Dec 12, 2010

Winning with integrative thinking

As people responsible to bring in change, we are sometimes faced with problems that seem unsurmountable.I have rarely come across directions on what could be called 'good' problem solving.

Roger Martin in his book 'The Opposable Mind' consolidates research he has done on how some of the most outstanding men and women of our century think (and solve problems). That the research included K V Kamath and (our own) Ramalinga Raju probably makes the book more interesting.

This is what Martin says

Most of us think and decide in almost a sequential manner: To quote the author "We arrive at our choice by considering a set of features we deem salient;creating a mental model of the causal relationships among these features;arranging those causal relationships into an architecture intended to produce a specific outcome;thereby reaching a resolution of the problem at hand". This approach is many cases lead to 'sub optimal' results.

The author then goes on to provide examples like how A.G. Lafley reinvented innovation at P&G to introduce the concept of integrative thinking. Integrative thinking is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their mind at once , and then reach a synthesis that contains elements of both but actually improves on each.By refusing to accept unpleasent trade-offs and conventional options,integrative thinkers are able to find creative solutions to difficult problems.

Here is a list of take aways regarding integrative thinking that would be useful to us as we attempt to find solutions to problems
  • Seperate (mental) models and reality
    • The author talks about the 'factory setting' each of us have, which in turn means we think in a certain manner
  • Dancing through complexity
        • The need NOT to over simplify
  • Mapping the mind
The author then goes about to talk of how 'integrative thinkers ' connect the dots or the leap of mind.,
The skills required include

  •  Generative reasoning ( a form of reasoning that inquires into what might be rather than what is)
  • Causal modeling and
  • Assertive inquiry ( an ability to explore opposing models)

The author then goes on to talk about the personal knowledge system of an individual as what makes a difference.Time all of us build one, clear in the understanding that ; may be out there; there is an innovative solution to THE problem , that we just have not thought about..

P.S. I attempted to put some of this theory into practice .. end result I started car pooling with some of my colleagues. While saving on fuel was defenitely a goal, what led us to this was too things : Pooling meant that we got out of our offices atleast two days a week on time and we got time to talk together

Aug 8, 2010

Reasons for a short break - Started writing again - will post by Nov 15 !

I was out in the field travelling till the 28th of May.Post which, some additional responsibilities and organizational realignment took up a lot of my time.

I also realised that while I met my 'quantity' targets of a post a week, I was not very happy with the 'quality' of my posts. I also saw myself repeating almost the same stuff

Please bear with me till I return with more detailed posts. My target date for the same is 15th of August

Apr 25, 2010

Deciding what to change: Role of a diagnostic

It has always been a struggle to me to clearly establish an approach to identifying what to change. Six Sigma has its X's and Y's; process consultants have their maturity framework...but how does a CEO decide what needs to be changed in an organization..

Though newly arrived CEO's probably don't ; most consultants seem to recommend some form of diagnostic as the first step to starting a transformation journey.

Mark Gottfredson and Steve Schaubert (of Bain), in their book 'Breakthrough Imperatives (2008,Harper Collins) recommend a three step approach. The authors divide the transformation into steps of

  • diagnose the points of departure
  • envision the point of result and 
  • (build) the road to results
The authors build their diagnostic around the following defined rules ; 
  • Costs and prices always decline
  • Competitive position determines your options
  • Customers and profit pools don't stand still
  • Simplicity gets results
We will discuss building diagnostics around these rules in subsequent posts. Any diagnostic will need identifying appropriate measures or performance indictors, finding ways to know the existing performance and establishing some form of benchmarks

What has been your experiences with building a diagnostic

P.S. Apologies for the break of previous weeks. I had another 'writing assignment' for my organization !!

Apr 4, 2010

Lateral leadership : A'nother' key change agent skill

Another key skill that every person tasked with making change happen is Lateral Leadership. Roger Fisher (1998, Harper Collins) subtitles his book on lateral leadership as getting things done when you are not the boss. I am sure every 'change agent' can recognize the situation

According to Fisher one can achieve a high level of colloboration that produces high quality results through lateral leadership.This includes three basic steps
  • Organize and sharpen one's  personal skills at getting things done by yourself
  • Understand clearly your strategic goal of an organized way of getting things done with others
  • Learning some tactics of participatory management

Mar 28, 2010

Personal competency model

Just came across this 'managerial'  personal competency model, published in some manner by the UK Govt., way back in 1997. The contents resonate with my thoughts on what makes one a succesful change implementor. Hence reproducing the whole table . One can use the table to evaluate skills and gaps and identify improvement actions.

