Let every interaction be an inquisitive one!

IMG_6784.jpgBy their very nature large organisations can be difficult things to navigate. Knowledge is not perfect despite the emergence of digital social systems. The role of managers, and all of us for that matter, is to make sure we fully participate in the success of the organisation and part of this means that knowledge, insights and contribution move as quickly as possible to those that will benefit from it.

Senior executives have a critical role to play because they have a privileged perspective/ vantage point and can act as role models to the behaviour that will achieve this end.

The question is HOW? Start by using the ingenuity that got you to the top of your organisation!

The following is the approach of one successful executive that did just that.

  • Instead of people coming to the executive to meet he went to them. This created many opportunities to bump into people along the way he would not normally come in contact with.
  • He would walk a different floor each day and speak to people he would not necessarily have cause to speak to. His excuse to interrupt was to offer a lolly (sounds corny but it worked for him). It proved to be so popular he would be stopped regularly and asked why he had not been to a particular floor for a while! Even this enquiry was another opportunity for another interaction.
  • Breach the unspoken elevator protocol and strike up a conversation. It helps to know that all floors of the building were occupied by the same organisation.

These are just some examples of the chance interactions that this executive exploited to great business advantage each day. The content of these conversations was critical and structured. The opening questions would drive the conversation.

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. What challenges are you facing?
  3. What are the 3 things that would make a big difference to the outcome?

From this simple exchange the executive had the opportunity to offer an insight or perspective, re-frame the problem in a way that the problem may be solved in a better way, suggest a person to speak to because that person had solved it before or are working on a similar or related issue, reinforce the importance of their work and offer encouragement or to just say thank you. Notice that none of this adds to the executive’s workload.

You could easily have 50 or even 100 of these high value interactions each day without consuming any more of your time. Through your inquisitiveness you let people know you are interested and care, their work is important, help them in ways they will only fully appreciate and can complete your day knowing that the gift you gave each one of these employees will positively impact their day. In a time where 76% of workers in Australia are NOT engaged with their work (Gallup State of the global workplace report) what possibly could be more important!

Let every interaction be an inquisitive one!

Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

trust, transparency, tractionI have sat through many Post Implementation Reviews (PIR’s) of transformation initiatives whether they be technology led, business model changes or Post-Merger Integrations and one of the most identified areas for improvement was communication. Have you ever wondered why this was the case? Over the years a lot of energy and capacity has gone into change management including internal change management protocols, communication support etc but the dial has hardly moved on the communication issue. It can’t be lack of channels, insufficient information or access. Are they listening? And if so why are they not hearing?

A number of years ago I hypothesised that this had 2 main elements, the first was the extent to which there was sufficient trust in the work environment and the second was the speed of learning. (See my blog on transform @ the speed of learning).  This is how I came to the model of Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

Under conditions of uncertainty and stress that inevitably accompany a business transformation the establishment of trust is an important first step. Unfortunately most executive committees and transformation managers assume this already exists, underestimate its importance or worse ignore it.

Trust is a relatively well understood concept. You know when you have it but how do you get it? The approach taken with one person may increase the trust between us while the same action may have the opposite effect with another person. This becomes even more complicated when dealing will large groups of people.

“The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey provides a very effective model to develop corporate trust. Covey postulates that Trust is made up of the 4 cores of credibility (Integrity, Intent, Competence and Results). From my experience with large organisations one will be a key “core” that helps define the success of the other elements of the cores of credibility.

For example a major insurance business I worked with had a key core element of “Integrity”. If we had not demonstrated the “Integrity” credentials but led with “competence” messages it would have been interpreted as being smug. If we had led with “results” credentials those results may have been interpreted as manipulated or misleading. However once integrity was established then the interpretation of evidence that supported competence and results would be reinforcing the trust not detracting from it.

In contrast another client’s key core of credibility was “Results”. Had we led with “Integrity” it may have been interpreted as being weak or vulnerable and leading with “Competence” messages would have been followed by “I’ll determine how competent you are. Show me the results?!”

It is therefore critical to correctly identify an organisation’s key core of credibility and tailor the assignment and communication to demonstrating that attribute first. Without this you are seriously misfiring on your initiative.

Having identified the correct key core of credibility it is necessary to demonstrate that core through word and action.To do that effectively will require you to operate in an open and transparent manner. How else can others assess you and the assignment’s bone fides?  To do otherwise would undermine the attempt to establish trust.

