The Value of Analysis Done Right

Recently, I “re-discovered” that analytical skills are not common. In fact, a recent assignment demonstrated that many people tend to skim the surface and propose recommendations without doing the necessary analytical work.

Now, this may sound like a really good thing – why go through all the trouble of analyzing when you know what needs doing? The way I see it, there are several problems with this approach.

The first problem is that providing recommendations without investigation and evidence will result in “band aid” solutions. What organization wants to mop up the spill without finding and fixing the leak?  

The second problem is that without an examination and explanation of the situation, there is a lack of clarity about what constitutes a problem. Even more important, the root cause of the problem may be missing. 

The third problem is that recommendations built on instinct are not valid. While your judgment may be accurate, not everyone thinks like you do. That is why careful examination and explanation of the situation is required to draw meaningful recommendations.  

Applying analytical thought requires one to look at a situation objectively. Analysis goes beyond describing what is occurring (many people are good at this part). It provides both an examination and explanation of the situation. And examinations and explanations require asking and answering several questions about the situation. The most common question is “why.” 

There are several ways to conduct an analysis, but here are a few simple steps that can help you “collect” your thoughts for easier review. The steps also provide a basis for solid analysis.

  1. Collect data about the situation and place it in an “issues template.” A spreadsheet is useful for this purpose.  
    1. Give your template four headings: Issue, Possible Causes, Other Relationships and Impacts, Possible Resolutions.
    2. Based on your data, list all the issues you uncover under the “issue” column. When completed, start “analyzing” one issue at a time and complete the related columns for that issue – i.e., possible causes, other relationships and impacts, and possible resolutions.
    3. Group your issues into major categories, as appropriate. (You may have main issues and sub-issues).
  2. Using your “issues template,” examine and explain the following (this will comprise your report).
    1.  Situation. Discuss the situation where the issue exists. Use evidence from your data to support your discussion about the situation(s).
    2. Relationships and Impacts. Based on the situation discussion, include possible relationships and impacts that are influencing the situation. As well, discuss how the situation is impacting (or potentially impacting) other areas of the organization.
    3. Needs/Recommendations. Based on your discussion of the above and taking into consideration possible causes and possible resolutions for the issue, discuss what needs to happen in the organization to correct the issue.

If you are able to support your recommendations with evidence from your analysis, then it is easier to convince readers that your recommendations are valid. In the words of Edward Deming, “In God we trust, but for everything else, bring data.”

Off Target

When Target came to Canada in 2011, not only were consumers surprised that the retailer opened up over one hundred stores across the country, but so was the business community. To do such a “big bang” approach, you either know what you’re doing or you’re taking a major risk. Unfortunately for Target, its major risk did not pay off.

Target’s biggest failing was in not piloting its entry to Canada with one or two stores before launching full scale. Any project manager worth their trade will tell you that starting small and building up when it makes sense to do so is the best guarantee of success.

In addition to missing the mark with their full-scale roll-out across Canada, Target missed out on the basics of operations management. For one thing, their demand forecasting appears to have been a dismal failure. If they had forecast properly, they would have learned that Canadians preferred the U.S.-type Target stores and not reincarnations of Zellers.

Target also missed out on strategic capacity planning as well as facility layout design. Their inventory systems management was absent, to say the least. This also speaks to their lack of adequate supply chain management. When inventory is scant (as it was at Canadian Target stores), one might reasonably presume that the retailer was using some type of customized just-in-time fulfillment. However, this, too, appears to not have been part of Target’s strategy.

A material requirements planning or enterprise resource planning software would have helped Target manage its stocks and stores. However, we can see that even if Target had such a system, it, too, failed them.

And what about quality? Quality and price are generally prominent factors for consumers. Integrating quality into every element of an operation allows an organization to reduce its prices while still remaining profitable. Clearly, quality does not appear to have been a high priority for Target.

While one can hypothesize about Target’s demise in Canada, it provides little comfort to Target employees. As well, the company itself is now targeted (pardon the pun) as a losing venture:  At least, in Canada.

One thing is certain, though: Target really did miss its mark!

Types of Clients

Let’s face it. There are clients and then there are clients. The great clients (or customers) are those that are ready, willing, and able to work with experts to achieve organizational efficiencies.

And then there are clients who fall short on anything from initial meeting to following through with an expert’s recommendations – these latter clients are wasting not only the expert’s time, but their own, as well.

