Wednesday, July 1st, 2009


We were given the task of designing a communication plan to convince a group of (very stubborn) leaders and managers of a company to implement a new system in their company. It was a computer simulated exercise, we were given an organigram, some clues about the individuals, a credit of 120 days to convince all 24 top managers to adopt the new system (and be happy at the end of it, and try to keep our job!). We were split in groups of 4 and told them we had a few tools, no time limit (the test was the only thing between us and lunch though!) and we were wished good luck…..Easy (thought some if us)….well…. it was quite challenging, no matter what we tried, some simply refused to “just do it”. So we had to find out about internal politics, about influence networks, who the early adopters are, who goes for lunch with whom, who are the “passive aggressive” who is willing to spend his “goodwill account” (or I prefer calling it his brownie-point bag) to help you, whether hierarchical relationships are more important than the informal networks….3 hours later and with zero credit we had convinced 95% of the group, not the whole group, but we were pretty happy with the results and learned a lot of do’s and don’ts along the way and the 4 in the team happily went for lunch together (I mean we were still talking to each other despite the radically divergent opinions on whether sending a decree was more effective than having a one-to-one meetings).

What are some of the take-home messages from this exercise about using communication to manage a transition?
Find out early who is committed to the change, target early the Innovators, the opinion leaders, the gatekeepers, the network leaders (they help you influence others)…lave the resistors to the end, create and maintain momentum, use small group meetings to “seed” and large events to “harvest”, do not abuse people’s time, do not over-communicate (face-to-face are at the top of the media richness scale, mass e-mail at the bottom!), respect people’s view, ensure the change is fair (both in process and outcome…which means make sure people are heard, decisions are applied with consistency, feedback is given in a timely fashion, decisions are based on facts, communication is sincere and personal, you need to understand early what drives people..so you can better influence them….we learned the lesson during the exercise…we started having more success when we realised who was going for lunch with whom… 🙂

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gandhiToday was a fun day, one in which we could spend the time looking at ourselves, and our styles. Our seating arrangement was very different from the previous day….and we were told….the arrangement has a meaning.

In preparation for the course we had to fill a questionnaire, many questions probing about ourselves, our preferences, our habits…some of the questions as usual were quite irritating in efforts of this sort, but I complied…. I knew it was going to be interesting to see the results.

The three change styles defined were Conservers (those who accept the structure, who prefer incremental change, who appear disciplined, who enjoy predictability, who may focus on detail and routine) – conservers are about 25% of the working population (roughly!), the pragmatists (those who explore the structure, who prefer functional change, who may appear practical, who are focused on result, who operate as mediators, who may take more of a middle-of-the-road approach – these are about 50% of the population and then there are the originators, the remaining 25%,those who challenge the structure, who prefer expansive change, who may appear unconventional, unorganized, undisciplined, who will likely challenge accepted assumptions, who enjoy risk and uncertainty, who are visionary and treat accepted procedures with little regards…these are the BIG ideas people….but who easily get bored, who hate routine, but these are the people who will get the organization moving and will keep it moving!. Well, for those of you who know me, it is not hard to figure out which group I fell in and with both my feet! And quite a number of fellow CGIAR System Office leaders were in the same group….surprising, eh?

I won’t tell you what an originator thinks of a conserver, and I won’t dwell on a pragmatist’s view of an originator…. but we all agreed an ideal team is composed of a diverse mix of the 3 groups, you need balance, you need to ensure that you have great ideas but that someone takes the time to implement them! But if you do not want to stagnate, get into “stationary motion”, you know who to call!

OK, in our line of work we are so used to jargon that we do not even question anymore what an MTP is, who is on the TMT, your next EPMR….the list could go on…. but in a training where you are lucky enough to sit with people who come from different backgrounds, the basic assumptions get questioned…so there was a statement that included the “S” word… “stakeholders”… most of us did not even realise it, we are so used to using and abusing the word that we do not even question what (or who) a stakeheolder is…. but one of the participants was brave enough to say…excuse me….”what is a stakeholder”…. after a few feable attempts…our trainer venutured into a “anybody who can affect or be affected by you….in simple terms anybody who can ruin your day!”

Many of us giggled….

– “Visitors are informed that in the United Kingdom traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. In the interest of safety, you are advised to practice this in your country of origin for a week or two before driving in the UK”…. uh? (Road Safety Act 2006)

Try to break a piece of glass by throwing sand at it….think about it when you try to make a difference in your workplace

– Culture is a simplification, a convenient short hand, it keeps on breaking down as you get closer to the point that you get to the level of individuals.

– If you want to change culture, hold your stated values long enough to change the basic assumptions

– Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser – Lou Gerst (Former CEO, IBM)

– Be aspirational, not only inspirational! Go beyond the incremental!

– Friendship expressed as a Fruit Culture

Peach culture: soft on the outside, willing to share personal information with people you hardly know….but after the soft part is over you reach a hard nut at the center…hard to get thru

Pineapple culture: prickly on the outside, but once in, you go all the way to the core. Once a Friend, always a Friend!

Today was the day of culture, one when we looked at how cultures can influence an organization. We studied the cases of IBM and WWF.
Some of the nuggets..
Culture is inherited wisdom, allows you to stand on the shoulder of the giant, but be careful to keep it alive!

The best way to change culture may not be the most direct one….

Small things matter, YOU can start to change, you do not have to wait for some superior force to come. You can make a difference when there are things you believe in.

Individuals bring with them a little piece of each culture they come into contact with. Individuals are a unique combination of experiences.

Lou Gerstner, CEO IBM once said: ” I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game it IS the game. In the end, and organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. Vision, strategy, marketing, financial system can set you on the right path and can carry you for a while. But no enterprise will succeed over the long haul if those elements aren’t part of its DNA”

So the question begs “Is strong culture good for performance?” …in 1982 Tom Peter in “In Search of Excellence” said a definite YES! “The excellent companies are marked by very strong cultures, so strong that you either buy into their norms or get out”
In 1992, the same Tom Peters in “Liberation Management” tried to convince us absolutely NO! “It is the remarkable difference of character among the so-called ‘subordinate’ units that allow the parent to thrive…..”

and how about now? after 2 and half decades of management research we finally came to the conclusion that “YES and NO”….. this leaves me wonder about management scholars and their self preservation….but more than that this makes me think that high performance comes from sharing a SMALL SET of “living” core cultural elements letting everything else vary as needed.

Today was a day when I appreciated once more the value of diversity!

imdI am at IMD, a leading business school based in Lausanne, Switzerland participating in the CGIAR Senior leadership course. There are about 35 of us, coming from over 20 countries, not all from the CGIAR centers, a number of national partners are here too. It is a great gathering of interesting people. We are following a course on leadership in change. Given the CGIAR reform process the course is very timely. I will write a few notes from the course, notes that I hope my colleagues will find interesting….little nuggets of wisdom (if you wonder what wisdom is…keep reading as the subject of wisdom, culture, cult….. will be explained in one of my posts…) that I would like to share with you. So keep reading….the tag is CGIAR Senior leadership 09