Consulting

Assessing Value Creation

By Lauren Thomas, Evans Incorporated

Sometimes it can be difficult to quantify the “value add” from innovation and from human experiences. The benefits of some projects may be intangible, invisible, or difficult to quantify. For example, the value of a good idea is difficult to measure, especially at the early stages of its application. We have also worked with clients who need help identifying the value of face-to-face meetings versus electronic briefings and virtual experiences.

Drawing on evaluation methodologies from a range of sources, Evans can help organizations to identify “value cycles” that help to describe the reach and adoption of good practices. We have applied this approach in change management, training and contingency planning projects, and have found that it helps us to move beyond standard metrics and key performance indicators to more clearly describe a “value add” to clients, change managers, and change resistors.

The value creation process

Evans also uses this value cycle approach to capture and re-tell compelling stories about how value is added like ripples in a pond as innovation and experience are passed on within a network or community. These narratives help project managers, change agents and organizations to describe the advantages of a change when conventional return on investment data may not yet be available. Story-telling is a human universal, and this approach gives the detail behind the numbers, helping to describe value when other metrics might not yet be available.

Evans Incorporated Analyst Interviewed by Farm Futures Magazine

Chad Tyson, senior analyst at Evans Incorporated, discusses the impact of new FAA rules with Farm Futures Magazine.

Aerial View: Farm drones cleared to fly

Will new FAA rules make unmanned aerial systems the next must-have farm tool?
Bob Burgdorfer | Sep 21, 2017

Precision agriculture is rapidly evolving, with new sensors, devices and software that help farmers do their jobs better.

Unmanned aerial systems (aka drones) can play a role in that evolution now that the Federal Aviation Administration has provided the means to legally fly them to deliver chemicals, collect crop data and inspect fields.
Continue reading

Change Your Language – Change Your Culture

Culturec

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

Social Media

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. Continue reading

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)

Leadership competencies, coaching and performance

By Lauren Thomas

I am often asked whether coaching can really change a leader’s behavior, or transform the way they lead. Sometimes the question arises from people who are considering coaching. Others have a personal interest in discovering more about the coaching relationship. Sometimes the question stems from someone with a challenging relationship with a leader who may possess stronger strategic, operational or technical skills than interpersonal skills. Occasionally the people asking the question are very confident in their own abilities to lead, generally dismissive of the idea of coaching, and assert that they cannot see any benefit! Asking whether a coach can change someone’s behavior is a bit like asking how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Of course, the answer is that the light bulb has to want to change – as does the leader being coached. Interestingly, I find that the reason why people ask about coaching in the first place can provide valuable insight into their motivation and willingness to change.

Deliberate refinement

Photo courtesy of hrhero.com

Someone who is already considering a coaching relationship may already have a degree of self-awareness, understand that there are areas where they could enhance their performance, and be motivated to discover more. This attitude is often found among those who understand that leadership is human-centered. Sustaining a vision, delivering a major change, or leading an investment program are all important leadership activities. Yet the very best leaders manage to achieve these accomplishments indirectly, through other people. These leaders often engage in self-reflection to gauge the extent to which they can fine-tune their performance. In such instances, coaching the leader is like coaching a sporting champion. The performance gains are likely to be incremental, but once a new technique is mastered, it can have a marked impact, not just on the leader, but on the people led. While the tweaks and adjustments may be small, when they are intentional and deliberate, consistent and visible, they can help refine a leader’s performance. In these cases, coaching is really about maximizing personal effectiveness and interpersonal influence.

Leadership for technical experts

For the second group of people, the gains from coaching can be more dramatic. We have all worked with challenging leaders – leaders who may lead in name, rather than by example, and who don’t seem to understand our perspective. So how do leaders who are not “people-people” get into leadership roles? Organizations often need to promote technical and operational specialists to management and leadership positions. Some experts welcome the progression, while others feel they have to take the role when it is offered, because not to take it would send the wrong message. Such progressions are not always supported with adequate and appropriate training and education. Even where development opportunities are provided, there may be little encouragement or incentive for a new leader to try new approaches. Many technical specialists who struggle with the human element of leadership do not see the value of people management until difficulties arise. For leaders who value competence highly, as most technical specialists do, coaching may have negative connotations. It may be viewed as remedial support or performance management, rather than as a positive intervention to help them become even more effective in their roles. In these situations, coaching can help leaders see themselves as others see them and develop their own strategies and style for dealing with the people issues that they find most challenging to handle.

