Change Management

Change Your Language – Change Your Culture


By James Stakem

When I compare my Marine Corps and corporate experiences, one of the most striking differences is in the language used to describe individuals in the two environments. In the Marine Corps there is a lot of pride in being a Marine. To be a Marine is to be part of something special. In the corporate world, this level of connection to and pride in an organization is rare, maybe non-existent. To be fair, there are significant differences between the military and corporate world; however, there are lessons to be learned from the military about building a culture and team.

Many companies invest heavily in culture, but when leaders in these organizations refer to their employees as assets, resources, direct reports, and the like, they indicate a poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of building a positive team culture. What kind of culture is built when employees in an organization are referred to as resources? The first time I heard the term resource as a reference to an employee was in a job interview. It took me a few minutes to figure out that a “resource” was a human being. As a Marine, I can’t imagine an environment where someone says, “We need to get some ‘resources’ to charge that hill”; however, companies do the corporate equivalent all the time.

This is not to say that the only thing a company needs to do in order to build a culture is to come up with a slick name for the employees. There is a lot more to it than that, and in the case of the Marine Corps, the organization builds esprit de corps in a multitude of ways. That being said, when companies refer to their employees in an impersonal, transactional way, it’s hard to imagine they could build a strong team, regardless of other efforts.

Zappos is an example of an organization that gets it when it comes to culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh says in Your Culture is Your Brand:

“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own”

Unfortunately, some organizations believe that culture is a consequence of an organization’s outputs instead of the other way around. This approach leads organizations to focus on creating products and providing services, and culture becomes an afterthought to be developed in a ten-minute staff meeting exercise.

Other organizations, such as Google, have developed a culture around their people. Employees at Google are called “Googlers,” but building a culture goes much deeper than a simple name. The technology giant doesn’t have a Human Resources department – instead they have People Operations, and there is a reason for the difference. Google’s People Operations department states, “… we’re the champions of Google’s colorful culture.Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, says:

“Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody”

How motivating and engaging is it when valuable employees are referred to as a resource or direct report? When thinking about joining a company which says, “Our employees are our greatest resource” listen closely to make sure the daily corporate interactions uphold this principle. If you are an organization that espouses to value employees, take some time to make sure your routine language matches the image you portray on the company website. Creating a culture in which employees routinely speak of each other in a way that emphasizes value, connection, and respect is a critical step in creating a positive corporate culture in your organization.

Please share your stories of corporate language in your organizations in the comment section below.

Establishing a Successful Cross-Functional Team

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By Brit Nanna

Consider this scenario: You were asked to provide change management support for a sizeable international development effort for a foreign government. It entails implementing broad-sweeping reforms affecting multiple departments.  You created a change management strategy and plan you believe will help your client realize its desired outcomes, taking into account every possible challenge you might confront.  Like many client environments, you knew the local government was heavily siloed, lacking substantial cross-collaboration between departments.  You consequently incorporated the use of cross-functional teams (CFTs) as a means of overcoming these organizational silos and leveraging team members’ diverse expertise as representatives of multiple governmental departments to improve organizational performance. Months pass and despite your efforts, you now find yourself in the implementation phase, and the CFTs are not delivering the expected benefits. Your change efforts seem to be languishing.

In this scenario, like many others, CFTs are not a panacea to the change management challenges of achieving targeted development outcomes in the public sector.  Their successful implementation faces a variety of obstacles. The 2012 article by Niall Piercy, Wendy Phillips and Michael Lewis discusses a variety of these challenges, arguing that the successful implementation of a CFT can hinge on a variety of factors, including the support of organizational leadership, as well as organizational culture and structures conductive to cross-functional integration.  Successful CFTs also depend on adequate funding support along with the ability to break the status quo and overcome resistance to change. These dependencies expose key challenges to effective CFT implementation discussed below.

When these challenges are addressed during the planning phase, CFTs can be integral to driving transformative and sustainable change necessary to realizing targeted development outcomes both at headquarters and in the field.

Stove-Piped Organizational Structures:

Many governments around the world, at all levels, have a stove-piped public sector, characterized by marked division of labor and tasks with minimal interaction across departments. When attempting change in these environments, it is often difficult to use CFTs successfully, but it is not impossible. In these organizational structures, it is imperative to overcome what may be overarching unwillingness toward CFTs due to potential differences in knowledge and views, which can lead to differing opinions.  Furthermore, departments are often working at cross purposes. This goal incongruity is also likely in such siloed environments, resulting in variances in decision criteria and timelines.

 Lack of Critical Buy-In from Leadership:

Command-and-control organizational structures and environments lead to a marked dependency on senior leadership for successful change. In these command-and-control environments, senior leadership often struggle to heed advice from the CFT and/or ensure the required structural processes are in place to support the CFT’s work. Senior leadership’s buy-in is critical and the motivation and performance of CFTs will likely suffer without a clear and inspirational vision and agenda from senior leadership.  CFTs will also struggle to impact organizational performance and service delivery without sufficient team-building, training and recognition in these top-down organizational structures.  CFT members often contend with balancing their day-to-day responsibilities with the additional CFT duties, requiring senior leadership to release staff from certain responsibilities in order to allow them to focus on successfully implementing change within the organization.

