Tag Archives: management

Strategies for Delivering Unpopular News

The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.” – Henry David Thoreau
Recent experiences of Republican congressional members returning to their home districts during recess to explain President Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act are instructive for the design of organizational change management (OCM) strategies.
How should you plan to communicate when the news will be unpopular?
We want to surface resistance, and we want to give voice to those closest to the work being affected. Evidence suggests that despite the additional time and cost, it makes sense to plan for small groups, or one-on-one meetings to deliver messages and get feedback from affected stakeholders.
I’ll never forget a meeting I attended many years ago where senior management assembled all the union machinists in an organization to update them on hazardous material safety. About ten minutes into the meeting one outspoken participant broke the ice with an accusation that leadership was concealing the true hazards of one of the materials that they routinely worked with. Within minutes, it became a shouting match, a mob mentality had taken over, meaningful communication stopped, and the meeting had to be abruptly ended. Eventually, one-on-one meetings were scheduled, not only to share the original information, but to repair the damage that occurred during the mob scene.
Excerpts from a recent New York Times editorial that highlights this issue in detail and references some of the research follows.

Can the G.O.P. Turn Back the Tide of Town Hall Anger?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “The Conduct of Life”: “Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.”
Thoreau and Emerson argued that crowds add up to something less than the sum of their parts. The principle behind this is called “deindividuation,” in which an individual’s social constraints are diminished and distorted by being part of a crowd that forms to express a particular point of view. The French psychologist Gustave Le Bon first explained this concept in his magisterial 1895 text “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.” Le Bon found that crowds were inherently “unanimous, emotional and intellectually weak.”
Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior. In one of my favorite studies, researchers set up a bowl of candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters, told them to take just one piece and then left them alone. Some of the children were in anonymous groups, others were by themselves. When kids were part of a group, 60 percent took more than one piece of candy. When they were by themselves but not asked their names, 20 percent cheated. But when they were alone and asked their names, only 10 percent took more than they were allotted.
Of course, it stands to reason that deindividuation could improve individuals instead of making them worse. We can all think of cases in which we have been swept up in a wave of kindness and compassion in a group, even in spite of our personal feelings. Group polarization, in which individuals are pushed emotionally in the general direction of the crowd, can be either positive or negative.

The common error is when leaders treat the whole group like one individual. Remember Le Bon’s theory that a crowd is stronger, angrier and less ideologically flexible than an individual. Getting irate or defensive will always be counterproductive. Similarly, it is mostly futile to try talking over a protest chant.
The opportunity is to “re-individuate” audience members — to treat people as individuals and not as part of a mass. This is done not by acknowledging questions shouted anonymously but by asking audience members to physically separate from the mass and identify themselves if they wish to speak. When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent.

A link to the entire article is below


The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.


Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

A Different Approach to Project Charters

What is a Project Charter?
A project charter is a document that is used to clarify the purpose and plan for a project. There are limitless variations of project charter templates available. All project charters include a statement of the problem to be solved, the goal of the project, the business case and the scope of the project (and may include a high-level process map). Charters may also include the customer(s), a high-level project plan and schedule, key stakeholders, estimated financial benefits, team members and their roles, assumptions and constraints.

Why Should My Team Create a Project Charter?

Well, for two really good reasons…
1. If done well, the content of the completed charter document is a valuable tool for communicating about the project to anyone new to the team, or anyone who suddenly finds themselves more than superficially interested in your project. Very often, senior leaders fall into this category

2. The real value of a project charter (IMHO) is found in the process of creating the document. If done conscientiously, the chartering process will drive the team to consult closely with the project champion and/or customers to ensure common understanding of the why, what, how, when and who of the project.

If you’re anything like the hundreds of people I’ve taught or coached through six sigma projects, you look at creating the project charter as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise that you can do by yourself in an hour so that you can quickly move on to the “real” work. Taking that approach my friend, would be a critical mistake.

Try thinking of your project charter this way.

Someone has the original idea for a project. I.e., they have gathered much information and synthesized many factors. They have an idea that makes perfect sense to them – so much sense that they champion the creation of a team, and support the allocation of resources to it. Somehow this project lands in your lap. It makes sense to you, at least the way you understand it. Now, what do you suppose the probability is that your understanding of the project and the originators idea of the project are the same? Based on my experience with many dozens of projects, I’d say that probability is very small.  That’s why we go throught the chartering process!

