employee engagement

Mar 2, 2017

How to Manage Business Transformation and Keep Your Sanity

Transformation work should be managed as a portfolio of projects and programs

Transforming a business is a lot like changing the tires on a truck while it is slamming down the highway at 90 miles an hour. The business world doesn’t stop just because you need to optimize your operations. No, your business still needs to be able to quickly respond to customer demands with high quality service delivery even when it’s in the midst of great transformation.

In fact, your business must be positioned to implement new capabilities and modify operations on a dime, regardless of what is going on behind the scenes. But, during times of significant change, it is not unusual for work (particularly that which crosses organizational boundaries) to get “hung-up” by resource constraints and political red tape. After all, no one wants to be the one that winds up with the short end of the stick!

How to Manage Business Transformation and Keep Your Sanity?

Clearly, organizing work into a portfolio of projects and programs reduces the obstacles to quick response by offering a different perspective on the way transformation results are achieved. Resource issues and ownership challenges are resolved during the project planning stage, when the executive leadership is present and involved in priority-setting and project sourcing. Done right, transformation project teams will be cross-functional in structure and share common “team-based” goals.

Of course, there are implications for driving change in this way, including:

1. An awareness program will be necessary to expose all of the firm’s personnel to this new way of organizing and performing transformation work within the business. Indeed, the approach will need to be demystified in order to eliminate any possibility of misinterpretations or perception of threat.

2. Portfolio-Based Project Management “Next Practices” must be selected and put into place in order to ensure the smooth implementation of this concept. You will want to be sure that the best approaches to transformation are being adopted to ensure the best possible results.

3. Staff must be properly trained in project management (and their role in project team participation). Like any new skill, your team will need to be taught the basics before you can expect them to perform.

4. The business should be deliberate in establishing a common project management language. In this way, your people won’t miss a beat as the concepts are being institutionalized.

5. Once in place, project management skills must be further developed and nurtured in order to fully realize the potential of this transformation management approach. Indeed, it just the beginning of this new philosophy. So, be prepared to continue to educate and coach.

To close, this new transformation model represents a dramatic departure for most businesses in the way in which the work environment is optimized (i.e., most businesses are organized by function and it is those functional boundaries that dictate the way that work is partitioned, assigned and adjusted over time). But, managing your transformation as a portfolio of projects may be the best way to drive change, while maintaining your sanity.

As always, please feel free to continue to drive the discussion by offering your ideas and comments below or reach-out to me directly. It’s an important topic that deserves more attention.

Jan 10, 2017

Human Operating System?

These 6 business sub-systems must be fully aligned and integrated to enable flawless execution.

I bet if I asked you what your company is all about you’d give me that same ol’ rehearsed elevator pitch. You’d be able to tell me what it does and why it’s important. But, if I asked you how. You just might stall. The answers on “how” a business does what it does lies in its unique combination of systems that governs how it executes its mission.

I like to call this collection of systems the organization’s “Human Operating System.”

Your firm’s Human Operating System is, of course, informed by your vision, enabled by your strategic plans and is translated into company culture. Here are the key parts of every Human Operating System:

1. Work Design Systems – These systems define how your business is organized. It determines your reporting lines, you workflow and the nature of your production and service delivery processes. These systems must be optimized and aligned to achieve your vision.

2. Communication Systems – These systems include, both, the formal and informal ways in which your business communicates within and without. Time must be spent to design these systems in a deliberate fashion. You want to achieve transparency and to field the necessary tools that make open, honest and ease of communication as simple and straight-forward, as possible.

3. Decision-making Systems – Decision-making support systems take many forms and provide many functions. They can be underpinned by “Big Data” and sophisticated analytics engines which crunch data and present it in meaningful ways. These systems also include the style in which decision-making is done by a firm, including such “soft” subjects as collaboration tendencies, empowerment levels and problem escalation principles. Care must be taken in the design and implementation of these systems because you want to ensure synchronicity with other desired company culture objectives.

4. Change Management Systems – These systems include all of the processes and procedures used to set direction and manage change. How well your people handle the natural evolution of your business environment is dictated by the change management systems that you put into place. These systems should be carefully developed to enable the “preparedness” of your organization.

5. Talent Management Systems – These systems entail the acquisition, retention and development of your human capital. Also included in these systems are training, career path design, job classifications and skills prerequisites. These systems must be fully integrated into your strategic thinking to ensure that the organization is hiring and developing for the future and not just filling its current open positions.