There are situations where it is difficult to operate with complete transparency at all times e.g. when in early discussions of a possible merger. However, management will be judged by the reasonableness of their actions once it is in the open. Reasonableness will be defined by the level of trust that exists. It is therefore advisable to have a high level of trust in place before it is necessary to operate behind closed doors.

Let your “action to get traction” reflect the key core of credibility! In a takeover context, we were managing the reduction in management headcount across the combined organisation. That organisation’s key core of credibility was Integrity. To demonstrate our commitment to integrity we appointed the outgoing CEO as one of the candidate reviewers for the new management appointments. He was highly respected and was able to speak for managers of the acquired organisation. This was one of many actions taken to reflect the integrity of the system and building trust in the PMI process.

In summary during times of uncertainty communication effectiveness is determined by the level of trust. If the trust does not exist it is necessary to build that trust before people will listen to the other messages. The 4 cores of credibility is a very useful model to define the communication of trust which must be backed up by an environment of transparency and actions that reflect and evidence the key core of credibility.

Trust+Transparency+Traction→ Transform

Transform @ the speed of learning!

IMG_6750I have participated and led numerous transformations in my career including new business models, M&A, cost take out, performance and productivity initiatives (LEAN, 6σ), technology led initiatives etc. One thing they have in common is an underestimation of what it takes to transform a large organisation.

There are many reasons for this including:

  • A weak learning culture.
  • The existing systems and processes are so ingrained in the organisation and the people that it is very difficult to un-program and reprogram.
  • There is a very strong emphasis on compliance.
  • A developed distrust of major change.
  • The sheer number of people that have to make the transition.

Often the transformation effort involves a study of the issue within its business context, solution definition, action plan and estimation of the benefits followed by implementation including some training. When presented this way it appears that all you need to do is follow the bouncing ball, create tension by implementing the changes and watch the employees’ catch-up. Unfortunately this rarely leads to true transformation.

Why is this unlikely to be the complete answer?  I think one of the main reasons is that the organisation’s ability to change is determined by its speed of learning (not to be confused with the speed of training). Training is an action taken to impart knowledge. Learning is a human state that enables new knowledge to be absorbed and integrated into actions.

Learning involves motivated enquiry, a deeper understanding of the environment, a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo, a desire to know and solve problems, courage to experiment and a sense of empowerment within an effective control framework to achieve the right things. It also requires trust within the group. I call this the learning posture.

The deeper the learning posture is engrained in the organisation’s culture the faster transformation can be effected. If the organisation learns too slowly it is likely that the CEO will kill it off believing the transformation is not working. The good news is that with careful design and implementation a strong learning posture can be developed and nurtured as part of the transformation. The faster a transformation is expected to occur the greater the emphasis should be placed on actively nurturing a learning posture.

To develop a learning posture:

  1. Create little hubs as a starting point so people can see and experience the learning posture and what the transformation means. Showing people is far more powerful than trying to explain it.
  2. Let the work be the learning and the learning be the work. This means creating and maintaining a short cycle review and learning process that the workgroup conducts on itself. The role of the leader is to encourage a constructive mindset that involves honest critique in a safe environment. In this situation the work experience is also the learning experience.
  3. Introduce short duration training as appropriate. This training should occur after the need is experienced by the team rather than in anticipation of the need. This is counterintuitive but will yield better results. Participants are more likely to be attentive and in a learning state if they have a personal felt need for that training.
  4. Training should be experiential rather than information sharing. It should be designed for participant discovery not a platform for the trainer.
  5. Develop skills in how to ask effective questions. Extensive real time coaching should be incorporated here especially for managers who are accustomed to directing action rather than creating a learning environment.
  6. Maintain an environment of mutual respect and trust. Again real time, in the field coaching may be necessary.


In summary, to achieve a high impact and speedier transformation then the design and implementation of the transformation should have at its core the establishment and maintenance of a learning posture.

Transform @ the speed of learning!

Protect Sales momentum in Post-Merger Integration!

Picture3Mergers and takeovers can be very disruptive experiences for all parties involved. There is typically an emphasis on generating the integration synergies and working as quickly as possible to return to “normal” operating conditions. This often means a reduction in headcount, brand and product changes and considerable process change which can disrupt customer relationships and disenfranchise employees.

