Lessons from SHRM 2014 (1/8): ‘The end of average’ and what this means for OD Professionals

SHRM 2014 was a wonderful experience for me. I have never been to a conference this size or an event that was so well-organized to the tee. It was truly above average: from the mobile app which helped me seamlessly navigate the event and take notes to the SHRMBOT who answered questions; from the amazing and well-learned speakers who truly engaged the audience to the diverse and happily charged audience; and from the ubiquitous volunteers in green shirts to the well-thought out game plan every step of the way–they had thought of everything! Above average for sure.

The reason I talk about end of average or above average in this article is because this was a topic under discussion during the conference. During one of the General Sessions, Mr. Thomas Friedman, a NY Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, spoke eloquently about the demands of the new workplace and how we will all need to step up our game NOW. As I listened, I thought of the following: what about the people who have not prepared for above average, how does one even go about becoming above average, and how much time do we really have to make this transition? Tough questions, no easy answers. Then I thought of myself as an OD Professional trying to bring about effective change in organizations—how do I become above average in a rapidly changing world—in a world where Facebook was born just seven years ago?

I think there are three ways OD professionals like myself can accomplish this: We will need to continuously practice OD skills, develop the ability to learn and retool ourselves by actively soliciting feedback, and work smarter by using the right tools for our work.

Practice makes perfect and OD professionals must try to find ways they can practice their craft regularly. This means that even when there is no project, OD professionals should use OD tools and techniques in other life situations. As an example, OD professionals can work in their communities and volunteer for an OD project . If we are interested in current affairs, we can  think of way we can solve a world problem through OD. The application of OD is everywhere. We just need to look for it. To stay current in the field, books, certifications, peer discussions, journals etc. are very helpful.

Second, getting feedback from peers and clients is an extremely powerful way of learning about one’s weaknesses. I also suggest attending networking events organized by  local OD chapters to meet experts in the field and learn from them. The ideas gained from these sessions often help generate solution to the problems at hand. Networking sessions can be whatever you want them to be. You can either just go to these events and listen to the discussion or come back rejuvenated and start creating something new from that experience—the choice is yours.

Last but not the least, are the tools you will use. An OD practictioner must experiment and work with the ones that deliver the best results. At one of our local events, a participant was amazed with the power of the fishbowl technique. After the session, the interviewee who had many years of experience in OD stated that this technique was one of the most useful reflection tools he had ever experienced. In this technique the interviewee sits in the middle of the group with the consultant asking questions and sitting face-to-face with the interviewee. The other stakeholders look on. During the Q & A session, the interviewee deeply reflects about his/her challenges and comes up with solutions to handle them. There is greater ownership in this process. A simple interview in this situation may not have yielded the same results. Therefore, OD practitioners need to know how to use the right tools in the right situation to get the best impact.

I had many interesting insights from the SHRM 2014 conference and thought of the different ways OD professionals can apply the information shared in the conference to their work. I hope to share my observations with you in the coming months. In the meanwhile, I would like to engage with all OD professionals on the topic of how we can improve ourselves and make ourselves better in this field. I look forward to hearing from you. Together we can embrace the coming challenges that the world faces as one. Do share your thoughts and connect with me at warda@instituteod.com.

Article first published on June 30, 2014 at:http://instituteod.com/news.php?id=116&cat_id=&p=&search=#ontitle 

 

 

Assessing if an Executive Client is Coachable

Effective coaching involves a tremendous investment of time and effort on the part of the coach and the client. In Executive Coaching, there is often a push to see results quickly, and to avoid unnecessary delays during the coaching process, both parties must clarify expectations from the start. Without this step, the coaching relationship might suffer and it would be difficult for both parties to observe the desired results of the coaching effort.

Even though a client may express the need for coaching, it is necessary for the coach to ascertain that the client indeed is coachable before embarking on the coaching journey. To determine this, a short survey is usually administered by the coach to prospective clients to gauge their level of interest and readiness in receiving the coaching. A summary of the areas explored during such a survey are given below:

Is the client assertive about the outcomes of the coaching sessions?
Clients need to specify what they wish to achieve from the coaching sessions. The coach might have other ideas or recommendations but the client is the better judge of the situation. Without a knowledge of clear expectations from the client, the coach will be unable to deliver the required results.

