Author Archives: Lynda Bourne

How the chair can make a meeting ineffective

The chair of any meeting has a unique ability to destroy the value of the meeting!

Eight of the key ways to reduce the meeting’s value are:

  1. Playing favourites. Bad chairs tend to shut down some attendees whilst allowing others they see as politically important to occupy most of the speaking time. The outcome from this behaviour tends to be poor decision-making; bad chairs don’t care. Their interest is to stay the good books of the people they see as politically important.
  2. Changing the rules. Bad chairs keep the rules to themselves and change the rules when it suits them. They don’t give advice on what preparation attendees need to make or advise how the meeting will be conducted. While this trait may appear to appear to be a gambit to leave the chair in control, in reality it means the meeting is likely to be less than useful.
  3. Showing bias. When there is a vigorous debate between various groups in the meeting a bad chair will obviously be supporting one side.  Good chairs remain neutral whilst they may feel strongly about subject their primary function is to ensure the meeting reaches a consensus, not that the meeting reaches a decision that they predetermine as being optimum (although they need to be part of the consensus).
  4. Failing to define its purpose. Bad chairs do not define a clear objective for the meeting, fail to set priorities, and don’t circulate an agreed agenda. Good chairs define the purpose of every meeting with crystal clarity so attendees can come prepared and stay focused.
  5. Losing control. The hallmarks of a bad chair during the meeting include running over time, getting off track, get rattled, and allowing discussion to descend into personal arguments. Good facilitators keep their hands firmly on the reins consistently and politely guiding discussion back to the purpose of the meeting.
  6. Failing to communicate. Bad chairs tend to display no sense of appreciation for the points made by contributors to the discussion and tend to ignore many of the attendees. Good chairs are great communicators remember everybody’s name, include newcomers, and are excellent at active listening and summarising points to ensure everybody has a clear understanding of the current state discussion[1].
  7. Failing to make decisions. Deadlocks happen in most meetings, bad chairs cannot solve them. A good chair will either take a vote, extend discussion for a set (limited) period, set up a working party, or call an extraordinary meeting to deal with the item later; any of these options are better than allowing the meeting to waffle on allowing tension and confusion to grow.
  8. Failing to engage with meeting participants outside of the meeting. Bad chairs are missing in action, too busy to be involved with the delegates other than during the meeting. Good chairs recognise the meeting is part of a continuing process that requires responsive input and support between meetings.

Meetings are an expensive resource often costing thousands of dollars an hour to run. If you are the chair of the meeting, or are responsible for calling a meeting, you need to ensure the meeting is managed effectively to maximise the opportunity for success.  This is important for every type of meeting from a short team ‘stand-up’ through to company board meetings – the further up the hierarchy the greater the cost of ineffective meetings. Unfortunately ‘bad chairs’ seem to be common at all levels; the idea for this post came from an article by Kath Walters in the AICD March 2017 magazine focused on the behaviour of dysfunctional boards of directors.

Recognising poor performance is one thing, doing something about it is another; for more on managing effective meetings see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1075_Meetings.pdf

Meeting management and effective communication also feature in our PMP and CAPM courses – the next 5-day intensive course starts 20th March, see: http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/

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[1] For more on active listening see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1012_Active_Listening.pdf

The Yin and Yang of Integrated Data Systems

yin_yangIntegrated project management information systems (PMIS) are becoming more common and more sophisticated ranging from ‘web portals’ that hold project data through to the potential for fully integrated design and construction management using BIM[1].  The benefits derived from using these systems can be as much as 20% of the build price on complex construction projects using BIM.

pmisThe advantages of this type of information storage and retrieval system include:

  • Ready access to data when needed via PDAs and ‘tablets’ significantly reducing the need for ‘push’ communication and the existence of ‘redundant data’[2].
  • One place to look for information with indexing and cross-referencing to minimise the potential for missed information.
  • Audit trails and systems to ensure only the latest version of any document is available.
  • Cross-linking of data in different documents and formats to assist with configuration management, requirements traceability, and change control.
  • Controls on who can ‘see’ the data, access the data and edit the data.
  • Workflow functions to remind people of their next job, list open actions, record actual progress, etc[3].
  • A range of built-in functions to validate data and avoid ‘clashes’, including locking or ‘freezing’ parts of the data set when that information has been moved into ‘work’.

