Change Management and “Moneyball” (Movie Version) December 1, 2013Posted by Tim Rodgers in baseball, Communication, Management & leadership, strategy.
Tags: baseball, change management, leadership, management, power, strategy
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The other day I watched the movie “Moneyball” again and was reminded of a few important characteristics of successful change management. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, an organization struggling with a limited budget to develop, attract, and retain players.
At the beginning of the movie we learn that before the 2002 season the A’s have lost three of their best players who have signed more lucrative contracts elsewhere. Beane is trying to figure out how to replace these players, and more generally put together a winning team within the financial constraints imposed by ownership. After a chance encounter with a low-level analyst from a rival organization, Beane realizes that he cannot compete if he builds a team using the traditional ways of assigning value to players. Almost out of desperation, he decides on an unconventional strategy based on the emerging science of sabermetrics. He immediately faces resistance from his experienced staff, specifically the field manager and scouts who are unconvinced and in some cases actively working against the strategy.
Ultimately it’s fairly happy ending: despite public criticism of Beane’s decisions and early disappointments on the field, the A’s have a successful season. At one point they win 20 straight games, setting a new league record, and they make the playoffs, but lose in the first round. Beane is offered a significant raise to leave the A’s and join the Boston Red Sox where he would have the opportunity to apply the same principles with a much larger budget. Beane declines the offer, but the unconventional strategy has been seemingly validated.
The movie focuses Beane’s underdog status and uphill battle during the season, and I’m sure some of the real-life events have been changed for dramatic effect. Regardless of whether they actually happened or not, there are several scenes that illustrate elements of successful change management.
1. A clear explanation of the new direction. In the movie, Beane leads a meeting of his senior staff to discuss plans for acquiring players for the upcoming season. This looks like Beane’s first opportunity to apply his new strategy, but he misses an important chance to align with his team. It’s clear that he’s the boss with the final authority, and it’s not necessary for everyone in the room to agree, but Beane could have taken the time to explain the new direction and acknowledge the objections. In later scenes, Beane acknowledges this mistake to his field manager who has been undermining the strategy through his tactical decisions, and fires a senior staff member who has been especially vocal in opposition.
The lesson: the team may not agree with the change, but they should be very clear about why change is needed. Team members should have the opportunity to raise objections, but once the direction has been set, their only choices are to support the change or leave the team.
2. Removing options to force compliance. Beane is frustrated by opposition from his field manager who gives more playing time to players whose skills are not highly valued in Beane’s new system. Beane stops short of giving a direct order to the manager to be make decisions that are more consistent with the strategy, and instead Beane trades these players to other teams, effectively removing those undesirable options. This is a variation of what is sometimes called “burning the boats,” from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. You can’t go back to the old way of doing things because that way is no longer an option. As Beane replaces players, his manager has fewer opportunities to not follow the strategy.
The lesson: this seems like passive-aggressive behavior from both parties, but I can see how it can be effective. My preference would be to reinforce the desired change rather than take away choices, but if the old way is very well established you need to help people move on and not be tempted to return.
3. Giving it a chance to work. The A’s get off to a slow start and pressure builds on Beane to abandon the new strategy. In one scene he meets with the team’s owner and assures the owner that the plan is sound and things will get better. It eventually does, despite all the skepticism and opposition, and the movie audience gets the underdog story they were promised.
The lesson: even the best ideas take time. It’s absolutely critical to set expectations with stakeholders to help them understand how and when they will detect whether the change is working. Impatience is one of the biggest causes of failure when it comes to change management.
Why We Need Quality Police November 10, 2013Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Process engineering, Quality.
Tags: early stage companies, management, power, process, quality engineering
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I’ve said it myself many times: the quality department shouldn’t be the quality police. We tell ourselves that everyone is responsible for quality, and we therefore ask people to police their own behavior and make the right choices. This sounds good and noble, and it’s certainly more cost-effective than relying on a separate functional group to keep an eye on things.
And yet: it seems to be the only way. We need quality police.
When we’re left on our own, we tend to look for the fastest and easiest way to complete our assignments. We don’t spend much time thinking about the priorities or needs of other groups, or how decisions have future consequences. To eliminate chaos, businesses establish work standards and processes to enable coordinated activities and a smooth flow of information. Certainly we want our work processes to be effective, but what matters most are the consistent results that are achieved when everyone follows the process.