As experts in our various fields of work, we have all run into a variety of clients. Here are some of the more common types – if you’re a client, maybe you see yourself in one or more of these descriptions: 

Bargainers. These clients want everything you’re proposing, but they can’t pay for it. Or maybe they’re doing the project “under the table,” and don’t want to ask the “real boss” to pay for it. Solution: If the client does not have the money for the full project scope, downgrade the scope – phase the project into manageable chunks.

Naysayers. These clients just can’t believe the project will take six months to complete. Certainly they can do it in a fraction of the time. Solution: Explain why the project will take as long as it will (perhaps a timeline depicting steps is helpful here); if the client does not believe you, suggest a mix of internal and external resources to complete the project faster. Client is still a non-believer? Walk away.

Stealth Implementers. They insist that no one else from their organization needs to be involved in the project. Just do it. Solution: Stress (and demonstrate with examples) how involving others in the organization will greatly enhance the success of this project as well as change management when implementation occurs. 

Self-Made Experts. These clients believe they can do exactly what you’re proposing without you, so why are you charging them so much? Why don’t you just tell them the steps that you would take and then leave them to it? Solution: Walk away.

Call 9-1-1. These clients think everything is an emergency. They need your proposal “yesterday” and the work is required within the next month. However, when you give them your proposal, you don’t hear from them for six weeks. Solution: Develop a project timetable and meet each deadline. Build in “slack” time for all steps involving client input.

Weekend Schmeekend. This is the client that sends you e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Weekends are for working. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Solution: Say no when appropriate. Just because the client works all hours does not mean everyone else needs to, as well!

Committee Monger. The client who believes everything needs to be decided by committee. The end result? Everything gets decided by committee, no one takes responsibility for decisions, and decisions take much longer. Solution: Ensure that there is one “point” person (typically a Project Champion) that will sign-off on all deliverables.

Wordsmithers. You know the ones that review your work and almost re-write the entire content? Solution: Set a time limit for review and stress that only key content requires review. Provide an example. Or hand out the report ahead of time and then convene as a group to review the feedback.

In the end, it’s up to the expert to determine whether they are able to work with the client. If the decision is to fire the client, provide them with the name of another expert – even if it is a competitor. You’ll be glad you did!

Bridging the Gap between Training and Proficiency

Now that your staff completed training in your organization’s newest program, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. This is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that training does not mean that learning has occurred. Even less so, there is no guarantee of proficiency.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath present six ways to make ideas “sticker.” These include:

  •  Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

These guidelines for making ideas stick are applicable in a variety of situations – from selling to teaching! And while all of these methods can make learning stick, they can also go a long way to enabling proficiency.

 Research shows that retention of learning varies by modality. For instance:

  • 10 percent retention through reading
  • 20 percent retention through hearing
  • 30 percent retention through seeing
  • 50 percent retention through hearing and seeing
  • 70 percent retention through repeating the material (saying)
  • 90 percent retention through saying and doing

What the above demonstrates is that the more involved the learner is in the training, the higher the retention and the greater likelihood of higher proficiency.

Make training simple. This means that training should be logical and not complicated. Short bursts of training are more effective than are lengthy modules.

Introduce the unexpected into training. If the training is about records management, stage a short play that introduces real life work scenarios about handling information. Sing a song about libraries or show a video about e-mail. Get creative and introduce the unexpected!

Make training concrete. That is, ensure that training demonstrates specific behaviours and steps, allowing learners to practice the behaviours and steps both during and after training.

Both the trainer and training needs to be credible. Learners need to trust the source if they are to take the material seriously. The trainer’s body language affects the learners’ perception of credibility by 55 percent, voice accounts for another 38 percent, but what the trainer says only accounts for seven percent. Pay attention to your body language!

Make training emotional. The best way to do this is let learners know “what’s in it for them” (i.e., WIIFM – what’s in it for me). Perhaps learning the material may mean an increase in pay or a promotion at work. Nothing is more powerful than an emotional connection between the learner and the training to ensure that learning sticks.

Tell stories. Stories provide examples. People can relate to stories and are more apt to remember the story rather than the training material itself.

Using all of the above techniques can help training stick, but pairing learners with coaches or mentors helps reinforce learning, so that learners become proficient as they practice their learning.

And don’t forget to audit learning. At intervals of one month, three months, and six months post-training, follow-up with learners to discuss if they require further information. It is through follow-up that training reinforcement occurs and any issues that may arise are quickly resolved.  

Solving Problems using an A3

An “A3” is an international size piece of paper, approximately 11-by-17 inches. Using an A3 is an effective way to present a situation – a story that anyone can understand – all on one page. 