6. Measurement and Reward Systems – These systems must be tied to the work design systems so that measurements are done as work is performed and not counted and tallied after the fact. Additionally, rewards systems must be based on the achievement of desired outcomes, at both, company and individual levels, and not on effort or tenure.

To close, what does your organization’s Human Operating System look like? Is it fully aligned with your vision story and does it enable the execution of your strategies? If so, count yourself lucky – few businesses can claim full alignment and integration of the critical systems that comprise its Human Operating System. If not, keep the faith, there’s plenty of help available to assist you in re-imagining how to make them work in unison and achieve your greatest business goals and objectives. Don’t be afraid to reach out for what you need.

This article was published by Inc. on 5 December 2016.

My Favorite Website Lately: TrikeJournal.com

Nov 1, 2016

What We’ve Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate: How to Create a Solid Communication Strategy

With all of the communication tools and technologies available today, why do so many businesses still have a communications problem? Here’s a simple 7 step process for building a solid communications program.

Many firms suffer from poor communications. It’s my theory is that too few firms have the necessary communications program in place to do it well. Take the following steps to develop an effective communications program plan:

1. Delineate your objectives – Determine what you expect to gain from your communications program. Objectives could range from enhancing service delivery and improving staff loyalty to gaining a bigger marketplace influence or upgrading relations with the media and regulatory entities.

2. Baseline your current communication practices – Once you know your objectives, perform a communications audit and evaluate how your business communicates. This characterization should involve: brainstorming with staff, interviewing senior leaders and surveying customers, suppliers and distributors with the sole purpose of discovering how, when, why and where your people communicate and message for, and about, your business.

3. Determine your key audiences – List all the audiences that the firm might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve. At a minimum, these will likely include customers, staff, industry groups, business partners, and the media.

4. Translate these audience sectors into specific projects and programs aimed at delivering information is the best ways possible to each group – You’ll need to consider your baseline results (as determined earlier) and map that against available human and financial resources, of course. But, by crafting initiatives for each group, you’ll be much better positioned to achieve your Communication Program’s objectives.

5. Establish a timeline for execution – With the initiatives (which comprise your Communications Program) identified, it’s time to craft a calendar grid that outlines when each effort will begin and be accomplished. Group the projects and programs into 18 month intervals (what I like to call “Implementation Plateaus”). This enables your organization to better understand what will be done when to improve its communications infrastructure.

6. Estimate costs at an implementation plateau-level – By “chunking” the work effort into 18 month intervals and giving an estimate of that total investment, you can shift dollars as needed among the initiatives that make up a given implementation plateau. This provides some wiggle room for your organization as it evolves its communications strategies over time.

7. Begin to execute and evaluate – Shape a method for measuring results into each project / program plan that you launch. Be sure to track project / program progress on a monthly basis and report it back to your senior management sponsors as you evolve each effort.

To close, a solid Communications Program plan requires about is 60-90 days to complete. Once in place, though, with the proper level of executive commitment and maintenance you will a communications asset that can be kept in sync with your organizational advancement for years to come. To learn more, just reach out to me and we can discuss it directly.

Note: This piece was originally published by Inc on October 31, 2016. If you like this article, please subscribe to my column and you’ll never miss another thought piece!

NOTE: My Favorite Website Lately: TrikeJournal.com

Jul 11, 2016

Executive Engagement 101

Change management is tough work and it’s nearly impossible to be successful without executive commitment and participation. Here’s 4 steps that you can take to garner executive engagement in the process.

I’ve written about staff engagement from the top-down in many of my past columns–written from the perspective of executives engaging their people in transformation work. But, this is the first time that I’ve tackled the subject from the bottom-up. How do staff members engage their executive sponsors in the process of change management?

As a management consultant responsible for driving organizational change in many of the top companies on the planet, I’ve often found myself needing to figure out the best way to garner executive commitment to change. Here are 4 tips worth considering:

1. Ask Them for It: Executive interviewing is a great first step to take to gain executive commitment to change. It is here that you can gain each executive’s perspective on what needs to be accomplished and what “done” looks like.

2. Give Them Something to Live By: Once the interviewing is completed, it’s wise to synthesize the results. It’s likely that several themes will merge from your interview notes. Use that data to develop “strategic principles” that the organization can use to guide its behavior and approach to direction-setting.

You can think of strategic principles as a statements of senior management’s preferences for how the business will be run. Each principle is crafted as a statement, followed by a rationale (that describe why this principle is important to embrace and institute) of a couple of paragraphs and a bulleted list of implications. The implications suggest what must be done (i.e., the price the organization must be willing to pay in order to realize the implementation of the principle) in order to institute the principle described.

