Change and what we can achieve in 30 days

Whilst the song may say that “Love is in the air..” my experience talking with CEO’s and business people is that “Change is in the air..” – not so catchy and certainly not as well embraced. The result of this is that we have spawned Change Managers, Change Programs and Organisational transformations.

So why is change so hard? Try writing with your non-preferred hand, brush your hair with your non-preferred hand, learn a new language or how to ski – how did it feel?  I still remember learning to ride a motorcycle in my late 30’s (an early mid-life crisis or because I am early adopter?) and finding the throttle control took a bit of getting used to as well as balancing 200kg of bike and rider at low speeds.

Change requires us to establish new patterns for behaviour and the process takes time, persistence and a desire to push through to master the skill so that it once again becomes a subconscious capability. It has been suggest there are four levels in the “Conscious Competence” model (see below or click the link).

The origins of this model are uncertain but potentially goes as far back as Confucius – so it’s not a recent problem!  The model examines both consciousness and competence. As you move from 1 to 4 your skill level improves to a point where, for example, you can drive a car, indicate, brake, depress the clutch, change gears and listen to the radio, think about the next holiday you want to go on and arrive home with a few “blank spots” where you can’t really recall driving (in detail).

Competence Incompetence
Conscious 3 – conscious competencethe person achieves ‘conscious competence’ in a skill when they can perform it reliably at will

the person will need to concentrate and think in order to perform the skill

the person will not reliably perform the skill unless thinking about it – the skill is not yet ‘second nature’ or ‘automatic’

the person should ideally continue to practise the new skill, and if appropriate commit to becoming ‘unconsciously competent’ at the new skill

practise is the single most effective way to move from stage 3 to 4

2 – conscious incompetencethe person becomes aware of the existence and relevance of the skill and is therefore also aware of their deficiency

ideally by attempting or trying to use the skill

the person realises that by improving their skill or ability in this area their effectiveness will improve

the person ideally makes a commitment to learn and practice the new skill, and to move to the ‘conscious competence’ stage

Unconscious 4 – unconscious competencethe skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain – it becomes ‘second nature’

common examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks, listening and communicating

it becomes possible for certain skills to be performed while doing something else, for example, knitting while reading a book

the person might now be able to teach others in the skill

the skill has become largely instinctual

1 – unconscious incompetencethe person is not aware of;

the existence or relevance of the skill area or

that they have a particular deficiency in the area

the person must become conscious of their incompetence before development of the new skill or learning can begin

If we understand change can be difficult for staff then we can approach the challenge differently.  If the culture has built trust between staff and management it will go a long way to working with people about the change. Getting involvement from staff about the change, educating and getting their feedback are all critical in understanding and helping people through change – think like a personal trainer – firm but supportive – motivating, praising any improvements and focus on efforts at the early stage.  People need time, training, support and encouragement to develop new skills.

Helping employees understand that these are the normal responses to change and that with persistence and help from their company they will develop new skills, grow and benefit and not to fear the change are the conversations companies need to have with staff.

In an interesting attack on a lack of change Matt Cutts, a Google employee, spoke about different 30-day challenges he has undertaken to generate change in his life.

Perhaps we could all improve our receptiveness to change and get more out of life by taking on more of these 30 day challenges!

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Part 2 – Growth Initiatives – traps and inhibitors

In my last post I talked about the elements that would be beneficial to growth initiatives and now I want to touch on those things that can hold back growth initiatives.

