A-Z of Interim: T is for…Teamwork

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I’m writing this in an airport, en route from New York to home.  I’ve spent 2 – very full -days with a leadership team, facilitating a retreat which required us to move from strategy to implementation. So far, so very consultant.  But, here’s the thing…

This particular workshop was full of people with a strong moral diligence, and a passion for what they do in the world. High integrity individuals, each as different and unique as a snowflake. From a facilitation perspective, this could have been a disaster…but it wasn’t.

As I reflected overnight on how the first day had gone, what struck me most about the group was their absolute commitment to work together to resolve some very thorny organisational issues – without personal agenda, and with a collective commitment to the greater good of their organisation.

At this point, I should probably declare that I live with The Belgian (a.k.a. my husband) and we are partially based in a country whose political system exemplifies compromise for a greater good.  Give a little of yourself, get a lot for everyone. In short, team-work.

Which brings me to today’s post. As an interim specialising in transformation, I have to deal a lot with big egos and even bigger personal agendas. Both were absent over the last few days. How refreshing, I hear you say! Indeed.

Yet, I was not facilitating a group of meek, understated ‘yes-people’.  Far from it. Everybody felt able to express their opinions, concerns and perspective. Yet, everyone was prepared to roll-up sleeves and work together to reach an optimum solution. Team-work in action (a.k.a. ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’).  Thanks, Aristotle!

My point is, that as an interim – your ability to galvanise teams is critical.  I’ve lost count of the number of arrogant individuals I’ve encountered who think it’s ok to step into an organisation and deploy cultural and operational landmines in the name of transformation and then think that justifies their day-rate. Really? My point is, that as an interim – it’s wrong to assume you are single-handedly going to save the organisation. You are there to bring people together, to build a collective solution that works for your client, long after you exit the building. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

A-Z of Interim: S is for…Skills!

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What’s your particular interim superpower? Mine happens to be working with CEOs and their teams to help them navigate change successfully. Of course, I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider – so while some of this ability might be innate, my skill in this area comes from a combination of graft and experience – a.k.a. hard work and multiple client engagements over more than a decade!

Although I make my living from change, I also am in the process of changing countries – swapping home life in the UK for wedded bliss in Bruges, Belgium.  To help in this adjustment, I’ve spent the last 6 months formally studying Dutch.  I’m pleased to say that I’m now about 80% fluent (give or take the odd verb) but this prolonged period of self improvement has made me think deeply about keeping current as an interim.  Is it really necessary?

The short answer is ‘Yes’.

Clearly, there is no substitute for experience, but in today’s interim market, it’s wise to remember that ‘old ways, do not open new doors’.  Here are my top tips for staying skilful and staying ahead:

Be relevant.  Do your skills still matter in today’s gig economy? Are you au fait with developments in your industry or discipline?  Once on assignment, it can be hard to make time to bone up on the latest trends – but it’s vital if you need to keep up with more than the Kardashians.  I usually read the business section of a quality newspaper at least once a week, with a focus on the articles that relate to transformation and business change.  Another option is to attend conferences or industry events. And if you really are short on time, why not use your commute to listen to a TED talk or podcast which speaks to your area of expertise.

Be portable. Just because robots are taking over the world doesn’t mean the future workplace won’t need people with super-powers.  I’m not talking X-Ray vision here! However, if your skill set is limited to an industry with a shortening shelf-life, you might need to re-evaluate. Where best could you use your ability?  What do you do that could be applied elsewhere?  What value could different experience bring to a prospective new client? Wherever you are at, its important to package your know-how in a way that fits more than one square peg.

Invest. The best thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny.  The worst thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny!  If you are not investing in yourself, how are you adding value to your clients? Outdated ways of thinking and doing are not going to build your credibility as a proficient professional. So, spend the time to read. Spend the money to learn more. Spend the effort to sharpen your skills – it could be the difference between being left behind and leading the way in the interim olympics.

And finally…

Stay Curious. When I was young, I was interested in everything.  My biggest worry was that all the mysteries of the world would have been solved by the time I became a grown up. Obviously we still haven’t found the location of Atlantis, but we have found life on Mars,so maybe wanting to know isn’t such a bad strategy after all. The point is, ask questions, be interested in what’s going on around you. You might just learn more than you think you already know.

I’m curious!  What do you think the top skills are in today’s interim market?  Do you think it’s necessary to reinvent yourself every so often?  Answers on the blog, please!

A-Z of Interim: O is for…Opportunity

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It was all supposed to be going so swimmingly…

2016 brought a new assignment, a wedding (my own) and a cross-channel commute home. It also brought additional stress and a severe case of shingles as my immune system finally called time on the frenetic interim lifestyle.

