Saturday, February 10, 2007

Creating a Better Place to Work

In our evolving global economy, we tend to look to capital and technology for competitive advantage. Effective organizations are also critical to global success. The realization has led us to various approaches for redesigning our operations. However, in the processes of "restructuring" and "downsizing" - tactics that provide our companies with leaner structures and flatterer hierarchies - we often tend to overlook the fact that our people are the most important source of competitive advantage.
In many instances, the way we have made our operations more cost-effective has been to lay off workers-based on the simple notion that people equal costs. Unfortunately, we fail to realize that the success of cost cutting comes at the price of serious motivational problems for the remaining employees. The workforce is burdened with new responsibilities, and at the same time, must cope with the uncertainty of further job cuts. Employee loyalty disappears. In a recent survey conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) of companies that went through downsizing shows that employee morale declined in 86 percent of those companies. This leads to a long term vulnerability for many of the restructured corporations.
In their mission statements, many corporations affirm that "people are our most important asset." Admittedly there are numerous examples of sincere efforts to promote participatory management and people involvement, encourage teamwork, and otherwise draw on the assets latent in human energy and talent. And more and more companies share ownership with their employees in the hope of setting higher levels of productivity. However, we often do not comprehend that the task of turning employee involvement into competitive advantage requires profound changes in the role and philosophy of management, corporate values, organizational hierarchy, and labor relations. If these changes are not in place and, consequently, decisions are still handed down from the top, employee motivation suffers and productivity remains at low levels.
We need a different approach to unlock people's productivity. this may be an opportune time to revisit the principles of motivation, to see what really energizes people and lets them take ownership of their jobs. Since the 1950s and 1960s, when Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, and David McClelland developed their theories of motivation, we have made significant advances in our understanding of what energizes people in the workplace. For example, we now focus on the difference between "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" approaches and we understand how people "self," their way of being, influences their motivational orientation.
Having said so, let's try to develop a profile or a perspective for a good employer, i.e. a good place to work for; how such a place would look like? And what are the core values that attract people to work for such a company and make them want to stay on board? I can think of the following characteristics:
  1. Employees are in control. workers not only have he power to run day-to-day operations, but also the opportunity to participate in designing manufacturing processes for greater efficiency. Once the labor content of a product is determined, company leaders and workers cooperatively figure out the best ways to cut product costs. Of course this evolves employees participation in the planning process related to each function in the organization.
  2. A simple, clear bonus system. Any organization can compare the actual cost of labor with the estimated cost. If the actual cost is less than the estimate, the difference between the two could be paid as a bonus to the employees who contributed in fulfilling such saving. Likewise, the bonus is significantly reduced if a poor-quality product reaches the customer. This helps prevent high-volume production at the expense of quality.
  3. Team problem solving. The value of the workplace can be enhanced where employees take responsibility for more than their own job. Employees in each area would operate as a cohesive group to maximize output and solve problems if they trust their management and were empowered by them to become accountable.
  4. Leaders emerge as needed. Natural leaders do emerge naturally in the workplace, only of we create an environment that help employees reach their potentials. When problems arise, we can see leaders around us trying to help solve them. Those are employees who have the ability to influence others, and with the right investment in developing their skills they make great leaders.
  5. Management takes on a new role. Self-autonomy is the name of the game here. mature employees should be enabled and empowered to 'manage' their own jobs. They assume responsibility and become accountable about the results. Management role becomes more focused on 'what gets done', but 'how it is done' could certainly be decided by the job holders as long as they work within the organizational context and observe its ethical conduct and abide by the quality standards in what they do.

To conclude, I found that the most important assets that contribute to both high morale and high productivity could be summarized as:

  • True autonomy where employees run their shop.
  • Management confidence that employees can grow and develop as needed by the organization.
  • A cooperative, caring environment and a willingness to stand by each other through good times and bad.