Somebody has to keep en eye on all this, to check for process conformance and process improvement opportunities. Managers can monitor the performance of their assigned teams, but a manager will tend to optimize within their team according to their objectives. Second-level or higher managers have a broader (and possibly cross-functional) perspective, but they probably lack the deeper understanding of the work processes.
If you have a quality team, this is their job. They’re the ones who pull together all the processes into a corporate quality management system (QMS). They’re the ones who train and audit the QMS, not just to make sure it’s being followed, but also to make sure it’s meeting the needs of the business. They’re the ones who monitor the performance of the processes to identify opportunities for improvement. And, if you care about ISO 9001 certification, they’re the ones who make sure you “document what you do, and do what you’ve documented.”
This isn’t the quality police looking for “process offenders” and punishing them. This is standardizing processes, reducing variability, and eliminating waste. Doesn’t every business want that?
Why Can’t You Figure Out What I Want? July 29, 2013Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: communication, leadership, management, manager, power
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Earlier this year I started working at a new company where, except for the brief job interviews, I was entirely unfamiliar and unknown to everyone. I’ve been through this many times in my career, changing jobs and relocating more often than most, I suspect. It takes a little while for your new co-workers and subordinates to figure out who you are, what you care about, and what you expect. Your style and preferences will not be immediately obvious, and it’s unlikely that others will be able to read your mind. You’re bound to have some miscommunication, misunderstandings, and missed deliverables until you get on the same wavelength, and until then you have to spend a lot of time explaining what you really want.
You can make this easier for everyone by being explicit, being consistent, and giving feedback.
It starts by determining your priorities as a manager. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the team relative to the larger business? What does success look like? How will you measure the performance of each team member? The answers to those questions should enable you to figure out what decisions you need to make, what decisions require your input, and what decisions can be made by your subordinates independently. That will help your team understand what information you need and when you need it.
You can also help your team by consistently communicating strategic messages that are simple, unambiguous, and (ideally) quantifiable. Cost reduction, revenue growth, on-time production ramp, fewer defects, greater efficiency, and improved customer satisfaction are all examples of strategic messages that are easy to grasp, but if the priorities are always changing you can’t expect people to know what’s important on any given day.
Finally, each person on the team should have individual performance objectives that can guide their decisions and their choices about how they spend their day. The feedback and reinforcement you provide during your routine encounters should reinforce those objectives. You shouldn’t make it hard for folks to figure out what you expect from them.
How Much Information Should a Manager Give To Their Team? February 4, 2013Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Project management.
Tags: communication, leadership, management, manager, power, project management
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I’ve been pretty busy over the last few weeks focusing on my job search, interviewing for a couple of positions, and preparing for a possible teaching assignment at a local university. The evaluation process at the university included a 15-minute audition that was intended to provide some insight to each candidate’s presentation and facilitation skills in a classroom environment. Fifteen minutes is not much time, and during my lesson planning I decided to deliver a small packet of information, repeated and reviewed. I know from experience that there’s a tendency to overestimate the ability of an audience to listen and absorb.
This reminded me of something I read during my preparation for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam last year. One of the topics on the exam was Project Communications Management, which included identifying stakeholders, and planning the communication processes necessary to keep them informed, according to their expectations. Project managers were encouraged to strive for efficient communication, providing only the information that each stakeholder requires.
I suppose the intention is to keep it simple and avoid the confusion and doubt that can accompany information overload, but I don’t think this is necessarily a good strategy. There are potential problems when the project manager is the only person who has all the information about the project:
1. You run the risk of creating a dependency bottleneck, where one person must always be available to communicate status, resolve issues, and answer questions. This can be mitigated somewhat with easily-accessible project documents, assuming people know where to find them and are willing to use them.
2. Team members may be constrained by a narrow perspective that limits their ability to respond quickly or deal with ambiguity because they aren’t permitted to see the big picture. Surely the project benefits when the brainpower of all team members is fully-engaged. even at the risk of sharing “too much” information.
Look, I don’t think everyone needs to know everything all the time. I just think we shouldn’t be too quick to withhold information in the name of communication efficiency.
Tags: leadership, management, power, process
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I’ve been puzzling over this one for some time: Why is it so hard for companies to leverage best practices developed internally? At HP we used to think the problem was poor knowledge sharing mechanisms within the corporation, especially across geographically-dispersed and independent business units, but I think it goes deeper than that. You can tell people to document and archive their processes on SharePoint, and you can host internal conferences to provide a forum for learning, but unless people are open to the possibility that there’s a better way you’re going to waste money reinventing the wheel.