These benefits are significant and a well-designed system reduces errors and enhances productivity leading to reduced costs, but the ‘yin’ of well-designed PMIS comes with a ‘yang’!

People increasingly tend to believe information produced from a computer system, this is true of ‘Facebook’, Wikipedia and flows through to more sophisticated systems. There also seems to be a steady reduction in the ability of younger people in particular to critically analyse information; in short, if it comes from the computer many people will assume it is correct. Add to this the ability of many of the more sophisticated PMIS tools to transpose and transfer information between different parts of the systems automatically or semiautomatically and there is a potential for many of the benefits outlined above to be undermined by poor data. This issue has been identified for decades and has the acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The question posed in this blog is how many projects and project support organisations (PMOs, etc.) consider or actively implement effective data traceability.  Failed audits, overruns from scope oversights, and uninformed or ill-informed decision-making are just a few of the consequences project teams suffer from if they do not have full traceability of their project management data. This issue exists in any information processing system from basic schedule updating, through monthly reporting to the most sophisticated, integrated PMIS. If you cannot rely on the source data, no amount of processing will improve the situation! And to be able to rely on data, you need to be able to trace it back to its source.

tracabilityTraceability is defined as ‘the ability to trace the location, history and use of each data element’. This sounds simple but in reality can be very challenging, and the results of poor visibility can be devastating to a project. Some of the key questions to ask are:

  • Where did this data or these actuals come from?
  • What is the authorizing document and when did it get signed/approved?
  • Has everyone approved the change request or action item?

Traceability does not happen by accident! Project management information systems have to be designed with traceability as a key element in each of its aspects.  As information comes into the system the author or the origin of the information has to be recorded (preferably automatically). Depending on the nature of the information it may need to be quarantined until appropriate checks have been carried out and/or approvals have been obtained and then there needs to be traceability of any subsequent changes. The foundation of traceability is the combination of processes (people) and data management.

Therefore, the ‘yang’ of a sophisticated integrated project management information systems is that as the systems become more integrated and sophisticated people will come to rely on the information provided and ‘trust it’ whilst the source and veracity of the data used becomes less obvious.

Resolving this is partly process and partly people. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has produced the Time and Cost Management Contract Suite 2015 focused on complex construction projects using BIM.  This contract defines a number of key support roles (largely independent of the parties) focused on managing the information flows into and out of the system to ensure its accuracy and validity. Similar roles and responsibilities are essential in any effective PMIS.

My latest post on the PMI ‘Voices blog’, From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge highlights the importance of data as the underpinning of all reporting and communication.  So the question is, how much focus does your project team or PMO put on ensuring the data it is using is timely, complete, accurate and traceable?

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[1] BIM = Building Information Modelling, see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1082_BIM_Levels.pdf

[2] For more on planning project communication see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/ESEI-09-communication-planning.pdf

[3] A discussion on how these capabilities can enhance project controls is at: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/the-future-of-project-controls/

Are you a workshop leader or facilitator?

workshopWorkshops are a routine feature in many projects. They are typically used either to find a solution to a problem or to develop and integrate knowledge needed for the work (eg, requirements gathering and prioritisation).

Effective project managers know that every workshop is a meeting and many of the rules for running effective meetings need to be applied including:

They also know that unlike normal meetings workshops are a creative process that needs the active contribution of the attendees to craft the best answer to the problem or question being posed…..  This means time is needed to ‘break the ice’ so that the people in the workshop feel comfortable working together and the facilitator needs to act as a host welcoming and engaging people as they arrive.

The job of the facilitator is to ensure the workshop ‘works’ and produces the required outcomes. The facilitator (or workshop leader) only needs sufficient knowledge of the subject under discussion to allow them to ask pertinent questions and summarise discussion – the core skills of facilitation lay in ensuring everyone is engaged and participates, all points of view are heard, the group works towards a consensus or conclusion efficiently and the outputs are agreed.  For more on facilitation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1067_Facilitation.pdf

Facilitation is a very useful skill for a project manager to acquire and use, however, to organise and run a successful workshop there are a two key questions that need to be asked very early in the planning stage – unfortunately both of these are frequently overlooked!