It is a visual tool for problem-solving because it presents all of the main elements in a condensed space, allowing for on-the-spot review. It is a powerful management process encouraging learning through a scientific approach to problem solving. It includes a description of the current conditions, goals, analysis, and an action plan for implementing solutions.

There is no standard format for an A3. Each A3 suits the situation. At the end of this blog, a detailed example is provided that you can use and modify to suit your organization’s situation.

Regardless of format, A3’s answer the same basic questions:

  1. What is the problem or issue?
  2. Who owns the problem?
  3. What is/are the root cause(s) of the problem?
  4. What are some possible countermeasures?
  5. How will you decide which countermeasures to propose?
  6. How will you get agreement from everyone concerned?
  7. What is your implementation plan – who, what, when, where, how?
  8. How will you know if your countermeasures work?
  9. What follow-up issues can you anticipate? What problems may occur during implementation?
  10. How will you capture and share the learning?

The key to using the A3 and, in fact, to any approach in problem solving is defining the problem. As Charles F. Kettering, inventor, said: “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Too many times, people start “fixing” symptoms of problems rather than the actual problem. This never achieves the desired long-term results.

In its simplest form, a problem is a barrier that prevents the organization from achieving its goals. A problem may also involve the design or performance of work.

The gap between the existing and desired condition is the problem. Achieving performance improvement occurs through understanding of the gap.

At its core, an A3 template helps solve problems by describing the following:

  • Background or context of the problem
  • Current conditions including facts and data about the problem
  • Goal that the organization wishes to achieve in addressing the problem
  • Analysis of the problem to describe why the problem exists
  • Recommendations for how to address the problem
  • Plan for implementing the recommendations
  • Follow-up after implementation to ensure continuous improvement

The A3 is also useful for describing action items – a condensed project charter for each item covering one or two 11-by-17 inch sheets instead of multiple letter-sized typed pages.

Once you start using the A3 format to assess your organization’s problem areas, there’s a good chance that you will never go back to using traditional methods.

Out with the Old; In with the New

Here’s a surprising fact: Most of us have NO difficulty accepting change. And this is despite the fact that 80 percent of change initiatives fail first time out of the gate. What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? 

It appears that the difficulty in implementing change is not in accepting the idea. The difficulty is in the sustained practice or application of the idea (or improvement initiative). In other words, the problem with our reaction to change does not relate to our ability to let new ideas in. The problem is in getting our old ideas out.  

Either you believe the new initiative is the best way or you believe that your old way of doing the same thing is better. Believing in both simultaneously creates discord.  

You can’t have it both ways:  Discord leads to failed change initiatives. 

Successful organizations remove the discord and it is likely that they incorporate the practice of bio-psychology of change into their change projects. According to Sherry Campbell, Director of Management Consulting at Sierra Systems, there’s a difference between a rational approach to change management and a bio-psychological approach.  

It is only through the bio-psychological approach that change initiatives are successful. Here is how it works. 

  1. Communicate the vision. Before change can occur, people need to be aware of potential changes. Working in small groups and with key individuals will go a long way to ensuring that the idea for the change initiative is firmly planted and people are primed to listen.
  2. Identify the area for change. Have individuals focus on the change and relate their thoughts, feelings and experiences around their existing circumstances. In doing so, individuals are able to “see” that their existing circumstance is in need of change.
  3. Assessment and diagnosis. With existing circumstances described, have the individual talk about their conflicting behaviours, feelings, and thoughts that may get in the way of accepting the change. What coping patterns are they using in the existing circumstances?
  4. Plan the change. Once assessment and diagnosis is complete, ask the individual what behaviour they can do less of (e.g., coping behaviours), so that they have room for this new behaviour (new change initiative) in their brain map space. Discuss their feelings relating to letting go of the old behaviour.
  5. Implement the change. Through pilot projects or visualization steps, implement the change incrementally until you reach your goal. Repetition of incremental steps may be necessary until you reach success.
  6. Monitor the change, successes and risks. Use coaching to help individuals stay on track with their new behaviour; accepting the change, and inserting it as the behaviour of choice in their brain map space.

Conducting regular check-ins after implementing change will help identify areas for further improvement. Early detection helps with early correction of failures and continuing reinforcement of new behaviours. 

Leveraging the Power of Stakeholders

Do you know that excitement that goes along with your great idea for improving your organization’s processes? From great idea to project charter, the momentum you have is at a peak when you present your project charter to the project champion for approval.

