Change Management

Change Management: Is It All In the Delivery?

Regardless of political affiliation, it is incumbent upon anyone involved in change management, stakeholder management or leadership to sit up and pay attention to the techniques currently being used by Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford. This is only common sense. Even if you dislike their style, to paraphrase the words of Don Vito Corleone it is better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Both men maintain positions of almost absolute power. For them, this makes the initiation of change much more manageable. Mr. Ford has learned from Mr. Trump that there is no longer any need to run an idea through a gauntlet of advisors. It is far more expedient to announce it directly to the public through social media or carefully selected journalists.

If one were to compare this against Robert Cialdini’s six faces of influence, this is indisputably the face of authority in action.

However, as Mr. Trump has discovered, and as perhaps Mr. Ford will soon too, not every change deployed by a single tweet or hasty press conference will live to see its day. Numerous lower court rulings that have overturned many of Mr. Trump‘s initiatives show that at least to this moment in history, absolute power in either country is not yet absolute.

But it is still worth observing in both cases the degree to which they understand their stakeholders. Each leader recognizes a solid core base of devoted followers that approaches cult status. The influence and power that each has over their respective bases are not one based on fact, statistics, or explanation. It is one solely based on the power of personality.

Is this something that other people involved in change management should emulate? Is the power of charisma stronger than that of careful planning and communication in the stakeholder management process?

By comparison, how much of this type of charismatic influence did Steve Jobs have in the successful marketing of Apple products? Was it the cult of Apple that spurred sales, or was it a carefully executed plan? Compare this to BlackBerry, once the darling of the corporate crowd. Was a belief in charisma and brand instrumental in the company’s failure to pull the market in its direction? Blackberry did not really have a “face” the same way Apple did, or Virgin still does.

How much of your change management strategy will rely on personal relationships and charisma? Is it even fair to expect successful deployment to be based on the personality of the change leader? In the world of stand-up comedy, a joke or even an entire act can succeed or fail depending on the style of the person delivering it. There’s something to be observed there. Credibility on the part of the messenger or change agent and acceptance on the part of those accepting change rely a great deal on subjective emotional interpretation.

Not every corporate leader charged with initiating a change either within their department or outside in the world of the public is blessed with a fiery personality or unyielding self-confidence. However, it is essential to point out just how crucial it is for people upon whom change is being foisted, to believe in the person initiating that change. Intelligent project management is vital to the successful deployment of change initiatives, but without a personal connection, the plan will fall upon deaf ears.

Humans need to feel comfortable, they need to feel looked after, and they need to feel optimistic. This has been the backbone of organized religion for millennia and is undoubtedly the backbone of populist politics. The question becomes whether an emotionally charged base of disciples is sufficient to carry the day for any of us involved in organizational change. Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford face challenges in the courts, and corporate change managers face the same type of scrutiny and diligence from boards of directors, shareholders, other levels of management and the rank-and-file.

In the end charisma without substance, speeches without research, and personality without plans may be doomed to stumble or fail. But this statement can also be read in reverse: substance without charisma, research without speeches, and plans without personality may also be doomed to the same level of failure.

But those of us busy focusing on a successful change management initiative must take note of the fact that people love to connect with strong leaders who actively listen to their concerns. It is always best when such attention is genuine, and that it results in tangible, people-focused actions, but the point remains; the majority of stakeholders continues to be ruled primarily by emotion, especially fear. Facts are important, of course, but your investment in the emotional side of change should be sufficient to balance out the logic of your project plan.

What can BitCoin teach about Teaching?

Have you heard of BitCoin? It’s a virtual currency that is taking the word by storm. In the course of just the last 12 months is has transformed itself from a mysterious tool used largely by international organized crime rings to an increasingly legitimate form of money that is being accepted in by a range of businesses from airlines to pubs. Whether BitCoin itself actually becomes the new world currency remains to be seen, but close on its heels are about a thousand other sophisticated virtual currencies, all vying to become the new age alternative to gold, the US dollar or the pound sterling.

