>Transformation That Can Succeed

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Many organizations seek transformation. They are mired in paper even though we as a society have long moved to a digital age. They are organized around silos, despite the revelation that enterprise can function more effectively as one. They are overcome by day-to-day operational issues and are busy fighting fires, instead of focused on long-term strategy and execution. These are just some of the dysfunctions organizations seek to transform from.

But many transformations fail and they do so big time, leaving dispirited employees, disgruntled managers saying I told you so, and organizations hobbled in outmoded processes and legacy technologies, with the rest of the world seemingly passing them by. If they do nothing, they risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant, and a mere artifact of history.

Why do so many transformations fail and how can we help to convert these failures to successes is the topic of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled “Accelerating Corporate Transformations (Don’t Lose Your Nerve)” by Robert H. Miles in January-February 2010.

Here are some of the major hurdles and what we need to do to overcome them:

· Self Interest (or the “I” factor): Those who control the most resources or institutional assets tend to monopolize discussions, trump new ideas, and strong-arm decision-making, thereby reinforcing the status quo” and the security of their own corporate kingdom. I personally think this is one of the most difficult challenges to organizational change, because you have managers (i.e. they are not genuine leaders!) whose self-interest trumps organizational progress. The author calls for compelling all executives to confront reality and work together, but this isn’t a prescriptive answer, rather it is more of a wish. In my opinion, the mandate for change must come from the very top and everyone needs to be held accountable for genuinely helping the organization changes succeed.

· Organizational capacity to change—“In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity…there isn’t room within the established systems to plan and launch a transformation.” The author calls for a parallel launch with small visible victories. While, small victories are good, this doesn’t really address how the organization can carve out the time, resources and commitment in the face of already stressed people, processes, and systems. I believe that you must make the investment distinct from your regular operations (this is not a collateral duty!) and form a high-level transformation office that reports to the senior executive. The transformation office is elevated from the organizational silos and works horizontally to make change happen. This means that traditional organization boundaries become transparent for process improvement and technology enablement. However, this cannot be a proverbial, ivory tower effort, but it must be well thought out, focused, and inclusive. The transformation office must engage all stakeholders across the organization in visioning, planning, and executing change initiatives.

· Change gridlock—“Workers capacity to execute will become a choke point if the programs are not prioritized and sequenced.” The author calls for limiting change initiatives to 3 or 4. This creates organizational focus. While I agree that you do not want to overwhelm the organization with too much change too fast, I find this somewhat at odds with the authors notion of “launches must be bold and rapid to succeed.” In my mind, it is not the launches that must be bold and rapid, but rather the goals that must be bold and the transformation should be allowed to proceed in a logical sequenced phases so that the organization can achieve learning, proficiency, and sustainability. Last thing we want to do is build a house of cards. At the same time, I don’t believe there is a magic number of initiatives, but rather that this is dependent on the resources available, the size and complexity of the change initiatives, and the organizational readiness and capacity for change.

· Sustaining transformation—“The more intensive and engaging the transformation launch, the harder it is to sustain the heightened levels of energy, focus, and performance.” The author recommends a “launch redux” to continue the transformation. I’m not convinced you need an annual or periodic revival of the initiative, but rather I believe that’s what’s called for is the following: leadership continuity and commitment, the continued development and nurturing of a shared vision of what transformation means, and ongoing performance management and measurement to see the change through. I believe that people will support the change process if they can see that it is purposeful, reasonable, inclusive, and that the commitment is real and sustained.

The truth is that no major and meaningful change in our personal or organizational life is short or easy. If it were fast and easy, it probably wouldn’t be so darn pivotal to our future.

Transformation is a risky, but necessary endeavor. We should not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from these. The greatest change and growth comes from the striving itself. As others have noted, it is the journey—to the destination—that is truly critical.

>Constructive Truth Hurts, But Helps

>It is pretty hard to give and to get honest feedback.

It is often acknowledged that performance reviews are one of the most difficult task for managers to perform. Managers don’t like to “get into it” with the employees, and employees often can’t deal with a straightforward evaluation from their supervisors. Plenty of sugarcoating seems to go on to make the process more digestible for all.

