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.

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: 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.

Retail Therapy: Why technology is no substitute for customer service…

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It could just be me, but I’m beginning to notice an alarming retail trend.  Smartphones may have revolutionised communication, but I’m not so sure about the inexorable rise of the SMS notification when you’ve ordered something online.  On one hand, it’s hard to object to this type of customer interaction. Today’s tech-savvy shoppers are far more demanding.  It’s a rapid reassurance that what you’ve ordered has been acknowledged, and is on it’s way.  Deployed correctly, it can help to build trust in the brand and connect the dots between  internal operational systems and customer touchpoints.

Online grocer, Ocado have this down to a fine art – I know exactly when the monthly shop I’ve ordered will arrive, the colour of the delivery van and the name of the driver.   SMS has other uses too. Having my bank statement texted to me every week helps serves as a timely reminder to help me keep track of my spending.   So too, knowing well in advance that the Dover:Calais ferry has been delayed allows me to adjust travel plans accordingly.

So far, so good…  That is until it all goes awry.  I was sharply reminded of the pitfalls of technology when I unexpected received an SMS giving me notification that my ‘goods’ were going to be delivered on Monday.  Said goods were actually a champagne ‘thank you’ from a colleague and were of course, intended to be a surprise.  Well, surprise spoiled by SMS!  Hmmm… Within minutes another SMS saying the goods were definitely going to be arriving on Monday – this time from the logistics company despatching the order. Hmmm… Of course, they didn’t, much to the annoyance of my colleague who had paid a premium for a ‘named day delivery’.

Net result.  A new customer who is angry and disappointed.  A potential customer who waited in on delivery day while her champagne languished in a depot in Ashford!  And, a complete lack of trust in the company who supplied the goods.  And no follow up from the company, even when they realised something had gone wrong. This is the reason why machines will never rule the world!  Nevertheless I’m amazed by the number of times this keeps happening.  As sites like Etsy and Notonthehighstreet.com make online commerce more accessible to small entrepreneurs and their client base, automatic notification systems are multiplying like topsy.  Logistics companies are particular culprits!

The inherent flaw is that if you are reliant on a third party to despatch and deliver your goods, you have no control over how and when these reach your customer.  So having customer-centric systems is a vital element to this particular type of supply chain. Getting it wrong can damage your brand, and seriously affect your bottom line – critical if you are a small retailer, just as important if you are a large one. Technology might facilitate e-commerce, but it’s human beings that make the world turn.

 

 

 

 

The rise of the chameleon…why adaptation matters in organisations

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What do Chameleons, Stick Insects and Squid have in common?  They are all creatures that change colour depending on their surroundings, enemies, temperature or mood. In the natural world this ability is known as signalling, and has evolved as an evolutionary means to communicate or camouflage.

You are probably wondering what bearing this has on the modern business habitat?

Well, it may not be a jungle out there, but to survive – and thrive – corporate leaders and managers need to be comfortable with change.  Adaptability is key.  The financial pages are littered with stories of organisations who were looking the other way when the winds of change blew in.  In 2009, UK retailer Woolworths went bust after 100 years of trading history. 30,000 people lost their jobs. While there are many reasons for the decline, the contributing fail factor was a lack of focus on their core retail strengths (you could buy anything and everything) and an inability to respond fast enough to inclement market conditions. In these credit-crunching times it any wonder that these premises are now occupied by discount retailers such as Poundland – squarely aimed at budget-constrained consumers?

Savvy organisations recognise that change is a constant – and are able to respond to their environment.  Super-savvy organisations actually build this type of reflex into their strategy.  I’m reminded of the latest TV campaign for Amazon, who claim they ‘make the revolutionary, routine’– the premise being that innovating for change is the new normal.  For such businesses, change is not merely something that happens, but something  that the leaders of these organisations actively shape.

Sharks may be the ultimate predator, but their corporate repertoire is somewhat limited. Far better to be a chameleon. Not only can they change their spots in 20 seconds flat, they can focus on two objects at the same time. They also catch prey at about 30 thousandths of a second. Now that’s what I call a reflex! Managerial mimicry, anyone?

What do you think?  Can being a corporate chameleon help you adapt? Comments on the blog, please.

Moving mountains…what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur

This weekend I climbed 3 of the highest peaks in Yorkshire. It was part of a charity fundraiser for the White Stuff Foundation, and involved getting up – and down – three mountains in under 12 hours.  Yes…26 miles (41 km) of non-stop hiking across the finest mud, rocks, rain and bogs that the Dales National Park had to offer.  It was physically hard…really, really hard.  It was relentless…the uphill climb felt never-ending at times. It was also fun…Well, it was when we weren’t getting rained or being buffeted by 50 mph winds.