Question 1 – Will I be a key contributor to the process of developing the workshop’s output? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ the project manager should consider engaging someone else to act as the facilitator for the workshop.  The role of the facilitator is to make sure everyone contributes, all of the ideas are brought into discussion and the best solution is reached; it is nearly impossible to do this if you are also contributing significant input to the discussion.

Question 2 – Do I want to lead the workshop towards a predetermined conclusion or do I want the workshop to have free reign to explore and develop its own solutions?  While a degree of flexibility is needed in both situations, if the workshop is focused on getting buy-in to a concept that is already in mind (quite common in problem solving mode) the approach to managing the workshop will be quite different to an open discussion looking at all of the options.

Based on your answers to these questions there are four quite different types of workshop that require different approaches to deliver successful outcomes:

workshops

The best way to approach the planning and running each of these workshop types varies significantly.

You facilitate. In situations where you have no particular input to contribute and no predetermined outcome in mind (beyond the fact you need an outcome) facilitating the work of the group participating in the workshop can be a good way to build credibility and enhance your leadership position. Provided you are comfortable in the role, facilitating the workshop to achieve a useful outcome is a valid role for the project manager.  If you are not comfortable in the role, there is nothing wrong with using an experienced facilitator, your objective is simply to get a useful outcome from the process (for example a prioritised list of requirements).

Others facilitate. Where you are going to be a key participant in the workshop process and have significant input to contribute as a subject matter expert, but do not want to drive to a predetermined conclusion, the use of a neutral facilitator is essential.  The job of the facilitator is to ensure all of the viewpoints in the room are heard and the outcomes from the workshop incorporate the views of the participants, either based on a consensus or by applying an impartial selection / decision making process. It is virtually impossible to simultaneously be a participating expert and an impartial facilitator.

Briefing sessions. Have a very different focus, the purpose of the workshop is to explore and understand a predetermined proposition.  The role of the facilitator shifts towards making sure everyone’s questions are heard and answered, and there is a full understanding of the proposition being put. The outcome from the workshop is focused on creating understanding and buy-in from the participants rather than crafting a free-form solution – depending on the nature of the proposition being discussed, there may, or may not, be opportunities to adjust or fine-tune the concepts. However, provided someone else is the primary source of the concepts being discussed, the project manager can usefully take the role of facilitator.

Sales sessions. Have a similar focus to briefing sessions but the concept being ‘sold’ is primarily ‘owned’ by the project manager.  In this situation if you want genuine buy-in from the workshop participants it is essential that the workshop is facilitated by someone else!  The facilitator’s job is to make sure everyone is heard and to help lead the group towards a common understanding and consensus. Your job is to answer the questions and ‘sell’ the proposition (and where appropriate adapt your proposition based on the feedback received).

Understanding the objectives of the workshop and the best way for you to participate in delivering a successful outcome lays the foundation for success.  Then the hard work starts……..

The Profession of Project Management?

Project management has taken another significant step towards becoming a profession.  After several years of debate and decisions in the UK High Court (see: Project Management is a Profession), the Privy Council considered the application by the Association of Project Management (APM) at its meeting on 12 October 2016 and has now issued an Order of Grant, which has triggered a process which will see the association awarded a Charter.

apmcharter-3523This process combines a modern assessment of the ‘worth’ of an organisation and the members it represents, their value to society, with the traditions of the UK Crown going back centuries. In keeping with history, the Charter will be printed on vellum and have the Royal seal attached.  In keeping with the modern age the APM will then need to reconfigure its structure, and how it qualifies project managers.

Once the Charter has been sealed APM will implement the procedural, legal and accounting transition to re-constitute itself as a Chartered body during 2017 including transferring the assets and liabilities of the existing charity to a new Chartered Body Corporate. The new body will then conduct a public consultation on the criteria for admission to its planned register of Chartered project professionals, placing project managers on the same professional level as other professions in the UK.

Achieving Chartered status on behalf of the project management profession is expected to:

  • raise standards through a robustly assessed register of project professionals who are committed to professional development and a code of conduct;
  • enhance the status and recognition of project management as a means of delivering effective change that improves our economy and society;
  • facilitate continued collaboration and research with other professions to develop the practice and theory of delivering successful change across sectors and industries.

Whilst this process is very UK centric, and based on the traditions of the Royal Courts, it has much wider implications. When the transition is complete in 2017, project managers, or at least the newly designated Chartered Project Managers will be on the same professional standing as Architects, Engineers and Surveyors.