Mar 27, 2010

The Change Monster : A mental model for org change

Every 'change agent' should have a perspective of the various 'theoritcal' frameworks that has been proposed around organizational change. A realisation of the diversity of the approaches and their conclusions will help a change agent frame his or her response to a situation. I intent to provide short notes on the various approaches in this and some subsequent postings.
One of the 'interesting' frames of references I have seen is that proposed by Jeanie Daniel Duck in the book 'the Change Monster'.( 2001,Randon House).

The Change Curve , as illustrated above, provides a map of the territory of change according to the author.The change curve suggests that every organization going through will change will go through the phases of stagnation( till it is pushed either externally or internally) and should then ideally go through the phases of preparation,implementation,determination and then fruition. 

Assuming that most of get to do things after someone has identified the need for change :-); here is a short list of does and don't in the various phases according to the author


  • Gain alignment

    • Use anxiety effectively

    • It is not important that leaders like each other,but they need to be able to work together effectively

    • Group change requires individual change ; a behavioural contract is required from every individual

    • Alignment is not the same as commitment and commitment is not the same as getting energized

      • A ready-willing and able assessment tells us when we are prepared
Some of the recommendations for implementation include the need to build leadership strength, the need for informal communications etc

Which other framework do you use ?

Mar 20, 2010

Process Vs Functional Organization

Organization structure is one of the key levers available to a leader wanting to make improvements in the organization.A key trend that we see today is the move to 'process based ' or even more a matrix organizations. In the case of matrix organizations also , process tend to be one of the axes.

I do a lot of work in IT function improvement.Many clients are today implementing ITIL as an approach to bring visibility and improvement on the support side of IT. When implementing ITIL, a key struggle has been deciding the balance between the existing functional roles ( say a help desk manager) and the 'newly' introduced process roles (say a incident manager).

In the book,'Designing organizations' ;Jay R Galbraith (2002 Jossey Bass) talks about the type of lateral processes based on management time and difficulty. He talks about various levels : Voluntary and informal group, e- coordination,formal group (ranging from simple to multidimensional and hierarchical),integrator (full time by roles or departments) and finally a matrix organization.

Organizations wanting to implement ITIL are also faced with similar choices. As shown in figure above, they need to make a choice on the level of authority for the newly introduced roles. From a simple  reporting (Weather station) sort of roles (which would then be allotted on a part time basis to an existing functional role) organizations mature and evolve to provide more authority and control to process functions. There exists no perfect answer to where the balance of power resides !

What does all your experience suggest?

Mar 13, 2010

Influencing : a key change agent skill

Another critical skill that every change agent should attempt to develop is the skill to influence. On most occasions change agents will have to work through project team members over whom they have no formal authority.

Allen R. Cogen & David L. Bradford in their book "Influence without Authority" (2005, John Wiley) proposes an 'Influence Model' .The influence model aims to provide direction on influencing others

According to the authors the influence model- a careful diagnosis of the other's interests,assessment of what resources you possess,and attention to the relationship-enables one to address 'difficult situations'

The key elements of the model ( see figure) are
  • Assume all-the other person or group-are potential allies
  • Clarify your goals and priorities
  • Diagnose the ally's world-organizational forces likely to shape goals,concerns and needs
  • Identify relevant currencies(what is valued): the ally's and yours
  • Deal with relationships
  • Determine your trading approach: make exchanges
Are there best practices when it comes to influencing? How can a change agent be more effective?

Mar 6, 2010

Competencies to enable change: Judgement

As I introspected on qualities that make up an effective change agent, I recognized 'Judgement' as one of the critical ones .Judgement is typically identified as a leadership quality. But given the similarity of the nature of issues ( though may be smaller in scope) that a leader and a change agent has to resolve 'Judgement' becomes critical to a change agent .

Judgement (Neol M.Tichy and Warren G. Bennis 'Judgement' ;2007 Penguin)  is defined as a contextually informed decision-making process encompossing three domains: people, strategy and crisis.

Like a leader,a change agent, entrusted with the responsibility to deliver an improvement in his/her organization must take decisions in the face of ambiguity,uncertainity and conflicting demands.Here is a short list of approaches that can lead to 'good judgement' If you are responsible to drive change through your organization, then, some of these are as much applicable to you

During the sense/identify phase
  • Be able to identify the environment early
  • Mobilize to act
  • Be energized about the future
During the frame/name phase
  • Be able to cut through the complexity and get to the essence
  • Clearly set parameters of a problem
  • Provides context and language
During the mobilize/align phase
  • Identify key stakeholders
  • Engages and energizes stakeholders around framing
  • Taps best ideas from anywhere
During the call phase
  • Exercises yes/no judgement
  • Clearly explains judgement
As the execution phase
  • Leader stays in the game
  • Supports those making it happen
  • Sets clear milestones
  • Gets feedback
  • Makes adjustments
  • The feedback is continuos

Feb 27, 2010

The Six Sigma way to identify what to change

Six sigma practitioners have been pointing out six sigma also provides approaches to decide what requires change in an organization.

