Culture eats strategy for breakfast!

November 15, 2011

Most business changes involve a strategic intent, implemented by a project or program that defines the new processes and procedures needed to achieve the change and then develops and implements the processes.

Smart organisations realise this is not enough and include training to make the organisations staff familiar with the new processes and the really smart organisations link achieving the intended benefits to a key executives KPIs. And the changes still fail!

Two areas of notable failure are IT projects where the focus is on the technology rather than the business and PMO start-ups where the focus in on processes and reporting rather than improved project outcomes.

However, even where a smart business has aligned the project with a sensible/necessary strategic intent, and then properly leads and resources the effort, failure is still likely if the power of culture is ignored. Culture can be loosely defined as ‘the way we do business here’ and incorporates attitudes, expectations and the way both internal and external relationships work. The people in the organisation are there because they can operate in the culture as it currently is and embody the culture; they are predisposed to resist change.

There is an old joke that asks ‘how many consultants do you need to change a light bulb?’ The answer is ‘one, provided the light bulb wants to change!’  This adage applies to changing culture in any organisation – it wont change unless the people in the organisation want it to change, and overall most people in the organisation are quite happy with the culture as it exists (if they were not, they would move on to another job).

The challenge with implementing changes falls into two areas:

  • The first is doing the ‘right project right’ by implementing effective Portfolio, Program and Project management. Whilst it is true that $billions of projects fail due to poor management practices, these failures are a deliberate choice of executive management. We know how to do projects, programs and portfolio management properly, not implementing effective systems is a cultural decision that prefers the status quo and failure over change.
  • The second challenge is cultural; the need to move the organisations culture to allow the change to be implemented effectively. This is a much more difficult process that needs leadership and drive. You need to create the willingness to allow the change to happen, before the change can be implemented effectively, before the benefits of the change can be realised. This requires the people in the organisation to buy into the concept of the proposed change long before the benefits can be tangibly appreciated.

Meeting the challenge of ‘culture’ requires effective leadership; the people in the organisation need to be prepared to follow their leader into the new, unproven future. These traditional aspects of leadership are outlined in our White Paper: Leadership.

Another important facet of leadership is ‘Tribal Leadership’, everyone belongs to one or more tribes of associates (defined as people they know well enough to greet socially) and effective leadership at this social group level can also be a powerful influence for change, firstly to build engagement within the group (see diagram below), then to generate support to allow the change to happen.

Whilst project managers can only ever have a small role to pay in the overall leadership of the organisation (this is the province of CEOs and executive managers), they can be effective tribal leaders.

Most tribes are quite small, less then 120 people. In their book, Tribal Leadership, Logan, King and Fischer-Wright describe an organisation as a tribe of tribes and if the project manager’s tribe expands to include key members of the wider organisational community affected by the planned change, their influence can be significant.

Creating the ‘space’ within a culture to allow change, both from the executive leadership perspective and tribal leadership perspective are elements of effective stakeholder management. What most organisations forget is this part of the change effort has to precede the role out of the new processes and procedures.

Creating the space to allow for the possibility of success is not the end of the change effort. For the change to be fully successful you still need to role out strategically effective processes and procedures, provide effective training and transition support, and then maintain visible support for the change over an extended period until the ‘new’ processes and procedures are fully absorbed in to the culture of the organisation and simply become part of the way the organisation does business.

Unfortunately very few organisations start soon enough or continue long enough with the overall change effort to be successful. But without this sustained effort, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

See also: Culture eats strategy for breakfast 2!

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It is OK to ask for help

November 6, 2011

Far too many people think that asking for help is a sign of failure or weakness. In fact the opposite is true. If you don’t know something and waste your time trying to find out, or worse still make an expensive mistake, no-one benefits least of all you! Effective leaders, managers and team members know what they don’t know and proactively seek help to build their knowledge and capability.

Most people seem happy to offer help when someone asks for it, but are shy or embarrassed to ask for help themselves. Rather than asking, they try to work out the answer, even when it’s clear that it is not possible; or hide and not tell anyone they’re wrestling with something; or just hope it goes away. By asking for information or help, rather than wasting time and energy trying to solve the problem, you move forward and the energy that was being wasted wondering and struggling can be used for positive purposes.

This will make you a better leader and will also show those under you that it’s OK to ask for help. Demonstrating to your team that you ask for help when needed encourages them to do the same and frees up communication, energy and the flow of information in a positive way. It seems obvious, but it won’t happen without a push in the right direction.

Things you can do:

  1. First, stop talking to yourself and decide that you are going to talk to someone else.
  2. Decide who that will be.
  3. Craft the conversation. Write down not only what you are going to ask them, but how you hope they will respond. The art of asking effective questions is outlined in our White Paper: Active Listening & Effective Questions
  4. Schedule a meeting and promise you will ask them for help.
  5. Tell someone of your intentions; someone who will hold you to account for having the meeting and asking for help.

Then be pleasantly surprised; most people are honoured to be asked to assist friends and colleagues – by asking for help you are showing them you respect their knowledge and abilities.


Advising Upwards Published

August 26, 2011

Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, has been published by Gower Publishing Ltd. The principal focus of this book is on perspectives that will contribute towards an understanding of the critical survival skill of engaging senior managers, and of ‘helping them help you’.

Through contributions from researchers and practitioners in related fields the book provides diverse perspectives on the changing world of management and stakeholder relationship management through considerations of culture, group and individual behaviour, organisational management theory and other related subjects. The book defines the fundamental processes and practices needed to support individuals in building and maintain upwards relationships with your important stakeholders.

We have negotiated a special promotional price of $99 for Australian readers (including delivery), for purchasing options see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

In other countries visit the Gower on-line catalogue or Amazon.


Engagement – learning from Games

February 14, 2011

The developers of computer games are focused on creating and maintaining engagement. The longer players play, the better the game! Some of the ideas that can be used to help build team engagement in the workplace include:

  • Recognising individual engagement is easier if there is a sense of collective engagement.
  • Appealing to the emotions of both individuals and the group, encourage collaboration.
  • Clearly show a players progress through ‘experience bars’ and similar.
  • Provide multiple long and short term aims.
  • Reward effort; provide graduated and scaled rewards.
  • Provide rapid, frequent and clear feedback with windows of enhanced learning.
  • Create an element of uncertainty, the occasional exceptional reward.

Use these elements wisely and engagement in you team may become almost addictive – games are!! For more on this topic see Tom Chatfield’s talk on TED