Thursday, December 16, 2010

Corporate Behavior Therapy

A while back I started to write about how organizational transformation is not rooted in activities and tools, but in people’s behaviors.

After several more years in the field, I have noticed that the most effective approach to OT is akin to Cognitive Therapy. In a nutshell, CT aims to change how people think about and react to inputs and as such change how they view themselves and the world around them.

OT has a very similar goal. You aim to change the way a company or division views themselves and their ecosystem. And that is done most effectively by changing people’s behaviors.

The most critical part of that behavior is how people measure each others performance. Do political apparatchiks make it to the top, despite their lack of business contribution or are people measured on their impact on the firm’s revenues, reputation and talent retention? From a simple survival perspective, people will behave according to how they can be judged most successful.

On a more tactical level, how project portfolios are handled and how the projects therein are valued is another critical component of how a company executes. Is the concept of a project portfolio a list of projects with people’s allocations? Or is it an asset portfolio, with constantly changing valuations and real-time feedback of the overall health? Are projects judged by how well they follow some process or by how rapidly and accurately business needs are met?

Then finally, how are innovators treated? Does every new idea need to be vetted with one person or a committee or are people given a forum where they can display their ideas and stir enthusiasm? Do a few people have the power to squash new initiatives unchecked or are these evaluated on their objective merits?

Most corporate behaviors are rooted in its culture. So to change those if needed, a culture shift will be necessary. That is a huge challenge, often avoided by OT practitioners. It’s a lot easier to talk about specific activities and tools than about people themselves. However, this topic cannot be avoided if OT is to have a chance to stick.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Real Adventure Begins

Well, I finally did it!

I started my own management consulting practice. It sounds like a bigger deal than it is, really. But being a free agent surely has its advantages. And I just LOVE that title, president…

Starting an S-corp is not the hassle it used to be. You can incorporate, get a domain with a website, get your EIN, open a corporate account, and pay your taxes, all without getting dressed. You still have to mail in your articles of incorporation and fax in your form 2553, though. Poo…

So the next challenge is creating a pipeline of work. As I have written before, The Network Is Your Career, and no more so than when you are your own product.

Here is where your reputation and the connections you have nurtured over the years make all the difference. In keeping with the season, if you have been naughty and driven a hard bargain, you may end up with lumps of coal for projects. If you have been nice however, and played fair, were reliable and kept your clients’ interest at heart, you are welcomed back wherever you go. In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easy to spread the word. But there still is great value in contacting old friends and colleagues and explaining to them what your focus is. They may not be prospects, now or ever. But they talk to people that may need your help. And the better your network knows what value you can bring, the more leads you get.

Coming out of a nasty recession, it appears many companies are realizing that business as usual no longer cuts it. But they are grappling with formulating a vision of what “better” would look like. What makes improving even harder is that executives and directors have not woken up to the notion that nothing will change unless they start measuring their reports differently. A Program of Change is for staff, not the corner office.

Per the Gartner Group Hype Cycle, Agile is stuck in the Trough Of Disillusionment, and rightfully so. Agile was hijacked by faddists and me-too companies, just like SOA was, and subverted into another prescriptive, waste-prone process. Many people have not had a chance to witness the power of simplicity and transparency agile approaches bring. Pilot projects were started, agile and scrum coaches were brought in and things started feeling differently. But when the coaches left and the pilot projects were delivered, somehow everything went back to the way it was. The root cause is that people went through the motions of agile practices, but did not internalize its philosophy nor change their behavior. They can’t because the way their performance is measured hasn’t changed.

That’s why I decided to focus on Executive Agile Transformation, or EAT. EAT your own dog-food. You are what you EAT. Whoa, I better go trademark that…

All kidding aside, programs of change do not stand a chance unless a company changes the way it measures business contribution, from the top down. Yes, executives are a tough bunch to change. But they can do it and when they do, miracles happen. And not only at Christmas.

My biggest challenge will be to get executives to admit they have a problem. Here is where we will take guidance from psychology and apply practices from Cognitive Therapy.

And so the adventure begins…

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