Whilst there will still be on-going debate of the nature of ‘professionalism’ in the 21st century in at least one major jurisdiction the concept of placing project management in the same frame as other ‘modern professions’ is close to becoming an accepted fact.  The challenge will be to drive the change in behaviours needed to allow project managers to live up to the code of behaviour and ethical standards expected of a professional – as many of my other posts on ethics show, this will not be easy.

Governmentality – the cultural underpinning of governance

Governmentality1Two major governance failures in recent times highlight the importance of organisational culture in delivering a well-governed entity.  Professor Ralf Müller has adapted the term ‘governmentality’ to describe the systems of governance and the willingness of the people within an organisation to support the governance objectives of the organisation’s governing body. When the willingness to be governed breaks down, as these two examples demonstrate, governance failures follow.

Toyota

The Lexus ‘unintended acceleration problem’ from 2009 has cost  car manufacturer Toyota a staggering $1.2 billion fine to avoid prosecution for covering up severe safety problems and continuing to make cars with parts the FBI said Toyota “knew were deadly.”  In addition to numerous civil actions and costs of reputational damage.  The saga was described as a classic case of corporate culture that favoured the seemingly easy way out instead of paying the cost and doing the right thing.  But, the actions of the people who magnified the problem by attempting to cover up the issues fundamentally contradicts the ‘Toyota Way’ that has guided Toyota since 2001. The Toyota Way has two core principles, respect for people and continuous improvement (kaizen).

Respect for people puts ‘people before profits’, and this is not an idle slogan.  Following an Australian Government decision in 2014, all motor vehicle manufacturing in Australia will cease by 2018 (this affects General Motors Holden, Ford and Toyota). In February 2014 Toyota president Akio Toyoda personally came to Australia to tell his workers of the closure and Toyota’s commitment to its staff through training and other activities has maintained staff commitment at our local Altona plant with everyone working to make the “last car the best global car!”.

The difference between the “people first equals customer first” attitude demonstrated in the approach to closing the Altona plant where people are still being released for paid training to up skill for new roles and the ‘customer last’ approach that dominated the Lexus saga is staggering.  The reaffirmation of the ‘Toyota Way’ may have been driven in part by the Lexus disaster but this does not explain why quality and customer service was allowed to fail so badly in the company that practically invented modern quality.

Volkswagen

A similar dichotomy is apparent in the Volkswagen diesel engine emissions scandal.  A company renowned for engineering excellence, from a country renowned for engineering excellence allowed engineering standards to slip to a point where the cars being sold were illegal.  The actual emissions were only part of the problem, Volkswagen engineers had developed a software program dubbed the ‘diesel dupe’ that could detect when the cars were being tested and change the engine performance to improve results. When the cars were operating under controlled laboratory conditions – which typically involve putting them on a stationary test rig – the device appears to have put the vehicle into a sort of safety mode in which the engine ran below normal power and performance thereby reducing emissions. Once on the road, the engines switched out of this test mode.

Governance issues

Neither of these issues involved ‘a few bad apples’ – the excuse used by most institutions to explain banking and financial scandals. They both required extensive management involvement and cover-ups or acquiescence. A substantial subset of both organisation’s management felt that doing the wrong thing was in the best interests of either themselves or the organisation (or both, at least in the short term). But the governing bodies of both organisations would seem to have maintained a commitment to their overall philosophy, the ‘Toyota Way’ and ‘Engineering excellence’.  So what caused the governance failure?

Governmentality

One element that seems central to both of these failures was a breakdown in the willingness of managers to comply with the overall governance philosophy of the organisation which in turn caused the governance processes to fail; this is the domain of governmentality. Governance cannot be successfully imposed on a population that does not want to be governed!

Governmentality2Governmentality is a term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault around 1980 and refers to the way in which the state (or another governing body) exercises control over, or governs, the body of its populace. The concept involves a complex series of two-way transactions involving:

  • the way governing bodies try to produce the people best suited to fulfil those governments’ policies;
  • the organised practices (mentalities, rationalities, and techniques) through which people are governed, and
  • the techniques and strategies by which a society is rendered governable.