Similarly, people tend not to say what they “really think” in many situations at work. Either, they feel that saying what they mean would be “politically incorrect” or would be frowned upon, ignored, or may even get them in trouble. So people generally “toe the line” and “try not to rock the boat,” because the “nail that stands up, gets hammered down hard.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2009, reports a similar pattern of behavior with ratings on the Internet. “One of the Web’s little secrets is that when consumers write online reviews, they tend to be positive ratings: The average grade for things online is about 4.3 stars out of five.” On Youtube, the average review for videos is even higher at 4.6.

Ed Keller, the chief executive of Bazaarvoice, says that on average he finds that 65% of the word-of-mouth reviews are positive and only 8% are negative. Likewise, Andy Chen, the chief executive of Power Reviews, says “It’s like gambling. Most people remember the times they win and don’t realize that in aggregate they’ve lost money.”

Some people say that ratings are inflated because negative reviews are deleted, negative reviewers are given flak for their “brutal honesty,” or the reviews are tainted with overly positive self-aggrandizing reviews done on themselves.

With product reviews or performance reviews, “it’s kind of meaningless if every one is great.”

I remember when I was in the private sector, as managers we had to do a “forced rankings” of our employees regardless of their performance rating, in an effort to “get to truth” across the organization.

Generally speaking, performance systems have been lambasted for years for not recognizing and rewarding high performers or for dealing with performance problems.

Whether it products, people, or workplace issues, if we are not honest in measuring and reporting on what’s working and what’s not—fairly and constructively—then we will continue to delude ourselves and each other and hurt future performance. We cannot improve the status quo, if we don’t face up to real problems. We cannot take concrete, constructive action to learn and grow and apply innovate solutions, if we don’t know or can’t acknowledge our fundamental weaknesses.

“Being nice” with reviews may avert a confrontation in the short-term, but it causes more problems in the long-term.

Being honest, empathetic, and offering constructive suggestions for improvement with a genuine desire to see the person succeed or product/service improve—and not because the manager is “going after” someone—can be a thousand times more helpful than giving the nod, wink, and look-away to another opportunity for learning, growth, and personal and professional success.

>Customer Service Will Always Be Goal #1

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Too many organizations espouse good service, but very few actually excel and deliver on the promise.

However, one company is so good at it that it serves as the role model for just about all others–that company is The Four Seasons.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 April 2009 reviewed the book “Four Seasons” by Isadore Sharp, the luxury hotel’s founder.

Here are some things that I learned about customer service from this:

Customer Service means reliability—“a policy of consistently high standards.” At Four Seasons, anyone who has visited the chain around the world [83 hotels in 35 countries]…can attest to its reliability. To be reliable, customer service is not just raising and holding the bar high– having high standards for quality service–but this must be institutionalized through policy and delivered consistently—over and over again. You can’t have a bad day when executing on customer service. Fantastic customer service has to always be there, period!

For The Total CIO, this type of reliability means that we don’t focus on technology per se, but rather on the customer’s mission requirements and how we can consistently deliver on those in a sound, secure, and cost-effective manner. CIO leaders establish high standards for customer service through regular performance plans, measures and service level agreements. Reliable customer service is more than a concept; it’s a way of relating to the customer in every interaction to consistently exceed expectations.

Customer Service means innovation—“The things we take for granted now during our hotel stays-comfortable beds, fluffy towels, lighted make-up mirrors, fancy toiletries, and hair dryers-made their first appearances at the Four Seasons…likewise for European-style concierge and Japanese-style breakfast menus, in-hotel spas, and the possibility of residence and time-share units.”

For The Total CIO, technology changes so fast, that innovation is basically our middle name. We never rest on our laurels. We are always on the lookout for the next great thing to deliver on the mission, to achieve strategic competitive, to perform more cost effectively and efficiently.  Advantage. Moreover, we reward and recognize customer service excellence and innovation.

Customer Service means valuing people—“Follow the golden rule. Workers are vital assets who should be treated accordingly…at the Four Seasons, those who might otherwise be considered the most expendable ‘had to come first,’ because they were the ones who could make or break a five-star service reputation.”

For The Total CIO, people are at the center of technology delivery. We plan, design, develop, and deploy technologies with people always in mind—front and center. If a technology is not “user-centric”, we can’t employ it and don’t want it—it’s a waste of time and money and generally speaking a bad IT investment. Moreover, we deliver technology through a highly trained, motivated, empowered and accountable workforce. We establish a culture of customer service and we reward and recognize people for excellence.

