Bite-Sized change management
A huge transformation programme takes time and potentially a lot of money. However, you do not have to wait for a large programme to start a change culture. As discussed by the likes of Kotter and Gladwell, small changes can paves the way for more effective long term large programmes.
So, I want to set out some useful points for immediate change projects, you can have without breaking the bank but also encouraging a culture of ‘nipping things in the bud’. I hate to use the term, but -pick those low hanging fruit, before they fall!
This is not the pleasant part of change management. But it is central to any change. No one likes to let people go, but acting for the greater good, is leadership 101. Hearing ‘my team is rubbish’ ‘we can’t get decent people’ is depressing.
Those that shout this the most, from my experience, are usually the root of the problem. We have all made bad hires, the business changes etc. I once had a manager refuse to let someone fail probation because he did not want to have to deal with HR. That’s right, the rest of the team suffered because their leader didn’t want to lose face. Leadership is not about being popular it’s about making sure the majority have the right working environment and that shareholders or taxpayers get value for money. (OK, Rant over.)
So, in the short term, if you have inherited a perceived weak team or you are ready to take the challenge, some processes to consider at a tactical level:
1. Work diaries- You have to follow the law and be fair. Set up a work diary for your team. Note and date issues. Everyone is human, so do not be petty, a typo is not a sack-able offence!
If there is sufficient evidence of poor performance (and no do not go by the performance review cycle, this can be too late) have a private meetings. Present the evidence and get their feedback. If it’s easy to fix, i.e. you inherited a team that were not trained, then get them the training they need. Or if they are brilliant in one aspect, why are you making them do things they are not good at, could they not focus on what they are good at? Is there another team they can join?
You do need to take responsibility for motivating your people. Finally if someone has already had several written warning, why were they not dealt with? Employees are not stupid, they know when a member of the team is not working out, and all you are demonstrating to the team is that, being a poor performer has no consequences.Your talent will leave eventually.
2. Transitioning out of the team – if there is no workable option, it’s time for that chat. Labour laws are weighed in favour of employees, and rightly so. Plenty of bad bosses push their staff that question the status quo, under the bus.
So you need to evidence you are taking the right measures. Have you tried to find a passion for that member of staff? Are they perusing other lines of study? Have you suggested a 3 month transition period were you will let them have time off, for interviews and career couching. Also, you have a HR department, get them involved in helping this person.
3. Hire the new attitudes you need, not just a technical fit - balance experience, but look for people who have demonstrated change in previous jobs or have a variety of interests, the chances are, they could be the positive fresh influence you need to build energy. Also, make sure, if you do have some difficult employees, protect your new staff. Watch out for isolation and bullying.
I also hate to make this point, but I have seen no negative impact to a team, when a poor performer leaves and they are not replaced. If anything the existing team are spending less time correcting errors and they end up getting more out of their roles. Especially when you investment time in standardisation as discussed later on.
4. Start the tiny projects- as part of everyone’s job, empower them to come up with a small improvement to their role. It can be as simple as a macro for an Excel task or how they sort new emails. It doesn’t matter, anything that allows them to think about how they can control change will be impactful.
I did my MBA thesis on digital innovation, so I have read plenty of definitions! What innovation boils down to is taking an idea and making it better. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPod, he saw other companies with MP3 players (which were superior in quality) but he saw a way to make them more marketable. I.E colour and style. Nothing monumental here, he just made the concept of an MP3 player more trendy for consumers. So the same thinking needs to come into your team culture:
1. Encourage small changes – as per point 4 above
2. Celebrate these small change, highlight the benefits – make sure the C suite send a thank you to the staff member.
3. Delegate -Remember some small fixes still hide a much larger issue. As the leader you need to work on the longer term strategies and let your team look after the short term fixes.
4. If you do not have the time, consider bring in a temporary resource. There are plenty of us in change management who are happy to do 2-4 weeks. We are in change management for a reason, we like change, not doing your month end accounts.
5. Governance- make sure any changes are not going to break something else. Don’t ignore compliance and legality.
You can blame budgets and resources but sometimes I think the biggest barrier to change is – time:
1. Be proactive- If new in post, you can hit the ground running here, but either way, take the smallest possible issue first and address it. You will:
2. Make time for change strategy – purposely ring-fence an hour in your diary weekly (electronically is best) to take a strategic look at your team, what medium to long term changes do you need to get the ball rolling? Set the goal of at least one item a week to instigate or follow up.
3. Challenge the format of meetings – could you peers do standing meetings instead, could you set up an online forum for your peers to escalate matter to the C suite. That way when you do meet they can have answers in advance, or decisions made far quicker?
4. Delegate - Can you sent a member of the team to a meeting?
5. Did your predecessor micro manage? - If there are roles they have passed onto you, it doesn’t mean you still have to do them. Get sign off if in doubt from your leader.
6. Do not waste time that has been freed up- As you team makes time saving, reinvest that time, start to incrementally increase the size of the mini projects.
If you do not track time saving, how do you evidence the benefits to the team and your leaders?
7. Set out timetables and check points to support the changes you want to implement.
The cloud is making it more affordable to have better systems. However, your will fail to implement this technology, if you haven’t addressed your current processes and data. “Garbage in Garbage out”
1. Start with the basics, what is been manually booked in your system?
2. Do a walk-through of that process – look at each step, are there any obvious duplication's of steps that can be automated with existing tools, e.g. a functionality within Outlook or Excel?
3. Ask outside your team- ask your IT team. Or a past team members, now in another part of the business. They may know a reason why you cannot do something or might have a solution that was lost when they left the team.
4. Ask the vendor – Once you have all the detailed facts (you do not want to waste time with back and forth basic trouble-shooting) go to the vendor. What can they offer, re upgrades, training? Do you need to think about a new vendor?
5. Annual system training - People rarely read technical updates, let’s be honest. So arrange mandatory training for key staff. A two hour session annually hurts no one and they may pick up a tip that save hours per week.
6. Redundant reports – just because it’s always been done, doesn’t mean it is right. So, get a list of all the reports your team produce (you can delegate this or get a data dump from IT). Find out who gets these reports and ask them:
Get the appropriate sign off and discontinue/rationalise these report as soon as possible.
A real life example was when our main printer was out of action for 30min each morning, printing reports for IT (an important time for scanning on my department). So I asked IT and they were more than happy to reschedule their print jobs and actually they kicked off a paperless project.
7. Document processes- you should have a basic manual, with as many screen grabs as possible- far easier for people to ‘see the actual’ process then read the narrative. However, if you record an issue with a process, timetable an action plan to address, get the business case ready for larger improvements and try and get the short term fixes in, as soon as possible by the team.
There are always small things that can be changed. Instead of having team meetings where people complain, change the dynamic. Tell everyone in advance, that if they have an issue think about the fix. Encourage the smallest changes first, as this in turn frees up the time for the bigger items.
Also you have to lead on this. If you can demonstrate making a small change makes a different, what impact this will have on your team?
Most organisation have a training mandate, why not use this time for system training or other soft skills? Have a 2 hour working lunch (provide food) and set the goal for the team to tackle one small change and start off one larger change.
It will take time, but do you really want in 6 months to say, if only I had set aside a couple of hours?
Do it today!
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