Reinforcing Your Team's Confidence

Teams' energy wanes every now and then under the workload and the workplace internal and external environmental pressures. When this happens, the team-leader's top priority should be to boost the morale of the team before giving them any more work to do. The right amount of motivation needs to be injected in order to energize the team and bring the members to their original efficiency level again. If this is not done both productivity and quality are sure going to suffer.
In order to make this happen, I have tried the following techniques withe different types of teams and and they worked:
  1. Remember the good times. Encouraging team members to reminisce the 'good old days' when the organization was working at its best, and sharing the teams role in success stories is a tried sure way to change the team mood and make them think positive. They become energized, and their batteries are re-charged to stay on track to complete the last leg and win the race. No one wishes to be with a losing team, and the great feeling of building on past successes nurtures new success stories.
  2. Build a vision for now. Based on what was powerful in the team's real past experience, you may provoke your team to think of a 'vision' or to 'restate' an existing vision but around 'togetherness'.
  3. Assess On-going Performance. This is an effective technique to keep your team focused and on track. The team members can even come up with their own instruments to measure their own performance. If they hate meetings, for example, they can be encouraged to come up with a criteria to measure their performance and effectiveness in having and attending business meetings.
  4. Share with them basic questions. The simplest mechanism to get your team involved and committed is to regularly share with them basic question to help sharpen the team' concentration: What's working well for us and the organization? What do we want to do differently, and why? Don't wait for something to go drastically wrong before using this mechanism. You only concentrate of the positive in order to sustain what's working than to get tied up in knots about what isn't; then you need to phrase problems as requests: "these are the things I would like us to do differently."; and finally, negotiate through the requests in order to get the best deal from you team on time, quality, and cost of doing their jobs.
  5. Develop a self-directed work team (SDWT). No good team-leader would like to lead an immature team for a long period of time. Good leader foster a culture of team-spirit based on strong team norms and cohesiveness. Mature teams should be able to decide on how they are going to accomplish the tasks given to them without any supervision. She should also cooperate in solving work problems, and eliminating any conflicts that may hinder their achievements. Team leaders should find the time to think strategically, align required resources to enable their teams deliver, and take strategic business decisions.

Finally, team leaders are 'captains' who lead their to score and win, but they do not do this isolated from their own team. They make themselves visible, and they have a presence in playing field to orchestrate the team work and take any required decisions to bring them back to track on time to continue the race.

Teamwork: A Success Prerequisite

Business is avidly embracing all kn ids of teams as the fading century relaxes its grip on its ideals of scientific management and rugged individualism. But business teams, however robust they appear are still delicate organisms, at risk of succumbing to any number of internal and external threats. And sometimes, just when a team-or a plant full of teams-seems strongest, unanticipated problems can arise that range from time stealing and energy sapping to life threatening.
Workplace teams take many forms, address many purposes, and have many different names., but they fall into two general categories. First, there are the teams variously known as cross-functional teams, product improvement teams, process imrprovement teams, and program teams. These may be short or long-lived or even permanent. What these teams have in common is that they combine people from a variety of functions who work together toward a joint goal. To simplify terminology, we can call all these types of teams project teams.
A second broad category of business teams has upended the basic structure of countless manufacturing and service organizations over the last decade. These are work unit teams that assume most of the responsibilities formerly reserved for the unit's supervisor. Such a unit may be called an autonomous work team, a self managed team. or a self-directed team. It is a small group of employees who share responsibilities for a block of work; the team plans, schedules, and assigns work and makes decisions related to production and personnel.
While these two types of teams - including ensuing committees and task forces related to them - can be called formal teams that are initiated by the organization to carry out official tasks and assignments, there are always other teams that are initiated by the social activities of the employees themselves such as recreational activities teams, and voluntary community service activities. The bond that ties employees together in this latter type is usually stronger and more relaxing.
Everywhere in business today, people are wearing many hats, assuming every-increasing responsibilities. So the the life of any permanent or long-lived team, there will be times when progress will falter because members are juggling too many balls. The manager of a project team member May call on the person to redouble efforts on a high priority task back in the work unit. In a self-directed work team, a big new order, growing backlog, or unexpected customer demand may draw workers' attention away from their concentration on learning and assuming increased supervisory responsibilities.
Burdened by conflicting priorities, team members may respond in ways that change team tasks and bypass team processes. They may skip team meetings, asserting they are "too busy"; they may attend the meetings but use the time to talk about different issues they share with other members of the team; they may fall behind on promised deliverables. The sooner the team leader intervenes, the less likelihood that a few isolated instances will grow into patterns that erode the team's viability.
When situations like these start to occur, the team leader's first task is to confirm that "other priorities' isn't a polite euphemism for burnout or loss of interest in the team's purpose and activities. those are different roblems, and while the symptoms may be similar, some of the solutions are quite different. But connecting with team members outside the formal meetings is a good starting point whatever the underlying cause of members' withdrawals.
Team members commitment makes them monitor their own ability to deliver what they have promised to deliver.
Teams sometimes confront a problem of conflicting priorities that's quite different from the one individual members wrestle with when they find themselves with too much to do. As the company refines its strategies and priorities, teams have to take stock to ensure their priorities still match those of the organization. Every team needs to be careful not to get locked into a narrow view of its purpose. Unless it keeps up to date on needs and goals of the broader organization, support for the team will wane and it will wither due to its own shortsightedness.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Organizational Success Illusions

