Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Bucket Paradox - Attempting to Solve the Unsolvable

Can you remember this old campfire song that describes the conundrum faced by Henry who asks for some problem solving advice from his partner, Liza? Unfortunately for Henry, part of the solution requires the provision of water which can’t be carried because, you’ve guessed it, there’s a hole in his bucket! In fact this circular rhyme can go on endlessly without the problem ever being fixed. 

I noticed this paradox in an improvement project being tackled in one organisation and named it the ‘Bucket Paradox’ for obvious reasons!!

The team had taken part in a high energy away day with many others in the company – a two day problem solving event involving thirty or so people. Three months after the event, the teams reviewed progress in an 'after action review' and it became apparent that some teams had made real progress but two had become stuck. They explored the reasons why and found that the two unsuccessful teams were made up of individuals based at different locations and therefore required good communication processes between each other to continue working towards their goal. The subject that the teams had decided to tackle was that ‘We fail to communicate effectively with each other between sites’! So the problem they were trying to solve needed to be fixed before they could tackle it…the ‘Bucket Paradox’!

So here's a piece of advice...if the existence of the problem your tackling prevents you from tackling it in the first place...then there could be a hole in your bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza!

3 Ingredients of Success - Dutch Style

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being coached by Knowledge Management gurus, CIBIT, from Utrecht University. One of the lasting memories I have of an exceptional programme was a session that introduced a simple yet hugely powerful model of change. 

Unfortunately for me, they described it using their native tongue and so I couldn’t possibly repeat it -‘Moeten, Willen, and Vermogen’. Translated however, it means ‘to need to’, ‘to want to’ and ‘to be able to’.

The model is simple and goes like this: If you want lasting change to take place, then you need to make sure that all three elements have been addressed in the minds of those who will be involved in the change. If you leave one element out, then you may hit difficulties. Enabling change in individuals requires a sense of importance (I need to do this), a real desire (I want to do this) and the capabilities and skills to make it happen (I can do it).

Imagine for example, an organisation that is struggling to get people in the organisations to share knowledge. A typical response is to invest heavily in software solutions such as intranet portals, discussion forums, blogging etc. This is all well and good if the ‘can do’ or ‘Vermogen’ element is the area that needs to be addressed. 

All too often however, development is appropriate in all three areas. So in this example, developing a sense of the importance and value in sharing collective knowledge to form wisdom (need to) and getting people excited and enthused about doing it by seeing the value to themselves for example (want to) might be the area that will bring huge shifts in behaviour.

So here's some questions to reflect on if your looking to bring about successful change. What changes are you making in your team, organisation or even you life? Where have you put most of your focus so far, the need to, want to or can do? Which one do you need to pay attention to to make the three more balanced?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Employeeship - A Revolution Waiting to Happen

How do you reduce problems like absence and staff turnover whilst at the same time improve customer service? How do you do this in an organisation that has been the same for some time? It's a question that many CEO's and HR professionals have been wrestling with for some time. Usually the answer is more leadership training or some more policies and procedures. But don’t these miss the point? How many leadership programmes result in manuals gathering dust on the shelf with, at best, those that attended the programme saying “Oh yes I remember, it was really good...can't remember exactly what we covered though it was so long ago”. And how many policies and procedures end up lost in the HR manual not really making much difference to the everyday lives of those at work. 

A simple yet radical approach to addressing these challenges is being pioneered in Sweden, delivering amazing results in Sweden’s rail company, SJ. Called ‘Employeeship’ (or Medarbetarskap in Swedish), the concept literally turns ‘upside down’ traditional thinking about how organisations work. Employeeship is a process where the traditional thinking around leadership and subordination is abandoned. The traditional model is replaced by a mindset of partnership, a relationship where both managers and employees take ownership over their work situation. The main objective is to achieve a working environment that stimulates involvement among employees and managers. This creates a workplace where employees feel valued and important. Managers develop their skills in facilitating, involving, revealing and learn to make better use of their employees’ knowledge, ideas and initiative.

When people meet in an atmosphere of mutual trust their loyalty increases and they become more motivated to invest their effort on the job. A further consequence of this approach is that individuals become more grounded – a concept that is demonstrated powerfully using the ‘Weeble’ as a metaphor.

“Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down” is a well-known song that many of the older generation grew up with. The Weeble being a small doll that never fell over because it had weight at its base. If we think of this as a metaphor for employees that are constantly challenged with customer demands, tight deadlines and the ever-increasing rate of change, it's vital that we think of ways of giving weight, or grounding. Grounded people take responsibility and are able to manage, come what may. Leadership development programmes and policies and procedures are simply scaffolding that keep the employee upright...the moment they're gone, the Weeble falls over.

The insight that organisations that embark on this approach uncover is that the characteristics we wish for and value in leaders is identical to co-workers and colleagues. In essence, focussing on Leadership as the skill to be developed misses the point. We all want to work with people that are open, honest, that take responsibility and are trustworthy. The feeling of being a part of things is important; it is a prerequisite for grounded people who enjoy their work.

So how is Employeeship developed?

Sounds common sense so far you could be thinking and paradoxically this is both simple and NOT easy. The key to this approach is for teams to be able to have transparent conversations with their 'leader' regarding things we just don't talk about often. Tricky subjects like

  • What is loyalty?
  • The meaning of work
  • How it fits in with our lives
  • Relationships between us in the team
  • Responsibility, accountability and taking initiative
  • The service we offer others

This takes a great deal of sensitivity, listening and courage from the 'leader' of the group but the results are breathtaking. The key to SJ’s success has been the commitment of the senior team to create time for teams to hold these conversations. Of course the level of take up has been variable but those areas that have embraced it fully have experienced a vast turnaround in measurable performance. In fact SJ recently announced that it’s absence levels have dropped by 25%, bucking the trend in Sweden overall.

The key to Employeeship is that it cannot be considered as a one-off, something that is ‘done’ for 12 months and then replaced by something else. SJ is already asking itself ‘How can we refresh, enhance and sustain what we have already developed’….how many organisations would fall into the trap of asking ‘So what next?’.

At Lorensbergs, we've been helping a number of clients with this powerful approach, so watch this space for tips, learning, pitfalls and results that we experience on the way.



Friday, 20 February 2009

Let the blogging begin!

So here goes....a first dabble in blogging.

The trigger comes from having designed a marketing workshop for a client, an organisation that is in the IT sector and looking at ways of sustaining its success, even through the tough times.

A huge insight came to our thinking about the design when we reflected that much of the normal stuff of marketing topics (marketing planning, SWOT, Boston matrix, etc. etc.) might not be exactly top of peoples list right now. What might be of more interest and value is focusing on marketing that is really close to the point of purchase.

The beauty of blogging seems to be that it's a two way communication, not one where seller interrupts potential buyer with advertising but more about potential customers linking up with those who add the value they need. 

And for me, I'm hoping it's a way of connecting with those who have a real interest in helping organisations change with the full engagement of their people - something I'm passionate about. So stay connected to exchange more about employeeship, facilitation, change, team-building and other insights around change that we at Lorensbergs are learning from the field.