At this point, your project can go one of two ways: it gets approved by the champion or it gets denied. If it gets approved, great! You’re on your way to making change. If it gets denied, there is a strong likelihood that you did not engage and secure the support of all stakeholders.

We often talk about engaging and getting “buy-in” from stakeholders. But what, exactly, does this mean? And who are these stakeholders? And what is their interest in your project?

To answer this question, consider these key steps for determining and evaluating your stakeholders:

  1. Brainstorm to identify your stakeholders.
  2. Prioritize stakeholders based on their power and interest in your project.
  3. Understand what motivates your stakeholders and what actions you need to take to persuade them to support your project.

Stakeholders include all people who have an interest in your project and are affected by your work. They can include, for example: senior managers, your colleagues, customers, suppliers, banks, government(s), unions, community groups, and others. As you brainstorm with your team, you may come up with other unique categories.

Once you know who your stakeholders are, you need to determine their power. That is, what is their desire and ability to exert influence over your project? Stakeholders can disrupt your plans, cause uncertainty in plans, or be your staunchest advocate. In short, businesses both need and rely on their stakeholders.

It is important to understand stakeholder power and interest. Leveraging stakeholder power and interest is key to getting support for your project. The matrix included at the end of this blog provides an overview of power and interest. It illustrates the following:

  • If a stakeholder has high power and high interest, they are a key player. Take notice of them and collaborate with them to achieve project success. You must fully engage them and make the greatest efforts to satisfy their needs.
  • If a stakeholder has high power and low interest, involve them in the project by regularly communicating with them or asking them how they wish to be kept involved/informed.
  • If a stakeholder has low power and high interest, communicate frequently with them. These people can be helpful with project details.
  • If a stakeholder has low power and low interest, monitor their input, as necessary to the success of the project.

With the above in mind, you need to identify your stakeholders and how they fit on the Power-Interest matrix. The best way to determine this is to meet with your stakeholders and ask them directly – this is a great first step to building a successful relationship.

Knowing all of the above – your stakeholders, their power and interest over your project, and their motivation – you can now use an appropriate method of engagement to win their support for your project and its success.

And don’t forget to review your Power-Interest grid to ensure that stakeholder influence has not changed. If it has, get in touch with your stakeholder and determine how you can maintain their support for the project.

Motivating for Change

Conventional organizational change usually fails. That’s because you and your employees look at things differently.

In traditional organizations, employers expect employees to do what they are told (i.e., their jobs for which they are paid). Some leaders still believe that the way to motivate people to change is to tell them, or persuade them. This stems from an early age of having expectations imposed on us—first by our parents and teachers and later, by our employers.

But times have changed.

Organizations are now judged on how well they meet corporate responsibility, fair trade, sustainability, and triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet). And the judging is coming from all levels—customers, employees, and the public at large.

Because people have this new perspective on their world, imposing change on people will not work. Here’s why:

  • Individual needs are not the same as those of the organization.
  • Individuals lead busy lives (even outside of work), so they are not able or willing to assimilate change just because the organization says so.

Given these new paradigms, organizations that implement successful change are those that are able to align their aims with the total life needs of their employees—that’s why addressing WII-FM (“what’s in it for me?”) is so important. Leaders that know how to tap into each individual’s WII-FM will not only build an urgency and momentum for the change, but they will also make change stick.

To help you with your change initiative, consider these facts:

  1. People will never align with bad aims. Reassess and realign your organization’s vision and mission to ensure that it meets corporate responsibility, aims for sustainability of the environment, favours fair trade, and is opposed to exploitation and executive greed, to name a few.
  2. People cannot multi-task or learn new skills without some job realignment. Several things need to be considered, not the least of which are individual capacities for change (“absorptive capacity”). Consulting with employees to learn how they think change will impact their jobs helps to see change from both perspectives.
  3.  Ignoring the above facts is a sure guarantee of failed change initiatives.

Consider also that at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership must buy-in to the change if it is to be successful. What this means for the organization’s change leader is that they must provide compelling evidence of the change to leaders first and staff second.

When at least 75 percent of the organization’s leadership supports the change, selling the change to staff becomes much easier. Then the potential for change to stick becomes a reality, rather than a hope…and as one of my friends astutely noted – “hope is never a strategy.”

The #1 Red Light: A Lack of Urgency

There are many reasons why change may stall, but the number one reason is lack of urgency. If the project team exhibits lack of urgency toward achieving goals, this behaviour should raise immediate alarm for project champions and project leaders alike.

In some instances, a lack of urgency may be exhibited because people don’t understand why the project is being done in the first place. Clarity around goals and objectives has not been provided. When this happens, people would rather live with the problem as it currently exists than accept a solution that they do not understood.