Truth-a proper and clear understanding of reality-is the key to success in organizations, teams,relationships, and careers. In fact, the departure point for all achievement is a relentless commitment to truth-truth about who we are, where we're headed, where the market is going, what our customers want, what our core competencies are (and whether anyone cares), what our core limitations are (and whether anyone can help us), and what our employees are thinking.
The enemy of truth is illusion. illusion is "a false interpretation by the mind ... a belief or hope that has no real substance."Illusion comes when we perceive something to be true that isn't true or is only partly true. Illusion comes because we want to believe the thing is true. Illusion is often-perhaps always-tied into false hope.
This false hope is usually driven by our desire to avoid facing problems-and the pain that comes from facing them and attempting to solve them. It's easier to search for ways to market a formerly successful product that is now falling in sales than to gaze unflinchingly into the reality that the product is on the verge of extinction. "when the horse is dead, get off," says an old proverb-but it's incredibly but it's incredibly easy to keep trying to ride an old horse even after the stench of death has set in.
It's is always easier to hope that a problem will go away or solve itself than it is to shred bad ideas or to abandon good ideas that gone sour. And the more the reality of the situation diverges from our desire to avoid pain and from our false hope, the more we need and will use illusion to disguise the gap.
Illusions are living things. Like layer upon layer of paint added to a rotting wall, illusions tend to produce more illusions. We may, for example, deceive ourselves into thinking that the problem is marketing rather than acknowledging that the product is a goner. This first illusion leads to a second one-that the marketing department needs a shake up-and when that fails, to a third illusion-that what we really need is a new marketing concept.
This is the disastrous path that illusions put us on and then drive us along. They cause us to "solve" a problem by adding another layer of illusion and, when the rot breaks through, to paint it again. Illusions cause us to head into the netherworld of organizational fantasy and to "solve" problems that may not be the problem-or any problem at all. Organizations spend an unbelievable amount of time and energy attempting to treat symptoms. Much of this effort nearely shuffles illusions around.
The hardest part for any organization is how to overcome its pride, its self-image, and its dreams. It is difficult to admit that we need to stop painting a rotting wall. It can be equally difficult to admit that we just wasted three years on a lousy idea. Therefore, the value of shredding illusions is that we begin to face the real problems, which are the only news worthy of being solved, the only ones that make a difference. We peel off the paint, layer by layer, so that we can determine the condition of the wall. Then, and only then, can we determine accurately whether to repair the wall or tear it down and build something better.
Another old saying reminds us that when we know the truth, we can be free-free from myths, free from misperceptions that lead us down unhelpful paths, free from bad ideas disguised as "traditions" or "culture,"and free from opinions that just don't hold up under the relentless flood of marketplace reality.
The danger of illusions is that sometimes we do not know what we are looking for, so we make our decisions about the organization on the basis of outward appearances alone. Illusions sometimes help people gain and maintain their power, not because we're ignorant of reality, but because we sense or know the reality and choose to avoid it. We might tell ourselves that we don't know anything different or have all the facts, while what we're really doing is entering More deeply into the process of illusion building.
Again, this deception is compounded when new reinforce each other's illusions. I tell you your layoff plan sounds appropriate (suppressing doubts about the long-term effect on morale and innovation), and you tell me my reorganization should fix our poor customer service (suppressing questions about my lack of agreed-upon goals and training). We can all have ears that itch to hear what they want to hear. Reality is present and available, but "it evaporates in a friendly conspiracy of illusion" according to James Lucas in his book Fatal Illusions.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Relationship Between Power and Change

