I guess that it is true to say that we are now in the latter days of BPR and that there are not many major corporations that do not to one degree of another bear the scars of their attempts to re-engineer their businesses. There has been a lot of debate as to why 30% (or less) of these programmes actually delivered the fruit they promised. I have a simple suggested answer, they forgot the people! I wish I had a pound for every time I had heard a company say how important its people were, but could not afford To pay a penny for each time they forgot that simple message!
"People are the glue that binds a business"
Businesses are a mixture of processes, technology, knowledge and people. However, if we examine this simple model you will see that processes are a way of using the other three ingredients, technology is designed and used by people and knowledge resides within the people. In short, people are the glue that binds a business.
When bankers and market leaders assess a corporation they tend to focus on the top team, and this is understandable. However, at each level within a corporation there is a different type of knowledge, and a successful business requires each level of this information packet to be robust, relevant and reliable! When a company fails to value its people and just focus on the other three elements, it starts to come ‘unglued’.
It is possible to run a business with the same strategy as the World War 1 generals, just tossing cannon fodder at the latest target to be taken, and to charge the fresh recruits over the bodies of their fallen comrades, but it is not a sustainable one. Certainly there are plenty of unemployed people out there and people desperate for a chance, but the costs are more than just those of redundancy, stress related illness, and recruitment agency fees. They can be seen in the weakening of the communication arteries, lack of commitment and loss of morale. It is surprising how high up in the organisation the cynicism goes. Almost no one more than one level below the leadership level believes in the messages coming down the mountain. Everyone is there just to survive and to take out of the host enough to survive the lean time that is surely coming!
Spending vast amounts on expensive consultants and glossy communication vehicles is no substitute for honest concern, and make no mistake, this comes through loud and clear, ever time!
It is well known that only 7% of communication comes from the actual content, and yet this is where we tend to invest all our preparation… in getting the words and pictures right. When people don’t believe what the spokesman is saying we tend to think that it is an example of failed communication. What we fail to realise is that, in fact, it is yet another victory for clear communication of the real message, the one that says “we don’t much care what happens to you… you are expendable”. Until we are congruent in our words and our real values, we will send this mixed message every time.
There is a prevalent feeling that in these tough times we all can’t afford to be focusing on the ‘soft’ stuff. However, in the end all business comes down to people and without taking this element into our equations we should not be surprised if all our best endeavours somehow either fail to deliver, or under-deliver.
People are smart and they know when it is for real, and when it is just another programme! They will learn to talk the talk, and manage never quite to be caught not walking the walk.
So how do we overcome this problem? The first thing that has to happen is that a shared vision has to be created. One that galvanises and focuses the whole business. It is true that it is a leader’s duty to lead, but we have a mistaken idea that this involves just telling people. It also involves listening.
There is much wisdom in the body of the organisation and each layer has its own unique perspective and contribution to make. If we rely on one man’s wisdom and vision, then we should not be surprised if it turns out to be flawed, because there are few people capable of this type of leadership. We make a cult of the few who succeed, the Bill Gates and Richard Bransons of this world are relatively few and far between.
Having understood and agreed where we are trying to get to, we need to understand how we propose to do that. What is important to this team? What are the rules and values? When we know this we know what behaviour we seek to encourage and reward.
We next need to invest the time understanding where we are in relation to our chosen goal. What are going to be the implications of the change? How will they affect all the stakeholders in the venture? If we want to carry people with us we had better invest the time in understanding how the changes will affect them. A successful business is bigger than just the people who work for it, it embraces its investors, its bankers, its suppliers and customers, its community and many others too. Each of these will be affected by radical change, and each will want to ensure that the change is for the better, in their own terms.
Having established, the ‘what’, comes the next step, the ‘how’. This is the part that usually takes all our planning efforts. However, the intersecting element, the ‘who’ tends to be fudged. We assign responsibility rather than allocating resources. People are confused, and ultimately unimpressed by being told, in one breath, that something is crucial, and then, with the next, that they have to squeeze it into an already over full diary! Unless the messages we send with our words and actions are consistent, we should not be surprised if people prefer to judge our actions….
"It isn’t corporations that change and grow, it is individuals"
The key to successful change is to recognise that it isn’t corporations that change and grow, it is individuals. It is only by reaching and teaching individuals that anything changes. We have to win the battle for the hearts and minds, one heart at a time, (the mind soon follows). Once we have reached critical mass this process becomes faster and easier, but till that point has been reached we need to treat each person as the tenderest of shoots, to be cared for and nurtured.
We have to find ways to reach out and touch people in such a way that creates a safe space for this early growth. People are slow to acquire new habits, and under pressure will always revert to the behaviours that they feel have been successful in the past, no matter how inappropriate to the current situation. We have to show them new alternative strategies, help them develop new skills, let them explore them and experiment. This is the only way in which lasting, sustainable change will occur.
If you don’t think that you can afford this investment, you are just putting up your new wallpaper over the old cracks, and should not be surprised when they reappear in exactly the same places, just bigger and deeper. Isn’t it odd how there is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over?? We can’t afford to invest in our people but we can justify the six figure consultants fees…
We wonder why the Japanese businesses are out performing us, and we study their methods, but we fail to learn from their culture, that isn’t for us. But we fail to read the underlying messages of consensus that they build upon. We should not try to copy them and become clones, rather we need to do to them what they did to us. To copy the best, to adapt it, to make it our own, and change it into something uniquely us. We don’t want their ‘wallpaper’, we need their ‘glue’!
It is time to start focusing on people centred change.
Richard is a rare expert in his field... he won't let you escape reality nor miss the hard (£) or soft (people) issues. His work has a great impact. - Chairman, Teksys
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The future has a way of arriving unannounced. - George Will