Customer Service means solving problems—“Turning the top-down management philosophy on its head, Mr. Sharp authorized every Four Seasons employee to solve service problems as they arose to remedy failures on the spot.”

For The Total CIO, leadership is fundamental, management is important, and staff execution is vital. It is the frontline staff that knows the customer pain points and can often come up with the best suggestions to solve them. Even more importantly, the IT customer service representatives (help desk, desktop support, application developers, project managers, and so on) need to “own the customer” and see every customer problem through to resolution. Yes, it’s nice to empathize with the customer, but the customers need to have their problems fixed, their issues resolved and their requirements met.

The Total CIO will make these customer service definitions his and his organization’s modus operandi.

>Improving Project Management and The Total CIO

>IT projects are notorious for coming in late, over cost, and not meeting the customer’s needs.

CIO.com has an excellent article on ways to improve project management in an article entitled, “When Failure is Not an Option,” by Meredith Levinson (3 July 2008).

For organizations, good project management is a critical success factor!

“Project management is the number-one success factor for getting anything done in the organization. A firm’s ability to execute its strategy lies with its ability to manage projects,” according to Sam Lawler, the director of GlassHouse Technologies’ project management practice.

Yet, for years, organizations have faulted CIOs and IT departments with failed IT projects. As recently as 2004, a study by The Standish Group found that only 29% of IT projects “were completed on time, on budget, and with all features and functions originally specified.”

Project management methodologies work when business and IT work together as a team.

There are various methodologies being employed to try to improve project’s success, such as PMBOK and ITIL. However, IT projects’ success depends on IT and business people working together to achieve results; if this partnership and collaboration doesn’t happen, then no PM framework will bring us the project success we desire. Our organization’s business people are critical to ensuring project success—they develop the business case, identify requirements/functional specifications, realign and improve business processes, and test technical solutions to ensure they meet mission and business needs.

No longer is it about tossing the proverbial hot potato to IT and then pointing fingers and assigning blame when something doesn’t work right. Instead, the business and IT people are on the same team, sharing accountability, and working toward the success of the project and the enterprise.

Performance measurement is a must:

Improved project management needs to be accompanied by measurement of project success and reporting on these to executive management. We can’t manage what we don’t measure. And we need transparency to senior management to ensure that everyone—business and IT—have “skin in the game.”

Further, there are trade-offs in project management between cost, schedule, and scope/performance. Changing one affects the others, so we need to manage projects harmoniously in this triad. If for example, a project is delayed or costs more, but delivers on added functionality requested by the business, then the project can still be a success. At the end of the project, success is defined by the business!

>Talent, Determination, and The Total CIO

>To become a great CIO or a great anything, what is the driving factor—talent or determination?

Fortune Magazine, 27 October 2008, has a book excerpt from Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.

Often, as individuals we’re afraid that if we don’t have the inborn talent then we can’t really compete and certainly won’t succeed. But that isn’t true!

Here’s an interesting anecdote about Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Balmer. “One of them recalls, ‘we were voted two guys probably least likely to succeed.’” They played waste-pin basketball with waded-up memos at P&G before becoming CEOs of General Electric and Microsoft.

Research shows talent is not the decisive factor:

“In studies of accomplished individuals, researchers have found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started intensive training…Such findings do not prove that talent doesn’t exist. But they do suggest an intriguing possibility: that if it does, it may be irrelevant.”

So if innate talent is what makes for high achievement, what does?

The answer is…”deliberate practice” characterized by the following:

  • Stretch goals—“continually stretching an individual just beyond his ir her current abilities.”
  • Repetition—“top performers repeat their practice activities to a stultifying extent.”
  • Feedback—“in many important situations, a teacher, a coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.”
  • No pain, no gain—“we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over…if the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them.”

So what do you do if you want to be a great CIO or successful in any professional endeavor?

  • Set goals.
  • Plan how to reach them.
  • Observe yourself/self-regulate.
  • Self-evaluate.
  • Adapt to perform better.
  • Repeat.

This is where determination comes in and makes the difference between success and failure.

What you want—really, deeply want—is fundamental because deliberate practice is an investment. The costs come now, the benefits later. The more you want something, the easier it will be for you to sustain the needed effort.”

In any case, “the evidence…shows that the price of top level achievement is extraordinarily high…by understanding how a few become great, all can become better.”