What can BitCoin teach us about change in the workplace? A great deal, with the simplest lesson being that change is happening. As new generations enter the workforce for the first time, their expectations around professional development, career advancement, loyalty to an employer, relationships with managers, clients and colleagues, and work-life balance will differ substantially from those who have ten or even five more work experience.

When it comes to your Professional Development strategies for 2014 and beyond, it is essential you choose a company that understands the needs of today’s learner. Interaction, customization and learning according to one’s own personal style have never been more critical. Many of the old-school “training centres” remain stuck in a 1970’s style of classroom delivery, using PowerPoint, canned breakout exercises and paper handouts in an effort to ensure at least 10% of the curriculum remains in students’ heads by the end of the day and beyond.

At The Bristall Group we have always focused on the fact that every employee sent for “training” is an individual, with specific approaches to learning, and that one size does not fit all. We always encourage pre-session input from employees and managers, we continue to maintain our two-decades-old tradition of unlimited mentorship, and our use of social media and wifi connectivity allows individuals to learn, maintain dialogue, and retain information far more successfully.

Please consider us as a viable and highly efficient alternative to traditional large-scale training centres. We have been around long enough to have built a strong curriculum of highly effective and useful courses, but we remain young enough to ensure that the information is delivered in a method that connects with students of all ages, as individuals and as teams.

Time To Learn More About Learning

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on an excellent white paper produced by the Gartland and Mellina Group, on the ineffectiveness of most professional development teaching styles and how collaborative environments may usher in a more dynamic approach to active, personalized learning. As someone who has delivered professional development workshops for almost 20 years, I am thrilled to observe the tipping point moving ever closer. Here is an excerpt:

The paper focuses on the need for financial services companies to take full advantage of collaborative learning environments to engage learners while reducing costs. Quoting former General Electric CEO and management icon Jack Welch, the paper states, “An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

The Classic "Forgetting Curve"

The Classic “Forgetting Curve”

The paper starts out by highlighting some of the classic problems found in traditional corporate teaching methods that primarily use passive learning – in other words, “sit at a desk and pay attention to the teacher.” This includes the fascinating “forgetting curve” which reveals just how little knowledge is retained when students are unable to interact.

Active learning, by contrast, focuses the responsibility of learning on the learners, once they have been given sufficiently engaging material to work with. This is usually built out of a combination of instructor-led and interactive elements known as blended learning.

The significance of effective learning to the financial services sector is huge. For example, the GMG paper states, “In 2010, it was estimated that 61% of all compliance training and 23% of all executive training was done online.” It is essential that in such a crucial area of business that learning objectives are met properly and cost-efficiently.

To read more, including access to the white paper itself, please click here.

Gamification: the fun way to bring a horse to water and make him drink

Ender's GameThere is an excellent book called Ender’s Game, written by Orson Scott Card and which is now a big-budget movie starring Harrison Ford. It uses the concept of children playing video games and perfecting their skills, all the while not realizing that their “playing” has much deeper military applications. This story differs from other movies such as “War Games” and “Tron,” in that it focuses on the “playing” and the need for continuous improvement against a computerized opponent who continually raises the difficulty level.

This fascinating notion of integrating games into mainstream life, exists in many forms today, including simulators for piloting planes, boats and trains, as well as the comparatively new trend of rewarding visitors to social media sites with tokens or stars for registering, participating or referring friends. It is called gamification. Officially, gamification it is described as applying game mechanics to otherwise non-game scenarios. It has been around for decades but, as with all things technology-related, its use is now on the rise.

One of the most fascinating areas in which gamification is used is in software development. Every developer strives to write perfect code, but the fact is that they are human – and prone to error; and even with new technologies and techniques available that can assist them with writing better code, developers can be resistant to adopting these solutions if they disrupt the way they work. The tech world therefore needed a method that would not only help, but also incentivize developers to write better software, and gamification offered a solution.

Coverity LogoJennifer Johnson is Chief Marketing Officer at Coverity, a development testing company headquartered in San Francisco. She describes how her company, which grew out of a project at the Computer Systems Lab at Stanford University in 2003, has developed a fundamentally unique way to apply static analysis technology – enabling it to automatically detect software glitches and defects in complex source code, on real-world codebases that can span into millions of lines of code.

