Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Plan Business Performance Change, Part 1

Executive Summary:
It is not enough to simply reorganize your team or business and declare some management objectives to truly change business performance.  Our performance stems from our behaviors.  Changing behaviors takes careful planning.

The Rest of the Story:
History, politics, and warfare have many lessons we can learn.  Without getting carried away, consider the history of political revolution.  Why revolution?  It represents occasions in history where the fundamental performance and behavior of a large group changed.  Look there for the keys to successful change for our own businesses.

In my research and reading about political revolution, not once did revolution occur or succeed because a revolutionary leader declared, “Here is how we will organize ourselves and here is the message we will tell the population.”  Actually, it is absurd to think that those actions would drive a successful revolution.

Unfortunately, those are the actions business leaders take, over, and over, and over again to declare and promote and drive change initiatives.  Granted, business change seems much less drastic than political revolution, but I argue that the fundamental keys to success are the same.

In examining political revolution, those that successfully changed the government were driven by a general demand for a change in behavior.  They were culturally driven, motivated by a desire that things not be done the same way anymore.  The organization and “management” dictums were secondary, or even an afterthought.

Therefore, if we want to successfully change the way our businesses perform, we must compel that change at a behavioral level.  If political history isn’t your bag, then consider it logically.

The performance of our business stems not from policy, from who reports to whom, or even really from the directions and priorities we give our managers.  Fundamentally, our business performance is determined by how our personnel and managers and leaders make decisions, respond to problems, and how they do their daily work.  If we want to change performance, we must change how decisions, responses, and work are made or done.

If you still aren’t convinced that behavior is the right place to focus, then consider the dictionary definition of the word.  Here are three.
  1. the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, esp. toward others
  2. the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus
  3. the way in which a natural phenomenon or a machine works or functions

Think about those definitions.  Now consider them in the context of your business or your team. 
  • How does your team respond to stimulus such as pressure to do things faster?
  • How does your business respond to demand greater than it is prepared to meet?
  • How do your people conduct themselves when faced with a problem?
  • How does your business culture conduct itself on a daily basis?

If you are trying to improve efficiency, or reduce variation, or eliminate waste, or increase innovation, is not that thing that you are truly trying to affect the way that your business, your teams, and your people respond, function, or conduct themselves?  Absolutely it is.

Now, If you report to a new boss, will that change your fundamental behavior or the way you do your work?  Not by itself.  Certainly you will adjust how you respond to your leader, but not necessarily how you conduct yourself otherwise.  Not unless your boss demands such a change from you.

Likewise, if you have a new metric, or a new priority, will that change your daily conduct?  Will it change the way you solve problems, or a decision to do what is easy rather that what might have better long-term benefits, but is not rewarded in any way?  Metrics, priorities, and management dictums can enable certain behaviors to be easier or harder, but they don’t fundamentally change how we do things.

If we want to change our performance in the work place, we must change behavior.  We must change how we respond, how we function, and how we conduct ourselves.  Behavioral change is the key to true performance change and it doesn’t come from new organization, new metrics, new vocabulary, or management direction.  Even training is not enough.

One of the biggest mistakes is to expect that because someone is trained in a new method that they are good at the new method and that they will use the new method.  Answer this.  If I sent you to auto mechanic school, would you be suddenly expert at fixing your own car?  Would you fix your own car or would you still pay someone else to do it?  I’m sure answers to the last question would vary.

The same happens in the workplace.  Answers will vary, and unless the general movement of the greater whole is toward doing what the training promoted, most will not change.  In fact, the general phenomenon is for people to resist change, not adopt it.  Therefore, training by itself is not effective and driving change.  It is necessary, but not a solution.

So, if organization, metrics, vocabulary, direction, and training are not enough, what does it take?  It takes leadership through interpersonal influence.  It requires pressure such that it is easier to change than to remain the same.  It requires relentless communication.  It takes planning.

At the end of this post are links to others in which I have shared thoughts concerning interpersonal influence, pressure to change, and communication.  In the following posts, Parts 2 and 3, I will endeavor to articulate a framework to plan actions and elements that will help drive the change in behavior.  In particular, there are several elements of your action plan to consider, and there is a process that must be enabled.

In case it isn’t obvious, the point of this post, Part 1 is to harp on the importance of focusing on behavior when planning change.  Over and over we have all seen that organization, management direction, metrics and training are not enough to manifest the performance improvements our initiatives promise.  Instead we move from one disappointing initiative to another and fuel the disease of passive resistance whereby our personnel play along politely while waiting for the initiative to die, and deliberately don’t change how they do things.

Break the trend.  Proceed to Parts 2 and 3 to examine a framework for planning change.  First, however, take the most important step.  Accept and understand that to truly change performance, we must change behavior.  When planning your change initiative, your plans must focus foremost on behavior.

Stay wise, friends.

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