Does the client feel comfortable in taking initiatives?
For some people taking decisions is difficult and they remain frozen in time and space. Clients must be comfortable in making the changes necessary and if they are not, they should first work on developing that skill before entering a coaching relationship.

Is the client open and honest with the coach?
An extension of assertiveness, clients need to be very forthright with the coach. The relationship is based on trust and part of this trust means that the client should feel comfortable about sharing apprehensions or difficulties with the coach. If this level of comfort or trust is lacking, the coaching relationship will be difficult to continue.

Does the client ask for feedback and suggestions?
Some people are hesitant to ask for feedback or suggestions because this information can be difficult to handle. Coaches need to give feedback because this is an integral part of moving forward in a coaching relationship. If a client is unable to accept feedback, the coach will not be able to give a full review of successes and mistakes during the coaching relationship and this will ultimately affect the performance of the client.

Does the client network whenever possible? 
Many clients, due to the shortage of time or other reasons, are unable to network within and outside their organizations. The networking process is critical because it helps build key insights about the organization and the changes taking place within it. If the client is unable to network, the client will find it difficult to implement the suggestions because very often the recommendations involve help from others to move ahead.

Does the client clarify and monitor the objectives?
It is one thing to have objectives and it is another thing to clarify and monitor those objectives along the coaching journey. Sometimes insights develop along the way and the objectives may need to be revisited. Clients should be fully engaged during this process and be willing to modify objectives if the situation requires them to do so. Monitoring whether objectives have been met will help the client stay committed during this process.

Does the client take responsibility? 
Any change requires ownership, responsibility, and a desire to implement changes. Clients who assume that the coach can work miracles without support from the client are setting up the coaching relationship for failure.

By keeping these tips in mind, the coach will be working with clients who want to be a part of the change implementation process and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve success. This will make the coaching relationship a more fulfilling one in which results will be easier to see and measure.

Originally published on http://instituteod.com/news.php?id=112&cat_id=&p=&search=#ontitle on June 15, 2014

Changing the Conversation on Conflict Through One Question

How is this working for you?

This is a question I heard someone recommend as a conflict resolution tool during a training meet up recently. What a powerful way of encouraging reflection on conflict and changing the way we think about our problems.

As busy individuals we are involved in ensuring that our deliverables are met and we work very hard to ensure that our ‘ducks are in a row’ before we execute our plans. We also try to convince others along the way to help us in achieving our goals but every so often we come across those who deliberately try to hamper our efforts.

The big question we all have at this time revolves around why? Why is this person doing this to me? What is this person’s motivation? What can I do to change the situation?

If you notice, unless you know the real reason behind the conflict, these questions are inadequate because they are being posed to only one person in the communication loop, they assume that the person who is asking these questions has all the answers, and that they have a big potential of making the conflict worse when the answers cannot be found.

The conversation on conflict can be altered by posing a question to the person creating the hurdles. Let them engage in the reflection and think about how the conflict is adding value to them; let them explain how the conflict benefits them and then you can provide your counter arguments to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

Incorporating ‘How is this working for you? ‘ in your conflict resolution repertoire will need some practice. Your body language and your tone are important considerations. Also important is the audience that you are posing this to. A manager who is creating hurdles would need to be asked the question in a subtle way to ensure that the manager does not get offended.

Our aim in life should be to work towards solutions and stress less about the problems that confront us. I have come to believe that there is merit in adages e.g. the glass is half full. Positive approaches to conflict resolution are also a useful step in this direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Steps to Align Internal Organizational Elements by Using the McKinsey 7s Model

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An organization is faring poorly with respect to its competition. Multiple board discussions have taken place on how to fix the problem but whenever  a change is made, it seems like something else goes wrong. It is hard to make changes because other things fall out of balance.

Luckily, there is an OD method called McKinsey 7S that can address such problems of the business world. This article, inspired by ‘The Organization Alignment Exercise’ by Michael Beer and John J. Gabrarro, gives a brief overview of the Model and discusses four steps that can help you achieve your organizational goals.

McKinsey 7s Model Overview

The McKinsey 7S Model helps us look at all the critical elements in an organization, examine their interdependences, and come up with solutions which take each of those into account. The elements that make the backbone of the McKinsey 7 S Model are: Strategy, Style, Shared Values, Staff, Structure, Skills, and Systems.