  1. A belief that the market you want to enter is easier and less competitive that the one you are in.  I have witnessed the ” build it and they will come” attitude a number of times. The starting point is a belief we can build a product/service and there is a market for it so we should be able to sell some.  This fails to understand the different competitor value propositions, how they will react to a new entrant and the switching costs for a client to move from one provider to another (time, effort, risk, costs, distraction etc).
  2.  Load the new business/service with a share of the overhead costs of the core business – including a hefty amount of support services costs – and add the bureaucracy of an established business.  This will be a sure-fire way to kill a number of new initiatives and make them uncompetitive with smaller players who are not part of a larger business.
  3. Believing the brand will make the sale. I have yet to experience a client who will buy a new product or service just because of the brand. Maybe Apple can do it but there is only one Apple company.  I think Microsoft have found it pretty hard to leverage their brand into mobile phones and Blackberry are under enormous challenge from Google/Android/HTC and have forecast falling revenues.  Brand may be good enough to get you in the consideration set but will rarely be sufficient to make the sale.
  4. A lack of competitor analysis to provide a clear mapping of how your value proposition will differ on key attributes customers use to decide on which product/service they purchase. This is needed to provide a clear sales track for your business development team to use. (Cost, benefits, features, access, servicing, channels, functionality, flexibility, quality etc).
  5. A lack of a pricing strategy. There are a whole range of issues to consider associated with your strategy for the product or service and the volumes and nature of your product or service. If you are hoping to leverage an existing client base what pricing incentives are there to recognise existing clients? Do you need to achieve scale quickly to reach break-even associated with fixed costs? Are you using cost-plus pricing, competitor based pricing or customer based pricing? Having the wrong pricing strategy will impact on your success and even your survival.
  6. No CRM system to allow a targeted and focussed sales and marketing process to build awareness, interest and desire to the key segments that you have identified. Without a good CRM (they don’t need to be expensive) you will not have the data and tracking ability to drive results for your business.
What other traps do you think reduce the ability for businesses to grow?
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Growth initiatives – how do we grow?

We need to grow the business faster than “system” growth (i.e. faster than the overall industry growth rate). The Board is challenging the lack of top-line or profit growth and senior executives are scrambling to find the next big thing. The core business is under huge competitive pressures and we need to find another source of revenue, profit and growth and diversify our business.

All of the above are regular challenges faced by businesses and set off a range of activities to try to develop strategies, plans and projects to generate more growth.  My observation and experiences in these situations suggests a few things that may help with the process and those that may hurt.

Part 1. Things that help

Some business competencies and requirements that will facilitate the ability to act on the desire for growth include;

1. On overarching business strategy that is clear about your core capabilities, key markets, why you are in business and why clients should deal with you. In a Porter framework this may be whether you are a low-cost leader, product innovator or niche customer focussed.  It is little value for a niche focussed high service business to decide it wants to compete in a new market on a low-cost model. The lack of scale and underlying high service business model will react poorly to the conflict and cause a lot of wasted effort and eventually reduce margins, leading to a decline in the existing business and limited results from the new effort. Clearly knowledge and understanding of different strategic views and experience in assessing business opportunities through these differing viewpoints is important.

2. A business model for product and service development. As an example the Lanning & Phillips value proposition model starts with a focus on the client segment you are trying to serve/attract and the superior value proposition that you are offering to that segment of the market. You need a starting point and the best place to start is “who” is going to buy your offer – in a detailed micro-segmentation sense.  I still remember research on banking products and discovering in the focus group research the very different needs of small business owners from other demographics we had determined. Define your segments along multiple factors to test what the differences are in needs before aggregating common segments. Competencies in segmentation, market research and value proposition development are key to this analysis.

Understand the different levers for growth e.g.– acquisitions, vertical or horizontal integration, new markets, new services/products, new distribution channels, new media, bundling/packaging and new pricing models.

3. As you start this process you will immediately understand the need for coordination and integration of activities as well as driving for outcomes. A strong project management methodology with embedded project management skills will be important to achieve desired results.

4. Intrinsic to many of these elements is a need for creativity, insight and innovation. An ability to see unmet needs of clients that you have the capability of fulfilling and doing so profitably. What are you developing in your organization that supports innovation and creativity? Does your culture embrace new ideas or are they subjected to bureaucratic torture? Will someone with a great idea be forced to write paper after paper, asked to prove beyond doubt their idea will work and end of dejected and uninspired to try again? Look at Atlassian FedEx days to get some ideas about innovation and rapid development.