Many of the corporate values statements that are supposed to guide large-scale change efforts appear to have been developed without acknowledging the realities of power. The fact is that some individuals are intensely driven by motives such as power and individual achievement, seemingly to the exclusion of almost anything else.
indeed, reward and recognition systems have usually been designed to encourage individual achievement and promote managers who wanted to acquire additional power. These reward systems may have changed in recent years to recognize team accomplishment and encourage employees to become team players. But it would be naive to assume that human nature has suddenly changed. As they have since the beginning of the species, some humans still crave power and, once they have achieved it, want to hold onto it. Consequently, I propose that, for more understanding of power, following principles may be considered:
First Principle - People Who Have Power Usually Do Not Give It Up Voluntarily. Power means control. It bestows prestige and privilege, perks that are far too seductive for most people to relinquish willingly. Managers may give lip service to the principles of empowerment, but the reality is often quite different, making the transition process difficult. Many a department head who tries to change procedures in his or her organization has learned this lesson the hard way. Outwardly, all of the mangers may agree with the reforms, but in reality they often see them as a threat to their way of doing thins. As a result, the reforms may never be implemented.
Another factor also helps to explain the reluctance of many managers to change. They often feel uncomfortable in a new culture because they lack the necessary tools to function 'there' effectively. It's similar to doing business in a country that you've never seen before. The new culture is totally unfamiliar, and you have no model for what is expected of you. Eventually, you may acquire a mode, but even then you still must figure out how to translate it into specific behaviors on you job. In order to be able to successfully do so, you need to practice these behaviors on the job, to rely on your colleagues to do the same thing, to interface with other departments where the change process has not yet started, and finally to depend on the rest of the organization to support your efforts. This tough situation explains why so many mangers are reluctant to embrace the brave new world of corporate change.
Second Principle - Hierarchies Are the Natural Order of Things. As organizations try to flatten out their hierarchies, they need to ask themselves an important questions: What purpose is the hierarchy designed to serve? In their book Re-framing Organizations, Bolman and Deal contrast the organizational structures at McDonald's and at Harvard University. The former is tightly controlled from the top, with a long chain of command that reaches into every restaurant and down to every employee in order to ensure uniformity - a hamburger at one location is to be the same as a hamburger everywhere else. By contrast, Harvard is a far more decentralized organization, with each school largely in control of its own destiny and every professor teaching according to his or her own unique style. People want individuality from the Harvard faculty, but not from McDonald's hamburger flippers.
For each organization, there seems to be an optional degree of command structure. This varies with the purpose of the organization and the amount of alignment required among the employees. Incidentally, hierarchies will always exist because they seem to be a natural organizing principle of life. In fact, organizations that eliminate layers of formal hierarchy usually discover that informal structures emerge to replace them. These may for around natural leaders who may be the mavericks who direct successful skunk works or the corporate heroes who lead the organization to new markets. They attract their own followers who establish hierarchies of their own that exist side by side with the formal organization chart.
Third Principle - In Each Organization There Are Different Types of Power. Inside every organization, power is clothed in various forms and resides in different centers. Successful change often depends on persuading enough powerful people to buy into a transition process. formal power, of course, is described in our company's organization chart, which tells us, the people in authority who are charged with enforcing the rules. While their support is critical, it is only the beginning, because there are many types of informal power that may prove just as important.
These include moral power, which carries the force of sanctions against any employee who violates the values of the culture. Moral power may be exercised by the individuals that we may call believers; they preserve the institution and its hallowed traditions. Since any change effort generally strikes at these traditions, those preachers and their followers may be expected to oppose it unless you can enlist their enthusiastic approval.
Expertise is another kind of power, usually represented by various gurus who can be found in almost any functional area. These are employees who possess outstanding reputations that have won them wide respect throughout the organization, and so their support can be crucial.
Finally, there is coercive power. This is the ultimate authority to hire and fire, to determine corporate strategy and change organizational structures. The leader may need to use coercive power ti initiate the change process, especially if he or she is the only one who seems to recognize the necessity for change. There may simply be no other way for the leader to start the ball rolling than by announcing his or her vision for the organization to the members of the management team. Then the leader must be skilled at reaching out to all of the opinion makers in the organization - those who possess expert power and moral power as well as those who hold positions of authority in the company's formal organization chart.
This process requires the leader to have the ability to persuade others tat he or she is fully committed to the change process, the ability to set an example and undertake actions that seem consistent with the process, and a past record of success which enhances his or her reputation throughout the organization. This is the leader's own moral and expert power. The leader cannot rely on coercive power alone to force change down employees' throats, because resistance will build that can undermine the entire process.