On the journey home, as I sat nursing my dysfunctional knees and wondering if I would ever be able to walk without hobbling, I reflected on the experience.  It reminded me a lot of what it’s like to work for yourself.  Whether your title is ‘self-employed’, ‘small business owner’ or ‘entrepreneur’ – building a successful enterprise does, on occasion, feel a bit like moving mountains. Or wading through a bog, depending on your mindset…

And that got me thinking.  Stepping off the corporate ladder can mean you choose to climb a mountain instead.  But you have to start somewhere.  My 3 Peaks challenge began with the very first step I took as we headed towards Pen-y-ghent (691 m), but the preparation started much earlier.  It was something I wanted to do, so I had to make the decision to sign up, and commit time and effort to fundraising, preparation and travel.  As with life, so in business.  If you dream about working for yourself, there’s no place for the half-hearted. You need to fully commit to your ambition. And you need to take the first step.

Action, not thought, moves you towards your goal.  As I began the long ascent to the top of  Whernside (728 m) I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  As the wind lashed my face and rain dripped down my neck, I must confess, I longed for a winged chariot to fly me to the summit.  But, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Counting my steps. Counting the rocks on the path. When you work for yourself, the hard yards are mandatory, despite what those ‘get rich quick’ schemes on the internet promise you. Wishful thinking will never make you the main contender, just a ‘might-have-been’.  You need to do, more than you need to think.

Even if you work alone, you are never really alone.  The last third of my journey got me to Ingleborough (723 m).  By this time, my knees had stopped working and the only bit of me that didn’t ache were my eyes.  I was facing what looked like a sheer wall of rock, so I stopped for breath and looked around.  Lots of other climbers were huffing and puffing their way to the top. Some were fleet of foot – others, like me, were feeling a bit tired and emotional at this point.  Well, more than a bit… I really wanted to give up and go home, but then I thought of all the family, friends and colleagues who had sponsored me and supported me. I thought of the team of people who were doing the challenge alongside me. And I kept going – all the way to the top.  Success as an entrepreneur is always a collective effort – never forget the people who support you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. There is always someone who has been there before you. Learn from them.

I realise  this post makes me sound like some sort of mountain masochist. Actually, the 3 Peaks Challenge was a lot of fun. Especially the glass of champagne that was waiting when we finished. And the sense of having accomplished a physical challenge that took me outside my comfort zone. Besides, if  it was easy, it wouldn’t be called a challenge, would it!   You can do anything you set your mind to. In life, as in business.

Hocus, Focus…

I am often asked by clients what makes for good strategy.  Almost as if  it is a magic potion that will miraculously cure all organisational ills, while at the same time please shareholders, employees and the CEO.  Blue Ocean?  Kai Zen?  In theory, good strategy could be one of a dozen variants – there’s an entire rainforest of management text books that claim to have the definitive answer.  And if you don’t believe me, a quick trawl of Amazon.com revealed 27,719 titles under the ‘strategy’ category!  Clearly this matters to organisations.

To paraphrase Michael Porter, ‘Strategy is what helps organisations create competitive advantage by preserving what is distinctive’. Being a common-sense consultant – I confess – I prefer management practice to management theory…but, Porter is right. You out-smart the competition in two ways. Either you do similar things, differently or you do something completely different.

Strategy may be about differentiation, but in reality, the type of strategy you deploy to create competitive advantage doesn’t matter all that much. Magic potion or not, the true wizardry lies in delivery.  Intent without action is worthless.  Just so, strategy without execution simply won’t deliver on it’s promise.

The key word  here is focus. The other key word is action. To my mind this is where many organisations go wrong.  I’ve lost count of the number of companies I’ve come across who are drowning in ‘strategic initiatives’.  ‘Ah yes’, the CEO will say: ‘We are implementing our strategy’. Really?  This strategic activity seems to create a lot of busy, stressed people, running around with Excel spreadsheets and GANNT charts, but doesn’t actually move the organisation forward.  Since when is having 1,001 initiatives, strategic?

Surely, being distinct from your competitors means taking a more discerning look at what you will do, and how you will do it.  Narrowing your scope to those actions that will truly transform the business, and then acting on them.  Effectively. Consistently.  As Jack Welch so famously said: ‘Strategy is simple – just pick a general direction and execute like hell!’