5. This feeds into the idea of risk-taking and clarity about the level of risk that an organization is wiling to take and Board acceptance of the risk-reward trade-off. No risk means low-level rewards in most cases. Being clear about how much risk is acceptable will help guide the nature of projects and the sort of expenditure that can be approved.  There are a number of articles on the benefits of smaller wins (see also Ram Charan’s: Profitable Growth is everyone’s business).

6. Collaboration from the business to input ideas, resources and engage with the program for growth. How will staff engage with the growth initiative? Will business heads see it as a political exercise and seek to protect their patch, budget and staffing? A highly engaged culture with high levels of trust and cooperation will dramatically assist the business in moving forward and supporting the growth project.  A fundamental component is a communications plan to keep all stakeholders informed.

These are just some of the key elements to a successful growth initiative and you probably get a sense of how wide-ranging and interrelated these different elements are and how difficult it may be to switch them on quickly.  All businesses need to be developing these capabilities if they want to achieve high levels of growth.  This list is not comprehensive – what would you like to add?

Next Blog – Traps to avoid when developing new growth initiatives.

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Measures, Business Performance and Staff Engagement

Early in my working life I heard the phrase “if you don’t measure it you don’t manage it” and I would have to say that it has held true over a long period of time. Measuring something achieves two things; firstly it elevates the outcome to a level of objective assessment and secondly it requires us to explore underlying assumptions regarding the causal effects. If you really want to generate debate about causation then link the measure to remuneration as people then become highly motivated to attribute poor results to other reasons/causes than those currently held which promotes good debate!

The link between a measure and its underlying causes is a critical element and one that can be easily overlooked or misinterpreted. Let’s look at an example of staff turnover (% of staff who over 12 months voluntarily leave an organisation as a % of total staff in that organisation) being used as a measure of effective leadership.

Why do people voluntarily leave a company? The causal factors may be many – lack of career progress, desire for travel, changing locations, going back to study, poor management, changing careers, poor pay etc.

Whilst poor leadership may be one of the causes of staff turnover it may not be the primary cause and to use it as the key measure would be both inaccurate and misleading.

The measures around leadership can be difficult and yet there has been good progress on this front with a variety of surveys that seek to examine the engagement that staff have with their workplace and how executives and managers can influence this level of engagement.

The BlessingWhite Employee Engagement Global Study 2010* is one such survey and highlights the benefits of an engaged workforce. The model examines an individuals contribution to the company’s success and their personal satisfaction in the role.

In Australia only 36% are Engaged and whilst this is not bad in global terms it is a sad indictment on leadership both here in Australia and overseas.

Towers Watson found that engaged organisations Earnings Per Share growth rate of 28% compared to an 11.2% decline for low engagement firms. JC Penney found that stores with top-quartile engagement scores generate about 10% more in sales per square foot than average. Hewitt claims that the highly engaged are 78% more productive than the low ones.

Building high levels of staff engagement would appear to be one of those measures that should be managed by all businesses who seek high levels of performance as it underpins achievement in other areas (customer service, sales, profit) by maximising the contribution from staff.

So think carefully about what you measure and the true causes of results and what drives increases and decreases in the measure otherwise you might believe the Mayor of a US city who observed the correlation between when they won the championship and the town celebrating and therefore suggested they start celebrating from the start of the season to ensure a win!

For more on non-financial measures you may want to read this article by Ernst & Young “Measures that Matter”

*For a copy of the full report (92 pages) go to .
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When decisions turn out wrong how do you react?

When decisions turn out wrong how do you react? Is it a case of moving on quickly and hoping people forget, undertaking a review and despondently wishing that it was something someone missed and thereby not your fault, or is it a robust post-mortem and review of process so that decision-making is improved and mistakes are used for learning?

I have mentioned before a book called Think Again and there is a YouTube presentation from one of the authors that provides a useful summary . Adding to that is a book from Michael J. Mauboussin about Think Twice -Harnessing the Power of Counter-intuition. Both books examine a number of decisions that are made and suggest an approach to improved decision making. As a business leader or manager this would appear a great insight and a real opportunity for managers and leaders to grasp improved approaches that would enhance their effectiveness and decision-making success – but there is a catch!