Particular attention needs to be paid to the sales force during such times of uncertainty. A high performing sales force is driven by conditions of high confidence. That confidence is fragile and if damaged the sales force is vulnerable to taking on an introverted persona. This can manifest itself as:

  • dismissive statements that things are operating as normal or it is under control.
  • the sales numbers this month are just a blip.
  • the sales force feeling helpless until certainty in all things has been returned.
  • the competition have a compelling story about the uncertainty and the pain customers will experience and why those customers should switch providers now to avoid the pain.

This is the opportunity your competitors have been waiting for. Unfortunately most PMI plans fail to recognise this and fail to deal with it effectively leaving the organisation unnecessarily exposed.

Don’t be drawn into such a disempowering state! Be aware in advance that this could occur and act early to avoid it becoming a major problem. An effective sales force have the skills necessary to repel competitors if that high confidence condition can be returned. It is therefore a business imperative to achieve this goal.

The following is an effective approach to redressing the problem.

  1. Reframe the problem in a way it can be solved using the skillset of the sales force. Recognise this as a new form of customer objection that can be tactfully handled rather than some other more complex problem. Acknowledge this is a mission critical challenge.
  2. Facilitate a learning process to discover, resolve and re-energise the sales force. Involve customers, the sales force, marketing and management in the process to achieve full alignment. Urgency here is your friend.
  3. Build momentum through a structured implementation plan using the sales tools of collateral, sales meetings, roleplay, joint sales calls etc.
  4. Monitor actions and feedback closely and course correct appropriately while maintaining a learning posture and a transparent environment.

The approach looks deceptively simple. At the process level it is relatively straight forward if the organisation recognises the need early and commits appropriately skilled resources to address the challenge. The more difficult elements are: managing the mindset of the individuals to believe that they can make a difference, recognise and accept that a small personal risk will deliver a greater personal reward (not necessarily monetary) and creating and maintaining a true learning posture throughout the work.

Protect Sales momentum in Post-Merger Integration!

The smouldering issues in a PMI


The due diligence phase of a business acquisition is designed to ensure that the acquiring party understands and agrees to what they are buying.

No matter how hard the due diligence team tries there will be things that are missed or underestimated. In the contract for sale, the seller often provides some warranties in order to close the deal. There is no deception here but rather the seller is demonstrating confidence in what they are selling.

Large organisations are complex and the people working on both sides of the deal have limited knowledge, limited access to the full resources of both organisations and limited time.  From experience the parties act in good faith with an adequate process under the circumstances but it is unlikely to be the complete solution.

It begs the question as to why some of these issues are not uncovered during the due diligence process? A number of things could be at play such as:

  • The individuals responsible for the due diligence, don’t know the issue exists.
  • The acquired organisation operate at a different performance standard to the buyer. As far as the seller is concerned it is business as usual and they are compliant with their own standard.
  • The issue is controlled by a particular process that is not formally recognised or documented and may  be broken during the integration process.
  • Down the chain there may be fear, ignorance or avoidance of the issue.
  • Those with the knowledge are unaware that the issue may be of interest to the Due Diligence team.
  • The acquiring organisation and its representatives don’t appreciate the consequences of the information provided during  due diligence.
  • A truncated sale process forces the acquiring party to prioritise due diligence activity not realising there is a smouldering issue in the de-prioritised area.
  • Due diligence fatigue and reaching a point of “just get the deal done”

For whatever reason, the bed has been made and the deal done. It is now up to the Integration Manager to make it work. An experienced integration manager would insist as part of the integration design phase that effort be made to uncover those smouldering issues. For all the reasons above the issues are still invisible and require special attention to make them visible.

Firstly it is critical to create an environment of trust where it is  safe to provide information without inappropriate ramifications. This is difficult enough to achieve under normal circumstances but it is doubly hard under M&A conditions. The best integration managers see this as a real opportunity to build and demonstrate trust and forge the desired business relationship with the acquired organisation. The leadership here may define the success or otherwise of the integration. Do you establish amnesty conditions or reinforce accountability? Wherever the response falls on the continuum, success is achieved if the outcome is fair and is seen to be fair under the circumstances.

The next thing is, to appropriately define the scope and materiality threshold. The goal here is to achieve a clear, common and agreed understanding of what is being sought. The more clearly and unambiguously the requirement is defined the better the quality of the outcome. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting people to know what you are looking for or leave the brief too vague in the hope that something turns up. From experience neither approach yields a good result. But, by far the worst situation is assuming that all has been identified during due diligence and ploughing on regardless of what is smouldering under the surface.

Finally, wrap a process around the objective, ideally managed as part of the integration design phase; since all the infrastructure to achieve the right outcome should already be in place. Having this information gathered early in the integration puts the acquiring organisation in the best possible position to call upon any seller’s contract warranties.