The “not invented here” syndrome leads to bias against ideas that come from the outside. “They don’t understand our unique environment,” and, “Just because it works there doesn’t mean it will work here.” Even when compelled to use the new process there’s often passive-aggressive undermining or outright sabotage. Unfortunately these internal antibodies are often more antagonistic towards ideas from within the same company. If we use someone else’s ideas, doesn’t that imply that they’re smarter than we are? We don’t want them to get the credit, do we?
Sorry, but the smarter one (and the more valuable one to the organization) is the person who focuses their attention on the unsolved problems instead of those that were already solved. We all build on the foundations of engineering and process development that came before. Of course the local environment may indeed be different, and that may require a tweaking of the imported process. However, senior leadership should encourage leveraging of internal processes as another example of maximizing return-on-assets, and both the exporter and importer should be recognized as efficient collaborators. Also, when teams insist on using their own process they should bear the burden of proof to explain why the company should incur the additional expense to maintain more than one means to accomplish the same goal.
Leaders and the Illusion of Control December 20, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: change management, job satisfaction, leadership, management, power
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I’ve just finished Anne Applebaum’s excellent book Iron Curtain about the systematic efforts by Soviet-sponsored communist governments in the post-WWII period in Germany, Poland, and Hungary to eliminate opposition, collectivize the economy, and generally create a new society. The local leaders of these countries were guided by their interpretation of Marxist-Leninist principles and the contemporary model provided by the USSR, with guidance and direct orders from Moscow, often approved personally by Stalin (at least up until his death in 1953).
Despite each government’s aggressive efforts to stamp out all institutions and businesses that were not approved by the state, the people of these countries retained a strong desire to assert themselves economically, spiritually, and socially. The communist party leadership believed they could raise the awareness of the working class and mold the young minds of the next generation, but ultimately all of these regimes collapsed in the late 1980s.
I think there’s a lesson here for business managers and leaders. Certainly few modern managers think of themselves as totalitarian dictators, but to some degree we all try to exert some kind of control over our teams. On a group level we guide the team toward a business objective, and on an individual level we try to modify or influence the behavior of subordinates. But, how much control do we really have? Can we really move people to a place where they don’t want to go?
Leaders need to take the time to understand the motives and interests of the individuals they’re trying to lead, and use those as an energy source to keep things moving in the desired direction. People are much more likely to support change and achieve organizational objectives when they perceive some alignment with their own personal values and goals. If that alignment is missing, then your ability to control outcomes is limited and illusory, regardless of your positional power.
The Work Team That Fights Over Who Gets Credit October 31, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in International management, Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, management, manager, power, retention
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Apparently there are companies that have structured their salary administration systems to emphasize and reward overall team performance instead of individual performance. I admire the effort. Collaboration and teamwork are obviously things we should encourage. I can’t imagine a business environment where some degree of cooperation isn’t necessary.
However, it’s been my experience that people are inherently competitive. Regardless of how well or how willingly they cooperate, people compare their performance to others in the team, and they hope (and expect?) to receive recognition and rewards consistent with their perceived performance. When those rewards come from a pool that’s fixed in size, that leads to in-fighting: de-valuing the work of others, claiming credit for the team’s successes, and finding scapegoats for the problems and failures.
What can managers do to minimize the toxicity of competitiveness within the organization?
1. Performance appraisal systems typically require managers to differentiate and value the specific contributions of each person. That means each person’s objectives should be written in a way that enables both the manager and the employee to evaluate the employee’s performance independently from the rest of the team.
2. Managers have to be actively engaged with the team to know what’s really going on, who’s doing what work, and who’s enabling team success. You can’t expect everyone in the team to be a reliable reporter of events, and you can’t wait until the annual appraisal to figure out what happened.
3. Managers need to reinforce the message that a mix of individual and collaborative work is required for team success, and therefore teamwork will be one of the performance characteristics that will be evaluated for each person. If it’s possible within the constraints of the organization’s compensation system, each person’s salary increase and/or annual bonus should be partially contingent on the team’s performance (i.e., achieving some goal).
Note that it’s still possible that a team will fail despite the selfless efforts of some or all of the individuals in the team. The seriousness of the team failure and impact to the business will determine whether rewards based on the collaborative effort still make sense.