Whereas traditional quality control had been put into the hands of QA teams, it was thought that by making the discovery of bugs and errors more fun – like a contest – the perfection of code could be put back into the hands of the developers themselves. This principle coincided with the rise in popularity of social media where gamification was being used to engage users. The notion of making a game out of quality hit the tech arena strongly and in a positive way, since most developers love games and competition. As Johnson points out, “They take pride in coding. It is as much of an art as a science. Bug contests and leader boards are subtly creating a culture of accountability and responsibility.”

Although using competition to garner higher quality is not a new concept, the principle behind online gamification seems to have brought great advances in the areas of education, employee engagement, quality control, change management, time management and continuous improvement, by aligning with the human instincts of competition, pride and love of fun.

Coverity has enjoyed great success with its development testing technology; some of its more famous achievements have included its work with CERN on the software employed in the Large Hadron Collider; and with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the flight software development of Curiosity, the Mars rover.

Large organizations around the world are seeking to embrace gamification as a new and promising tool for driving change and excellence through the corporation; not through mission statements or team-building getaways, but by tapping into existing human instincts. “Large global organizations involve people having to work together,” says Johnson. “Gamification assists in collaboration, and puts them under a common purpose. Even with geographically disbursed teams, it gives them something enjoyable and compelling.” In other words, she says, “How do you take a group that is ultra-important to software quality and resistant to change and make them enjoy the process of perfection? You use technology itself to make it fun”

The Future of Your Company, Hashtags and All

Fallon and Timberlake's Hashtag Sketch. Click to watch.

Fallon and Timberlake’s Hashtag Sketch. Click to watch.

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post covers a recent sketch performed by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, which looked at the way hashtags are used and how silly they would sound in spoken language. The skit, in my view reveals a whole lot more about the fores of change in business and the need for decision makers to get on board. Here is an excerpt:

“Recently the unofficial comedy team of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake performed a short skit that illustrated how silly hashtags sound when inserted into normal conversation.  The idea of punctuating a sentence with keywords intended as flags-to-be-found is of course, ludicrous in spoken parlance, but as Shakespeare and Chaucer both wrote, many a truth is spoken in jest. The humor of the Fallon/Timberlake skit underlies a very real truth that language, just like culture and life itself, is morphing to accommodate a new way of being, and written language is now expected to be seen online, where interaction is expected and where calls-to-action through hashtags and twitter mentions are essential.”

“These cultural references demonstrate that the age of the cloud is here. Everything exists “out there,” in an instantaneous and globally ubiquitous fashion. Such an observation is not limited to technologies of course. The same customer mindset that expects free wi-fi at every street corner and free apps for its numerous connected devices, is not going to easily file in to a boardroom for a staid two-hour meeting whose format has not changed since the 1960’s. Nor will it sit on a website that takes more than a second to process or update. Nor will it stay loyal to anything, when it knows there is something better, cheaper and easier just a hand-swipe away.”

To read more, please visit CloudTweaks here.

CloudTweaks logo

Seeking Innovation between the Last Minute and the Critical Path

Google's Black Light Aquarium Room

Google’s Black Light Aquarium Room

It has been announced in various places, including Quartz and the Huffington Post that Google has effectively closed down its 20-percent time policy, which allowed employees to work on side projects for up to one fifth of the workweek. Along with the black light aquarium room, the excellent food, and the fleet of wi-fi buses, this block of company-sanctioned experimentation time made Google the go-to-place for smart designers, thinkers and programmers. Google was the do-no-evil wonderkind that nimbly stepped clear of the vast and dull corporate shadow being cast by Microsoft. At the heart of its growth was the wonderfully innovative idea that a company could be built basically on a product called knowledge.

Now I myself have never been CEO of a global colossus the size of Google, so I shall not presume to say I know to run a company of that size any better; however I have worked with the employees of companies large and small for twenty years now, and one thing I do know: innovation cannot be hatched from cubicles.