Cultural Resistance to Change

In both domestic and international settings, cultural resistance to change can be found among staff, management, and political resistance born out of frustration and pure opposition. For those lower-level employees often removed from the politics of the organization, it may be a challenge to identify the proper modes of motivation for members of the CFT (especially in situations where there are too many consultants, people, papers, reports etc.).  Apathy and uncertainty also pose a challenge to motivating lower-level employees to participate in CFT’s as they might have seen too many attempts at change fail. Furthermore, in the public sector, one might encounter those employees that are so entrenched in their positions that it is difficult to remove those that are not on board as they are willing to wait it out and wait for the next change. For management, some senior leadership might perceive they have a lot to lose from the anticipated impacts which may influence their openness to change.  Power, control and status concerns also dictate the senior leadership’s level of buy-in and investment in change. At both levels it is critical to identify for each member, “what is in it for me?”

 Building and Maintaining a Culture of (3)

Also in these command-and-control organizations, change is often implemented from the top down and it can be difficult to put forward different ways of thinking especially in terms of productivity that lack that grassroots buy-in. Piercy, Phillips and Lewis (2012) note that if change is not communicated effectively it may promote the traditional view that change is done to lower-level employees by the corporate center.

 Conceptualizations of Change

The success of CFTs is also dependent on the conceptualization of change and how it is perceived in that particular environment. Like in various organizations across the United States, the idea of change in international settings can also be just as unsettling. Whether it is redefining change as “business readiness” or finding other angles from which to approach it, the concept of change and how it is communicated to CFTs or otherwise is another critical consideration. How the members of the CFT understand change will also dictate their level of investment and efficacy in their work to implement the change.

In sum, while the implementation of CFT’s and change efforts may be done with the best of intentions, there are a number of considerations to take into account when seeking to implement them successfully.  This is not to detract from the value of the CFT’s as they stand to strongly benefit any change effort and there are opportunities for overcoming these challenges, which include:

  • Ensuring there is a clearly articulated vision and agenda indicating the target future state of the agency or organization, and maintaining a laser focus on this state throughout the change effort
  • Using what Piercy, Phillips, and Lewis (2012) term, a ‘hybrid model,’ in building your CFT in which members are not solely cherry-picked but also have the opportunity to volunteer, enhancing the credibility of the program through their bolstered sense of ownership
  • Communicating to senior leadership how it benefits them as leaders to relinquish some control in order to empower CFTs in their change efforts
  • Empowering CFT members as change agents by identifying and channeling their underlying motivations when communicating the value of change, and building their capacity for change
  • Identifying new ways to promote participation in the CFT; such as offering training to help increase pay grades, providing learning opportunities, or framing it as an opportunity to strengthen one’s resume
  • And perhaps most importantly, developing a change strategy at the onset that addresses the human factors as well as the right technical solution, expediting the adoption of new systems/ways of working and managing dips in productivity (For more information about Evans CAARMA methodology please select the following link).

When working to achieve key development outcomes it is important to understand that delivering the right technical solution is never enough as human factors also have to be considered. In doing so, cross-functional teams provide an opportunity to achieve transformative and sustainable change. What are your thoughts on establishing a successful cross-functional team?


Celebrating Success

By Iliana Alvarado

As a Project Manager at Evans, I have learned first-hand the challenges of balancing priorities, which includes managing exceptional delivery while maintaining an engaged, motivated project team. With many milestones to meet, it can be easy to lose sight of the human component behind what truly drives projects. ’People,’ often viewed as a collective group, has become a ubiquitous term as amorphous as ‘organization.’  To effectively lead and manage projects, I have learned the value of deconstructing ‘people’ into ‘individuals’, by focusing on celebrating who each individual person is.  I consider the following questions: “Who are the individuals on my team, on my project, and within my circle of influence? Asking what celebrations are important to each one of them?” By understanding what drives each person—and celebrating these drivers – I am able to discover their unique talents, skills, and interests.  This allows me to align them with the right role on our engagement and keeps them motivated to be successful.

Celebrating successes big and small, early on and throughout, and especially when a company hits challenging times, is key to motivating individual employees and achieving staying power in the industry.

With that in mind, here are ideas for your toolbox to celebrate successes. Some ideas are original, and others are ideas I’ve picked up along the way.

The Collective Resume: When forming new teams, create a large resume template using flipcharts to capture topics of interest to the team. Examples may include: education, work experience, skills, hobbies, and unique traits. Ask each team member to fill in the chart. Once completed, you will have one resume containing collective experience and pertinent details of your team. Have fun debriefing!

Team Snacks: Remember what it was like to trade snacks in the school cafeteria? The excitement of acquiring chocolate chip cookies for your bologna sandwich was too awesome an experience to leave behind in grade school. Bring the spirit of sharing to work by asking team members to trade their favorite snacks. This is a great way to energize the team following a post-lunch slump and lends itself to interesting stories behind each snack. Also consider celebrating small wins by providing smoothies for your team or other afternoon treats. For more significant celebrations, collaborate with the rest of the management team to serve and cook plated breakfasts for your staff. Adding aprons and chef hats is a definite crowd pleaser!

