Sunday, July 27, 2008


Changes; the world around us is changing. It always did, but it seems, that in the 21st century, the frequency of these changes is getting higher and higher. This fact is true looking at the world in general, and true in organizations, specifically.

Organizations change for several reasons: First of all, the business environment outside the organization is changing. The life cycle of products is shrinking. It is true that products can be designed and manufactured, so they last much longer, but people want to renew. They want to renew because they get tired from the existing; they want to renew because they want new functionality or different solutions, as they get exposed to such in advertisement, in the communication, or by their friends, other consumers. But, that is not all. Technologies change; computing changes; and- our employees change. Not their characteristic, rather their names and faces. If twenty years ago, a person who was hired to work in some organization at the age of twenty, most probably would stay there until he or she have retired, today, we find many people who have more than one carrier, and most people choose to work in more than one organization during their carrier.
The bottom line: Organizations need to be prepared to many changes, external and internal; organizations need to know to adjust; organizations need to know how to manage the changes.

One may think I am speaking about a business, practical change of equipment purchasing, change of processes, change of pricing, etc.; No. This is something much deeper: It involves management; it is a change concerning people.

As explained earlier, organization always had to change, and to know how to change. Nevertheless, nowadays the frequency of changes is higher. Much higher. And there is another issue: Nowadays, it is much more complicated to lead a change in organizations. Hiatt and Creasy, in their book "Change Management", and Surowiecki, in his book "The Wisdom of the Crowds", speak about this problematic situation, each of them from a different aspect: In hierarchical organizations, as we were used to in the past, employees followed instructions. Today, many employees are knowledge workers. They are responsible for decision making in the area in which they expertise. The classic hierarchical structure is not the organizational structure in some organizations (i.e. start-ups) and not the power structure, in others. No matter how we examine it, people do not just do things because they were instructed to do so. I will add and say, that this attitude is even stronger, as many times, we have the feeling that the employee decides whether to continue and work in an organization, and not vie versa. It is much easier for the knowledge worker to explain why the change is not relevant for him or her, why it is inapplicable or why the timing is not appropriate.

So, what can one recommend?
Here are a few ideas. I wish to say, that, beyond my personal experience, and mistakes I have done on the way, I learned a lot from Hiaitt and Creasy's book, which deals with change management.
First, we must understand, as managers, that the personal aspect of changes cannot be managed as one unified process for all employees. Yet, It is obvious, that it is not practical to run an individual management plan for each worker and worker. I recommend analyzing the change management needs, and building a unified plan, or a plan for large segments in the organization (i.e. managers, front line workers). In parallel, to give an individual treatment to thought leaders, for good or bad. The effort seems to be beneficial: Their influence helps moving the organization towards the change. And- to give an individual treatment to feedbacks and to people who give them.

Another recommendation, to do with preparing the change: Do not impose changes on people. Give them a clue, a hint that a change is near. In some cases, it is a hint regarding the coming change, with no details; in others, it will be accompanied with knowledge about the content of the change. This tip is not so easy to implement as it may seem. The organization starts speaking about the change. As we did not announce it yet (we are preparing), more is hidden and unknown. People will tend to guess, and damage can occur. Therefore, the time of the preparation hints should be adjacent to the time of beginning of the change. The professional term is "unfreeze". This tip is also relevant for personal changes. Preparation eases the move.

As we are speaking about knowledge workers, it is very important to communicate the rational of the decision. Not to come up only with the bottom lines- what is changed and how. We, as managers, are aware to the reasons that brought us to decide upon the change. Even though we are sure that the symptoms are hung out there, and everybody can see them, and therefore it is obvious why the change is performed, most times, this is not the case. It is not that we are smarter; we just had the time to think about the reasons, to process, to think about solutions, maybe even several alternatives, and choose one of them- the change to be implemented. The employees, who did not take part of the process, it is important that they will understand the "Why"; the rational, why the change is needed. Why is it important for them to understand? To ease implementation. Naturally, people are not enthusiastic about changes, one may say, they resist changes. People are comfortable with the status-quo. Explaining the "Why" eases acceptance.

The rational issue brings me to another recommendation, to do with channels. We, as human-beings, think and act, both upon our rational, our logic, and both upon the emotional, the way we feel. It is important to deal with both channels, when managing the change. On the rational aspect, besides updating the people as to the reasons of the change, we should also give the tools for implementation. On the emotional aspect, things are more complicated: We should deal with peoples' fears, both the spoken ones and both those who people feel but fear to share. We shall enable the employees to participate, mainly on the "How". It gives the employees a good feeling, but the benefit is mainly for the organization: It leaves us with a better plan for change management and with a better implementation and chances for success.

It is difficult to manage changes, but we shall not avoid them: Changes are one of the main factors, leaving us, as an organization, relevant, business wise. At the same time, it renews the organization and makes the employees more satisfied, on the long run. As much as we fear changes, we like to change and renew. Just as our consumers.

