Where are we now?
This is the question most of my customers deal with during Q2 this year. The Strategy is in place, first – sometimes many – steps are made … but are we delivering results?
No matter if you are working on a performance project, you are busy implementing a cultural change initiative or perform a first Lessons Learned format after an exhausting long term CapEx project. At the end of the day: you need to deliver results.
So here’s what I am currently working on with my customers, the value they create, the hard and soft facts they face.
1. Pharmaceuticals: Facilitation of a cultural change initiative.
In the past the organization had delivered all relevant tasks in a self-evident way. They were used to meet their objectives, speedy reaction to rapid changes, high quality mind set included. Noone would have thought that there was someting wrong within the heart of the organisation, the workforce. Until an employee survey showed that people were less motivated than they used to be and leaders could perform way better. The leaders’ fault? Not at all. I’ll get back to that later.
After several workshops, in depth analysis and numerous confident talks with all stakeholder groups it became clear that the last restructuiring process 4-6 years ago (!) was still causing pain to let’s say 10-15% of the workforce … and their leaders. “Bridging ditches between us and our people.” and “Show perspectives”. These were the headlines under which all further activities, measures and countermeasures had to be summarized. Leaders performed 360° Feedbacks, were coached, individuals and teams were working on getting things clarified and then committed themselves to a very few but important actions, rules, plans. A cascading and iterative process was chosen to bring people and leaders back into conversation about the important, especially the “hard to deal with” issues.
The results “Where are they now?”:
- The awareness that all issues, open questions, emotional barriers people have to deal with during a restructuring process need to be addressed, all. If not, welcome to a never ending vicious circle of blaming and complaining about each other (in the end: for not having listened in the right moment). Even if a workforce appears to be overloaded or burnt out, there is still enough energy left to fuel this vicious circle over the years. Seems to be very rewarding … And the leaders? How can they do better, even if they haven’t caused the restructuring, instead just executed it well, so many years ago? Was it a kind of malpractice? Again no, it wasn’t. The only thing they could do better in the future is to maintain the relationship instead of breaking the relationship even with the critics, even in situations where you as leader do not have the smallest part of an idea or a solution. An attitude highly applicable in conflict situations can help. As a leader can tell myself: The other one is a problem! or: The other one has a problem. or: The other one deals with an important question and cannot find an answer (which makes him go crazy). The latter is the key – always. Go and understand the other one’s question. Then you both will find an answer (or agree that there is none) and soon the situation is cleared (and this will not take 4-6 years of your working life).
- Very few – managable – actions, some of them with an underlying good sense of humour (yes, bridging ditches was the motto), were agreed. The responsibilities between leaders and coworkers were shared in a 50/50 manner … the individual activities not to be disclosed here. But, as soon as there was clarity about motives, patterns, interests and underlying emotions the main part of the work was done. Hopefully these results will last.
My learning is: Clarifying the soft facts delivers great bottom line results.
2. Energy Industry: Leadership in times of change
I love working with management teams offsite. Not only because many of them choose nice places and sourroundings to go to, but rather because the different environment opens the participants up for new ways of thinking and encountering each other. The issue in this particular team was an upcoming change (rather a “big bang”) the team wanted to find a common leadership approach for. But how do you initiate a discussion about leadership in a team that hardly ever discussed a mystical topic like “Our common Leadership Strategy”?
The results “Where are they now?”:
- The best start into the workshop was the leader of this team to provide members with his own brand new 360° Feedback results, the carefully chosen parts of it. Details not be disclosed here. The effect instead was huge. The right amount of self-disclosure opened up the other teammembers who had never experienced a leader like this. And I watched a mangement team grow by encountering each other, tackling issues never been discussed before, building interpersonal trust …. and sharing one’s own opinion in an open manner.
- The Leadership Strategy was agreed upon. It consists of a set of rules covering workforce support / individual learning opportunities / 1:1 coaching / a new way to share the latest informations / feedback loops and procedures. Not bad at all.
My learning: Leaders who take their chance to be a role model have such a huge impact on others. They invite people to do the same and build a culture of trust rather than a culture driven by office politics (although let’s be realistic, no company will ever survive without politics). Anyway, if you manage to go beyond formalized professional/political relationships in your daily work, the level of trust will rise, so your team’s performance will.
3. Chemical Industry: Facilitating a Lessons Learned Process
Huge CapEx projects are driven by many stakeholders, internal and external experts, programm-, project- and sub-project managers – an orchestra of professionals. But although we are all professionals in our disciplines, we are all human in the end. So, how do we behave, pull patterns out of our pockets when delivery dates are due, costs are running out of scope, dead lines are exceeded? We pull back to let’s say “emergency behaviours”, behaviours that provide a safety net to you and which are in line with cultural imperatives, the hidden rules in a given company. If one of these imperatives tells you that in times of stress and conflict (and dealing with blame) you must “keep your garden clean” by all means, then you are relieved at first but – it’s the other side of the medal – another vicious circle emerges. It’s like everyone in the orchestra plays for himself, nor taking attention to the other musicians neither realizing that the colleagues are playing too fast, too loud nor out of tune. If the cultural rule tells you to rather play for yourself than to say STOP or NO! “We can’t proceed like this any longer, we need a pitstop!” then you are leaking energy, satisfaction and performance. Good to have a project excellence process in place that at least formally gives you the opportunity to discuss theses matters and learn from them. A three day Lessons Learned Workshop is a good format to address this.
The results “Where are they now?”:
- Besides the many countermeasures and learnings in technical terms found in our Lessons Learned Workshop, this group of engineers was courageous enough to address the cultural barriers in their huge CapEx project that led to inefficiencies. In their opinion culture was the root cause. They discussed a new STOP / NO rule that will be applied in further projects. Just like the “line stop” principle in automotive manufacturing. The idea is that once you discover a serious road block in your daily project work that coannot be resolved within e.g. 24hrs. and will lead to serious delay, you are allowed to communicate a “Stop (this part of) The Project” and discuss countermeasures. Cool, isnt it? Would they do it next time? Who knows. It would mean to tell your programm managers who directly report to the board members that your project runs out of scope. Need guts to do so. Or is your career not that important to you?
My learning: I am convinced that you need some kind of “referee” during huge projects like this. A professional who works with the project team members on a regular basis in shadowing activities in daily business completed by team-coaching formats. I guess it’s too hard in the end to hand over a cultural change to a project team that is constantly under pressure. It would just not be sufficient. Support them by offering an impartial expert for cultural change to them. To grab this opportunity would be the responsibility of the project team. To encourage them to highlight “No Go” issues to their top level leaders would then be the part of the experienced facilitator / coach.
I am currently working with four executives in 1:1 sessions who reflect their actual challenges with me. Details will surely not be disclosed here. But, as different as these executives are/appear, they have one thing in common. I find them pretty much “seducible”. Which is not a bad thing at all. But I guess these successful high level leaders, used to fulfill stakeholder expectations, must sometimes relearn to focus on themselves, their own personal needs – 360° like (job, money, relations, health, friends). If you constantly observe your relevant stakeholders (do I really meet their expectations?) you tend to forget what you came for in your professional and private life. In a constant stream of opportunities the world outside offers to you (they try to seduce you, you know how that feels) it will be easier to make the right choices and reflect consequences when you know what you personally came for.