With this Model, you can start with any element first and tackle the other elements as you move along. For this process, we have started with Strategy because it sets the direction of where your organization is headed and is a critical factor in this case. The steps below identify the questions that need to be asked at each step in the alignment process to ensure that you get the results you need.

Step 1: Select one S and examine it closely.  
You can start with any S given your particular situation–In the real world, you may have a Staff , Style, Shared Values, Systems, Skills, or Structure issue which is more critical. Our problem deals with Strategy so we would ask questions similar to those below to learn what about our Strategy is misplaced.

Sample questions to ask:
·         What is our organization’s competitive advantage and how does it add value for its customers?
·         What are our organization’s Key Success Factors (KSFs)?
·         How are we currently implementing our the organization’s strategy? Are we clear about our goals?

Because we started with Strategy, we would like to learn more about the KSFs related to our organization. Key success factors determine what the organization needs to do to support its goals. In this case, perhaps the organization prides itself on its customer service but the staff has a high turnover and this is one of the reasons why it is faring poorly in the marketplace. Therefore, the key success factor for this organization might be retaining the trained customer service staff. Similar to the Strategy related introspection, an in-depth analysis will also need to be done regarding the other Ss to learn more about them.

Step 2: Learn more about the factors affecting KSFs related to your organization
In step 1, we said that retention of the customer service staff was a key success factor for this organization. For retention to occur, we need to look at the areas or aspects which will support the retention process.

Sample questions to ask:
·         What competencies can we build on or need to develop to ensure retention e.g. managerial, employee, marketing and technical?
·         How do we improve the coordination among the major functions or departments to implement retention?
·         Do we have the necessary committment from managers and senior leaders to achieve retention?
·         What communication methods do we use to manage retention issues within our organization?
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Step 3. Examine the gaps between the Strategy, KSFs and the other 7S elements
In this step, we need to identify which of the 7S elements are misaligned with Strategy and the KSFs because those are the ones that will affect the growth of the organization.  If our Strategy is to compete through good  customer service and retention of trained customer service staff is a key success factor, we should identify how the other 7S elements need to coordinate to help us achieve our goals. Our knee jerk reaction might be to pay people more to attract top talent but then we risk affecting our Systems, Shared Values, or some other 7S. In other words, we need to achieve balance among the 7S in our quest for achieve our Strategy. In addition to learning about the gaps, we should also learn more about how things are done within our organization.

Sample questions to ask:
·          Which 7S elements do not work well with each other and are not in sync with Strategy and the KSFs( e.g. retention in this case)?
·         How effective is/are the function(s) that are essential to ensure retention? If they are not effective, what needs to change?
·         How effective is the coordination of teamwork across functional units to help improve retention? If it is poor, what do we need to do to make it better?
·         How well does our leadership team and team agree on managing resources? How can we ensure agreement among them?
·         Have individuals contributed their actual views to us? If not, how do we get this information?

Step 4. Move to align the 7 S elements
Once we have the gaps identified, we can begin to align the 7S elements to achieve our goal of providing exemplary customer service. We may find that retaining trained customer service staff may be done through improving Skills and providing training to the Staff and Supervisors. Perhaps the Systems or reward policies need to be reviewed overall rather than approaching them in an ad hoc manner. It could also be that the Shared Values in the organization need to be molded towards developing a customer service attitude across the board. If we had just focussed on Systems and ignored Skills and Shared Values (which were also necessary in this case), we would probably have had difficulty in our attempt to provide exemplary customer service and achieve competitive advantage.

In addition to these insights, a review of our existing work, and decision about the implementation plan will be helpful.

Sample questions we can ask at this stage:
·          Have we identified the 7S elements that affect the execution of the key activities, interdependencies, development of key competencies, and commitment?
·         How will the organization function after these changes are made? We should be descriptive and clear in our vision about the future.
·         What are the potential barriers towards implementing the model? How will we tackle any resistance?
·         How will we evaluate the outcomes and make changes?

Once our gaps have been identified and we have reviewed the 7S process, we can begin to align the 7S elements and achieve our goals.