The workplace, whether its product is data, insurance, cars, law, or any one of a million other items, remains a collective of square holes into which the roundish heads of humans are forced. The expectation is that productivity comes from an eight or nine hour day, and that anything left over can be caught up at home. Cubicles are square; the blocks on the Microsoft Outlook calendar are square, and the boxes on the corporate hierarchical org chart are all square.

Humans, however, do not fit this square mold; they are flexible, organic and reactive. Their capacity for creative thought, for focus, for collaboration and for problem solving ebbs and flows with the chemistry of their blood, with quality of the sleep they had a few hours earlier, and with the impact of the day’s stresses on their nervous system. People’s brains do not solve problems or come up with brilliant ideas by staring at a blank computer screen. Ideas come when the eyes and hands are distracted by other things, at which point the brain has time to move around and unravel segments of its tightly wound  processing system.

That’s what made Google’s black light aquarium room so great. It wasn’t a place to hide from the boss or burn off a hangover; it was a place to keep the eyes busy while the brain did its work. The same applied to the Google staircase, where people were able meet and talk informally. These were the synergy machines; the brainstorming centres.

There seems a time, however, when bright young companies suddenly hit middle-age. For some it is when they go public, and they trade in the youthful fires of energy and idealism for a huge pile of cash and a boardroom full of imagination-free masters. For others, it is a size issue. As soon as a company needs an HR department, it has moved, emotionally, from motorcycle to minivan. And once a company turns inward, the focus becomes less on innovation and more on just getting the work done.

Yahoo’s recent and highly public recanting of its work-from-home policy is an example. Working from home has never been looked upon kindly by the managers of the world, regardless of the industry. After all who knows whether an employee is really doing the work assigned? Thus the nickname “shirking from home.”

The problem seems to be that many companies including the smart ones, seem to confuse face-time with quality output. For example, Jody Thompson, co-founder of consulting firm CultureRx, was quoted by Bloomberg stating that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer “has taken a giant leap backward…instead of keeping great talent, she is going to find herself with a workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time.”

Productivity and innovation need room, time and opportunity to develop. In most companies, employees are trapped on an eternal critical path. Workload and deadlines clash with delays and wasteful practices so that every task being worked on bumps up against the next one, shunting them all down the line out the door and into personal time. Human beings cannot work well under pressure, and the critical path of an overstretched workforce is a prime manufacturer of that pressure.

I have met many people who claim to work best at the last minute; the adrenaline and energy of quickly arriving deadlines forces them to be at their best. However, based on my company’s analysis of their results, I have to disagree. They are forced to be the best they can be at that moment, certainly, since the human nervous system is programmed to be reactive and to kick into action-mode whenever a threat is present. However, high-energy output is not the same as high quality output. For example every document, presentation or proposal could be at least fifty percent better, more powerful and more concise when a smart person gives him/herself the time to plan, prepare, review and rewrite. But who has time for that?

Now this issue is not new. It has existed for most of the post-war high-tech age. However what is new is the mobility of the workforce upon which such companies rely. Professionals of all ages, from new grads to 50-somethings seeking a second, third or fourth career, are realizing that their best opportunity for a fulfilling and secure job might actually come from outside the well-manicured perimeters of a publicly traded company. Freelancing, contracting, and networking are becoming the essential skills of the new economy.

I recently interviewed a CEO who stated that when hiring new grads he always looked for candidates who had scored B’s and C’s in school, because, he said, these people know how to talk and communicate.  Social skills, he said, were more important, since they were the catalysts for ideas, innovations and relationships.

When I read about an organization that has folded in on itself and has replaced the spark of innovation with the slow-burning wick of administration, I ask myself, “How long will the goods ones stay there?” One need only look at the huge collection of start-ups, niche companies and self-employed experts, whose stock-in-trade is creativity, innovation, and agility. These individuals and companies recognize that they are the authors of their own success or failure. As such it is incumbent on them to stay great, competitive and employable. That’s the original spark that has always made great things happen.

Time to Evolve from the Primordial QWERTY Sea.

TypewriterWith the proliferation of keyboardless and mouseless devices such as tablets and smartphones, one has to wonder why so many millions of people who communicate by text must still use the outdated and counter-intuitive keyboard system known as QWERTY.