If one were to look at what Stephen A. Zingraf says in 'Six Sigma-The first 90 days' (2006,Prentice Hall) six sigma methodologies provide a quantitative understanding of the relationship between the process outputs and the process inputs. The output of a process is a function of a set of inputs of a process (Y=f(x's)). where Y is the output and X's are the inputs. This understanding can be translated into the strategic planning process

Y Return on investment =f(Profits, Investments)
    Y Revenue =f (Quantity Sold,Average Selling Price,Discounts)
         Y Profits = f (Revenue,Product Cost, Business Costs)
              Y Cash Flow = f( Profits,Working Capital)
                   Y Economic Value Add = f(Profits,Capital Charges)

The process of six sigma is designed to identify the most important inputs,optimize those inputs and then control them. In Six Sigma parlance the critical Ys  (big Ys) are a function of inputs.Projects improving those inputs will improve the performance on the outputs.

So an organization attempting to identify what needs to change can use an analysis of x's and Y relationship to decide what to change.
But how does one decide the big Y's that require focus. Do organizations stumble by picking wrong areas to concentrate improvement actions?

Feb 24, 2010

Business Model :Key to deciding what to change

As a response to my earlier post of how does one decide what to change in an organization, a colleague referred me to the book 'Confronting Reality'.

My colleague was  pointed out that a review of the 'business model' will enable one to identify what needs to be changed.

The authors ( Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, 'Confronting Reality" 2005) define a business model as a statement of an organization's current reality and its likely-as opposed to hoped-for- future direction.
The business model ( see figure) has three essential components
  • the environment in which the business operates
  • the organization's financial targets
  • Activities of the business:strategy formulation,operating activities,selection deployment,development of people, and organizational processes and structures
The authors believe the business model provides a blue print of taking action.Repeated review of the components of the business model till a harmonization can be achieved will throw up the factors that need to change..

Any thoughts?

Feb 19, 2010

The How Vs What of improvement

Most of my posts have been around how to enable change or improvement. Have a sponsor,engage him,create a burning platform,have a good project team etc etc. This approach,sort of,assumes that you know what to change or improve.

I guess this is far from true.

My gut feel is that most organizations and leaders (and managers) are faced with bewildering choices when it comes to deciding areas to focus for improvement.

There is a school of thought which attributes decisions on what to improve etc to leadership. The leader,(in many cases para dropped into a new situation) uses his intuition,previous experience,his reading of the context etc to make decisions on what to improve.Many of them go on safaris; meeting clients, analysts, employees etc, gather opinions and reach conclusions. And then rolls the improvement or 'transformation' journey.The levers available to him or her are many; people,organization structure,processes,product or services mix,support technology etc etc.

Is there an objective way to decide what to change? What sort of systematic analysis can identify the exact components that needs to change. Are techniques like benchmarking adequate to identify performance improvement opportunities. How does one identify opportunities to make quantum improvements that can help one leap frog over competition?

Any thoughts?

Feb 13, 2010

The disappearing project sponsor

Have any of you been in situations where you see the project team and sponsor disappear for a project which you thought you were only supporting?

Kotter's "Leading Change" talks about creating a guiding coalition as a vital part of enabling change.I also realize that assembling the right project team is essential for any improvement initiative.But increasingly I understand the need for one critical element of the project team : a clearly identified and engaged project sponsor.

In today's world ; probably due to the complexity of today's organizations; decisions to start an improvement initiative may be taken due to top down direction or bottom up (typically middle management) initiative.  Identifying a sponsor becomes vital if the initiative requires changes in many parts of the organization and also organizational resources.Having a sponsor who signs off saying that this initiative needs to be undertaken is not sufficient.

The project team needs to ensure that the identified sponsor is 'engaged' through the life cycle of the improvement project. And that is where many project teams fail. They get the decision to go ahead and then attempt to fight the internal battles on their own.In many cases they even fail to keep the sponsor informed of the progress (or the lack of it).This leads to the sponsor slowly losing interest  and moving on to what she considers to be more urgent priorities..