The models have some similarities and both highlight the importance of good governance for decisions, active consideration of alternatives and gathering data from external views and cases that could be considered similar. They also point out the need for honest examination of self-interest, any pre-judgements or biased views of the situations and how we need to mitigate these in our assessments.

All of these sound sensible but could struggle when the boss is not a self-aware and open leader. In many situations the “boss” may state a situation and their decision, not seek input or dissenting views and certainly not appreciate any governance oversight.

Misleading experiences, misleading prejudgments, inappropriate self-interest and inappropriate attachments are four root causes of errors in thinking that lead to bad decisions. The wisdom of crowds highlights that the use of a non-expert and truly diversified group to provide input on decisions adds to decision quality. This is covered by Mauboussin and builds on the excellent book by James Surowecki (Wisdom of Crowds).

So what else can you do? The use of a pre-mortem is a great way to get people thinking more broadly about the issues and aspects of a decision and asks participants to go to the future when they are all sitting in a room analysing what went wrong. In this way they can better reflect on where the risks are to decision success and where more information, review and analysis may be required.

Underpinning a lot of this is the need for a strong team environment where people can challenge decisions, test options and ensure robust debate occurs for key decisions. If there is not a high level of trust and commitment within the team there is unlikely to be the level of courage or care to challenge the decision – and yet that is exactly what is required.

So if decisions are not being well made in your business look first to building the trust and commitment of the team then examine the decision-making processes that you use to increase the probability of making the right decision.

In any analysis of results please look at the impacts of chance and randomness. It may have been the right decision (90% chance of success) but ran up against the randomness and dynamic nature of things (see my earlier article on randomness and luck at ). A good decision process does not mean perfect results but a much more robust chance of securing the right decision.

For a further article on Mauboussin’s work see

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How much should we practice?

Ever wanted to learn a new language, play the piano or guitar or tennis? Writers such as Malcolm Gladwell have researched this topic and suggest that 10 years of practice or 10,000 hours are required to master a skill. Of course when you are 5 years old you have plenty of time to practice and be a master by 15!

For those of us keen to learn something new in later life the following article from Jonah Lehrer offers some hope that we can at least get some of that practice from passively listening (good for languages – probably not much help with tennis). It also highlights the power of our imagination where practice in the mind, coupled with actual practice leads to the same rate of improvement as if all practice was on an instrument.