Hallmarks of Organizational Success

Companies that wish to compete successfully in a turbulent business environment characterized by global competition, exploding information technology, fast-paced change, and new employer-employee relationships will inevitably be forced to make significant adjustments in the way they operate. From interviews - conducted in late nineties - with more than 1,000 senior executives and academics, experts at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School have developed a set of twelve hallmarks that will characterize the leading corporations of the the twenty first century:
Vision directed - This means having a statement of principles that is not just some high-sounding works tacked up on the wall of the company cafeteria, but a rather clear set of values that actually influence a company's operations and give employees a strong sense of pride in their organizations.
Cross functional - Asea Brown Bovari is a giant corporation with tens of thousands of thousands employees doing business in hundreds of local companies located across the globe. ABB cannot afford to be organized along traditional functional lines (e.g., marketing, manufacturing, R&D) because business decisions involve continuous coordination among many functions. Instead, ABB has a matrix organizational structure, with its local companies grouped by products and services, and again by geographical location.
Flatter & empowered - Information technology, intense competition, and the rapid rate of change have made he old, rigid hierarchies obsolete. Decision making simply cannot move up and down the corporate silos fast enough, so organizations must be fattened and individuals at every level must be empowered to make decisions. But, as John Kotter argues in The leadership Factor, this requires more from managers than they were ever asked to do before. "Figuring out the right thing to do in an environment of uncertainty... and then getting others to accept a new way of doing things demand skills and approaches that most managers did not need in the past. It demands more than technical expertise, adminstrativeability, and traditional management. Operating in the new environment also requires leadership." So an effort at developing leaders throughout the organization must accompany efforts at empowerment and flattening the corporate hierarchy.
Global - Companies like Ford have recognized the advantages that globalization can mean, from buying materials and services in low-cost areas of the world to developing new markets that can help cushion the blow when your domestic sales take a downturn.
Networked - Instead of carrying out every function on their own, companies will often find it far more cost-effective to create partnering arrangements with other firms to perform certain functions. Outsourcing, for example, is currently occurring in almost every field of business, where organizations are recently hiring outside vendors for their legal, audit, and cafeteria operations, security, and janitorial.
Information-technology-based - Computers and communications systems will continue to alter the way companies operate internally while improving relationships with suppliers and cu stormers. At large law firms, for example, computer networks now enable corporate clients to regularly review the work the firm is currently performing on their cases as well as the number of hours being billed to each other.
Stakeholder-focused - As Dr. Jerry Wind of the Wharton School explains, "A company will not be able to operate as a closed entity cut off from society's needs and demands. Management will still give primary attention to its shareholders, ... [but] increasingly, governments, environmental organizations, ... will hold firms accountable for their actions."
Flexible/adaptive - One of the best predictors of a company's long-term performance is its ability to adapt to changes in the marketplace. This requires a culture that encourages experimentation and intelligent risk taking, that incorporates now ideas into the fabric of its operations, and that provides employees with abundant opportunities to develop new skills so that hey can keep pace with change. At Motorolla, for example, the emphasis is on lifelong learning, with employees attending more hours of training annually than at almost any other company in the US. Training programs have enabled the company to achieve an exceptional reputation for product quality and maintain positions of leadership in areas such as computer chips, cellular telephones, and paging equipment.
Customer-driven - While many companies talk about getting close to the customer, some are actually trying to achieve it. Some manufacturing companies, according to Fortune Magazine, recognized that the best way for manufacturing employees to understand customers' needs to regularly travel to their facilities and find out firsthand how they use these companies. The result : significant product improvements.
Total Quality-focused - If any single element can be called the foundation stone of the change process, it is the emphasis on quality. After World War II, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran taught the Japanese the importance of quality and how to attain it. Eventually, American companies got the quality concept and began singing out its praises with the other world-wide believers. They did that, just in time to win back some of their customers from the Japanese. Some of these companies (e.g. Motorola and Federal Express) have even been recognized for their efforts by receiving the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
Time-based - Developing a new product rapidly and bringing it to the marketplace ahead of the competition can spell the difference between a company's success or failure. In his book what America Does Right, Robert Waterman describes Proctor & Gamble's plant in Lima, Ohio, which was given the job of manufacturing the company's improved Downy fabric softener. Lima succeeded in overhauling its production equipment so rapidly that new Downy was rolling off the assembly line and into supermarkets in the unbelievable time of only sixteen weeks. The key, according to Waterman, was the plant's empowered work teams that took ownership for the project and held a large stake in its success.
Innovative - Innovative and entrepreneurial are words most of us associate with small or medium-sized companies. yet some of the large corporations - the elephants - have also learned how to run with the gazelles. Through a variety of methods, companies like General electric, Motorola, Federal express, and P&G have proved that they can compete successfully. Unfortunately, too many other U.S. companies are still struggling to find a change process that will make them more competitive.
These are the twelve hallmarks of success that a congress of The American Management Association ( AMACOM) I had attended in the mid nineties in Las Vegas with more than 4,500 of executives from the five continents had discussed and agreed upon. I can see now that we were right in predicting the future traits of the twenty first century needs and demands.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Characteristics of Effective Organization

