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September 2016

Telling The Tribal Story: The Case For Action As The Wedge For Change

By | Business, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, Organizational Change | No Comments

People don’t need to be motivated to rush out of a burning building, or encouraged to run toward the lifeboats on a sinking ship.  A clear and imminent danger leads to focused and immediate action.

All people need is a compelling reason why they need to do things differently. The more obvious and urgent the reason, the easier it is for them to shift from “how I do things”, to “how I could do things differently”. A fundamental problem with most failed large-scale change initiatives is that an urgent enough reason to change is never established.

Vision, Mission and Values all address the future. They are the “magnets” that can attract large numbers of people to a new way of being. Case For Action is the “wedge” that pries people out of their comfort zone in exactly the same way that a fire alarm jolts people out of business-as-usual and into emergency mode. It is where all successful change initiatives need to begin.

The Case For Action is a story. It is a Tribal History of the organization. It is the narrative of who we are and how we got to here. As one client likes to say, The Case For Action is “the good, the bad  and the ugly of where we came from and what has brought us to this moment in time”.

Only when people in an organization collectively appreciate and own their past and present are they free to willingly step into a new possibility for the future. When the collective members of an organization share in the creation of a tribal story an energy is released that naturally leads to “what’s next”. When a Case For Action is crafted honestly and openly, and when everyone in the “tribe” has had an opportunity to contribute to and find themselves in the narrative, then an organization is ready to move from where they’ve been to where they want to go.

Often a true catharsis, a release of energy, occurs when an organization sincerely crafts their story. An organization move on from the inevitable shrinking of energy and creativity that results from past wounds and “injustices”. Because the story is captured in a narrative, it is there for everyone to see and to feel again and again. Done respectfully, without pointing fingers or naming names, and yet with an authenticity that is obvious to all, a Case For Action lays out the critical events and the performance of an organization clearly and matter-of-factly.  It captures the story of the culture, business performance, ups and downs, problem and bright periods, leadership attitudes, public perception and competitive position. When done well, an entire organization breathes a collective sigh of relief because, as more than one client has said, “Finally we are telling the truth”.

The development of the Case For Action begins with the CEO and Executive Team. They are encouraged to just tell the truth about where they’ve been and where they are right now. A great deal of attention is devoted to making a safe space in which anyone can say anything. The only criteria is that it is “the truth” for that person speaking. We capture everything that everyone says about people, products, relationships inside and outside, between management and staff, across functions, successes and failures, blunders, anything noteworthy that would be important in telling the “tribal story”. Everything is written down in the words as they are spoken.  Everything is valuable. Everyone’s voice is critical.

From there, we ask one person, maybe two, to take a cut at integrating all commentary and perspectives into a draft narrative that captures the essence of what is being revealed here. The narrative needs to celebrate the successes and highlights of the organization while not shying away at all from the painful missteps and flaws of the organization. All of it must find a home in the story.

We refine that draft for coherence, clarity and balance and then take it to the next level of leaders in the organization. In that session we ask them to each “find your voice” in this story. We use small groups as a way to invite intimacy and real sharing. Again, the comments are captured verbatim. Each participant is asked to insure the authenticity of what is being expressed. Everyone is asked to be a watchdog for having this story ring true, do justice to the strengths, accomplishments, beauty AND the failures, weaknesses and flaws of their organization.

The process of sharing, discussing and capturing the richness of what people see and feel is itself a transformational event. People not only feel heard, but in a very real way, they feel a new level of responsibility and authority in telling the story of their organization.  Additionally,  they feel a renewed sense of responsibility for creating the story that is yet to come. It is a liberating, exciting and sobering process. It is, by its nature, unifying. It brings Executives and Managers together in a way that begins to bond an Extended Leadership Team. People almost always feel more empowered and more motivated. Even before articulating a Plan of Action, this exercise makes it apparent that change needs to occur and it starts to point toward the specific nature of that change.

After this session, two or three representatives, usually one from management and one or two f­rom the group of next level of leaders, volunteer and/or are selected with the task of taking the new input and integrating it into the next, more robust, iteration of this story.

With that document in hand, we approach the rest of the employees in the organization and in one way or another, give them the opportunity to share in the telling of this “tribal story”, the creation of the Case For Action.