Expecting More from Performance Appraisals October 29, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job satisfaction, leadership, management, manager, performance measures, power
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I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t trust a performance appraisal written by another manager. Appraisals are inherently objective and I have no idea how “well-calibrated” that manager is. In the world of metrology we would say that this process for measuring performance has serious issues with bias, stability, repeatability, and reproducibility. Yet the impact — positive or negative — on an employee’s salary, job security, and career growth within a company is huge. This is a lousy system that needs improvement. What can be done?
I think we have to start by asking: what are we trying to accomplish with a performance appraisal? On the surface this is a formal, written record of feedback given to the employee that ends up in their HR file. At minimum it includes the manager’s judgment about whether or not the employee achieved their assigned objectives, and usually some commentary about how those objectives were achieved. Note that despite encouragement to managers to provide informal performance feedback throughout the review period, the formal review may be the only time they’ve done so.
It’s not enough to report that the employee completed this task or failed to complete that one. Here are the questions I’d like to ask when I read about what an employee did during the review period:
- How challenging were those assigned objectives?
- Did the employee only meet expectations when they had an opportunity to exceed expectations?
- Did the employee have enough authority and positional power to personally influence the outcome?
- Were the performance measures granulated enough to enable the manager to judge individual accountability?
- Were there mitigating factors beyond the employee’s control that prevented them from achieving the objectives?
However, I think we’re trying to do something more than just provide a summary of the employee’s accomplishments. Organizations value certain behaviors and want to encourage employees to exhibit those behaviors. Unfortunately these are often not stated explicitly, and it may be left to individual managers to apply their own values and preferences. In my teams I value creativity, teamwork, persistence, adaptability, proactive “fire prevention,” eagerness-to-learn, and independent judgment. When I write performance reviews I look for examples of these behaviors that I can cite. When that information is missing from a review someone else has written, it’s a huge gap in my understanding of that employee.
Writing annual performance reviews is one of the most dreaded responsibilities for any manager, and we owe it to the employee to provide an assessment based on consistent and job-appropriate expectations. The process may be subjective and imprecise, but the long-term implications are significant.
Professionals and Workers August 22, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, communication, job satisfaction, management, power, retention, software quality
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I’ve been going through some old files now that I have some (unwelcome) time on my hands, and I found a Powerpoint presentation from 1997. I had just taken a new position, managing a software test team that was suffering from low morale. There was a widespread feeling that the work was unimportant and unappreciated by the rest of the organization. That could have been the beginning of a downward spiral, especially if higher-performers were able to find more rewarding jobs elsewhere.
I can’t remember where I first saw this contrast between those who are workers and those who are professionals, but it inspired the team and instilled a new sense of pride when I turned it into a presentation for an all-hands meeting:
|A worker:||A professional:|
|… is a robot, operated by a manager under remote control||… is an independent human being|
|… is focused on boss, activity, and task||… is focused on customer, result, and process|
|… performs tasks and follows instructions||… is responsible for performing work and assuring its successful completion|
|… is characterized by obedience and predictability||… is characterized by intelligence and autonomy|
|… is trained||… learns|
|… has a job||… has a career|
|… inhabits a precisely defined job and operates under close supervision||… is constrained by neither|
- A professional sees themselves as responsible to the customer. Solve the problem and create value. If the problem is not solved or value is not created, the professional has not done their job.
- Once provided with knowledge and a clear understanding of the goal, a professional can be expected to get there on their own.
- A professional must be a problem solver able to cope with unanticipated and unusual situations without running to management for guidance.
- Professionals ignore petty differences and distinctions within an organization. When we are all focused on results, the distinction between my work and your work becomes insignificant.
- A professional career does not concentrate on position and power, but on knowledge, capability, and influence.
- The professional’s career goal is to become a better professional and thereby reap the rewards of better performance.
The New Person’s Opportunity June 18, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: 30-60-90 day plans, change management, leadership, management, power
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When you take a position with a new group or a new company there’s a honeymoon period that provides a one-time-only opportunity to make your mark and exert influence. Everyone is curious to hear what you have to say and how you spend your time, looking for clues about your future expected contributions. People will want to know how you will fit in with the existing team, and what your special skills and talents are that led to your hiring (or internal transfer).
How will you use that opportunity? Will you be a go-along follower, becoming part of the established status quo; will you be a revolutionary, pushing for change; or will you be a complainer, comparing your new job with your previous positions? There may never be another time when you have this much power, regardless of where you are in the new organization chart. You may have a fresh perspective to the existing problems that have been troubling the team. Yes, it’s important to ask questions and listen, and go up the learning curve to contribute at a level consistent with your skills, but for those who get satisfaction from process improvement, this is the time to lead.