Here is a shortlist of actions that can help project teams keep the sponsor engaged and the project successful

  • Clearly identify the sponsor
  • Ensure that the project objectives are linked to the sponsors objectives/goals for the year etc
  • Establish governance mechanisms that ensures sufficient project sponsor time commitment and  adequate reporting of progress and issues to the sponsor
  • Ensure meetings/communications etc are undertaken to keep the sponsor informed of progress and also take feedback
  • Find opportunities to demonstrate sponsor commitment
    • Ensure that communications of project progress to larger stakeholders go from the sponsor
    • Invite the sponsor to physically present in meetings to explain project/impact etc
    • Invite the sponsor for celebrations of wins etc from the project
Are there are other good practices to engage the sponsor?

Feb 7, 2010

Quantifying benefits and the benefits dependency network

In an earlier note I asked about the importance of benefits calculation and demonstration for the success of an improvement initiative.One of our constant struggles have been to quantify benefits.

A benefits dependency network is a recommended tool to enable the investment objectives and their resulting benefits to be linked in a structured way to the business,organizational and IS/IT changes required to realize those benefits.John Ward and Elizabeth Daniel "Benefits Management" provides detailed instructions and examples for developing a benefit dependency model

The recommended steps to draw a benefit dependency model are the following

  • Understand the drivers acting on the organization and identify the investment objectives for the particular project or initiative
  • Identify the business benefits that will result if the investment objectives are achieved
  • Identify the changes to the ways individuals and groups work that are a necessary part of realizing the potential benefits identified
    • Business changes are those new ways of working that will be required permanently in the future if the benefit is to be achieved and sustained
    • Enabling changes are one off changes necessary to allow enduring business changes to be brought about
  • Identify IS/IT enablers that will support the enabling changes
How relevant is this model in a generic improvement initiative. Can this be used to develop a business case? Are there examples available to take the discussion forward?

Feb 2, 2010

Is there a connection ?

Between execution discipline and organizational change management?

Here is an interesting paragraph from an old book ,Execution ;The Discipline of Getting Things Done ( Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan 2002 Random House)

"Every body is talking about change.In recent years,a small industry of change meisters have preached revolution,reinvention,quantum change,break through thinking,audacious goals,learnings organizations and the like.....But,unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action,they are pointless"

Does the discipline of Organizational Change Management help execute better?

Jan 29, 2010

Managing emails

A critical issue for many of us wanting to improve  individual productivity is how we manage emails . . . e mail on the move ( smart phones etc) ,their sheer volume etc, force many of us to spend significant time (actually a large part of our work time) just processing emails( processing =reading,replying,acting..)

Here is a short list of what can make a difference, based on an analysis of what multiple experts have to say
  • Open your email software only during specific times ..Allocate specific times of the day when you would respond to emails
  • Attempt NOT to process any email twice. Here are some choices that you can do with an email you receive
    • If it is just for information, read and delete/file
    • If needs to be acted on by some else please forward.
      • Please use TASKS or email reminders ( I am assuming you are using Microsoft Outlook) so that due dates and reminders are automatically set
      • Do the same even if it requires action by you
  • Clean up mailing lists you subscribe to
    • Subscribe to digests as much as possible
    • Establish rules to move these mails to specified folders
    • Allot specific time to read/circulate/delete
    • Review list periodically to take chaning interests and focus into account
  • Establish mechanisms that will allow you to retreive quickly
    • A systematic folder structure
    • Use folder names starting with a numerical ( 0,1, 1.1 etc) to create a hierarchy for filing
    • If possible establish a good search engine to index and search your mail ( e.g. google desk top)
  • Analyse email habits and patterns ( heard of a tool called xobni)
  • Ensure that you show discipline in sending out email
    • Have a clear subject line
    • Put in appropriate tags and reminders so that the recepient knows ( for information/for action..)
Inbox zero
Provides some interesting insights on email productivity

Do you have any best practices that you want to share?

Jan 25, 2010

A bias for action

As my organization went through a crisis and I saw a lot of churn, I have been trying to find out,"What can make a difference ?"

I have found some answers with Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal in their book "A Bias for Action" (Penguin Portfolio 2004) . The authors talk about managerial effectiveness and attribute effectiveness ( and getting out of crisis) to how managers approach their job.Heike and Ghoshal classify managers based on their energy and focus into 4 quadrants ( see figure).They reach a conclusion that only about 10% of managers work pruposefully to get important work done;and those are the people who can bring energy and focus to their jobs.The authors define energy as vigour fueled by immense personal commitment and involvement.Focus is defined as energy channeled towards a specific outcome.The authors go on to say with examples that managers with extraordinary energy and focus essentially make things happen.