Each of these steps are done alongside the development of a Vision for the Future, a set of Values that the organization will live by and a Plan of Action with the most critical initiatives that the organization will undertake to move from where they are to where they want to be. Every meeting, starting with the Executive Team, through meetings with all employees, explores each element of this package, allowing each to develop and become more rich with each iteration.

D'Aquanni & Associates

Org Change Made Easy: Give Them A Better Option

By | Organizational Change | No Comments

One of the most pervasive “truths” about organizational change is that change is hard. It’s “common knowledge” that people resist change. We all “understand” that change is difficult, change is slow and that change initiatives often fail. We have ample evidence to  believe this. There are estimates of upward of 70% of all large-scale change efforts fail. We say, “It’s difficult. People don’t want to change”. It’s obvious. We hear things like “A leopard doesn’t change its spots” and “People don’t change”.

I’m going to suggest that all that “truth” is just not necessarily true. I’ve been part of many large scale change initiatives where the total opposite has happened, where people freely, gladly, quickly and dramatically changed how they thought and behaved. Water does not have to be motivated, encouraged or convinced to flow downhill. It does so naturally. Neither do people when there’s good reason to be different.

It’s quite simple. People change when they are inspired by what they see and feel is being offered to them. When that happens they move naturally towards it. It’s not complicated and it’s not hard. It’s exciting, energizing and fulfilling for everyone involved.

The first time I saw this was at the Fleischmann’s Division of Nabisco Foods some 20 years ago. Fleischmann’s was the poorest performing division at Nabisco Foods. It was losing money year over year. People we despondent. Leaders came and went. They had the most off-trend products in the company. A new leadership team was brought in. I worked with them to craft a clear direction – The Recognized Leader in Innovative Refrigerated Foods – and a compelling culture of openness, teamwork, trust, innovation and collaboration. Within three months the entire feel of Fleischmann’s began to shift. Levels of enthusiasm and pride began to rise. Willingness to get out of their bunkers and interact with each other increased. Fostered by cross-functional breakthrough teams focused on cost-savings, new product development, and other exciting initiatives, people across the division, and those who supported it, began to feel that Fleischmann’s was the place to be. One Senior Manager who had left Fleischmann’s and returned as we were mid-stream with the Fleischmann’s Revival, looked me up and asked what had happened. I asked him what he saw. He said, “You’ve created a blame-ectomy here”, adding that when he had been here everyone blamed everyone else when something went wrong. Now he saw people pulling together to make things right when things didn’t go as planned.

Why was it so easy to change? Five things happened, none of them complicated, each of them critically important:

  1. A Leadership Team was aligned on a clear and compelling purpose for this Division.
  2. The Leadership Team created a way of being for themselves, a culture of openness, collaboration, breakthrough results, trust – and then offered it to everyone in the organization to live by it. They modeled it and people saw, felt and experienced it every day.
  3. We created avenues for people to participate in new ways – breakthrough teams where people were given the opportunity to work together in new and exciting ways
  4. Everyone participated in this journey from the beginning where we wrote the Case For Action which was brutally honest about the good, bad and ugly of the way it was then, to the organization-wide embracing of the vision and values, everyone had a voice in the process and they took it.
  5. All along the way, progress and failures were celebrated and communicated so that everyone stayed invested, involved and engaged.

The simple truth is that we gave everyone involved a much better option. Given a choice of being depressed or excited, isolated or connected, failing or succeeding, doing something big or barely surviving, being trusted or being suspect, everyone gladly chose the new set of options. It wasn’t hard. It didn’t require much persuasion. It didn’t take long. Even the most cynical and resigned employee had a revelation and a total change of heart when after an all-day meeting with the Senior Executive Team he said, almost teary-eyed, “I’ve worked here for over 15 years. In that time I’ve never sat in on an Executive Team session, let alone ever being asked my opinion about anything.” It didn’t require much for him to get on board and ride/drive that train! He was convinced and emotionally all-in.

These simple principles have held true for every successful large-scale organizational change initiative I’ve been a part of. Give people a much better option and they will take it. Get them involved and get them to believe and they will run through walls to win. Why not? People feel more fulfilled and excited. And the business results started to follow.  It is in their self-interest to change and to create something they will remember forever.

Next Blog: Org Change Made Easy: Breakthroughs Start At The Top. The Tale of The Two Rons.