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Latest "Into the Light" Posts

Change is like Racing, Tennis and Football!

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Excellence in sports depends on 1) a strong team, 2) a single mindset focused on the goal at hand and 3) removing the barriers that prevent a team's success. Excellence in business depends on the same three things. Cooperation between departments, attitudes about customer service, project ROI and contingencies, and choices made that accelerate change or shut it down all depend on a strong team, a single mindset and removing the barriers that prevent success. The same attitudes that make great sports teams make great business teams. Mindsets are where it all starts, which means that change should start with mindsets, specifically mindsets about change and management's role in change. And yes, CHANGE IS LIKE racing, football and tennis. Each sport is very different but each sport has a dynamic that relates directly to management's role in the change process!

Management’s Impact on Department Relationships and Project Success

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

In 2009, I wrote an article titled "The Death of Projects". In it, I talked about factors that negatively impact project ROIs, Timelines, Contingencies, Completion, etc. Here is an excerpt that talks about the progression of typical improvement activities at most companies:

"Improvement teams were formed and regular team meetings commenced. Data was collected and analyzed to confirm each problem. So far…so good! But…when action plans were proposed to fix problems that had been identified, cooperation between departments began to fall apart and commitments were made that were not kept. Completion dates for several projects were moved forward by several months; eventually, the status for these projects was changed to “inactive” and all work on them stopped. Some managers had experienced this phenomenon earlier in their careers, so delayed/stalled projects were accepted as “part of the improvement process”. New projects were added to the Project Report, but many would have the same fate. In the meantime, the Board of Directors was losing patience as the management team reported slower than expected progress quarter after quarter. What was wrong with this scenario?"

Many projects require the cooperation of other departments to improve efficiency and bring the dollars to the bottom line. Unfortunately, obstacles created unintentionally within the management system prevent or discourage the kind of cooperation needed to increase project ROIs, accelerate project timelines and reduce contingencies. The value associated with department collaboration is seldom quantified or recognized, but can easily run into the millions of dollars. What if management managed their departments differently to intentionally capture project benefits? It's possible! Management has TOTAL CONTROL over this dynamic - the first step in the process is raising awareness about management's opportunity to directly contribute to project success. Any comments?

Peeling An Onion – Management’s Challenge in Getting to the Root Cause of Slow Change

Monday, August 5th, 2013

If you start on the outside of an onion and peel back one layer at a time, you find another layer underneath. After about 10 layers of onion skin are removed, you wonder if you are ever going to get to the center. Change is like that. You make one adjustment to a process and a problem surfaces that you did not know about. You address that problem and find something else underneath it. Many times the "something" is associated with people, not processes - what people believe, a new reason why choices are made that damage the culture or trust within the management team. Getting to the root cause can try your patience and often takes longer than you wish it would. 

Many problems and many barriers to change stem from one of two root causes - the freedom to speak about problems and management's reaction to a problem. The management team, not the workforce, are in charge of both of these causes. When management focuses on creating an environment where people feel free to speak about problems and where their reaction to "bad news" does not shut down future communications about problems, AMAZING THINGS HAPPEN to profit and culture. Ultimately, one of the big winners is management's credibility, which is so hard to rebuild once it is lost. If managment teams protect their credibility as they perform their daily functions, performance and culture will take care of themselves... AND... all of a sudden, there doesn't seem to be as many layers to the onion because management has learned the secret to rapid change.  

The Impact of Courage on Performance

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Have you ever sat in a meeting where people were afraid to share information that would redirect the focus of a project or change a decision about an investment? When the meeting was over, people left knowing that a different course of action could make a real difference in the outcome.When was the best solution discussed? Usually behind closed doors and away from the decision-makers that REALLY NEED TO KNOW! These decision-makers hold the purse strings to investments, bonuses and money for training and developing their people, and control the future path for growth. If anyone needs to know about problems and opportunities to improve, they do!

New hires don't start on Day 1 afraid to share information about a problem or project. They learn to be afraid from employees who shared it in the past and were on the receiving end of a negative management response that discouraged future employee input. Management's response to new information for decision-making or about a problem is a powerful factor in forming a corporate culture. That reaction either keeps the door open to communications between management and the workforce or closes it. When the door closes, the door to growth potential and performance improvement also closes and change becomes MUCH HARDER than it needs to be.

Being different requires courage! Breaking out of an old personality and taking on a new one is probably one of the hardest things that anyone can be asked to do. Understanding the dollar value attached to that courage helps managers keep communications open so that performance and culture can really change!

Managing Collisions – The Most Effective Way to Drive Sustainable Change

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Collisions occur every day at every business. We are not talking about collisions on highways, in the air or on the sea. These collisions don't require a police report or investigation by the FAA or OSHA. They are virtual and happen behind the scenes. They are a natural part of the change process, but are outside the scope of change initiatives. What happens after a collision either promotes change, makes change harder or shuts change down. They occur at every management level when change bumps up against the management system - either management processes or management beliefs & behaviors. Knowing how to manage these collisions is the secret to sustainable change.

If we were sitting in a room together talking about collisions, you could come up with many examples that have impacted your efforts to improve performance or change culture. You may not have had a name for them, but each story would demonstrate the hidden power residing with management to intentionally manage the aftershocks of collisions. I believe that managing collisions is the "final frontier" of change. Management's greatest contribution to change lies in their perspectives about collisions and their skills in responding to create the result intended for performance and culture.

