Saturday, August 30, 2014

You want real change? Get involved

Recently, we had to design a change management program for a set of people. Now, for most change management programs there are two objectives. One is the actual change - the change needed - the cultural change and the effectiveness of it and so on. But, there is a second unstated objective - signalling. Telling the powers that be that 'I am working on it', 'creating noise' and 'some event management'. All too often, the second objective overtakes the first.

With the result that there is a lot of short term happiness of something being rolled out, the sound of boxes being ticked, but without an eye on the real (actual) change that is expected as an outcome. Usually, the shortest path to get there is to get a training consultant - usually a marquee consultant with a big name. Now, nothing wrong with this - but the risk of doing this is to kind of place your second objective before the first. On the other hand, it is smarter to get an organizational consultant who will work with you over time - with a neutral perspective - and yet work with you to achieve the change - by understanding the culture and the need for change and driving it.

Alongwith this, if you want real change and you want the first objective to be met - it is very important for your senior leaders to be part of it. And when I say part of it, viscerally part of it. (In the previous example that I had mentioned the senior leaders led teams from the front - part of every single meeting and stood up on stage to make core technical presentations.)

I also remember two great leadership engagements where the leadership team spent two days with the team on a very 'different' assignment - the immersion that you get out of such a program can be never be got by a vendor driven program.

The moral of the story being - if you want real change, it is important that you are neck deep in the process. Roll up your sleeves and be a part of it - whethere at design or at implementation or at follow up. The commitment from the leaders drives change better than any slogan or campaign. Simply, this cannot be outsourced!

A small tweak

A few weeks ago, we had to work on a leadership meeting - which was essentially a series of technical presentations. And the problem at hand was to 'design' it. It is a senior audience, so there was no point over-engineering it (and that applies even if it is a junior audience) - though over-engineering is often a temptation one succumbs to.

But some design element had to be used - and thats when we got an idea of using a scoring system for each presentation. This scoring system was designed with certain constraints so that the most common problem in scoring systems (socialistic distribution) is eliminated. We also provided another constraint as a team to team scoring rather than an individual to team scoring. All of which was a method of peer to peer evaluation.

This one small change, completely changed the behaviour of the groups. Suddenly, there was competition, motivation, energy and the groups competed with each other to put their best foot forward. We also ensured that the top leaders owned each presentation - so with the scoring system - it was as if their reputations were on the line.

For me, it was a learning about how a small design tweak can so completely change the experience.

Invisible conversations

It is extremely difficult to do a presentation these days. Because there are two conversations in the room. One, the visible conversation where the person is talking, sharing views and so on and so forth. The second - which is the invisible conversations is the messages and the whatsapp flying across the room (and perhaps even outside the room).

Some conferences have made this into a fine art by allowing twitter feeds and hashtags - but not every meeting is amenable to being shared publicly.

These invisible conversations set the pace across the room. If an 'influencer' finds the talk boring or painful - the sentiment is transmitted across the room in a nanosecond. (And again, it is not the influencer - but the fact that the sentiments shared across the room are affirmed and confirmed so quickly that if your talk is a bore, it sinks faster than a stone that cannot swim.)

Cracking this is difficult. What does one do from a design standpoint? Well, simply put, harness it. Which means, double the engagement - digital and real. How does one that do that? There are many ways - is all I would say right now.

The 'second screen' as they say is a reality at all points in life - not just in front of the TV.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Stated and Unstated

Years ago, practically on the first day of my career - I was given some advice. "Today, our hiring process guarantees that almost anybody we hire can do what they are told to do. But, what differentiates the high performer is the ability to do what they are not told to do"

Simple profound words.

A few weeks back interacting with a set of first time supervisors - this became the focal point of discussion. The first time you manage work - the entire expectation moves from stated to unstated needs - cracking this is perhaps the biggest learning for a newly promoted manager.

To go back to a Charles Handy terminology of Type A and Type B errors - Type A are direct mistakes and Type B are opportunities lost - this is also like that. Doing what one is told to do - and then finding out other things to do that are not directly in your 'stated' line of responsibility.

This is the one thing that makes a big difference in my view...

Evolving through!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Learning technique

Over the past few months, we have been trying out some learning techniques. One of these is 'eliciting' learnings from the audience.

