When the executives don’t see the need to change
There are issues (or – better yet – let’s say “opportunities”) in every organization. We can surface these opportunities to improve the organization through employee engagement surveys, organizational assessments and sometimes, when we get lucky, through leadership and other skills assessments. All too frequently, however, at the leadership level there is a tendency to ignore opportunities to improve the organization. I frequently find that for those client organizations that are doing well – profitable, consistent revenue growth, happy customers overall, bonuses being paid – they do not see the value in focusing on improving the organization. It is a hard sell frankly. How do you convince an executive that there is value in addressing opportunities to improve when the executive sees an organization that is doing well overall? One way that I find to be of value is to focus the effort a bit smaller – rather than looking at it from an overall organizational level (which may seem too big a bite to swallow), look at smaller issues within the organization (maybe at a business unit or department level) that, frankly, may not have occurred had the organization not had a problem. I can usually get buy-in from the executives to work on a particular issue they see (often in one group, department or business unit) and then I can begin to tie back the issue to the organizational level and thus help the executives to understand the connection.
Let’s look at an example – let’s assume that an organization is having issues within the project management office (PMO.) Specifically there are complaints from other business units that projects often need significant rework before a product can be launched. Additionally, when you talk with the PMO, it doesn’t appear that the right projects are being launched at the right time to meet organizational needs – they don’t seem to have a project portfolio from which they work. Doing a bit of research, you learn that over the last two years this has cost the organization about $750,000 in revenue due to the late launch of new products and decreased customer satisfaction (due to a number of complaints about the product and its functionality.) Doing further research, you learn that the fault may not lie primarily with the PMO but rather at the executive level. Here is why – there is no culture within the organization of effective planning of major initiatives. Thus, the PMO never knows what projects need to be accomplished in a given year. Secondly, when projects are launched, the PMO is not involved in initial planning such as determining timelines, budget requirements and resource needs. Rather, a project is thrust upon them with a due date set and a budget set aside. These complaints haven’t surfaced earlier (the company has been in business for quite a while) because in the past the PMO has gone to significant lengths to meet the needs of the organization – going above and beyond to ensure projects are completed. This has caused staff to leave, but that was not considered to have a detrimental impact to the business simply because the PMO was “pulling it off” and contractors were hired as needed to help out within the group. Recently this is becoming a problem only because the organization is in a rapid growth mode and are launching more projects than they have in the past (at least 4 – 5 more projects per year over the last two years). Additionally, customers are getting a bit more demanding about expectations than they have in the past due to increased competition in the marketplace.
From the executives’ perspective, the problem is with the PMO only. There is a belief if we “fix” that problem, we will get back on track. However, if we use the data we have gathered – loss of revenue to the organization, decreased customer service – we can work with the executives to understand how small changes at the top will help to increase the performance of the PMO. And, of course, we work with the PMO to ensure that they have processes in place to assist them in meeting the organizational needs. Given the organizational growth, we would want to review the PMO processes and procedures (especially if this hasn’t been done in a while) to ensure that the PMO can manage an increased workload. Executives will likely listen once you highlight that there could have been $750,000 more in revenue and reduced customer complaints (happier customers = increased purchases of products and services and “word of mouth” to potential customers). And – keep the fix simple. A regular annual planning session to determine what projects need to be completed in a given year is not a big deal. And, ensuring processes in place to enable the PMO to be involved up front in project planning is also not a big deal. These small changes at the top in the culture will enable for increased success within the PMO.
In summary, when you are trying to push through changes at the organizational level and are coming up against resistance, look for an impact at a business unit, department or group level that you can tie back to the organization. Focus in that smaller area initially to make the case at the executive level.