To get staff motivated and instill urgency in making change, a clear business case must be presented about how changing will improve the organization’s condition. In addition to the superb business case, extensive training and communication must be undertaken early on and throughout the process. If not, lack of urgency will persist.

Here are some other ways in which to handle lack of urgency:

  1. Evaluate the external threats to the organization. These threats may form the basis of a business case to get the project moving and to instill urgency. Benchmarking is also an effective tool to identify what things the organization can do to differentiate themselves from the competition.
  2. Educate top management to help them understand how the initiative can directly help their performance as well as the performance of their organization. Top-down commitment to the project is important.
  3. Align metrics and goals. Define three to seven major goals and how they will improve the organization’s condition. If the list is larger than this, “analysis paralysis” may overwhelm employees and nothing will get done.
  4. Through regular communication, expose employees to concepts and possibilities of new paradigms and the benefits of doing things differently. Show them, don’t just tell them. Use examples from other organizations or even from small implementations in different parts of their organization.
  5. Do a pilot project for a quick hit. The pilot project should provide visible and undeniable evidence of success that employees can see very quickly. When they see this, they can visualize future success for the whole company. Along these lines, people sometimes may need to see why not changing will inhibit future success; almost moreso than how changing will improve the chances for success.
  6. Buffer employees from top management so they can try some new things without management always saying nay. It’s sometimes easier to apologize after the fact, rather than ask for permission beforehand. Let employees implement small changes, so they can prove that thee concept works not only to themselves, but to the organization as a whole. By doing so, some urgency will be diverted back into the organization.

When the organization has a sense of urgency for change, not only is it likely that the project is completed within its allotted timeframe, but there is also a greater likelihood of sustainable change. In fact, some experts suggest that change should be delivered with urgency and in no more than nine months. So if you’ve got a large project, break it out into bite-size pieces so that each piece can be completed in a few months. By doing this, you will have many examples of successful wins to demonstrate to management that long-term success can be achieved along with sustainable change.

Dimensions of Change

Are you and your organization productive and efficient? Most people say that they and their organization are both. However, I have found this not to be the case in many organizations.  

At a recent process and value stream mapping exercise, staff expressed a desire to change their operations for the better and acknowledged that they had many process issues that needed “fixing.” However, they were confused about how they or the organization should proceed. They were also frustrated, indicating that their busy schedules would hamper change. This organization is not atypical in its reaction to change.

In managing organization-wide change, researchers have identified six elements that must be in place for change to be successful. If any of the elements is missing, successful change will not occur. Here is how these elements impact organizational change:

  1. If there is no vision, there is confusion.
  2. If there are insufficient skills, there is anxiety.
  3. If there are no incentives, there is resistance.
  4. If there are insufficient resources, there is frustration.
  5. If there is no action plan, there are false starts.
  6. If there is no collegiality, there is isolation.

When an organization has a vision, it focuses on achieving the vision. Whether it is through strategic, business, or service plans, the vision must be clear and it must be communicated to all staff. And it must be understood. When the vision is understood, the organization’s goals and objectives are clear.

Insufficient skills to meet the organization’s strategy are a key component in change. If skills are lacking, staff will feel anxious about their roles. When anxiety is present, inefficiency and poor productivity are also present. Provide training, coaching, and counseling to ensure that staff have the necessary skills to do their jobs.

Incentives are very important for motivating staff to change. Both financial and non-financial rewards can be equally effective at stimulating change. Examples of financial rewards include fair compensation, bonuses for work performance, or relocation support and housing. Non-financial incentives may include a quality culture, public recognition and awards, study leave, and mentoring in the work place, to name only a few.

Resources are another important factor in successful change. Simply stated, if there are insufficient resources to make change happen, then change will either not occur or will be slow to occur. Depending on the organization’s desire for change, resources must be ample, so that staff do not become discouraged with the pace of change.

Sometimes organizations forget about the importance of having action plans in place to guide change. Having an action (or implementation) plan provides everyone with a “road map” to change. In short, it allows all those involved in the change process to know exactly what is expected, who is responsible, and the timeline and process for achieving tasks to effect change.

And don’t forget about collegiality. It’s much nicer to work with colleagues with whom you share mutual respect than it is to endure hostility. Organizations need to ensure that their staff are well suited to the culture and that the culture promotes collegiality.

Managing change is not an easy task, especially if the change involves a large-scale project, but if all of the dimensions of change are in place, successful change can be a certainty.