How Much Should We Practice? By Jonah Lehrer   September 27, 2010  |  11:53 am

Somewhere, right now, a little kid is fighting with his parents about how much he needs to practice the piano. Or maybe it’s the clarinet. I fought with my parents about practicing everything. I didn’t want to practice my major chords, or my tennis swing, or my multiplication tables. I insisted that I already knew how to do it – I’d just done it – so why did I need to do it again?
Well, it turns out that 10 year-old Jonah had a point. There’s a brand new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience by a team of scientists at Northwestern (first author Beverly Wright) that investigates how much deliberate practice can be replaced with periods of “additional sensory stimulation,” or passive listening.
The experiment went like this: A large group of subjects was taught a difficult auditory discrimination task. Then, they practiced. And practiced. Every subject in the task performed 360 trials of the task per day for at least six days. But here’s where the interesting differences begin: In one follow-up regimen, listeners performed an unrelated task in silence. In another regimen, subjects performed that same task while listening to relevant stimuli in the background. In the final regimen, subjects didn’t get a break, but instead practiced the same auditory discrimination exercise over and over again. We’ll call this the nothing-but-practice group.
So which group improved the most? It turned out that you needed to be exposed to the relevant stimuli. This meant that the group which practiced the unrelated task in silence didn’t improve. However,  these experiments also demonstrated that listening to relevant background stimulation could be just as effective as slaving away at the task itself, at least when the subjects had practiced first. In fact, the scientists found that we don’t even have to be paying conscious attention to the stimuli – subjects still benefited from the stimulation even when distracted by an entirely unrelated task. I emailed with Andrew Sabin, one of the co-authors on the study, who summarized the results:
A great deal of previous work has shown that simply presenting the stimuli to the participant is usually not enough. They actually have to do the task. This is where our group comes in. Basically, what we say is, yes you do have to do the task, just not for the whole time. The main result is that if you practice for 20 minutes, and then you are passively exposed to stimuli for 20 minutes, you learn as if you have been practicing for 40 minutes. You can cut the effort in half, and still yield the same benefit. This finding could be important for clinical training programs, such as the ones that attempt to treat language-based learning disorders.
Obviously, these results have big implications. We spend a lot of time trying to improve our perceptions on very particular tasks, whether it’s a jet fighter pilot learning how to fly or a baseball player learning to hit a fastball or child with dyslexia learning how to read. Although we currently assume that the only way to improve is to constantly practice – in technical speak, the act of practicing provides a “permissive signal” that allows the accompanying stimulation to “drive learning” – this research demonstrates that we can also improve through mere exposure. Furthermore, our obsession with practice comes with serious drawbacks, since the tedium of practice can prove discouraging for beginners. And so we quit the piano and give up on our reading lessons, because we can’t stand the training regimen.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can just play Yo Yo Ma in the background and expect to master the cello, or put the textbook underneath the pillow and expect to ace the algebra test. We still need to practice. We just might not need to practice as much as we think. Here’s the kicker from the paper:
On a practical level, the present results suggest a means by which perceptual training regimens might be made markedly more efficient and less effortful. The current data indicates that it may be possible to reduce the effort required by participants by at least half, with no deleterious effect, simply by combining periods of task performance with periods of additional stimulus exposure. If this proves to be a general rule of non-declarative learning, it could help to explain how potent instances of learning can arise when sensory stimulation is not always coupled with attention.
Read More
By Jonah Lehrer Email Author
September 27, 2010  |
11:53 am  |
Categories: Frontal CortexScience Blogs

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Why leading people is not that difficult – a list to check!

When you think about it leading people should involve a fair amount of common sense. Treat people as you would like to be treated would be a good starting point (masochists aside). So what would be on your list of how you would like to be treated? I have listed some but encourage you to develop your own list and use it as a tool to cross-check how you are treating your own staff.

  1. Care about me as a person. If I am stressed, sad, excited – ask me why. It doesn’t need to involve hour-long sessions of psychotherapy – simply asking “you look a little ———-  is everything OK”. Finding out a relation/child/parent is very ill and being sympathetic will go a long way to building a connection and link to your leadership when you are asking for an extra effort (or better still they do it without you asking).
  2. Involve me in decisions and matters that affect my work, department, company. Now this doesn’t mean every decision becomes a poll and popular vote. Vroom and Yetton developed a model for optimising type of involvement and decision-making. In summary unless there is a conflict of interest (e.g. what should your pay increase be this year?) or a lack of time (need a decision in 2 mins – there is a fire and we need to take the exit!) you will gain a lot from involving people in planning, projects and decisions. You are likely to unearth some great ideas, build an understanding of why something is required and what options have been considered, develop your staff for the future when these issues arise and build commitment to the final decision.  Of course if you ignore everything they suggest without a reasonable basis or explanation then don’t even start.
  3. Give me some autonomy to apply the skills I have so I don’t feel that everything I do is being monitored. Autonomy generates a high level of intrinsic motivation as good people will rise to the responsibility to excel.
  4. Give me feedback – not once a year but regular simple pieces – good job on that report, nice analysis – next time would be great to also include competitor aspects, client’s loved your materials. It’s Ok to give praise – they won’t put their feet up and feel that they do not need to work anymore. Also as you build their confidence they will be more receptive to those time when you need to feedback that the work needs improvement. In a balanced approach they will be getting both types of feedback rather than to often managers only do one or the other.
  5. Create a sense of purpose for me and my area – we all like to feel that what we are doing is worthwhile to someone.
  6. Celebrate success along the journey – pizza’s in the office, an award/prize (staff vote and judge), a thank you note, dinner certificate etc. This is one area we managers (me too) have often fallen down on as we move from one step to the next without pause for recognition of progress.

Now that’s a good start – see how it goes and remember to add your items (or even post a comment below for others to see).

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