The book goes on to provide tips to marshal energy and develop focus.These include
  • finding once goal
  • clearing negativity and leveraging strong emotions
  • visualizing the intention
  • Making a personnel commitment etc
In all, a thought provoking read..

Jan 23, 2010

Is quantifying the benefits of improvement important?

I have been involved in what is be called 'model based' process improvement for a very long time.ISO 9000,14000,CMM,eSCM,ITIL...I keep getting asked about the benefits obtain-able from implementing these standards.Is knowing the benefits from implementation important? If some one else got a certain set of benefits does that mean that every one else will?

I have noticed that when it comes to implementation,organizations ( and teams and management responsible for implementation) fall in 2 categories
  • Those who believe with conviction that implementation of these frameworks have benefits ( Who asks for return of investment on belief in God ?)
  • and those who keep asking on what benefits ,how,when etc?
Though I am still struggle to provide a clear answer to the question 'what benefits? ( it depends/you get what you want..) I am increasingly convinced that, for the change initiative to be succesful, the improvements need to be driven with clear,tangible benefits in mind .

It probably has to do with the burning platform theory that John Kotter has, but establishing upfront goals for any improvement journey is critical for success. These goals cannot be related to process maturity (improve process maturity from 3 to 3.5 or related to certifications),but have to be related to tangible benefits that an organization needs to achieve ( reduced costs,improved speed,improved quality etc)

At a later point we will discuss what are issues in attempting to establish these goals

Jan 21, 2010

My personal change management check list

Here is my check list of issues I think lead to failure of many an improvement initiative
  • Have you defined the change in terms of improvements and outcomes that the organization can understand?
  • Have you identified a named “sponsor” for the project ?
  • How are you going to keep the sponsor engaged for the project?
  • Have you selected the right project team?
  • How do you keep the project team engaged and motivated to undertake the project?
  • Have you decided the right project implementation approach?
  • What channels have you provided to surface and then manage resistance?
  • What mechanisms have you established to reinforce change?

Improving a consulting organization

As you can see from the mandate I set for myself with the blog, the third area of focus of this blog is on improving my own organization. As some of you know, I anchor a small consulting team .Many of the conventional,transactional process improvement approaches,some how,just don't seem able to work with my team.

Thomas H. Davenport in his book "Thinking for a Living' provides some interesting insights on what works and what does not in improving knowledge work

What does not work
  • Top down reengineering
  • Scripting : (An expert lay out a script for others to use)
  • Computer mediated processes for everyone
  • Treating all knowledge workers in the same way
Distributed in the book are some directions on what works ( and I agree :-))
  • Use of powerpacks ( a compilation of outstanding proposals, presentations, compettitive information, models,specialised tools and a variety of other relevant business resources)
  • Adoption of agile methods :Replace detailed process flows with examples,ready to use tools,templates (e.g a checklist to gather role specific information in an interview),promote a highly iterative work flow,build straw-man's early,develop a culture of urgency etc
  • Understand that certain parts of knowledge work can be process-ified and that enables knowledge workers to focus creativity on the difficult parts
  • An appropriate technology support tuned to the level of 'rule based' decision making,which probably means google's desktop search running on a dump of information is probably what a consultant wants !
More to follow..

Jan 9, 2010

Review of Kotter's 'a sense of urgency'

Taking a diversion from the focus on self improvement, here is a note on another related area;enabling changes in organizations. An important recent addition around literature on Change Management has been 'a sense of urgency' by John P.Kotter.(2008, HBR Business Press). Kotter is known for eight steps for succesful large scale change ;
  1. Increase urgency
  2. Build the guiding team
  3. Get the vision right
  4. Communicate for buy-in
  5. Empower action
  6. Create short term wins
  7. Don't let up
  8. Make change stick
Kotter builds on the first step 'Increase Urgency' to write a practical book .Kotter first talks about complacency ( as a product of perceived success) and also about a false sense of urgency(activity vs productivity).He then goes on to describe one strategy and four tactics to increase true urgency
  • aim for the heart ( and not just the mind)
and 4 tactics
  • Bring the outside in (reconnect the outside and the inside)
  • Behave with urgency every day(demonstrate your sense of urgency)
  • Find opportunity in crises(crisis as friends)
  • Deal with the NoNos (remove and neutralise all urgency killers)
The book goes on to provide practical 'to do' approaches and illustrative cases for all of the above. The stories around behaving with urgency every day are in some ways an eye opener.We will talk about some of the tactics in subsequent notes

A must read for any one involved in enabling organizational change in some manner