Typically, a set of a dozen, or so, principles can be developed through the interview process. Once delivered, the executive team can use them to keep one another involved and aligned during the rest of the change effort.

3. Use Structure to Keep Them in the Game: In parallel with the interviewing process, it’s wise to establish some mechanisms that can be used to ensure continued executive involvement. For instance, create an executive steering committee (ESC) comprised of your senior sponsors. Schedule monthly review sessions with the ESC. Use that time together to solicit input and feedback for your effort as it evolves over time. Establish ground rules that require their attendance. This can go a long way to keep them interested and engaged.

4. Make It Somebody’s Job: As the change effort matures and the executives grow accustomed to meeting and discussing its progress, you can consider suggesting the creation of a new role for the group, that of transformation coordinator, who can act as a liaison between the ESC and the transformation team. This individual can use the strategic principles to keep the ESC members aligned through the duration of the change effort, while setting the ESC meeting agendas, facilitating the meetings, supplying meeting minutes and overseeing any follow-up activities that may be identified in the ESC meetings. While this role can be challenging for a subordinate to “keep the executives honest,” the “right” person can serve as a critically effective linchpin between the senior team and the those charged with doing the work of transformation for the organization.

To close, these 4 tips are not intended to be a panacea that guarantees success. But, they can serve as an insurance policy, of sorts, that minimizes the risk of failure in your next change effort. I hope that you find them valuable and use them. I know that I will continue to use them in my transformation work.

Note: This piece originally appeared in Inc.com on May 31, 2016.

Apr 6, 2016

Autism in the Workplace: We Must Leverage What People Have

NOTE: I wrote Autism in the Workplace in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, which was on April 2nd.  This piece was originally published by Inc. on March 7, 2016 under the title “Why We Must Leverage What People Do Have (and Not Penalize Them for What They Don’t)” :

Once upon a time, people with disabilities had no place in business. Now, thanks to innovative programs being introduced at several large companies, those times may be coming to an end. Business leaders are beginning to recognize that people diagnosed with autism, for example, can bring some great things to the table.

Companies, including SAP, Microsoft and HP have all begun programs intended to integrate autistic people into their respective workforces. Besides being highly functional, what has been found is that many on the autism spectrum offer real skills that these companies need in order to continue to grow and to prosper, including a temperament that supports long periods of concentration and a strong ability to recognize patterns and discover irregularities in those patterns–desired attributes needed for programming computer code and debugging software.

Driven by a desire to leverage what people have, and not penalize them for what they lack, these software giants have made a commitment through their programs to provide the support mechanisms and infrastructure needed to enable these employees to perform at their best. Here are some of the elements that have been put into place through these corporate programs:

  • Pre-assignment prep centers that allow these workers to practice working with others in a business setting prior to being assigned to a permanent work unit within the business;
  • Onboarding programs that train new staff on the workings of the office setting. Topics from the use of security ID badges to lunch and meeting areas are all part of the program.
  • Quiet office work settings and sound-softening headphones for those people with sound sensitivities;
  • Offsite work settings that enable employees who may be intimidated by a typical office social setting to test and debug software from their own homes;
  • Buddy systems that pair these employees with internal staff “buddies” who have some familiarity with the disability (perhaps, through family member with autism, etc.). These buddies can act as mentors and be the linchpin for a new employee’s assimilation into the company.
  • An awareness sessions for existing staff, with messaging and training organized around high-, medium- and low-contact interactions, which helps new employees be better integrated and accepted by their co-workers, when they arrive at the job site.

To close, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.5 million Americans are estimated to have an autism spectrum disorder. With about 1 in 68 children affected, it is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in the U.S. Clearly, more programs, like the ones cited above, are needed to leverage the skills and brain power that these people can offer.

Fav website today: trikejournal.com

Jan 8, 2016

Hurry! 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts About Visionary Leadership

Here are 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts Based on My Column about Visionary Leadership:

How to Avoid Mediocrity and Build a Winning Business
3 Easy Ways to Boost Productivity at Work
3 Secrets Your IT Department Is Hiding From You
3 Things You Need to Know to Manage a Team of Superstars
3 Steps You Can Take Today to Be a Visionary Leader
3 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Best Workers
3 Ways to Save Your Business From the ‘Fog of War’
3 Ways to Inspire Your Employees to Greatness
3 Ways Leaders Can Set the Right Tone
3 Ways to Create a Transparent Work Setting

Be sure to reach out to me, if I can help your business with any of these concepts!