Reflective coaching

Photo courtesy of theilm.com

For the third group of people, I wonder whether their direct reports share their confidence in their own ability to lead. Sometimes their self-confidence is more than justified, but sometimes it is not. How many of us would readily challenge someone who repeatedly told us they were a wonderful leader? Most people would be reluctant to directly respond, especially if that person was in a more senior role. Would we be more likely to smile, and say something positive about one of their strengths? Or possibly even change the subject and let them believe what they want to believe? There are many reasons why people may prefer to not provide their leaders with feedback:

  • Respect for someone who is in a more senior position
  • Concern about possible reaction from the leader
  • Not wanting to be seen as someone who provides negative feedback
  • Concern about repercussion on own career prospects and development opportunities

Even where a leader’s confidence in his or her people’s management abilities is accurate, it can sometimes be rooted in opinion rather than objective feedback. It can be challenging for senior leaders to obtain objective, honest feedback on their own leadership style. Much depends on being able to ask in an appropriate way, the nature of their relationships with direct reports and peers, and the organizational culture. This problem is compounded by the “Whispers” game that occurs in organizations, where people can be somewhat reluctant to pass negative information to senior management. We often filter what we say to our leaders, especially when that information relates to their interpersonal style. In these instances, coaching can serve as a mirror, allowing leaders to see where their confidence is justified, and where there may be a mismatch between their beliefs and what others see.

Seeing yourself as other see you

Whatever the motivation for asking about coaching, there can be few leaders who are not interested in what people really think about them. There are many tools a coach can use to support leaders. One instrument valuable for its focus on leadership competencies is the CPI260. This self-completion questionnaire provides a view of the leader as seen by others, in key competency areas of self-management, organizational capabilities, team building and teamwork, problem-solving and sustaining the vision. The CPI260’s design does this without needing to use 360° feedback from other people. The CPI260 can be used with established, high-performing leaders and with emerging leaders seeking promotion from more operational or technical roles. Its valuable insights into leadership style enable the CPI260 to win over leaders who are initially skeptical about the benefits that coaching can deliver. Coaches like the way it supports personal insights for clients. However, whether change really results from coaching, with or without the CPI260, depends on a number of factors. It depends on the reasons and motivations for seeking coaching, the nature of the coaching relationship, the skill of the coach, and ultimately, by how much the leader really wants to change.

Implementing and Sustaining Cross-Platform NAS Capabilities

By Bob Etris

Implementing something new that requires changes to multiple underlying systems is no simple task. The field of portfolio management and the various best practices associated with it have matured over time to address this issue. Simultaneous changes to multiple systems that aim to yield a singular outcome and achieve a common set of objectives require doing more in parallel. That parallel activity, unless properly integrated and coordinated, tends to increase the risk to the overall project and ultimately makes it more challenging to accomplish the task at hand.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 3.58.39 PMThe link below provides a reference to a presentation recently delivered by my colleague, Jack Moore and I at the 59th Annual Air Traffic Control Association Conference. While the points made in the presentation are focused on implementing capabilities within the National Airspace System (NAS), the themes with respect to reducing risk in any portfolio-based approach to change ring true in other domains beyond aviation.  Here are a few of the key takeaways:

Implementing simultaneous changes to multiple systems requires a greater level of planning than for changes to one system. While planning and allocating the requirements to the other affected projects or programs is a necessary prerequisite, implementing complex change requires a different approach to detail, design, software development, deployment, and ongoing sustainment. At each point along the way, a change in any one area has a likelihood of impact in more than one person, organization, or stakeholder.  In the broadest sense, one of the best ways to mitigate this risk is through the careful design of appropriate governance processes to manage and prioritize issues as they arise while ensuring decision making authority includes the appropriate stakeholder communities.

Ongoing maintenance of a new function or capability that spreads across multiple systems presents a potential philosophical challenge with respect to the (potentially different) maintenance approaches of the underlying technologies. For instance, if a user finds a problem with the capability and calls the help desk, that help desk call needs to be triaged by multiple teams with multiple sets of expertise looking at both the root causes in the source systems as well as the integration points across those systems and how they interact. As an organization takes on more and more of these capabilities with multiple integration points, the design of the organizational IT support structure must be aligned to serve the changing needs of its mission.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Photo courtesy of NASA

Integration has a cost, and that cost must be taken into account in the lifecycle planning and execution of this sort of work. This includes not just the integration costs associated with the software development activity, but costs associated with integrated outreach to users, coordination of test activities across multiple platforms and long-term sustainable occasions for maintenance and enhancement activities to both the underlying systems and the capabilities that span them.

At Evans Incorporated, we believe our human centered approach to understanding the organizational and business systems that govern these types of changes best positions our customers to reduce their risk and ultimately save money otherwise spent on escalating scope and schedule challenges.