7 minutes reading time (1470 words)

Beware of 'Business as Usual'

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After hours of discussion and planning, you stood with the executive team at the company meeting and announced the strategic plans for the year. There would be big changes, you said, changes that would mean great things for the company -- and more importantly, make things easier for everyone. There will be some extra work up front, to set things in order for the changes, but afterwards it is going to be great. Life will be better. We will all benefit from a more positive, easy-going culture.

You promised.

That meeting was more than a year ago. Changes were implemented, but it feels like nothing really changed. If anything, it feels worse, not better.

The "extra work" up front turned into a heavier workload all year despite process changes that were supposed to speed things up. According to the latest engagement survey results, morale is at an all time low. Employees used words like 'deceived' and 'swindled' to describe how they feel. Everyone looks tired. You try not to show it, but you're tired, too.

You know the time & resources it took to make the changes. You sat in those meetings and were there to celebrate the wins. You thought the cross-functional team members worked well together, with little conflict. Everyone was excited when their team met their project objectives and they were all able to get back to business as usual.

But business results didn't improve the way you thought they would. There were some short term gains, but little on the side of sustained results.

Sound familiar? Can you see yourself in the story? Are you the executive leader who promised change? A supervisor who reassured your people all year that good things were coming? Or the disgruntled employee who feels swindled out of their year end bonus by a leadership team with empty promises? Perhaps it's the project team member you relate to best -- someone who spent hours hashing out process steps, looking for valuable minutes you could save, and it appears now your effort was for nothing. Or maybe, just maybe, not one change impacted you directly, so the whole thing looked like one big excuse for pizza every week.

What went wrong?  Three words: business as usual.

It's the difference between going on a diet and changing your lifestyle. Both involve process change. You change how you shop and what you eat; you may add exercise to your day, as well. The goal of the diet, though, is to not be on a diet. The end-goal is to lose weight. When you're done losing the weight, you go back to 'business as usual.' And if you are me, you gain all the weight back and more in no time. Going on a diet is a short term view.

When you change your lifestyle, the end-goal is to sustain new habits. The way you think about yourself shifts. You become a person who lives a particular lifestyle -- and do the things that people who live that lifestyle do. Maybe you exercise every day or eat a certain way. You measure as a way to evaluate whether your habits are getting the results you want, with the option to tweak your habits when needed. Forever. Lifestyle change is a long-term view.

Getting a project done and off your plate is a "diet" scenario. Fundamentally changing how you think about how you work and shifting behavior in alignment with your new thinking, that's the lifestyle scenario.

Unfortunately, most change management work concerns itself with the short-term stuff, like broad communication, pockets of anticipated resistance, and helping people picture the end-state (with the weight off and the project over). Real transformation happens when we use change to help people rethink who they think they are now and who they need to be to create and sustain a desired future state. It's not about what we need to do now to get this over with, but who we need to be (habits of thinking), and adopting habits of behavior in alignment with that new be-lief.

Real change happens from the inside out. Change starts with the decision to be something different than you are today; then you align your habits with that new way of being.

For organizational transformation, then, we have to think in terms of organizational habits. What habits does the organization (and leaders in particular) have today that are out of alignment with our future vision? What habits does the organization (and leaders in particular) need to adopt or improve in order to be in alignment with our future vision?

For example, let's say your company has a strategic initiative to improve on-time delivery to the customer. A task force is created to work through all the business processes that impact delivery and to look for ways to improve efficiency. The team tests a few orders through the system and determines you could promise a 10 day lead time, down from 30, and should be able to maintain a 99% on time delivery ratio. The changes are implemented, the team celebrates, then disbands and goes back to business as usual. Within a few weeks, lead times are back in the mid-20s and on time delivery is back to normal, pre-project rates. Why?

Daily habits. Daily habits didn't change. When the project (the diet) was on, there was extra attention paid to completing tasks, answering emails, or responding to prompts. When the project was over, people went back to business as usual, sliding back into their old pre-project habits. When the project was on, the leadership team talked about how important the improvements in on-time delivery were to the company; when the project team finished, they celebrated their efforts, but quit talking about on time delivery. When they shared the deteriorating metric, they preached to their people about response time and the importance of following up, but they did not change their own behavior in terms of response time or following up. The same leaders who were known for lack of follow through still lacked follow through. The organization changed some process steps, but not how it thought about itself. It didn't adopt the 'on-time-delivery lifestyle' from the corner office on down. Instead, it went on a 'delivery diet' for awhile, got some results, and went back to business as usual -- gaining all the lead time back. It didn't "align" hearts and minds around what it meant to become a company with short-lead times that delivers consistently on time.

It's the difference between having an ISO certification and being an ISO certified company. Some companies scramble to shore up processes and documentation before every audit, but as soon as the audit is over, it's back to business as usual. Others live and work according to the rules and guidelines of their ISO certified processes. Their certification is their business as usual -- their new lifestyle. The really good ones track adherence to procedures and make course corrections as a matter of daily business. It's core to who they are as a company. ISO is a lifestyle.

Picture the opening scene again.

After hours of discussion and planning, you stood with the executive team at the company meeting and announced the strategic plans for the year. There would be big changes, you said, changes that would mean great things for the company -- and more importantly, make things easier for everyone. There will be some extra work up front, to set things in order for the changes, but afterwards it is going to be great. Life will be better. We will all benefit from a more positive, easy-going culture.

You promised.

That meeting was six months ago -- and you're amazed at what you and the team have been able to accomplish in such a short time. What you didn't announce that day was how the senior leadership team had identified some personal and team habits that were out of alignment with the future vision. You knew that changing these habits and measuring the new behaviors was key to sustained success. What you didn't realize was how fast the team would transform -- or how the rest of the organization would transform along with you. And while the process improvement team did make some important process changes, it was the ownership -- how the employees changed how they thought about their roles and how they became "on-time people" -- that really made the difference.  Bottom line: it was fun delivering on time.

What habits are most important to your organization's success this year? What lifestyle would it be handy to adopt? How well do YOU live this lifestyle today? What habits do you need to stop? change? start? Not sure how you're getting in your own way? We can help. Contact us.

 

 

 

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Sunday, 29 November 2020