For Online E-newspaper
The East African : Aug 11th 2014
50 The EastAfrican BUSINESS AUGUST 9-15,2014 MANAG E R Change management can wo≥k like Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps A t a client’s off-site meeting a few years ago, I gave a talk on how companies can bring about dramatic cultural change — the focus of my firm’s consulting work. At the end, a man approached and asked, “Are you a friend of Bill’s?” Seeing my confused expression, he attempted a clarification: “Are you a friend of Bill W’s?” “Who’s Bill W?” I said. The man explained that Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and that members use the question “Are you a friend of Bill’s?” to discreetly inquire about whether acquaintances are in AA. “I’m not,” I replied. “Why do you ask?” He said that the methods I’d described to lead change reminded him of the methods AA uses to help people stop drinking so much so that he’d wondered if I was a 12-stepper myself. I thought it was an interesting exchange but gave it no further thought at the time. Soon afterward a senior ex- ecutive at another client told me that the process we’d used to coach his team had inspired him to confront his alcohol abuse. This made me curious. So over the past several years, my team and I studied a variety of addiction treatment programmes. We approached the endeavour with scepticism, on the surface, change management and addiction treatment seem wholly dissimilar. Over time, however, we saw many parallels between how the two bodies of work leverage human nature to modify behaviour. In the process, we discovered a provocative lens and language to help change managers better understand their mission and methods. Readiness to change At the simplest level, the comparison is this: Organisations can’t change their culture unless individual employees change their behaviour — and changing behaviour is hard. Many change programmes focus on providing strategies and training. But often that’s not enough. When it comes to modifying deeply ingrained behaviour, 12-step programmes have a superior track record. They use incentives, celebration, peer pressure, coaching, negative reinforcement and role models — things organisations can draw on. John Kotter, the pre-emi- nent change management expert, has written: “People don’t change a minute before they’re ready.” You can’t force people to change — you can only help COMMENTARY KEITH FERRAZZI “In organisations, too, change doesn’t always follow a straight line.” them want to. AA’s process recognises this truth; few managers do. Old habits with new ones. AA serves coffee to give at- tendees a beverage in place of the ones they’ve given up. In change management, the goal is to replace negative habits with positive ones. At one restaurant chain, store managers used to begin the day by going over the numbers from the previous shift. Analysing numbers is an isolating behaviour, and data alone often don’t explain why sales went up or down. So we helped managers start the day with a different routine: Talking with crew members to learn whether anything unusual had happened on the previous shift. This increased managers’ understanding of business conditions and boosted employee engagement and sales rose. Peer support drives change. Research has shown that support groups benefit people with a wide range of medical and psychological conditions. In our work, we find that bringing employees together in peer groups to discuss change initiatives can create accountability, a judgment-free attitude and increased pressure on employees to change. Sponsorship sparks results. AA pairs experienced mem- bers, or sponsors, with newcomers for one-on-one support. The corporate version, called peer coaching or mentorship, has been widely embraced: For example, 70% of Fortune 500 companies use it with their salespeople. We find that identify- ing early adopters of the behaviours a company wants to instill can create positive contagion. Pairing these role models with slower-to-adopt colleagues can be far more effective than coaching by outside experts. Community without hierarchy AA is famous for its organi- sational structure, in which local groups are self-directed. Research has shown that this structure increases members’ security and sense of mutuality in the relationships they form. Corporations will always require a hierarchy, but peer role models can successfully lead projects within a change initiative. You are the company you keep Studies have shown that peo- ple with a close friend or relative who drinks heavily are 50 per cent likelier to be heavy drinkers themselves. This knowledge can guide change managers, who should evaluate the return on investment of helping particular employees to change in light of those employees’ potential to get others to follow suit. Continuous introspection is key. In the AA programme, mem- bers examine their past behaviour and start trying to change. AA talks about continuously taking a moral inventory; we see this in effective corporate change initiatives as well. In the wake of the global financial crisis and General Motors’ bankruptcy filing, for example, the company practised that kind of deep introspection, found its behaviour wanting and drew on its experience in total quality management to improve its relationships with dealers. Changes in practice In the AA programme, a pro- found transformation occurs when a participant shifts from an emotional framework of guilt, remorse and resentment toward a more positive mindset. But “mindset” is hard to measure, and minds are hard to change; therefore, in our work, we focus on identifiable shifts in practice. We coach new habits that emphasise growth rather than cost-cutting, for example, or that grow profitability rather than revenue. Acknowledge small wins. AA doesn’t ask members nev- er to drink again. It asks them not to drink that day, and it recognises small milestones by awarding “sobriety coins,” usually monthly, for periods of abstinence. Change managers should take a lesson from this practice and find ways for employees to demonstrate and celebrate incremental achievements. The goal is progress Ninety per cent of recovering alcoholics relapse at some point. That’s hardly surprising: The newly sober are bombarded with sensory cues that their brains associate with their addiction. In organisations, too, change doesn’t always follow a straight line. However, this is an area where we diverge from many 12-step programmess: Unlike AA, which takes away all a member’s sobriety coins as penalty for any relapse, we coach people to overcome setbacks and move forward to the next win. Change is hard — particular- ly when the situation involves chemicals the body craves. Neuroscience has shown that people’s emotional responses to work create their own chemical reactions, releasing powerful neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and serotonin. Successful change can be addictive in a positive way. No matter how habituated employees are to established business practices, they can adapt to new ways of working. Keith Fe≥≥azzi is the CEO of Fe≥≥azzi G≥eenlight, a ≥esea≥ch-based consulting and coaching company, a co-autho≥ of “Neve≥ Eat Alone” and the autho≥ of “Who’s Got You≥ Back.” Q &A WI T H L I SA B U CK IN G HAM To change the cultu≥e, change the habits Harvard Business Review recently spoke with the chief human resources officer at Lincoln Financial. Why are habits so important? Organisations can develop dys- functional habits. When I arrived at Lincoln Financial, in 2008, I noticed that most meetings started five minutes late and that people would be using their smartphones while others were presenting. Starting late hurts productivity, and multitasking can hurt relationships, so we eliminated those behaviours. Now meetings start promptly, and if you need to check your phone, you leave the room. Those are small habits, but they make a big difference in our culture. I’ve never been to AA or Weight Watchers, but Mr Ferrazzi’s insights about how their methodologies translate to company change initiatives are really profound, because systemic change can’t happen without changes in individual behaviour. What other similarities to 12-step groups have you observed in your work to build a cohesive team? Support groups create a safe en- vironment that allows people to be authentic, and we try to do the same thing. We strive for openness and candour. We begin our meetings with a “personal and professional check-in” during which people talk for a few minutes about what’s going on in their lives. It requires us to be vulnerable, it helps build our relationship as a team and very often gives us an opportunity to ask how we can help one another. How do you recognise small wins? We try to take a moment to cel- ebrate every single success. Many of our managers send handwritten thank-you notes. We might send congratulatory e-mails to individual team members and copy our CEO. Those things make people feel appreciated and that matters when competitors try to recruit them away. We aim to show gratitude.
Aug 4th 2014
Aug 18th 2014