In summary, giving this issue early and sufficient attention as part of the Post-Merger Integration will help avoid some much bigger surprise later in the process. It is an early opportunity to build trust with the acquired organisation, able to deal with the issue before it gets worse  and offer the best hope of calling upon any seller warranties that may exist.


The smouldering issues in a PMI

The Missed Phase of Post-Merger Integration


Despite well documented processes to execute a Post-Merger Integration (PMI), there is still serial under-performance against expectations of this transformation strategy. Some estimates are as high as 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail to meet their original business case. Various studies suggest that the strategic logic, financial assumptions, cultural fit, implementation execution etc. all play a role in that under-performance.

However, even if all these things are done well, there is still a critical phase not addressed in many  PMIs.

You need to have experienced a PMI first hand to understand how challenging an environment it really is:

  • The intense pressure to achieve the estimated synergy targets embedded in the deal whether they are reasonable or not.
  • The fast paced nature of analysis and decision making inherently means many suboptimal decisions are made.
  • The necessary breaking of many well-established operational processes and relationships and the establishment of new ones.
  • The dealing with cultural challenges of fierce competitors now expected to collaborate effectively.
  • The need to remove uncertainty quickly to reduce the anxiety within the combined organisation and move to a more normal operational footing.

By necessity it is an imperfect process and numerous things are left to be done. Unfortunately, many organisations declare victory once the financial synergies are achieved, move to a “Business as Usual (BaU)” footing and fail to reach optimum performance. However, BaU conditions are rarely conducive to completing the remaining activity.

It is important to recognise and agree there is unfinished business, agree the priorities of what to achieve next and how to achieve it, an ongoing sense of urgency, an effective process to execute and most importantly broad empowerment to act. This should be identified as the business optimisation or business improvement phase of the integration.

The tragedy is that by the time the Executive Committee recognise there is a problem the PMI infrastructure has been dismantled and implementation momentum is lost.

To improve your PMI performance consider the following:

  1. Define PMI success internally as “reaching optimal operating conditions.” It is important to go beyond the achievement of synergy targets.
  2. Design into the PMI process an optimisation/ operational improvement phase so the whole organisation understands this to be the end goal and will work towards it. Allow the design and execution of the early phases to be refined with this objective in mind.
  3. Celebrate success at each phase of the PMI to mark the milestone, allow closure and refresh for the next phase. This is important to manage change fatigue.
The Missed Phase of Post-Merger Integration

Create the conditions for success

Success ladder

What does it mean to create the conditions for success? On the surface it sounds vague or even a motherhood statement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose is to cause reflection on the situation. It is about leverage, impact and not doing the work of others.

How often as a leader do we get stuck in a behavioural pattern and not recognise it? Or if we do recognise it, do something about it? I constantly observe the leader solving other people’s problems for them. This may be because the leader can, it may be that the leader sees it as part of their valuable contribution or that it is just expedient to do so.

As a behaviour pattern is this the best you can do? It may work for a while but at some level it can be seen as a selfish pattern in that it does not encourage development in others and limits your availability to do the work that you are uniquely placed to do. Eventually it will limit your own growth path. In summary the full potential of the individual is thwarted. You may be OK with that but this is not sustainable long term and results will be under par.

The real leadership work is to ensure that the question is answered with a demonstrable YES.

Yes could mean:

Yes the right brief. The right objective and solving the right problem is obviously critical to success. Defining it in an empowering way will stimulate a better understanding of the challenge and will be approached in a more effective way.

Yes the right resources are allocated. This is both a quantity and characteristic question. Here skill, motivation, knowledge, time etc come into play.

Yes the right measure is in place. it is important to project into the future, picturing real success. Then construct appropriate measures to reflect the  identified success is actually the  outcome. For instance, a call centre . A common measure of success is call duration. This encourages operators to make each call as short as possible. Whereas real success maybe first call resolution and customer satisfaction. Be on the lookout for behaviour distortions.

Yes the right support is in place. The predominant posture will encourage and question, rather than make statements and direct action. This should flow, assuming you have addressed the above effectively.

Yes you are monitoring the situation. As time goes by the nature of the situation may change and therefore the cycle should begin again and the YES retested.

If I had to make a single statement to characterise the above it would be to create and maintain a success system rather than a point solution unnecessarily dependant on your management. Success for you is keeping out of the flow!

Create the conditions for success