The McKinsey 7S model helps us consider the interdependencies among various organizational elements and assists us in taking appropriate action for better solutions. Consider applying the McKinsey 7S Model  in your organization to align the necessary organizational elements–it is possible that this time round, change will go more smoothly.

Reference: Organizational Alignment Exercise by Michael Beer and John J. Gabrarro. Harvard Business School, Rev. December 10, 2003

Originally published on Institute of Organization Development Website: http://www.instituteod.com

The Streets of Today Mimic Life

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The streets of today miss a beat

The streets of today are not a treat

Empty and desolate it is sad they are

No people you can see even if you look afar

We are losing the touch to personally connect

Our laptops and gadgets we choose to dissect

The impersonal choice grows unabated

Our lives have become increasingly gated

Let us choose to laugh, to cheer, and share

Let us choose to be human without a care

Our streets should be playful and joyful places

We should be present within them with happy faces

 

Written by Warda Zaman, April 2014

 

 

 

 

Build Positive Reception to Your Messages

Getting thank you cards is great! Receiving them makes us feel special and warm and fuzzy inside. We feel others care about us and appreciate us. What really surprises me, however, is that we can feel the same way about thank you cards even if they could be a  marketing tool acting as a precursor to things we dread. Our family recently had such an experience and I thought it would be nice to share it with you.

Recently, we got a thank you card in the mail before a bill was supposed to be mailed to us. I was expecting the bill when I saw the company name but when I looked at the envelope, it was made of nice card stock paper. It did not look like that envelope contained a bill and I was correct. Inside the envelope was a thank you card signed by an important person in the organization.

Perhaps this card was just to prepare us for the bill or perhaps it was a genuine acknowledgement. To me, that does not matter. Someone in the organization took the time to think of sending such a card, signing the card and mailing it out to us. The act in itself was important. How many organizations or people take this step to build better connections? As customers we usually feel slighted or squeezed one way or another. We often face ‘sticker shock’ when bills come our way.

This experience has me convinced  that thanking people is the first step to building stronger bonds with them. Thanking people makes us appreciate our blessings and teaches humility. We start operating in this world from a position of abundance rather than scarcity. In our case, we are now better prepared for what is to follow and our feelings about the organization are positive –perhaps even a notch better.

To build positive relationships and create stronger bonds, let us thank more people today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives. I am sure we will build a happier society.

 

Eliminate Tunnel Vision and Generate Goodwill

I went to the store one day to buy a pair of glasses. The salesperson behind the counter seemed unconcerned about what I was looking for. He forgot to ask me what I wanted or needed and allowed me to look around- allowed me to experience absolute confusion at the myriad of choices at my disposal. Perhaps this person had experienced the irritation of strangers way to many times and had decided to stop talking, or perhaps he didn’t care.

There is a fine line…

There is a fine line between annoying someone by hotly pursuing them and gently coaxing them to reveal their inner truths or desires. Just like air conditioning (which is rarely just right), the art of influence is rarely mastered by people. When it is just right, it strikes a chord and makes music and when it is wrong, it is jarring.

As a customer…

I really wanted the man to show me the pair that would fit my needs but he did not and I walked away from the store with no answers and no glasses.

What he could have done…

The moment I walked in to the store, he should have tried to assess me and what I could possibly be looking for–a bit of proactive thinking on his part. Then he should have asked me what I was specifically looking for–this to narrow the range within which I should be looking. If I was confused, he could have used probing questions starting with what, how, why to find out more about my needs. If he noticed that I wanted to be left alone, he could have quickly addressed my immediate concerns and informed me that he was available if I had any questions.

The most important thing, however, is that he should have looked interested in his job. I sensed his lack of energy and that also drained my excitement about the store and the glasses I wanted to buy.

Takeaway…

Organizations are tunnel visioned when they think of only profits and how to cut costs. Manpower and training are the first casualties. Yet, it is these two areas that  will drive down profits even lower if they are skimped upon.

Having said this, customer service does not occur in a vacuum. You can train the heck out of people but your business fundamentals need to be in check as well. Are you aligning strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff and skills (elements in the McKinsey 7 S model)? If one part of these is amiss, you probably will not achieve your goal for a sustainable solution to the customer service issue.

How many people walked out of your store today due to poor customer service? Do you know?