Peer-to-Peer Recognition: Hands down one of the most effective and well-received celebrations of success is a peer-to-peer recognition program. At Evans, we celebrate individual contributions during our monthly staff meetings. Anyone can nominate a peer for demonstrating any one of our core values. The nominee is then recognized at the staff meeting with a certificate describing their contributions and a gift card to a retailer of their choosing. Similarly, sending handwritten thank-you notes to staff members and clients is a low-cost method to celebrating achievements, both big and small.

Knowledge Sharing: In my experience, asking teammates to share something they are good at, or just simply weigh-in on a debated topic, has been a great motivator and avenue to celebrate their talents and contributions. To celebrate this during project close-out, my team and I complete a world café on lessons learned.  In the table set-up, we keep a spot reserved for team recognition. In this space, every team member has a personalized card that states “[Name’s] best contribution to the project was…” Each person then completes the sentence for all the cards which is a great avenue for highlighting individual talents.

These are just a handful of opportunities to infuse celebrations into your daily operations. In the spirit of success, please share your favorites, too!


Making the Most of Your Team’s Knowledge

By Margit Jochmann

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where everyone present dives right into discussing the subject matter at hand, without introducing the new folks in the room?  Or, have been part of a project team where some members are clearly experts in a field, but for others you are not quite sure how they relate to the mission at hand?  Then you, or your team, may be missing out on some of the valuable knowledge available at your fingertips or may take longer to find the solution needed.

TeamworkTeams are typically comprised of a diverse set of team members, with different expertise, skills and specialized domains. For example, a project team developing a new IT automation platform may include staff with project management background, various engineering disciplines, business representatives, user representatives, etc.  – all together representing a wealth of knowledge available to the team to effectively design and deliver a solution. However, making use of this knowledge pool and its benefits requires knowing who knows what and who is good at what.

So, How Do You Tap Into Your Team’s Knowledge?

The underlying mechanism:  In 1985[1], Wegner introduced a concept that is an important mechanism to understand in this context – “transactive memory.” He discovered that people in close relationships are much better and faster at remembering certain information and solving certain tasks than two people that do not know each other – due to a division of labor and specialization taking place over time.  This happens because we are aware of our mental strengths and limits, and we are good at understanding the abilities of others.  Hang around a workmate long enough and you begin to realize that while you are terrible at remembering your corporate meeting schedule, or how long a kilometer is relative to a mile, they are great at it.  You begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering “that stuff” to them, treating them like a notepad or encyclopedia.Brainpower

Shared remembering:  In a transactive memory system, we share the work of remembering, which makes us collectively smarter and expands our ability to understand the world around us.  Each person in a team doesn’t need to remember everything the team needs to know, remembering who knows what and how to access that information is what matters.  Thus, a transactive memory system can provide teams with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on his or her own.

Teams Benefitting Most

Hand?Teams engaging in knowledge work particularly benefit from transactive memory, especially for tasks:

  • Requiring innovation
  • Involving diverse sets of knowledge
  • Requiring efficient coordination between team members

… all features typical for many project teams.

Transactive memory may not be helpful for all kinds of teams or work though, for example, when little specialization is required.

Developing a Strong Transactive Memory System

Communication and interaction.  Team members learn about each other’s expertise through sharing knowledge and seeking information from others.

  • How to share:  Opportunities for “who did what” type conversations and getting to know each other can range from water cooler encounters to targeted team-building sessions.  At a minimum, take a few minutes to introduce each other when new team members join. 
  • What to share:  Consider different kinds of knowledge beneficial for sharing.  This can include “hard” aspects such as education, certifications, specialized domains etc., as well as “softer” aspects such as personal strengths or preferences.

Joint training on the task supports the development of transactive memory.  The interactions taking place during joint training allow for learning about team members’ skills or the lack of knowledge in certain areas and help to assess the accuracy and reliability of this information.Memory

Sharing relevant documentation.  While face-to-face interaction is most effective, transactive memory can also be fostered without interaction, for example, by sharing documentation on task-relevant information regarding team members’ knowledge, skills, and domains of expertise.

Contributing to Team Success

A strong transactive memory system within a team contributes to its success, both at a task and (inter)personal level, through providing:

  • Quick access to large amounts of knowledge
  • Increased specialization – division of responsibility on different kinds of knowledge allows team members to broaden their own knowledge in a specific area, thus allowing for more innovation
  • Improved decision making processes
  • Increased satisfaction and sense of identification within the team, for example, by better alignment between task assignments and qualifications
  • Increased coordination and efficiency – the shared understanding regarding interpersonal relations and different expertise domains, enables members to better predict and anticipate how others would behave, leading to well-coordinated and efficient interactions

So, Are You Making the Most of Your Team’s Knowledge?  Do You Know Who Your Knowledge Experts Are?

[1] Introduced by Wegner, Giuliano, and Hertel (1985) and Wegner (1986)