Earlier, the courses we created (and I refer to Instructor Led sessions) were 'fact heavy' where the instructor taught on dos and donts, tips, rules and a lot of other gyan. Pure gyan based sessions are one way downloads and the people go back sleepwalking.

Over time we tried to change it into a mode where the learning happens based on peer interaction, eliciting learning using various activities or other modes of learning.Pure elicting sessions tend to give the impression to the audience that the facilitator did not add value.

So what we realised that there needs to be a balance between the two. People tend to not like something that is heavily laden on the former nor on the latter. What is that balance - I dont know, but there is some balance here that I think will get to a point where the audience goes back happy. And those are thoughts for another day - on how to get there - as we get a grip on the problem.

Activities - if you use the same activities again and again - the learning is lost - so any activity that is embedded has to be unique and fairly non-repeatable and even contextual if possible. But that is hard work for the trainer - which is why people tend to fall back on the same insipid activities for everything. 

Takeaways dont work - definitely not hard cards are filed away so deep that nobody can reach them in reality leave alone from memory. 

But what can the learner carry as a both a physical and a mental takeaway from the session? And how to make it stick? We think there is an answer in there somewhere...

Grand plans

Grand plans need time. Grand plans cannot be done in a jiffy. Especially something that involves technical development, device compatibility, digital experience. Perhaps they can be done in some place - where funds are not a constraint neither is effort or if all talent is internal, but if you have to go to a vendor and get something done, it takes a long long time before it can see light of day.

We realised this the hard way while 'designing' for an event - jazzy, grand plans come to nought when they meet time, budget and of course, bureaucracy.

But deliver we had to - so we delivered an interactive experience using mechanical interactivity - instead of digital interactivity. Well, that is a term we coined ourselves - but we were pleased with the output in the end. Cheaper than technology, faster and yes, fun too.

We were called in with a purpose - to provide a 'different' experience and we delivered...And this is a concept worth exploring - a mechanical arcade. Our end results were not quite like it - thanks to the demons of time and budget, but well...

Devils advocate

A few weeks ago, in some context, I heard in a meeting - Let me play devils advocate here. And I was reminded of Seth Godins post - where he says, The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.

Truth is, the self proclaimed devils advocates, never created anything - not a single creation in the world has come about due to a devils advocate - it has happened due to someone advocating a forward movement, not a block (like a devils advocate does).

It is easy to be a devils advocate - it is difficult to stand up and try something different. Or support those who are. Why is that so?

Possibly, because since the industrial age, there is this committee - managers, supervisors that sits on top of things, reviews things, asks questions, pushes things back but rarely contributes anything. Governments (especially the kind of hand me down governments that colonies like India got) are of the same type. Obstructionist, rarely contributing. And somehow, some managers are continuing their god given responsibility of being gatekeepers.

The belief that ideas are top down and that the lower level folks know nothing has to go...

In theatre there is an exercise in which one is supposed to say, Yes, and and not Yes but. try that next time, all those who think they are doing a great job of being a devils advocate...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Its not about you, but the user

The new Apple ad exemplifies this.






Nowhere does it talk about the RAM or the OS or the Gorilla glass - it talks instead of the user. The person with the iPhone and what you as user can do with it. It is not about the greatness of the phone, but the power that the user has with the phone. It sounds obvious, but most often people talk about products and their greatness and not so much about about what a user can do with it.

And linking this back to work - do you talk about your projects and programs or do you tell the user how it makes them powerful.

Putting the user in the centre, as it were..

Saturday, August 2, 2014

10,000 start ups

At the recent NASSCOM HR Conference in Chennai, like any other conference, there were panels and discussions and speakers and events.

On one side however, there were a few start ups who had set up small kiosks to showcase the work they have done.

The energy of these guys was amazing. New ideas. Using technology to solve 'unstated' needs. Most of the ideas were truly innovative - if not the idea itself, the approach surely was.


As companies, I think one great way to take businesses forward is to engage with start ups on a proactive basis. Companies routinely spend money on a lot of things - some of it would be well spent if they engaged with start ups on piloting an idea. Works for the company and for the start up as well - and for the ecosystem as a whole. And there is a lot of give and take on the same.

And guess what, just yesterday Vishal Sikka of Infosys is talking along the same lines...