Category Archives: Culture

Middle managers to drive change

What does it take to succeed in change?

shutterstock_121409479Middle managers in most organisations have a huge influence over the success of organisational change. Most middle managers are passive about change; a few step up to delivering change; all of them need to be behind the change. Some recent blogs point to how to get middle managers on the side of success in change.

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Competence above knowledge

Educators give us knowledge, Employers want competence

competenceMost qualifications test our knowledge of a subject; indeed we use the word ‘read’ to introduce the subject we are studying at university. Yet most employers want to know what we can do, that is our competencies. Why is there such a miss-match and what can we do about it?

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In an insightful blog posting on the Harvard Business Review web site Michelle Weise claims that there is a disruptive movement in education called online competency-based education. She describes the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as just an extension of the existing education business. But the competency based education movement is addressing the needs of employers by delivering people with not just knowledge, but also skills that are then tested by achieving explicit learning objectives.

A competence is more than just knowledge (knowledge is necessary but not sufficient). To demonstrate a competence a student must select appropriate knowledge to solve a real problem and then apply skills and tools to deliver that solution. The student captures evidence to demonstrate they have met the practical learning objectives. A small number of universities in the US are re-designing their education programmes to go both on-line and competence based. Weise claims this is a disruptive innovation.

Nothing New

This is not as new as you might think; though that doesn’t mean it will not be disruptive if it can catch on. We are already delivering this new mode of education. All of our course learning objectives reflect the practical application of knowledge in the workplace, and our assessments require our candidates to capture evidence of that application. Also our courses are on-line!

A conspiracy of incompetence

What we find is that most people ask for knowledge based training because they are not challenged about the purpose of the training. It is a conspiracy of incompetence through which most training budgets are wasted. This is what often happens:

  1. An employee seeking training asks for a ‘well known’ qualification that looks good on the CV because they don’t have time or the inclination for more research.
  2. Not asking what is the real purpose of the training the HR department goes shopping for a ‘well known’ qualification because that’s the easy way and what they always do.
  3. The training company, on receiving a request for a ‘well known’ qualification doesn’t ask any questions but rolls out its standard course for the exam because that’s what they always do.
  4. During the course the employee acquires considerable knowledge to be memorised for the exam; which they pass to get the qualification.
  5. Back at work they don’t do things that way so the knowledge atrophies, and often the employee uses the new badge on the CV to get a better job.

This behaviour is a classic example of the ‘default’ bias in thinking. Humans tend to prefer the default option in preference to seeking information to improve the decision outcome. Of course, if anyone had asked what is the purpose of the training and how will we know it has been achieved; then result would have been completely different.

The challenge for employers paying for the training and the industry supplying the training is how to overcome the bias in their thinking.

Where do you stand?

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Change Advocates — a good idea?

The idea of advocating change

Change AdvocateChange advocates both promote change in a business and help protect staff from poor change implementation. They do this by advocating the change on behalf of the business and being a channel between affected staff  and senior managers. The role demands trust and respect from both staff and managers; here is how it works.

The problem the Change Advocate role tries to solve is how to get buy in to major changes where the change is managed by a central Change Team. We have worked with Cheshire West and Chester Council to help implement this concept. The project is now on the shortlist for an Award at the Training Journal Awards.

The Change Advocate Role

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWCC) realised that centralised project management was efficient for doing change but tended to cause resistance from the front line staff so it was not as effective as it should be. The Change Advocate is a member of front line staff (manager or worker) who is trained and supported in delivering change. They have two aspects to the role which each advocate needs to balance.

Promoting Change

The Change advocate promotes the proposed change to front line staff. They communicate directly with affected staff about the change, using communications skills they have learned on training. Advocates expect to be involved in planning change; stakeholder engagement is key to successfully designing an effective and acceptable change. With prior engagement, selling a change to staff is much easier. Advocates will be involved in rolling out the change, continuing the communication. They will lead in solving problems in a way that both reduces risks to the benefits and increases the confidence of staff in the changes.

Promoting the interests of staff

Change advocates are themselves affected by the change they are promoting so they have a vested interest in a successful and acceptable change. They have the ability to put the staff side of an argument (with the central change team) to senior managers and advocate on behalf of staff. Very often this role leads to more creative solutions to change problems which are based on reality.

What makes an Advocate?

An advocate needs to be self motivated (and is usually self selecting as a volunteer). They need the trust and support of the staff they are working with. Often the basis of this trust is both a transparent approach to work and knowledge of the front line based on experience. They also need to be able to talk directly to senior managers as peers in problem solving change issues. In many organisations this can be challenging. CWCC are working hard to create a culture of support and challenge to make these conversations easier all round.

Supporting Change Advocates

In creating the first cohort of Change Advocates, CWCC worked with us to support the role with three specific components:

Networking

It is very important for an individual advocate to realise they are not alone and that others are having similar difficulties. Regular networking events with the opportunity to share experience and problems are essential. CWCC held networking events every month for the whole cohort. These were carefully timetabled with time to chat and share, as well as more focused discussions and learning sound-bites to reinforce training associated with identified problems.

Problem solving

The cohort were randomly allocated to small Action Learning Sets. The purpose of these was threefold:

  • To train the cohort in a specific supportive problem solving technique.
  • To provide the basis for ongoing collaboration with a small group of colleagues across the Council.
  • As further networking, but on a smaller, more intimate, basis.

The Action Learning Sets were initially facilitated to establish the format and procedures. After a few meetings they became self facilitating.

Training

A short training course on some soft skills for change was used to introduce the concepts of people change and effective communication recognising individual preferences. Change Advocates then took a vocational Level 4 assessment to achieve a qualification in Managing Change from C4CM.

About You

How is change organised in your organisation to make effective and efficient use of resources to deliver beneficial change? Comment in twitter and let us know. @C4ChangeMgt

Design your change around decisions

Decisions first, organisation later

Gormley ExhibitionWhich do you think should come first: the definition of the task to be carried out or the team to do the task? So what happens when an organisation needs to change: the top manager re-organises his senior team to prepare for the change. This seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Especially as the ‘new’ team have a new operational role to get to grips with before they can address the changes.

I propose that the key decisions needed to set up a change initiative are identified and then the appropriate leadership team are appointed to make those decisions.

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Making change personal

Using change to grow yourself

personal development in an Action Learning SetIn the April 2014 Harvard Business Review I found a paper about creating a very open culture to encourage personal learning by Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Andy Fleming, and Matthew Miller called “Making Business Personal“. The starting premise of the paper is that ’employees do a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves’. This putting forward the best side, hiding the other side and hiding information about problems is a major cause of change failure and has been discussed in this blog in terms of reporting and Government Blunders.

Click here to see how to make it work for change