In the same way as governments rely on most people complying with legislation most of the time, organisational governance mechanisms such as ‘project management offices’ and ‘portfolio management’ cannot function effectively without the cooperation of the people being governed. When governmentality breaks down and people no longer support the governance processes they cease to be effective.

The challenge facing every governing body, in every organisation, is in three parts

  1. Creating an authentic vision and mission for the organisation.
  2. Creating an effective governance system that supports the achievement of the vision.
  3. Creating and maintaining an ethical culture that embraces and supports governmentality.

Effective governance systems can weed out the bad apples and correct errors, but they cannot oversee the actions of every manager all of the time if the majority of people do not wish to follow the governance dictates, or actively work to subvert them.

Developing the ‘right culture’ by employing the right people (and importantly offloading the wrong people) starts at the top.  The governing body needs to ‘walk the talk’, their CEO and senior executives need to model the desired behaviours and ‘doing the right thing’ needs to be encouraged throughout the organisation.

Achieving this requires authenticity and a holistic approach to the way the organisation functions; all of the elements need to work together cohesively. Achieving this is the primary responsibility and challenge for the ‘governing body’, in most organisations, the Board of Directors!

If you get the vision, mission and culture right, even major lapses such as the ‘Lexus unintended acceleration problem’ can be overcome.  Despite the damage this caused, Toyota is now the world’s largest automotive manufacturer with a market capitalisation that is nearly double that of Ford and GM combined.  This is also the reason why Objectives, ethics and culture are the top three elements in my model for the ‘Functions of Governance’.

Seeking a definition of a project.

Good definitions are short and unambiguous and are essential for almost every aspect of life. Even something as simple as ordering a snack requires a clear understanding of what’ required – this understanding is the basis of a definition. For example, doughnuts and bagels have a lot in common, they are both round and have a hole (a torus), and are made from dough but they are ‘definitely’ very different commodities! If you need a bagel for breakfast or a doughnut for you coffee everyone involved in the transaction needs to understand your requirements if your expectations are to be fulfilled.

bagel

donut

 

 

 

 

 

The simple fact is if you cannot define something precisely, you have real problems explaining what it is, what it does and the value it offers, and this lack of definition/understanding seems to be a key challenge facing the project management community (by the way, the bagel is on the left…… the other picture is a Krispy Kreme donut).

Definitions serve two interlinked purposes, they describe the subject of the definition in sufficient detail to allow the concept to be recognised and understood and they exclude similar ‘concepts’ that do not fit the definition. Definitions do not explain the subject, merely define it.

Way back in 2002 we suggested the definition of ‘a project’ was flawed. Almost any temporary work organised to achieve an objective could fit into almost all of the definitions currently in use – unfortunately not much has changed since. PMI’s definition of a ‘project’ is still a: temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. This definition is imprecise, for example, a football team engaged in a match is involved in:

  • A temporary endeavour – the match lasts a defined time.
  • Undertaken to create a unique result – the papers are full of results on the weekend and each match is unique.
  • Undertaken to create a unique product or service – the value is in the entertainment provided to fans, either as a ‘product’ (using a marketing perspective) or as a service to the team’s fans.

Add in elements from other definitions of a project such as a ‘defined start and end’, ‘planned sequence of activities’, etcetera and you still fail to clearly differentiate a team engaged in a project from a football team engaged in a match; but no-one considers a game of football a project. Football captains may be team leaders, but they are not ‘project managers’.

The definition we proposed in 2002 looked at the social and stakeholder aspects of a project and arrived at an augmented description: A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project. This definition would clearly exclude the football team engaged in a match unless everyone of significance decided to treat the match as a project but still suffers from a number of weaknesses. To see how this definition works download the 2002 paper from, www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf

 

Updating the definition

Since 2002 there has been a significant amount of academic work undertaken that looks at how projects really function which may provide the basis for a better definition of a project.  The key area of research has been focused on describing projects as temporary organisations that need governing and managing; either as a standalone organisation involving actors from many different ‘permanent organisations’ such as the group of people assembled on a construction site, or as a temporary organisation within a larger organisation such a an internal project team (particularly cross-functional project teams). The research suggests that all projects are undertaken by temporary teams that are assembled to undertake the work and then dissipate at the end of the project.

My feeling is recognising the concept of a project as a particular type of temporary organisation provides the basis for a precise and unambiguous definition of ‘a project’. But on its own this is insufficient – whilst every project involves a temporary organisation, many temporary organisations are not involved in projects.

