The Case for Whole-Brained Change
Co-Authored by Steve Stanton and Frank Wander
“So much to do, so little time.”
Spoken by Sir Winston Churchill upon entering a magnificent wine cellar.
You have to change the way you change.
No matter what sector you’re in, today’s environment is challenging. We’re all experiencing the terrible trifecta of turbulence, acceleration, and uncertainty. As a result, all organizations are struggling to figure out how to survive and prosper in our rapidly digitizing world.
This struggle usually manifests as a set of change programs and projects. In fact most organizations are launching thousands of disconnected change efforts. As George Bernard Shaw once explained, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and this chaotic project mania has now become part of the problem instead of the solution.
For perspective, how many change projects, programs, and initiatives are going on in your organization today? Do you know? Does anyone know?
When this dysfunctional “project-itis” prevails, staffing becomes stressed, project management is diluted and coordination and prioritization become impossible.
Far worse is the fact that most change projects fail, with the well documented 75% failure rate as a reasonable, but very sad, data point.
What’s your success rate on projects?
The simple answer to why this failure rate is so high is that it’s just impossible to adequately staff and govern that many projects. And no organization ever has that number of skilled project managers. And without knowing your change inventory, how can anyone ever do After Action Reviews to harvest learnings? Without that feedback, errors are endlessly repeated.
But there’s a deeper answer to the prevailing failure rate, a less visible but more profound causal condition. Truthfully, most change projects are doomed from the start because they focus on only one aspect of transformational change. They’re incomplete from birth, only addressing a portion of the complex problem they’re trying to solve. In many cases change practitioners are unconscious victims of their methodologies and tools.
On one hand, many projects focus on measuring and understanding employee morale. Of course every organization wants an engaged workforce, even if they don’t quite know what it means, or how to create one. Unfortunately, people-oriented projects generally ignore work design, tool usage, and the impact of organizational issues such as the stress of endless emails and terrible meetings. Moreover, the consultants who typically focus in this area don’t have process skills or tools, so they don’t pay attention to these factors. But no matter how engaged employees may be, if they’re constantly apologizing to unhappy customers because of broken processes, they won’t stay engaged for long.
On the other hand most process redesign projects operate with the unspoken assumption that humans are just the organic bits of complex process dynamics. They believe that value is created by powerful process designs, not the people who do the work. As a result, people are dealt with using change management techniques that attempt to lubricate the change effort and reduce resistance, rather than engage process performers.
Consequently, most Operational Excellence programs over-focus on process and technology, and under-focus on empowering, energizing and fully enabling the workforce. When a large chemical company was implementing SAP and major process change simultaneously, the large project began running out of time and money. So what did they cut? Training and employee communication of course.
You can see the impact of this gap most clearly at project’s end when the team declares victory, hands the new process over to the business, only to find the business rejects the new way of working.
Both approaches solve critical parts of the complex challenge of organizational transformation, but neither is a complete solution. Real sustainable change requires both elements, Engagement and Enablement, as core aspects of any program.
To be clear, Enablement is composed of 3 broad operating model elements:
First is the business process infrastructure, which reflect the design of all of the work of the enterprise. There are three basic types of processes, and each must be addressed to achieve real change:
- Core business processes - those that add value to customers (product development or Order-to-Cash). Success requires improving the design to add more value at lower costs.
- Enabling business processes - those that support core processes such as Hire-to-Fire. These provide critical inputs to the core processes such as needed capabilities and digitized tools.
- Governing processes – those that tune the entire organization such as Strategy Formulation. Without a clear strategic purpose, there’s no way to motivate employees or prioritize the use of scarce resources.
The second element of Enablement consists of the resources needed to do the work. These include the funding, people, tools, technology and information required by each part of the organization.
Most importantly, the third element is the creation of a work environment that supports the need for workers to think and be productive. Management must intentionally tune and shape the work environment to achieve this outcome. This includes addressing factors that get in the way of productivity, like interruptions, environmental stress, and a lack of dedicated time for employees to think and reflect.
However, fully enabling the workforce is not enough: They also have to be engaged. What is the point of having a finely tuned racecar with a driver whose head is not in the race? Today, more than ever, it is an absolute business imperative to deeply engage the workforce so they have the passion, drive, relationships, and sense of belonging to overcome obstacles, collectively solve problems, deliver high quality work and come up with the ideas that create tomorrow’s winning products. Anything less results in large pools of untapped talent potential.
Engagement represents enhancing the emotional/behavioral/social aspects of the workforce. It includes everything that is required to unlock passion, drive, relationships, etc. It is the psychology of work. Having an inspiring mission helps unlock passion – so it is an emotional tool.
Only when Engagement and Enablement are both addressed together can a change effort be successful. But there are many complicating factors that make this difficult. For one thing, no one “owns” all of enablement i.e. meetings, email, meeting spaces, etc. They’re orphan processes. Secondly, the traditional model of employees, which denies their adulthood, limits investment in employees, and sees them as costs rather than assets. Finally, many leaders have been trained to think, but not to feel, so they do not have the skills to drive deep engagement, and focus instead on areas that are well understood, like continuous process improvement.
Don’t miss our next article, where we will describe the obvious solution: What an Engagement and Enablement effort look likes, and how to make sure it succeeds.
About Steve Stanton
Steve is the author of the recently published book, “Smart Work: Why Organizations Full of Intelligent People Do So Many Dumb Things and What You Can Do About It.” He is a pioneer of process innovation. For thirty years his work has been focused on improving the capability of organizations to transform themselves. Mr. Stanton is also the co-author, with Dr. Hammer, of “The Reengineering Revolution” (HarperBusiness) and the Harvard Business Review article “How Process Organizations Really Work.” Mr. Stanton holds an MBA from Harvard and a BA from the Berklee School of Music.
About Frank Wander
Frank Wander, a former turnaround CIO, is founder and CEO of PeopleProductive (peopleproductive.com), a workforce productivity company that helps customers get the best out of their people. PeopleProductive is Talent Management Reimagined®.
He is also the author of Transforming IT Culture: How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms. This unique book is the very first operator’s manual for the human infrastructure, and will help you successfully transform your leadership style and your organization.
PeopleProductive has taken that concept to the human side of the enterprise. We similarly help you find, measure and fix a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional and enablement issues. For the first time, you can eliminate the inefficiency that holds highly productive people back and measurably increase productivity.