A lot has been said on the characteristics of effective organizations; organizations that have a strong presence, and their impact can be felt in the markets and communities they operate in; organizations that utilize all their current and potential resources to achieve their strategic goals. From experience, I found that all the characteristic that have been compounded so far about effective organizations can be crystallized in the following features:
  • Vision Directed - where the organization should have a clear direction about which way it is heading through "reading the future" of the markets and anticipating the changes that would take place and would influence the market dynamics. The organization needs a good working compass which points accurately to the directions to be followed in order to outsmart the competition, get to the customers first, and gain a bigger market share.
  • Customer Driven - Years ago, management gurus began to warn organizations that they had become arrogant and self-satisfied, focused on giving the customers only what the companies wanted and losing sight of what they customers' needs actually were. The result was that major corporations like the automobile manufacturers lost market share to foreign competitors, at least until they eventually got aware enough and started crash enhancement programs of satisfying the customer.
  • Innovative - We live in an age when organizations like to take great pride in their ability to adapt to change and pioneer innovation. During the eighteenth century, innovation was suspect, but with the constantly changing tastes and demands of the customers, new products and/or services became crucial to sustaining any organization. Customers loyalty and their sustainability cannot be build on the same product or service features for so long. Quick response to customers' needs became a vital organizational competency that maintain its competitiveness in the market.
  • Flexible/Adaptive - there is no doubt nowadays that change became the only constant around us. That means business objectives and strategies cannot be clad mantled and remain constant. They have to respond promptly to the environmental influences and market dynamics changes. Otherwise, companies lose opportunities as their approaches become obsolete and not required nor "adopted" by the customers who would look somewhere else.
  • Intellectual Capital Oriented - The quality of people decides the effectiveness of any organization. It is not enough to hire the best caliber people. An on-going investment in improving and developing people's skills and competencies is crucial in carrying out the organization's plans to build a strong culture, develop aggressive strategic goals, launching new products and services, and opening new markets. Employees are the internal customers of the organization and building a customer driven culture depends mainly on the way we value our HR, the intellectual capital of the organization. If turned into "business partners" through participation and trust, employees will assume ownership and contribute limitlessly to enhance organizational performance and its competitiveness.
  • Knowledge Based - We are living the "information democracy" age. Information became equally available for those who seek to learn. But information alone would not turn organizations into "learning organizations"; it needs to be turned into knowledge so that we can apply on our jobs. Systems of the organizations of the 21st century are becoming more and more knowledge based where even employees compensation will be designed on how much knowledge they know and apply on their jobs. Being knowledge based will also make organizations keen to keep up-to-date on technological advances in order to modernize their systems to be able to deal with the enormous fast flow of information and make use of it.

There might be more to discuss on the characteristics of market leaders, organizations that become addicted to success, and fight hard to defend their domains and sustain their market leadership, but I thought the above features can be used as ground rules to build a strong organization.

The tough challenge of Managing Change

In 1492 when Columbus set out across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in a new world, his voyage changed the perspective and literally broadened the horizon of mankind. Almost overnight, trade routes had to be redrawn, power began shifting from the Mediterranean to the countries on the Atlantic seaboard closest to the Americas, and great riches began flowing onto the continent from places with unusual sounding names that nobody had ever heard of them before Columbus.
In many ways, the corporate leader with a new vision is like Columbus and the the other explorers who came after him - people who change perceptions. But it isn't easy. For years, no one was willing to finance Columbus's voyages; and it was only his sheer persistence that finally enabled him to transform his vision into reality.
Today's corporate leaders face similar problems when they try to implement their vision of change. Change forces employees to shift paradigm because it upsets the tried and true ways of doing things; it produces anxiety and stress by requiring employees to learn new skills and deal with unfamiliar situations; it also threatens many employees by upsetting traditional power relationships and lines of authority. is it any wonder, then, that as a leader announces a new change initiative, managers smile and nod their heads approvingly, only to return to their offices and sit on their hands? Is it also any wonder that so many change efforts fail?
Today, given the increased complexity and uncertainty of operating in the global information age, all of us in the field of management are looking for principles that can guide organizations and enable them to be successful in the future. Today's leaders face incredible problems. Staying abreast of the accelerating rate of change, motivating employees, obtaining reliable information, competing internationally - these are only a few of the balls that managers must keep in the air as they try to run organizations. The rate of technological change alone exceeds anything that seemed possible only a few years ago. Employees are more highly educated than ever before and demand greater empowerment from their bosses. Time is a far more valuable commodity - time to market and just-in-time inventory. The global economy affects major business decisions, from cutting health care costs to opening new factories, Finally customers have much higher expectations from the products and services they purchase; thus, no cop many can afford to overlook quality. Faced with such a variety of complex issues, organizations often look for one-dimensional solutions. Everything from TQM to re engineering becomes "the answer."
Human beings lie at the center of every change effort, and throughout history many have put up strong resistance to it. Leaders must learn to mitigate the impact of natural human traits - suspicion, stubbornness, and anxiety - that undermine change., while capitalizing on those positive human qualities - trust, idealism, and dedication - that make change work. No change will succeed without skillful leadership. But leadership involves more than a list of traits and attributes. Leadership of the change effort is a clearly defined process that includes information gathering, self-knowledge, identifying the informal leaders inside an organization, developing a realistic set of ideals, finding the leverage points to induce change, understanding human nature, using power effectively designing a successful social process, and creating identification with the change effort among rand-and-file employees.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The "Peter Principle" and Stress