Another fundamental problem with the basic PMBOK definition is the concept of an ‘endeavour’.  The definition of endeavour used as a noun is: an attempt to achieve a goal; as a verb it is: try hard to do or achieve something.  But, ‘making an effort to do something’ is completely intangible; projects involve people! Hitting a nail with a hammer is an endeavour to drive it into a piece of wood but this information is not a lot of use on its own; you need to know who is endeavouring to drive the nail and for what purpose?

Nail-Quote-Abraham-Maslow

Another issue is the focus on outputs – a product service or result; the output is not the project, the project is the work needed to create the output. Once the output is finished, the project ceases to exist!  A building project is the work involved in creating the building, once the building is finished it is a building, not a project. But confronted with the need to create a new building different people will create different projects to achieve similar results:

  • One organisation may choose to create two projects, one to design the building, another to construct it;
  • A different organisation may choose to create a single ‘design and construct’ project;
  • Another organisation may simply treat the work as ‘business as usual’.

The scope of the work involved in any particular project is determined by its stakeholders – projects are a construct created by people for their mutual convenience, not by some immutable fact of nature.

 

A concise definition of a project

Unpacking the elements involved in a project we find:

  • A temporary organisation is always involved, but not all temporary organisations are project teams.
  •  Projects cause a change by creating something new or different – this objective defines the work to be accomplished and usually includes constraints such as the time and money available for the work. These requirements and scope of work included in a project have to be defined and agreed by the relevant stakeholders at some point – there are no pre-set parameters.
  • The stakeholders have to agree that the work to accomplish the scope will be managed as ‘a project’ for the project to exist; the alternative is ‘business as usual’ or some other form of activity.

Modifying our 2002 definition to incorporate these factors suggests a definition along these lines:

A project is a temporary organisation established to deliver a defined set of requirements and scope of work, which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project.

The definition originally proposed has been updated based on discussions with colleagues to:

Project:  A temporary organisation established to accomplish an objective, under the leadership of a person (or people) nominated to fulfil the role of project manager.

Project manager: A person (or people) appointed to lead and direct the work of  a project organisation on behalf of its stakeholders, to achieve its objective. The job title and the degree of authority and autonomy granted to the project manager are determined by the governance arrangements established by the project’s stakeholders.

Project management: The application of knowledge, skills tools and techniques to lead and direct the work of a project organisation.

This definition overcomes many of the fundamental problems with the existing options:

  • It recognises projects are done by people for people, they are not amorphous expenditures of ‘energy’.
  • It allows for the fact that projects do not exist in nature, they are ‘artificial constructs’ created by people for their mutual convenience, and different people confronting similar objectives can create very different arrangements to accomplish the work.
  • It recognises that projects are only projects if the people doing the work and the people overseeing the work decide to treat the work as a project.  The ‘always present’ factors are:
    • People decide to call the work a project (but just calling it a project is not enough)
    • The work is directed to achieving an objective that involves a change in something (new, altered, improved, demolished, etc)
    • The people doing the work are part of a temporary organisation (team / contract / ad hoc / etc) created to facilitate achieving the objective.
    • The work is led by a person fulfilling the role of a project manager and the work is managed as a project (PMBOK / ISO 21500 / Agile / etc).

What do you think a good project definition may be that is concise and unambiguous?

The challenge is to craft a technically correct definition, and then apply the Socratic method of thinking outlined in our 2002 paper at:  www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf.

I look forward to your thoughts!

Selling Change – lessons from Brexit

Is the reason so many change initiatives fail an excessive focus on the ‘technical benefits’ and future value?  Some of the lessons from the Brexit campaign would suggest ‘YES’!

brexit

Before people will buy into a new opportunity (the ‘change’) it helps if they are unhappy with the status quo.  If this unhappiness can be magnified the willingness to embrace an uncertain future can be increased.  The Brexit ‘Leave campaign’ is an extreme example of creating this desire. Most of the focus of ‘Leave campaign’ seems to have been tailored towards raising the level of unhappiness with the status quo. A few key examples:

EU bureaucracy – it exists and it is a significant burden; by simply focusing on the ‘perceived pain’ (most electors have very little contact with the regulations) a desire to leave was generated. The counter points carefully ignored include:

  1. If the UK leaves it will need its own regulations for public health and safety
  2. Firms that want to export to Europe will have more bureaucracy to deal with, complying with both the UK rules and the EU rules (the alternative is to cut off 50% of your export market).