I said ‘sayonara’ to the assignment.  November was spent lying in a darkened room channelling a look that was somewhere between The Terminator and a deranged raccoon on account of the red eyes and anti-itch powder. Not exactly client-facing!  

Fellow workaholics will realise that enforced bed rest is not my thing. Neither is being ill. But this was an entirely different matter. There was no option but to endure, and no way to see an upside. Upside-down more likely!  And yet…there is always an opportunity to learn from the circumstances you find yourself in.

Henry Ford said it best. ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’. As the meds kicked in and my convalescence wore on, I had ample opportunity to think.  Which is why I am spending the first quarter of 2017 acclimatising to a new culture (Belgium), learning a new language (Dutch) and looking to base my business (and my assignments) closer to home.

As interims, one of our superpowers has to be that we can craft opportunity out of a piece of string and some sticky tape. That’s called change management.  Being flexible and open to changing circumstances means we can course correct when we need to. That’s called being entrepreneurial. And finally…knowing when to pause and when to act. Well, that’s commonly known as having Plan B. 

How do you define opportunity?  How do you deal with failure?  Answers and comments via the blog, please…

I am not a robot…Can AI replace the interim?

 

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Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to attend TEDx in Brussels.  The theme was The Deeper Future – drawing quality ideas and talented speakers from around the globe.  Topics ranged from food computers to outsourced love (you can now marry yourself in Japan), from craft beer (well, it was Belgium after all!) to a bank for the common good.

On the journey home, I reflected on the pace of change in the world that surrounds us.  Driverless cars, which once seemed the stuff of science fiction are a reality. Remote sensing devices replace traffic cones on the smart highways springing up between here and there. Nanotechnology is winning Nobel prizes.  And Russian billionaires are spending a fortune on trying to cheat death by uploading their brains to a computer.  Which got me thinking.  If Artificial Intelligence will replace the jobs of postmen and cashiers, what is the future for interims?  Will we go the way of the video store or the cassette tape?

There was a time when 2020 seemed to belong to another future, but in 2016 the future is here. In a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report, it’s estimated that by 2020, at least 7.1million jobs will be lost, most of those is administrative or white-collar functions – something they describe as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.  Furthermore they estimate that 65% of school children today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.

Revolutionary or not, something disruptive in happening in the labour market, and it means a seismic shift in the way we view work – and working life.  In 2020, the jobs which are most sought after will require advanced Mathematics and Analytical skills. Enhanced sales skills will be in demand in order to sell the new technocracy…And yes, an ability to manage and implement change will be vital.  Furthermore, HR and organisational fluency will be a must to help people adjust to this new reality. Plus ça change…In the 80’s pushy parents were enrolling their 5 year olds for Mandarin classes and baby yoga, today it’s probably robotics and mindfulness!!

So where does that leave the career interim. Tempting though it is to develop a cloning app so I can be three places at once, I think the future is brighter than it might first appear…here’s my hypothesis:

 

  • The interim market will continue to grow as traditional organisational structures begin to give way to leaner, less top heavy corporations. So, being able to get in, and get things done will be the way to go.
  • Specialist skills and experience will be in demand – particularly in transformation, and technology. It won’t be enough to know your domain, you will need to learn more about what you don’t know and can’t yet conceive.
  • Softer skills – leadership, knowledge transfer, facilitiation will increasingly be in demand to help the old guard navigate the new order. Are you sure you can negotiate with a robot?
  • Interims will have to be in a learning mindset to add value to clients and assignments. Old ways of thinking do not lead to new solutions. Old dogs will of necessity need to learn new tricks. Interims will have to be agile of thought to stay current.

What do you think?  Will there be a role, or should we all be planning to retire?  Comments on the blog, please.  Clones and bots, not allowed!

 

 

 

Business Transformation: Why technology changes nothing…

Image: Dreamstime 2014As an undergraduate, I had an art lecturer who  was into Bauhaus – the artistic movement, not the band!  Founded by the architect Walter Gropius, the Staatliche Bauhaus was all about creating a ‘total’ work of art, in which all artistic disciplines would eventually be brought together.

It’s got me thinking about the technology end of business transformation. Very often, technology is sold as the ‘total’ work of art that will bring everything in the organisation together. Want people to collaborate? Invest in collaboration software!  Want your employees to be more productive? Give everyone mobile technology so they can work on the train! Want to change the company?  Change the technology!  You get the picture…

In case you think this is some sort of Luddite rant against all things IT, let me be clear. In and of itself…technology is neither good nor bad. It just is. A fact of modern business life. A tool. As the way in which companies interact with their customers shifts, the technological landscape must rapidly flex to accommodate new ways for commerce – helping organisations drive value, grow profits and respond to market demand at lightning speed. Which brings me to one of the fundamental challenges with technology. In and of itself...it changes nothing. And yet…it can change everything.

