Chief Money Manners! This last month has been a whirlwind and finally culminated with a global announcement to the 15.000 people in my company across the planet. You see your Chief Money Man is now also running a global transformation program across over 150 geographies world-wide. Turning a big ship around is a hard, unforgiving task, but therein lies an immense amount of learning opportunities. And that’s how I have been taking it.
To be honest, after being part of the C-suite for 8 years now, I was starting to think I had stopped learning. Or at least, that my pace of learning had slowed to a crawl. One’s frame of reference provides an unique and profound pit from which to draw on, to respond to the every changing (or not so changing) environment of work around us. Luckily my pit of knowledge and experience happens to be fairly diverse and deep, and while that has afforded me an ability to make good decisions, it has had a flip-side of lulling me into a safe space, where I felt, for a while, that I didn’t need to learn anything else.
Maybe it was serendipity or maybe just plain luck, but when a new opportunity came up toward the end of last year, I dragged my feet into it, not expecting it would start pushing my boundaries again and forcing me to assess my own learning in a whole new way.
My greatest learning of the past several months culminated in a global event, broadcast around the world to all our company sites and centered on one key thing:
How do you get a company, a team and people to change?
Musings on why change and managing change is so pervasive
You may have heard the phrase “The only thing in life that is certain is death and taxes”? There is some part of truth in that phrase. Think about your life now and your life a decade ago. How different are they? Are you working with the same people, doing the same job? Are you living in the same place, driving the same car, taking the same bus? Do you go out to the same places and see the same people? Are you using technology in the same way? Listening to the same music? Eating the same food?
You may answer yes to some of those questions, but my guess is that at least some parts of your life are very different. In the least you would have aged a decade and those of us who have been around a little bit, know that with age comes a host of slight changes to your body, like those pesky grey hairs that start showing up.
In any case, change is something constant and around us all the time.
Yet we often yearn for stability. We want processes, we want rules, we want ways to make things controllable. It is as if, we can recognize that change is everywhere, all the time, yet for some reason we shy away for it. If I could hazard a guess, I’d say this harks back to millions of years of evolution, where unpredictability could kill you.
Predictability was something that often kept one alive a little longer.
Whatever the reason we dislike change, all the more reason to figure out how to deal with it and importantly, how to manage it.
How do you get someone else to change?
Interestingly enough, I’d bet that anyone who has a kid will intuitively know some of the below.
Let me take an example of when you’re trying to get your child to ride a bike as a way of explaining how to incite change.
Your child will either have seen someone ride a bike, experienced it as a passenger or you may have to talk to your child and explain the benefits of riding a bike, like getting from A to B, the freedom of movement it provides, the speed or the thrill or the sense of belonging as everyone else in the family rides a bike. You’ll know if you’ve done this that every child will see as important one aspect of riding a bike. Some may identify with the practical part of it, others with the dream side, others with the belonging to a family or community part.
You see every road to change starts with one thing: The aspiration. The goal (to ride a bike), but that isn’t enough by itself. We all need something that is meaningful to us, to have an aspiration that we want to attain. The sense of meaning usually comes in different forms to different people and while dealing with someone face to face can be fairly straightforward, dealing with a group of people or thousands of people starts to get a bit complex.
Where do people look for meaning?
Meaning usually starts in the place closest to home and then expands outwards in what I call the Three Circles of Meaning. The first one is yourself and comes in the circle of Personal Success. this centres around recognition, earning money and developing personally. Being someone better and being seen for that.
Meaning then starts moving outwards and groups around your immediate circle: your Family or your Team. People who find meaning in this circle usually have a strong sense of wanting to belong to something, or a need to create a safe, nurturing space to grow or want to belong to a high performing team.
As the circle expands, we find Community, or Customers and Society. This last circle can also include shareholders or board members. Meaning here can come in the form of improving the world, leading industries, responding to customer needs or making better products.
These circles of meaning are important as, just like getting your child to ride a bike, they help us inspire people to action. Knowing these circles exist and how to create compelling stories around them that touch on each of them is critical to bringing together an organization and showing it the light toward which to march.
The Power of Storytelling is, for me, the most powerful tool any leader or indeed any person needs to possess. It is what makes the world move and what has been behind all our greatest triumphs as a race on this planet.