In its simplest form, the Perter Principle is based on the observation that "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." From observation, many people who have become stressed in their jobs seem to have risen through the hierarchy to a point just beyond their level of skill and competence and become "stuck" in a position where they are neither qualified, competent, nor comfortable. If you find that your job is a major source of frustration and stress, consider whether you have been promoted beyond your own level of competence.
The word hierarchy comes from a combination of two Greek terms and by definition describes "a system with grades of status or authority ranking one above another in a series, or the set of persons in such a system." Hierarchies in themselves aren't wrong. However, some factors explain why Peter Principle often generates stress. Not only do hierarchies exist, but the natural response of people seems to be to push toward the top. Think about the last time you attended a popular play at the theatre, a major sporting event. You probably gathered with a large crowd of others outside the gates, waiting with varying degrees of patience. Finally, someone came to open the gates, and the crowd began pushing its way inside. If seating had not been pre-assigned, most people rushed as rapidly as possible to get to the best seats. That's just a small example of the innate human desire to climb the ladder just as high as we can to gain as much fame, recognition, or fortune as possible.
Here are some practical insights that can help you avoid winding up in a frustrating position of incompetency:
First - whatever you do , look at any task as a challenge to your abilities and competence, a challenge that you need to proof yourself in to achieve gratification and self-actualization. At the completion of such a task, you will feel fulfilled and satisfied.
Second - Put higher standards for the objectives you are trying to achieve, try to get off the very long line of mediocre performance employees. You are still a team player, but with higher standards that single you out of the rest of them as the member of greater value.
Third - Set your priorities right, and do not allow anything to distract you of completing a task you started to do unless it is an emergency. You need to collect your concentration in order to be on track to safe effort, time, and cost.
Fourth - Maintain a work/life balance. Workaholics fall under tremendous pressure and suffer great stress when their social life and their homes becomes and extension of offices and turn gradually into an "after hours workplace."One practical step is to look at what you pour your energy into during your time away from work.
Fifth - Set realistic deadlines to the tasks to be done, and agree on these deadlines with your boss to avoid his untimely interference and the additional stress you get as a result. Controlling your schedules involves planning and scheduling for both work and notwork activities. Write them down and stick to them.
Sixth - Develop a system of briefing your boss on the progress without waiting for him/her to ask. That will keep him/her away from your turf and allows you more freedom to "do it your way."
Seventh - Develop alliance with the other team members in a give and take pattern that sets a parameter of your working together and creates "team spirit' norms of hard working and complementing each other. No task, this way, will be left undone and delays will be eliminated. Networking is a practical way of increasing your contacts and alleviating your stress.
Eighth - Never stop investing in your self, enhancing your skills and competencies not only in the technical area but in the area of interpersonal skill as well. Build your self-confidence as you go. That will give more tolerance to stress.
Finally, you need to develop a positive attitude towards life in general, looking at it as a "package deal." Remember: stress is composed of three major components-the event itself, or the "stressor"; your physiological response, often called "fight-or-flight;" and the most important component, your mental perception, or how you view the stressor.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tips On How To Deal With Stress

We have all encountered different types of frustrating situations: a boss who stifles our creativity or who gives us work to do and never thinks to ask us about it;a colleague who has absolutely no interest in details and who consequently puts an entire project at risk; an employee whose rigid approach to doing things by the book is actually harming relationships with our clients.
there are actually two aspects to this kind of problem: one that is easy to recognize and one we'd rather pretend doesn't exist. The first involves the personality weaknesses and differences of our fellow workers, our bosses, and our customers. The other, far less pleasant to acknowledge but even more crucial, involves our own personality weaknesses. Ironically, most of our weaknesses involve strengths taken to an extreme, i.e. using too much power to deal with a situation.
One of the keys to getting along with others and thereby minimizing personality-related stress in the workplace involves sharpening or honing our own strengths while faining a better understanding of the strengths of others. This means being able to observe and understand different personality types. For example, powerful or dominant individuals motivated by control issues may tend to view having to submit to someone else's authority as a loss of control. This could lead to a major confrontation or even a breakdown in communication. Furthermore, individuals of this type seldom handle boring routine well; they typically prefer well-defined goals and stretching challenges.
Whenever powerful people need to be confronted - and sometimes confrontation is necessary - the best approach is to " show them how their actions affect you" and underscore mutually beneficial goals. In addition, they appreciate bottom-line communication. They are not interested in a wealth of detail; instead, they prefer to "get to the point". On the other hand a perfectionist or steady person typically raises many questions and wants to know the answers to individual details. Under stress this person needs reassurance, order, and structure. Such individuals may take a pessimistic, even hopeless, view of things, and that can be extremely frustrating to the more positive, popular type and even the goal-oriented, powerful personality.
Personalities that don't like change are the compliant or peaceful type. They find security in the status-quo and need time to adjust to changes. They also need to identify with a group, and they prefer harmony to conflict or dissension. Whereas powerful individuals often thrive on conflict and seem to go out of their way to produce it, compliant or peaceful individuals usually avoid conflict at all costs.
Perhaps the one area where personality differences create the most chaos is with the boss. According to a survey done by Julie Lopez three-Fourth of all the managerial staff she surveyed had trouble with their bosses. They felt their bosses didn't understand them and that they all had personality problems. She divided bosses into four categories that showed remarkable similarity to the four major personality types.
Her first category, the incompetent boss, talks on the phone all day and doesn't know how to get thins done. In order to get along with these type managers, employees should try to help the boss do his/her work as well as work at making her look good.
The second category, the workaholic boss, resembles the powerful lion. This kind of boss often treats employees like slaves and expects everyone to work the same kind of incredible hours he does. Do it the boss's way, but don't let yourself be bullied into unreasonable demands.
The phantom boss, similar to the steady, perfectionist beaver, likes to stay out of the action and communicate by detailed, written memos. Getting along with this kind of boss is to communicate back in writing, making sure to enumerate all your accomplishments.
The fourth category, the wimp, resembles the peaceful, compliant golden retriever. This is the boss "who can't take charge, tries to avoid conflict, and becomes paralyzed when faced with a decision. Subordinates need to boost his/her confidence, while feeding him/her information he can use to make decisions.
These are the two main areas in the workplace that cause most of the stress we feel. The other environmental aspects are not as persistent and their impact is not greater than these two. However, we need to exert the required of effort to analyze the internal environment of the workplace and becoming alert and agile in perceiving the changes that happen around us if we want to diffuse the "stress bombs" that keep coming our way, sometimes unexpectedly.