Change Your Perspective… Change Your Performance!

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Have you ever noticed how a person's viewpoint influences what they say and do? It defines what they believe and what people believe about them. Our perspective on change has the same kind of impact. What we believe about change and our role in change determines what we say to others about change or about their ability to change. It affects relationships between departments and either builds trust or causes mistrust within the management team and between management and the workforce.

Some people think that process improvement drives most change. In fact, management's words and actions are the most powerful influence on change and can unintentionally sabotage good process improvement work. If management teams understand their barriers to change, they can very easily remove them. When they do, change accelerates and they have a much greater chance of capturing potential, reducing costs, managing projects, changing culture and building strong teams. Sometimes it is as simple as changing how a management tool is used in the workplace or changing what is said in a meeting to bring people together.

The upside attached to new perspectives is great. You are closer than you think to achieving your goals for change... all you may need is a new perspective!

Everything Is Easier with “Straight Line Change”!

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Cones and other barriers on the road make you drive slower. You swerve to miss them and must drive slow to avoid skidding or being unable to stop quickly. Under these circumstances, you cannot drive at the highway speed that your car is capable of reaching. When a road contains hazards, you "accept" the hazards as something you just have to put up with. You are frustrated knowing that your trip will take a lot longer than necessary to complete.

The same goes for change. Barriers to change make you go slower and prevent your car from reaching efficient operating speeds. Barriers make change take a LOT LONGER! Like the barriers on a road, we accept the fact that part of our challenge will be reaching our goals for change while working around the barriers that make change hard. This is especially true if the barriers come from the management system - either from management processes or the management team.

If we had removed barriers on the road, we could have driven faster and straighter, and arrived at our destination relaxed and on time. Likewise, if we REMOVE management's barriers to change, everything we do is easier and change goes a lot faster. I call it "Straight Line Change"! Few people experience it, but when they do, they NEVER go back to their old way of thinking or working together!

It is impossible to have a great safety record in a fear-based culture…

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

An employee once told me that a crew member spoke up about a recurring safety issue and was chastised by the safety department for bringing it up for discussion. This may sound impossible to believe, but at that site, the safety department was afraid that recurring safety problems would make them look incompetent to higher-ups. Their reaction to an employee's willingness to speak about a safety concern sent a mixed message that would damage any safety program. The workforce began questioning what management really cared about and came to the conclusion that it is certainly was not them. The best safety training, daily safety meetings and messages from the general manager could not undo this mixed message about safety because now the workforce believed that management did not REALLY want to hear about safety issues.

Did you know that a great safety record is closely tied to the freedom to speak about problems? A great safety culture cannot be developed if people are afraid to talk about what needs to be fixed. Management, not the workforce, controls the freedom to speak by their reaction to problems, including safety issues. Management teams that welcome “all news”, whether good or bad, have the greatest chance of having few safety incidents and even winning the Sentinels of Safety Award. What are your thoughts about this topic?

When the Lights Went Out, The Game Stopped

Monday, February 4th, 2013

You probably know about the power outage during the Superbowl. The game was full of action and players were giving it their all, but suddenly, one thing that everyone takes for granted during a game failed - the lights. When the lights went out, the game stopped. At that moment, the most talented football players or the most famous coaches in history could not have restarted the game. The chance for either team to win hinged on power being restored.

Change can be stopped just as quickly. Out of nowhere an unexpected comment or reaction by management to an event can shut change down. People will continue to follow new process steps but the kind of change that comes from the mind and heart, from trusting each other in the workplace will stop. Unlike restoring power, this kind of change is MUCH HARDER to get started again than it was the last time because the trust to build on is gone. Restoring trust takes more time that it took to build it the first time. Even the most effective leader cannot flip a switch and restore trust. It takes special effort and processes designed for that purpose - something to consider as your team moves forward with a change initiative.


What Do The Super Bowl and Management Teams Have In Common?

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

On Super Bowl Sunday, all eyes follow two teams that earned the right to play because they demonstrated strong teamwork over and over again. How many teams would make it to the Super Bowl if the team members did not trust each other? What if grudges off the field affected the execution of plays during the game? Let's say that a quarterback and running back had a disagreement the day before the big game. During the game, the quarterback decided not to throw the ball to the running back because he did not want the running back to get credit for the touchdown. As a result, the quarterback was tackled and the team lost the game. Would the team be willing to trust the quarterback in future games? Would the fans abandon their team because of this action?

Trust is a critical element in any sports team. Without it, THERE IS NO TEAM because the team recognizes that trust is directly related to the ability to execute plays, score and win games. Trust is just as important to business success, but somehow business is willing to accept a lack of trust as "just the way it is here", "part of the politics here" or as "our culture". How many management teams work with team members they don't trust? How does this lack of trust affect communications, problem solving, the success of projects and profits? How often do workforces "abandon" management teams that have trust issues? In sports, the losses associated with mistrust are understood. Trust is just as critical in business, but business does not put a high enough priority on trust because the financial and cultural losses associated with mistrust are not understood.

OptimiZ Consulting LLC