EU bureaucrats – the unelected and unaccountable masses in Brussels!  This ignores the fact UK bureaucrats are unelected and both sets are accountable to their respective parliaments.  However, the perception of lack of control and accountability was significant despite the fact 99% of the UK electors have no control over UK bureaucrats.

Immigration and Islam. ‘Taking control of UK borders’ seemed to be the biggest factor in the debate.  It’s a nice idea that ignores history:

  1. The vast majority of Islamic migrants in the UK arrived before the UK joined the EU (or these days their parents arrived…). Until the 1960s Commonwealth citizens had UK passports and a right of residence in the UK.
  2. The EU is less than 5% Islamic.
  3. Freedom to work in the EU is a two-way process – the right to work and access to workers is important (and has virtually nothing to do with ‘immigration’).

Trade deals. Negotiating ‘trade deals’ to the benefit of the UK…..   Ignoring the fact that any trade deal requires concessions and most take 5 to 10 years to negotiate. The ‘other party’ has to see a significant benefit.

 

Lessons from Brexit!

The positive lesson for change proponents is to spend more time on creating the desire for change. Most people in an organisation can ‘live with’ the status quo (but are aware of the problems and pain points), and are likely to be frightened with the perceived threats and challenges of the proposed change.  Digging into the ‘pain points’ and offering constructive solutions may provide a powerful basis for building the desire for change.  This is a very different approach to starting with an emphasis on the future benefits and opportunities the proposed change will bring.

The processes needed to sell the change to the organisation’s executive decision makers have to focus on benefits and value, but Brexit suggests a different approach may be beneficial when approaching the people within the organisation affected by the change.

Ethics matter!  “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time[1]”. What has yet to wash out in the Brexit aftermath is the lack of ethics and in some cases blatant dishonesty of the ‘Leave campaign’. I suspect there will be a major backlash against the people responsible for the ‘Leave campaign’ as people become aware of the exaggerations and deceptions.  The current crash in the Pound and the almost inevitable recession it will cause were predicted.  What was missed from the UK debate, and is essential in an organisational change initiative, is recognition of the challenges of the change – offset by the vision of future benefits. Ethics are not negotiable!

Simple language is important.  Creating and emotional commitment to change requires the use of language that is easy to understand. The ‘Leave vision’ was simplistic rather than simple but it worked – ‘make Britain great again’ and ‘regain sovereignty’ sound appealing[2] but lack substance.  The difference between the Brexit ‘con job’ and ‘informed consent’ is understanding what you are committing to, both the vision and the journey. But the language of projects, engineers and technicians used to define and develop a change proposal is frequently inappropriate for effective communication to the rest of the people affected.  This is discussed in my paper: Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent.

Summary

The Brexit campaign is an extreme example of creating a desire for change based on developing a level of dissatisfaction with the status quo.  This tactic can be a very useful early phase in the communication processes around a proposed organisational change – dissatisfaction with the current state is a powerful driver to accept change.  The flip side, also observable in the Brexit campaign, is that ethics and honesty matter. Democracy requires informed consent!  We have no idea what the consequences in the UK would have been if the ‘Leave campaign’ had been more ethical and spelt out a future; but judging from the reaction of many, large numbers of people now seem to feel conned by the ‘leave’ campaign.

In an organisational context, this loss of trust will be disastrous.  However, the fact the ‘Leave campaign’ could persuade a majority in the UK to vote in favour of an uncertain future that will reduce living standards and increase costs in the short-term (at least) without even bothering to paint a clear vision of their proposed future (or how to get there) shows how powerful the techniques discussed above can be.

The challenge for ethical organisational change is to harness the power without resorting to the deceptions.

 

[1] Adapted from: “Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne” by Jacques Abbadie (1684, Chapter 2)

[2] Britain was ‘Great’ in the period leading up to WW1 based on its Empire (not the Commonwealth); it is and has been a sovereign nation since 1066…… Neither of these concepts was fleshed out possibly allowing 1000s of different self-made visions to fill the space. Potentially a good tactic but fraught with problems going forward.