufficient level of responsibility to achieve the necessary results; 3) Accountability…your change agents must be accountable for reaching their objectives, and; 4) Authority…if the first three items are in place, yet your change agents have not been given the needed authority to get the job done the first three items won’t mean much…you must set your change agents up for success and not failure by giving them the proper tools, talent, resources, responsibility and authority necessary for finishing the race.
There you have it; the 3 pillars of change in three short paragraphs. Now that you understand change, here’s are the 10 points that need validating prior to launching a change initiative:
- Alignment and Buy-in: The change being considered should be in alignment with the overall values, vision and mission of the enterprise. Senior leadership must champion any new initiative. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new initiative it will likely die a slow and painful death.
- Advantage: If the initiative doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field.
- Value Add: Any new project should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.
- Due Diligence: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research. Do your homework – put the change initiative through a rigorous set of risk/reward and cost/benefit analyses. Forget this step and you won’t be able to find a rock big enough to hide under.
- Ease of Use: Whether the new initiative is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must be simple and easy. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple. Don’t make the mistake of confusing complexity with sophistication.
- Identify the Risks: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives should include detailed risk management provisions that contain sound contingency and exit planning.
- Measurement: Any change initiative should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling. Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections. The change being adopted must be measurable. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.
- The Project: Many companies treat change as some ethereal form of management hocus pocus that will occur by osmosis. A change initiative must be treated as a project. It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.
- Accountability: Any new initiative should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan and in the light of day.
- Actionable: A successful initiative cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through focused tactical implementation. If the change initiative being contemplated is good enough to get through the other 9 steps, then it’s good enough to execute.
Has this been useful? Have I left anything out, or got anything wrong? Sound-off in the comments below…