Saturday, January 1, 2011

Do you want to be "Transformer" or a "Lost Soul" or a "Fence Sitter" this new year ?

I had written about the topic of change earlier. No matter how much i feel i have mastered dealing with Change, something new always takes me by surprise. Irrespective of anyone's personal preference about Change, today's workplace reality is that in the end, there is not much choice but to embrace change. The choice is only if you want to do it Half-heartedly or completely with full devotion.

I had recently read Vineet Nayar's Employees First Customers Second for the second time in the month gone by. I would rate this book as epic in bringing about a positive change in the organization. It questions the traditional way of running an enterprise and shows how a management which is devoted and caring for its employees can bring about a change that’s not only makes employees happy but also increases the company's bottom lines. Some of facts that this book questions and provide a successful alternatives (proven on field) include-

- The greatest value for a Knowledge based organization is brought about by the employees who deal directly with Customer in the group and not by a CEO sitting in his fancy office. It is important for the organizations to have clarity on where the core Value Zone lies. It reminds me of one of the blog posts i wrote a while back on What is your Touch-Time as a Software Tester ?

- The traditional hierarchy followed in Organizations in which an Employee is accountable to his Manager is a farce as far as Knowledge economy is concerned. Every responsible soul in the Organization should be accountable to the value Zone in the Organization. In the current Knowledge economy, we have somehow taken the current Organization structures for granted. After all, How can Organizations achieve the profits of today by following the age-old hierarchical system

- One cannot reach Point B in Organization (or Life) without knowing where Point A is. Point A is of course the Status Quo and Point B is the vision. More often than not we fail to capture the Point A correctly. Having an unbiased picture of point A is important to succeed. People tend to get so much lost in past glory that they sometimes fail to find the opportunities to improve in the current situations. While we should respect the past glory, It is important to break that past image if we were to maintain our competitive advantage.

- Trust is an important element in driving any change. Employees will not completely trust you unless and until you, as a driver of the change, is transparent in your dealings. Transparency helps create that culture for change.

- A mention from the book- The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations . Most companies function like eight-legged spiders "Cut off one leg of the Spider, you have a Seven legged unstable Spider. Cut off the head, you have a dead Spider. But Cut off the arm of a Starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat, because unlike spiders, they are decentralized; every major organ is replicated across each arm."

- Any small idea can create an ocean of change and enable a company to enter an entirely new performance zone, no matter what the current situation may be. These ideas, practices or people who originate them are called as blue ocean droplets after the book Blue Ocean Strategy .

- A change initiative can’t be termed as successful if affected people are not onboard. It is generally not possible to have everyone Onboard right from the day the change was introduced. When he first began to drive the changes in his organization, Vineer Nayar understood that not all people would come on board immediately and in fact there are three different groups of people depending largely on the way they embrace change-
Transformers: Transformers are the people who were just waiting for someone to initiate the change and they join the bandwagon almost immediately. They are the ones who are usually aware of shortcomings in the current environment but probably were not the influential enough to drive the change themselves earlier on. They are the people who not only embrace change but also are ready with suggestions, ideas and raise their hand to implement some to completion.

Lost Souls: They are the people who would never support any kind of change. They always have this negativity surrounding them and they somehow are never able to lift themselves from their hopeless state. They somehow believe that every new initiative is an eye wash from the management or the organization. Whenever the new idea is suggested they would simply go ahead and dismiss that not only in their minds but also knowingly and unknowingly try to spread their negativity by airing their views.

Fence sitters: These are the third bunch of people, who generally are reluctant to share their views, rarely would ask the questions and would rather play a wait and watch game. They may not openly criticize the change but won’t either embrace it with wholeheartedness. When asked their opinions, they are likely to say nice things rather than be upfront honest. They would closely watch "Transformers" and the "Lost Souls" and may even change their opinions in short time. In any change initiatives, such people are usually in the majority. They get easily influenced in either direction.

In my dealing with change, i find this classification just apt and it is very useful in understanding the dynamics and even the acceptance of change. One example from the past that comes to mind was around the time when the IT automation of Indian Railways was being introduced, that was indeed the massive way in which the Indian Railways operated. Being the largest employers in the world, driving any changes to work processes was never easy. I remember there were technocrats and visionaries who were favoring the idea, then there were employee unions who were fearing the attrition due to automation of Railway operations who were vocal about criticizing the initiative, they were the "Lost Souls". Then there were many people who were lured by potential benefits of new changes to the customers as well as the employees (Learning new job skills etc.) but at the same time distracted by Lost Souls. These were "Fence Sitters". It was good for the customers and eventually the country that such a change was made. And this change was possible because a lot of "Fence Sitters" and eventually "Lost Souls" joined the "Transformers".

So eventually with every defining change, over a period of time, "Transformers" becomes a majority with most of the "Fence-Sitters" going up the level and the "Lost Souls" either change their minds and embrace change or fade out completely from the scene.

What do you want to become this new year- "a Transform", "a Lost Soul" or "a Fence Sitter" ?
Wishing you a Transformational New Year 2011.