For Gropius and his cohort, Bauhaus represented a practical opportunity to extend beauty and quality to every home by means of well designed industrially produced objects. For change-savvy organisations, technology represents a practical opportunity to derive business benefit and streamline operations by means of well designed systems and software. So… what makes the difference between truly transfomational technology, and the stuff that just clogs corporate arteries?

The three ‘ologies’…

Psychology. In my experience, the secret is to start with the psychology. Yep.. you heard right. The abstract people bit! Lets face it, large scale business transformation is only achieveable by bringing people, process and technology together. Clever organisations do this by creating a shared ambition for change. They tell a compelling story and create a future that truly involves their employees. They consult widely, and then spend sufficient time buttoning down the scope and setting expectations. Everyone involved in making the change happen is clear about what is expected, and what they can expect.

Methodology. Bill Gates is famous for saying ‘The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.’ Clever organisations look closely at their existing processes to understand where inefficiencies lie. They conduct a detailed gap analysis to establish what is missing from their processes, what can be re-engineered, discarded or left as is. They do this more than once!

Technology. Creating a shared ambition for change, then using technology to facilitate and incentivise new processes or ways of working is a far better approach than using IT to beat people over the head in order to make them shift. Of course, some degree of change resistance happens in most organisations. Poor execution of technological change simple exarcerbates this. I’ve lost count of the number of pitched corporate battles I’ve witnessed when ‘those guys in IT’ get it wrong. Notice, it’s not the technology that is wrong, it’s the people implementing it. Well communicated change, underpinned by well conceived technology can change corporate fortunes. Or it can change nothing.

Business Transformation: Are you the hammer or the nail?

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Perhaps the title for this post should be ‘Why organisations resist change’ but in today’s pacy business environment, change is the standard against which the business agility of companies is measured. In the words of the Borg, ‘resistance is futile’. Yet change doesn’t happen easily.

Despite reports of the upswing in the UK economy, the financial pages are littered with examples of organisations who failed because they couldn’t or wouldn’t change. In reality, business transformation occurs because a) there is a burning platform and the business must change to survive; b) external forces such as competitor activity, technology or customers require it; or c) the board genuinely want things to be different…(see reasons a and b above!)

Of course, business transformation is not something binary, nor is it transactional. People matter, and if your aim is successful corporate evolution, it’s important to have the right people making the right changes at the right time. Change is relatively easy if you are the one inflicting it. Not so much if you are on the receiving end. Which is probably why some organisations resist change so successfully, by the time the burning platform is in sight, it’s too late to call for rescue.

So how do successful organisations bring their employees along with them? Much as the CEO might want to embed change by dint of a strong personality, stakeholder engagement is key if you want the change to stick. But is it enough? Tempting though it might be to adopt a hammer approach, your people aren’t accessories in a hardware store!

Really transformational business change targets leadership, but also engages people across the organisation, while making sure that organisational structure and key enabling processes such as performance management align with the future vision for change. As well as making a rational case for change, stellar organisations also create the ’emotional’ case – to enable people to connect with, and buy into, the new reality they are facing. Their leaders become role models of the change – not simply paying lip service, but actually demonstrating the change they want to see – in everything they say and do. Most importantly, they stay focused and stay the course. Change is inevitable. Failure to change, doesn’t have to be.

Business Transformation: Ready, Steady…Stall!

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Recent headlines documenting the ongoing saga at Tesco bring to mind Lao Tzu, who wrote: ‘If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are heading’. No doubt many column inches will be devoted to the analysis of what went wrong and why. Did management ignore the warning signs within? Or did they simply fail to adapt and react to changing circumstances in their external environment?

Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain. If it is to appease shareholders and customers, Tesco’s incumbent CEO, Dave Lewis will need to transform it’s business, to do so radically – and in a short space of time. In this case, the £250m hole in Tesco’s finances, a property portfolio of large and unprofitable stores, and a devalued ClubCard and brand, are all powerful incentives for change. But, what happens when the organisation isn’t ready?

In my experience, things only change, when you do. Such change may be conceived in the boardroom, but it is delivered with and through the people inside the wider organisation. And this is where the challenges begin. I often say that business transformation is about psychology, not methodology. So it’s just as important to understand the ‘who you are dealing with’ as well as the ‘what needs to be different’. Just ask the team who are transforming the Co-Op!

Instead of charging headlong down the transformation tunnel, it might be wise to ask:

Is the vision clear?
Is the appetite for change genuine?
Are management’s messages consistent with their actions?
How ready is the organisation to make the change?
Do the resources and business conditions support change?

The greater the complexity of change, the more vital it is to understand where you are starting from. Otherwise, ready steady go ends up as ready steady stall.