I wish us all, easy but successful changes.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Social Involvement

I have a friend whom I like very much. He likes tigers. Not instead of people, but in addition. A few months ago, I paid him a visit. I brought him a small gift- a tiger mug filled with candies. This person has a collection of tigers (not real ones), and every time I had an opportunity to add a new tiger to the collection, I would explain him why the new one is unique and different from all others. This tiger, I explained, was prepared by limited children. The mug is a donation and we have bought a few dozens of mugs from some organization that sees to that the money will be targeted to the children's' wealth. My friend was enthusiastic. He started taking pictures of me with the mug. He filmed me as if he was preparing a book; from every possible angle. These things, he said, should become public. Everyone has to know, so others will learn too.

Donations; contribution to others. Are these obligations of the individual only or also an obligation of modern organizations? Should it be carried out secretly or publicized? On these, and other questions, in this post.

I live in Israel. We have here a lot of organizations, public and private held, that deal with contribution, as part of the formal framework. I admit, I spent many hours thinking whether this is a right strategy. Contribution has to come from the hearts of people, and not considered as another project that the team has to complete. I think that, even though, probably contribution is a good thing:
Because it is a solution for needs that are so wide, that they cannot be carried out by individuals only;
Because it can work in ways that individuals cannot always do;
And, because, most important than all, contribution initialized by organizations, gives workers, those who did not experience contribution as individuals, the opportunity to do so. And when they have the opportunity, if they indeed fulfill it with their hearts and emotions, it really does not matter who initiated the move.

How can an organization cause people to contribute from their hearts?
First, many do it, without the organization even requesting. They volunteer anyhow, or wanted to do so, and the organization gave them a good opportunity.
Some come with no preceding opinion about giving and contribution to others. Two management tools can help here to open people hearts: One, giving the employees means to influence the process and take an active part in it; let them choose to whom to donate, let them choose how to contribute, etc.. The second is direct contact with those who are in need. The satisfaction, we as people, get from the another person smiling and thanking us, is huge. Not much can be compared to such satisfaction.
And there is another group of employees: Those who are not in favor with such activities. Some speak loud, most do not. Sorely, I can say, that probably these people exist in most organizations. These people should have no place and should not be employees in any proper organization! Even if they are professional, even if they well know their job, it is better for managers not to choose such people when they hire additional staff. You may ask, why? Every organization is meant to fulfill its mission. In private organizations, this means to make profit; in public ones, the mission changes, but in all organization, excluding charity organizations, we have a well defined target that is not contribution to society. As an owner of a private organization it is very clear to me that in order to win, I need the most professional employees I can afford. Even though, I insist that from egoistic reasons organizations shall not employ workers who resist contribution to those who need. And more than ever, this is right, now in the 21st century. We employ knowledge workers, workers whom we have to trust, workers who are in some way, self managers. I for myself, had a very bad experience, trusting, a few years ago, an employee that betrayed me, left with company assets and used them in order to directly compete the company. We were facing a situation where we were going to loose money, and possibly big money. The end of that story was a good one, as I won in court and damages were halted. You may ask about the relevance of this story to the post, but the connection is simple. The main issue that bothered me was how much can I trust employees in the future, yet promising that such situation will not recur. Once, one can err, but twice?

After long thought I came up with a clear conclusion: I must continue and trust my employees. I shall not change the way I control their work and suspect future betrayal. I have to find a different way. The way I chose is to employ from today on, only workers who have personal experience in contribution to society. Such contribution softens our hearts, and whoever felt the need to help other people and did so, without requesting anything in return, can be trusted as a human been. Of course this is not instead of seeking professional people, it is an additional condition. I admit that people, when interviewed, are very confused and do not understand why these kind of questions are asked. One can see it on their faces. I do not explain. But I know that according to their answers we know if the person is a potential worker in our company. Up till now, this method proved to work. I believe it will continue, too.
As I said, egoistic reasons.

Some may notice I used the term "social involvement" and did not speak about "social responsibility" a term that is well coined nowadays. I, personally, do not feel comfortable with being responsible. It seems to me as patronizing. We, responsible for them. I think, that being involved is speaking and doing being on the same level. And so it is. We never know what will happen tomorrow and where we will be. Being humble serves good.

Speaking about humble, there is one more issue regarding the organizational contribution. Contribution, in organizations, is hard to implement as a secret, leaving it as possible unknown. Not-speaking too much has a great advantage, not because there is any shame here. Speaking in organizations may help the doing. Yet, organizations have to be very careful. Over speaking and over publication can result in a situation where we enjoy the publicity, and do not do for the sake of doing.
The end of the story I opened with, is that my friend, after all, did not publish the pictures. I was glad. I was left with the "book". The mug and me. For me, that was enough.

Blessing us all, just good.