Many organizations will go through the trouble of creating a PowerPoint template that must be filled in – as if the purpose of the charter is to pitch! I recommend using a simple text document. It will be much easier to edit, email, paste into other formats, etc. should you need to.

I suggest using plain English headings/section titles that read in a logical fashion. Remember, you already know what this project is about. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading this for the first time because they’ve got to come up-to-speed on your project in a hurry.

Suggested Headings:

Here’s what our project is about…
Here’s why it’s important to do…
Here’s what we want to achieve (The Vision)
Here’s what we expect of our team member
How will we accomplish this? (Objectives)
Who are the Customers for this project and what are their requirements?
Critical success factors
How will we measure success?
What is the current plan?

Try this approach to a Project Charter and see if you don’t find it easier to create as well as more useful for your project team.

Leading vs. Managing – The pendulum swings

For many years we’ve been hearing from the HBR crowd that organizations have been overmanaged and underled. I was totally bought into this, and still support Emotional Intelligence and similar practices for leaders.  But recently it has occurred to me that we might really be overled and undermanaged.

When an individual contributor moves into a management role, they take on new responsibilities in addition to their technical expertise.  They now must hire, give feedback and coach, conduct performance reviews, delegate, make decisions for the group, etc.  These are basic skills/responsibilities required of every manager.  My observation is that most managers are failing at these fundamental tasks.

Senior leadership requires monthly/quarterly financial updates, and the entire organization dutifully complies – we would expect nothing less.   If “our people are our greatest resource” as so many claim, why do organizations live with one poorly done performance review per year?   Why don’t we expect monthly, or at least quarterly, people reviews?  Why do we allow the hiring/interview process to be so poorly managed?  Why don’t we do more post-mortems on decisions and delegations.

Furthermore, to what degree does HR, as a profession, enable this?  The HR community (of which I am a part) is always talking about “having a seat at the table” with the c-suite, to be part of the strategy-making process.   I realize that most HR departments are stretched to the breaking point these days, but how about we get the focus back on the fundamentals and get managers managing again.  How about we insist that we abandon the annual performance review process and move to a meaningful quarterly process and tie manager compensation to it being done well.  What might that be worth to an organization?

It’s time we swing the pendulum back the other way and get back to fundamentals – We need really good managers now.  Once they’ve proven their ability to manage well, we can think about their ability to inspire or whatever…

Every HR Professional and Every Manager Should Be Fluent in HPT

The vast majority of managers and human resources professionals I have known over 25 years in business were (and may still be) functionally illiterate regarding Human Performance Technology (HPT).  They are by and large capable of executing their corporate hiring processes; they participate in employee performance evaluation process and compensation planning.  They dutifully track and report their business metrics and communicate messages coming down from headquarters.  And when challenged by leadership to improve business performance they immediate request training for their employees.  Therein lies the symptom of a serious problem.


It has been my experience that most managers and HR professionals, almost reflexively, turn to training to solve any perceived performance challenge. “Do more training!” – who can argue with that?  It makes the managers feel good and makes employees feel good. The typical training manager is happy to have support of management, salutes smartly, and sets about to develop and implement the training, confident that management won’t require any meaningful training evaluation.  The resulting training may be excellent, but ultimately ineffective, i.e., the original performance challenge remains. The problem was not with the training design or delivery, but with the original problem diagnosis, or lack thereof.


Mager and Pike, put forward the insightful, if politically incorrect, training needs analysis question, “If I put a gun to their heads could they do it?”  It certainly does cut to the chase.  If your job incumbents already know how to do something you can safely draw two conclusions: 1. Training has little or no chance of improving the situation, 2.  The underlying business systems and structures are at the root cause.


HPT is a systems approach to performance improvement; it looks at all the potential factors, at all levels of an organization that may influence employee behavior, such as; incentives and rewards, organization structure, processes and tools, expectations and motivation. When you start with the question, “what do they need to know?” you are always led to a training solution.  It presumes that there is a knowledge/skill deficit at root of problem/ opportunity. By asking, “What do we want/need them to do” you are faced with a much broader range of potential root causes – not coincidentally, identical to the range of interventions encompassed in HPT.


Every HR professional and every manager should be fluent in HPT.  As soon as your business challenges go beyond inanimate machines and materials and include one human being, you need HPT.