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth.  He is a consultant, organizational behaviorist, lecturer and Inc. columnist. He specializes in strategic planning, corporate transformation and organizational redesign. For over 25 years, Jim has forged a different type of consulting practice – one that does its engagements “with” its clients, instead of “to” them.

Whether helping larger organizations, like The Home Depot re-imagine its store operations, or advising smaller firms, like Blum Shapiro open up new markets, Jim has a reputation of making a difference.

A recognized thought leader , Jim continues to provide cutting edge solutions to his clients through a strong dedication to research and study. The Executive Checklist is Jim’s fourth business strategy book. His others include: The IRM Imperative (Wiley and Sons, 1989), Inside RAD (McGraw-Hill, 1991), and The Best Practices Enterprise (J. Ross Publishing, 2006). All are testaments to his commitment to helping leaders improve the ways in which they guide and shape their organizations.

NOTE: Current Fav Website: TrikeJournal.com

Dec 29, 2015

Recognition: A Perfect Story for the Holiday Season

This tale will tug on your heart strings and should help to get you in the mood for celebrating the holidays.
Oct 28, 2015

5 Leadership Secrets For The Newly Minted Manager

These 5 simple management tips (or Leadership Secrets) are often overlooked and underutilized, especially among those new to leadership positions.

Business life certainly has gotten a lot faster than it ever was before. The evolution of the Internet and the widespread use of smart phones and other hand-held devices contribute to the need for speed. Consequently, leaders feel compelled to move fast, too. Sometimes, however, this can hurt more than help. So, allow me to offer these very specific and nuanced leadership techniques for managing the onslaught of demands that come your way as a senior leader.

Here are 5 simple tips, or “secrets of the trade“, which any leader can be put to use immediately:

1. Sometimes you need to go slow in order to go fast: An oxymoron, perhaps, this bit of advice is invaluable when in the midst of setting direction and managing change. Inevitably, once your course of direction is set, the thirst for change and eagerness to achieve the desired state can become too much to handle. Indeed, you and your team can come to be so impatient that you fail to put the infrastructures in place that are essential to bring the rest of your organization with you.

So, slow down and recognize that it takes time to do it right.

2. Just because “they” asked, you don’t have to answer: Bombarded with questions and issues from every direction, every day, many leaders become extremely reactionary–feeling compelled to immediately answer every question and address every issue that comes their way. It doesn’t have to be that way! You’re not always going to have the answers, nor can every question be answered. Instead, work to surround yourself with the best possible and competent team to help you address what needs to be done, then be sure to institute appropriate problem escalation and triage practices that enable your business to respond to issues and challenges in the most expedient ways.

3. Silence is a tool: As the saying goes, silence is golden! Think of this tip as a corollary to the one offered above. Sometimes a request doesn’t deserve a response. In fact, by not responding to some requests, you are sending a message. Just be sure that your use of silence is used deliberately and you’ll be on your way to using it as a tool to manage your messaging.

4. Less is often more: Another oxymoron for your consideration, this tip is intended to be a reminder that information is a valuable commodity. Give too much, and it can be used against you. So, be careful and thoughtful in your messaging. Yes, it is important to be clear and concise when giving direction and addressing issues. But, don’t be in a hurry to explain every nuance or implication of what you just said. Your community of stakeholders will ask another question is they don’t understand your response.

5. Time can be your friend: You want to be sure to give you and your team the time to think, to collaborate and to decide how to address issues and questions as they arise. Similarly, some of the challenges that you may ordinarily go about tackling, may work themselves out without much intervention on your part, if you just give the situation the time needed for the dynamics to change.

Indeed, time can be a friend if you use it wisely and not be in a crazy rush to immediately “fix” every trial and tribulation that springs up.

In closing, whether you’re new to the leadership ranks or a salty veteran, I hope that these 5 tips resonate with you. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers all of the time. However, it does mean that you need to manage expectations and control the messaging as appropriate to ensure the continued success of your organization. So, be sure to put these 5 secrets into your leadership quiver. You’ll surely need them as you continue to fight the good fight!

This article was originally published by inc.com on October 12, 2016

Fav website today: trikejournal.com

Jun 26, 2015

Challenge Coins, and, How They Help Rebuild Morale

This piece is about Challenge Coins, and, How They Help Rebuild Morale.  It was published in Management Issues.

Be sure to check it out and share it often!coin

Thanks, in advance, for getting it around for me…

Jun 1, 2015

The Business Case for Building a Cross-Cultural Workforce

This popular article is on Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace:

The Business Case for Building a Cross-Cultural Workforcefaces

Be sure to share and share alike!


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