Leadership and Power: Getting to the heart of Change Management

By Mark Schroffel

Change Managers have been getting it wrong for years now. Since change management first became popular a decade or so ago, the (so called) change experts have been proclaiming the virtues of pain reduction and bringing people along the …wait for it… j o u r n e y.

Having been a founding partner of an org change consultancy, I can tell you that my personal view has evolved considerably since those early days of just providing glorified communication and administrative service for program managers and GMs.

While I agree that there is a place for the folks who conduct readiness assessments, chart the network of influencers, and meticulously track impacts; I say that this stuff is administration not management – and it’s definitely not leadership.

Change Management is really about seizing the opportunity to do something special and taking deliberate action to disrupt the status quo for the long-term good. Not only does this require leadership, it also requires a power-base for taking action.

Leadership and power are at the heart making lasting and meaningful change.

The importance of business representation for project success

By Mark Schroffel

Something is wBusiness Engagement 2rong out there in project land. As someone who does a lot of PIRs and change planning, I’m finding that too many projects have inadequate business representation.

A lack of capacity in the business is a common excuse. But this doesn’t wash with me.

Surely it stands that projects exist to enhance or transform the business. They are by definition an investment in capability for the overall benefit of the business. It follows that the business should expect to be involved and there really is no way to escape the responsibilities of ownership.

The good news is that there is so much to gain from business representation – especially if you can get them involved early.

Bringing business folk into projects is the only way I know of for laying the foundations for change and to ensure long-term success. Not only this, they also have a crucial role in quality assurance, process development and just providing a sound and pragmatic operational perspective.

Yeah, there are a lot of reasons why finding suitable business representatives will be difficult; however, what’s the logic in doing a project that the business is unable or unwilling to support in the first place?

So make business representation one of your Critical Success Factors and don’t accept excuses.

Blame-shifting: A hiding to nothing where everyone loses

By Mark Schröffel

Blame-shifting is a shabby form of leadership behaviour. As is the practice of attacking workers for their apparent failure to deliver. There is usually more to the story, and chances are leadership (or lack of it) lies somewhere near the root cause of the problem.

Here’s a common scenario:

Perhaps for good reason, the manager thinks the project is off the rails and the worker in charge is doing a bad job. The budget is a mess, they are behind schedule and there seems to be limited prospects for success.

Maybe it’s true that the worker is unqualified or incapable of managing the project, but the question of governance and supervision must also be addressed.

Replacing the under-performing worker may well be a necessary part of the solution, however doing so without addressing the larger issue of leadership and oversight would be dangerous reinforcement of a more serious problem.

Too often managers are tempted to deal with the immediate problem at hand, inadvertently overlooking the flaws in the systems of control (which sometimes includes one’s own culpability). Attributing blame is a natural response to a bad outcome, but if we have learnt anything from major catastrophes, disastrous outcomes are merely the final link in a long chain of failures.

Getting into the blame game is simple enough, getting out requires the courage to accept responsibility and willingness to play a role making things right.

Ultimately, a good manager will use positional power to take on the burden of responsibility rather than to divert it.

Are industry accreditations worthwhile, or just a fast track to mediocrity?

Brady Bunch Wheeler DealerCaveat Emptor

Caveat emptor” (buyer beware) was the advice offered by Mike Brady to Greg in the Brady Bunch episode where Greg purchased a much desired  yet unsuitable car from his pal Swift Eddie.  Greg got his money back, but the trouble he had along the way cost him so much more, especially when trying to impress the girls at school.

Caveat emptor is also good advice for anyone looking at industry accreditations as a way or boosting their career.  My concern with accreditations, especially in the field of Change Management, is that everyone involved in the accreditation game seem to have a commercial interest at heart. I’m not saying that assessments are rigged, or the training is poor quality, but I am asking if industry accreditations really provide the assurances that they are supposed to? I’m inclined to think that they don’t.

So, What’s the Problem?

Professional associations which provide certification, more often than not, have a vested interest in ensuring that their members are advantaged in the service market place. Ways they achieve this are through the establishment of accreditation and membership grading systems, creating the perception that the associations themselves (and their members) adhere to strict professional standards and should be seen as authoritative barriers of entry to the profession.

Consumers of accredited services (i.e., organisations seeking expert help) are typically unaware of what those standards are and are  usually happy to know they’re dealing with someone who is a recognised, bona-fide professional. What goes unnoticed is that it is often the case that these “professionals” need something to lean on to confirm their worth as a practitioner. In short, rather than cultivating their own professional standing and excellence they have paid an association to bestow it upon them.

Where the Trouble Begins

Professional associations are often mistakenly viewed as the source of excellence in a given field. In reality, their objective is to create an air of expertise. They do this while funding their self-promotion from their members and delivering what I think are services of questionable value to them and the end consumer.

Case in point: If after paying hundreds of dollars for membership alone you were “rewarded” with a $10 discount on a $50 workshop would you be excited? I certainly wouldn’t.

This is where it becomes clear to me that the value offered by professional associations is the public recognition and endorsement of one’s capabilities.

Professional Recognition For Sale

Given the current state of Australia’s professional services market, there’s some advantage in distinguishing yourself from the pack. Yet, “stand out from the pack” rhetoric is often used to cajole consultants into believing they must become accredited and earn the right to wear industry-endorsed labels – by paying for them: Labels which are usually accompanied by post-nominals, the right to brandish a related logo and the opportunity to post a profile on a website that industry clients never visit.

The real question is: “Does accreditation provide any real assurance that a consultant is any good?” Perhaps, more importantly, we should ask: “Are they any better qualified to serve your organisation and cater to its unique set of requirements?” My bet is that what you can actually be assured of is that their accreditation is at best only a small part of the capability required to truly meet your needs.

Let Experience Speak for Itself

When recruiting or engaging consultants, I think it’s crucial to understand their level of experience and get a sense of their working reputation. While seeking out a candidate with industry accreditation is not in and of itself detrimental, but you must consider what the individual’s ulterior motives are if they promote themselves solely on the basis of a professional designation. The best consultants out there don’t bother with accreditation; they know they’re good at what they do and their clients know it, too.

I’m quite cynical and immediately suspicious of accreditation-toting consultants; I’d prefer to engage a consultant based on less tangible yet far more important criteria. Take one short cut in this process and the only thing you can be confident about is the fact that you’ve identified a consultant who has a rote understanding of change management and had the means to purchase a “seal” to prove it.

Finding Out What’s on Offer

A consultant’s ability to meet situations head on, demonstrate versatility and exercise flexibility can be difficult to test upfront – but, not impossible. Request a list of references and follow-up on each one. Industry accreditation for consultants should be the last thing you turn to when hiring a true professional, as it provides little assurance that a consultant will provide a good return on your investment.

After all, much like what our project management colleagues have witnessed, industry-wide accreditation has become commoditised. It’s a competitive business which, more often than not, serves only the people who head those organisations that churn out cookie-cutter consultants with rubber stamps on their letterheads. There’s nothing at all reassuring about that.