The Workplace As a Source of Stress

In order to understand how to deal with stress, we need to know how it works as well as how we physically respond to stress. Obviously it is equally important that body and mind respond to stress as a unit. Our mental response, specifically our cognitive perceptions, must work with our body when stress comes.
How we regard troublesome events will influence whether we feel stress much more than the events themselves warrant. Regard them as catastrophic, and high anxiety and stress will kick in. In many instances our feelings of loss of control - of overwhelming pressure - contribute significantly to the negative effects. of stress.
Clearly, ours is not the only generation to struggle with workplace stress. However, many factors in today's workplace often raise the levels of stress to intolerable proportions. Of course, the stresses of life are not confined to the workplace. Stresses of modern life affect people, but workplace stress overlaps with the pressure fount in urban living. Similarly, the pressures resulting from job changes can be highly stressful. Although the U.S workforce may not be quite as mobile as our perceptions might indicate, there is probably less lifetime employment with the same company - from entry level to retirement - than ever before. Some changes are chosen, and others are forced. Changing technology, unstable economies, globalization, customers changing demands, terrorism and the other socio-cultural issues influencing the workplace, have compounded levels of stress in the workplace. Few would have predicted the drastic changes that have occurred in the work environment during this century, from the automobile engine that transports us to work to nuclear power to generate electricity. Today, accelerating technology has resulted in a new generation of computers every eighteen months. In the process of such change, stress increases. Even positive changes can be stressful. When I got my new laptop, a far more powerful than my previous one and had much more capabilities, I found myself spending many frustrating hours learning how to use the computer features and struggling with its advanced software.
At one point modern technology was considered to be the solution for workplace stress-now it's more commonly recognized as part of the problem. Rather than freeing employees by letting them do more in less time, hand-held devices, mobiles, car phones, beepers, and laptops have caused the office to follow them everywhere, adding to the workload. Steady overtime has become a key factor in job stress as "co prorate shrinkage" causes the workers who survive job cuts to carry heavier loads. According to workplace experts, employees are generally more cautious about hiring new employees because of the cost of such things as health benefits and training. They would prefer to work existing employees more than hiring new ones.
Declining real income, job changes, downsizing have often led to shrinking salaries More and more workers feel overworked and underpaid at the same time. Economists blame the decline on such factors as foreign job competition, technological changes, increased use of temporary help, and the massive downsizing in the defense sector. The result is far less real income for most workers, as salaries shrink and inflation climbs.
The trend in the 90s, the trend to have more part-time workers and fewer full-time employees, saves costs in employee benefits and allows employee levels to flex according to demands in the industry. Unfortunately, it creates major uncertainty for employees, some of whom cannot count on employers for such simple things as medical coverage and paid sick time. These days, companies employ temporaries at every level of work, from entry level to management.
If the workplace is the main source of stress, can we overcome stress by adapting or fighting it? Yes we can, if we consciously become aware that we need to develop a positive attitude towards stress. An in-depth understanding of sources of stress in the workplace serves as a foundation for a self developed plan to deal with stress in the workplace.