Named after the first six letters on the first row of characters, few people are aware of the reason for this layout. Many assume it must the most ergonomically effective combination of keys for typing in English, however the opposite is actually true. The design actually comes from the early days of typewriters, when each letter was mounted on its own stalk, and the pressing of the appropriate letter key pushed the stalk up against an inked ribbon and then against the paper itself. It’s hard to imagine how anything actually got done that way in the days before spellcheck and copy-and-paste.

Urban legend has it that the QWERTY layout was designed so that typewriter salesmen of the 1940s and 1950s could demonstrate their product by typing the word “typewriter” even though they themselves were not great typists. The letters in the word “typewriter” all appear on the top row, making it easy to demonstrate with one finger.

The real reason for the layout is that since professional typists were very fast, they would often jam many of the individual letter stalks together, thus damaging the typewriter. The QWERTY layout was implemented to ensure that the most commonly-used letters were pressed by the typists’ weakest fingers, therefore reducing jams.

But the new generation of productivity devices frees us from the mechanical restraints of a fixed keyboard system, and begs the question as to whether a new standard could emerge. Alternate keyboards, such as Dvorak, and one-handed mechanical boards have been experimented with over the decades, but never has the world had such a liquid and malleable work surface as can now be found on our tablets.

Recently my team and I tried out a handful of text-entry alternatives to try and get a glimpse as to what the future might hold in terms of acceptance and implementation.

The magic of chorded keyboarding.

The magic of chorded keyboarding.

The first of these was ASETNIOP, which represents a new approach to “chorded keystrokes.” In the same manner that keys played together on a piano form a chord, the ASETNIOP approach provides an eight-letter virtual onscreen keyboard (the letters that form its name: A, S, E, etc.) from which combinations of these keys, for example pressing the third and fourth together, will create another letter. ASETNIOP overlays the browser screen, allowing you to type directly on top of whatever you are looking at without losing half of the screen space to the keyboard. The developers claim that a person can achieve a speed of 60 wpm after 15 hours of training. Its intelligent autocorrect feature adds an additional layer of practicality to this.

Secondly we looked at FrogPad, a one-handed keyboard in which certain letters are visible and others are access by pressing a Shift-type key which reveals a secondary set of letters.

I'm all thumbs...

I’m all thumbs…

Thirdly we looked at GKOS, an intriguing collection of primary and secondary keys that cling to either side of the screen and are designed with smartphone screens in mind. GKOS is a thumb-only approach to text editing.

We found all three relatively easy to learn, given that mastery of them requires just an exercise in memorization combined with muscle-memory. However the question remains whether the world is either ready or willing to retrain itself. The cost of retraining, it is said, would make a conversion prohibitive.

I however, question that.

A snapshot of any place where people gather shows that the acceptance of the smartphone is almost total. People have trained themselves how to use a smartphone, how to enter URLs into a web browser, how to copy and paste links and how to transfer photos to the cloud. It is easy when there is an end benefit.

So what would it take to have people want to change the way they enter text? Increased speed? Greater accuracy? Physical comfort in holding a device and typing?

The proliferation of alternative keyboards is another excellent example of evolution at work. New and better methods of communicating are coming forward, like new variations of plants in a meadow. The most attractive and ideal will find early adopters, who will in turn spread the “seed” of this innovation, while simultaneously demanding improvements and efficiencies through the beauty of an open market.

My expectation is that within seven years, people will look back upon the QUERTY keyboard with the same nostalgia (or perplexed expression) that they currently hold for the horse-and-cart or pocket watch.

Change cannot be mandated. It happens of its own accord, and does so despite the resistance of many who wish to hold on to the status quo.
(As a quick footnote and a nod to the world of rock ‘n’ roll, it was Bette Nesmith Graham, the mother of Mike Nesmith, lead singer of the 1960’s pop band The Monkees, who actually patented the product known as White-Out or Liquid Paper, which many of us used religiously as we crafted our prose one letter at a time, and made many typos along the way. Even as she was developing this product, her innovation was admonished by management as “improper.”)