However, driving change doesn’t stop with Aspiring people. Once you’ve inspired people to move toward something, you have to architect and build the mechanisms that will help them move along their journey.
The Change Engine
In the corporate world, a change engine is usually a small group of people that start working on the opportunities that can be exploited in an organization that wants to change. This small group, usually close to the CEO will be charged with setting up the gouvernance mechanisms and oiling the wheels of the corporation so that the doors open and the opportunities can be explored.
The change engine sets the pace of the change, by identifying the prizes and then setting milestones and plans to get to the prizes. This usually takes the form of a cascading chart of ever smaller and more detailed steps to help achieve the goals of the organization.
As we set the corporate aspiration for change, we usually select some mid-term goals (3-5 years) and then some shorter term elements of those goals (1-2 years) to help us get to the end game.
Each shorter term element is structured into more detailed elements so that one eventually reaches a fairly concrete portfolio of little steps, or bite-sized chunks that can be put into action by teams in the organization. This also allows the organization to ascertain if it is missing capabilities and talents or skills to achieve its goals.
Let’s look at an example I’m dealing with right now (simplified of course).
Organization A wants to put in place a new e-commerce department to drive digital sales to 30% of total revenues.
To get to this objective, Organization A gives themselves two years. The first step is to find a leader for the organisation. Then they want to build a team and construct a strategy to achieve this objective. Then they will want to detail out the strategy to select digital distribution partners to work with, advertising agencies, create dedicated products, etc, etc.
Each of the steps can then be detailed out into action orientated steps that can have an owner and a date to achieve the action.
The more detailed a step is the more understandable it can be to put into place.
Influencing the Change
After setting the aspiration or the North Star, building the detailed objectives and plans to get there, the next important step is ensuring everyone keeps heading in the same direction and behaving in the ways that are needed to achieve the goal.
To do that leaders in the organization need to keep influencing the change in the selected direction.
How do you influence people to do things differently?
Yes, of course you set the aspiration that has meaning to them, but more is needed. That more, can be broken done into Three Aspects of Subtly Getting People to Do What You Want.
The first aspect is role modeling. We do it with our kids all the time. Doing it in organizations is the same thing. Wanting people to drive digital sales entails better collaboration across departments, from innovation, product creation, manufacturing, digital marketing and sales. Leaders at every level who purposely go out and speak to those teams and show their interest in achieving the goal and 4 times more likely to be successful in getting their teams to change the way they operate.
The second aspect is continually reinforcing behavior and ways of working. This could be as easy as recognition, from saying “Good job!” when things are done in a way that aligns to the goal to setting up prizes for the best new digital product idea, marketing approach, cross functional collaboration initiative. This list is as long as your imagination.
The third aspect is similar to the aspiration concept we explored in the beginning and entails continually explaining what is expected of everyone on the team and – importantly – ensuring they understand it as well.
To illustrate the three aspects, let’s look at Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. The reason I’m using this is that there was a movie made of this and you can go see it if you want to see an expert at the three aspects in action.
Mandela wanted to unite a previously un-united South African minority and majority. That’s a lofty goal involving over 40 million people, most of which were oppressed by the minority.
Mandela talked about his Aspiration: a rainbow nation of people working to improve the lives of everyone, irrespective of their difficult past. He talked about it at every opportunity.
He used the Rugby World Cup as a way to show that a team comprised of, mainly, the white minority, could unite a nation. He infused the players with a belief that their role and reason for being was greater than winning a tournament. He role modeled the unity by wearing a South African Rugby jersey at the games and being visible about it. He continually reinforced the right behavior of his ministers and the rugby players. He was a master at it.
And he really did succeed in uniting the entire country behind the players at the World Cup. And the players played beyond their skills and beat the most powerful team at the time to clinch the title.
An inspired person can perform super-human feats.
Change was never meant to be easy
I never expected change to be easy — but I also never expected it to be this hard. My experience of the past several months has been intense, invigorating and soul destroying all at the same time.
As a change agent, I’m the target of all hostility as people cling to the past. I’m the target of admiration and hope as people see me opening up new ways of doing things and I’m continually dancing a fine line between pushing too much change and too little change.
Whatever the next 6 months holds for me, I’m having a blast and pushing my learning boundaries to new limits and I’m sure I’ll be better off for it.