In this article I share an experience related to conflict resolution, change management, listening and long term improvement. If these are goals of yours, this article may provide you some tools to address these issues.
As background I was heading up a research unit with a PhD statistician, a PhD economist and programmers when the director asked me to become the controller. Yes, I had an MBA in finance but the organization had over 400 CPA’s, so why me. He indicated that he had seen how I work with others both analytically and socially, and he thought I could help out the struggling unit. I found out that the unit had deteriorated into two factions with each faction filing a mass grievance against the other and there had been three controllers in less than two years. There were six major business metrics and of 31 districts, this district was in the bottom three on all six metrics. It had nowhere else to go but up. What an opportunity. I agreed to take on the task.
The first things I did when I became the manager was to:
Meet with the director and listen;
Meet with each member of the group individually for an hour and listen;
Meet with each of the two factions in the group and listen;
Reach out to the prior manager, customers, suppliers, peers, and other stakeholders and listen;
Sit down with each member of the group at their workstation, and have them explain to me what they did, why they did it that way and gain insight into what was working, what was not working and what changes they thought were needed.
Having listened to the factions and individuals I had a group meeting with the entire group. A trained facilitator was brought in for each faction and the group as a whole to go over a host of issues.
From there we multi-voted on issues and decided to take on one of the six metrics as a group.
- Flow chart one of the six existing process. It took three columns of post it notes on three large pads of flip chart paper to carry out this task. There were lines flowing in side and between the flip charts that represented rework. It was a mess. Then I asked what is that you think we should or need to do? The group unanimously came forth with a resounding “NO.” The group worked together and came up with what they thought was need incorporating one and half columns of post it notes. I took this and wrote it up as a new test process. I then shared it with all of our major stakeholders. Based on stakeholder feedback the flow chart expanded to two columns of post it notes on one page of flip chart paper. We reduced the process from nine columns on three flip charts to two columns on one flip chart. We put together a directive on this new process and called it a test for 30 days to see how well it worked. It had some minor glitches, we adjusted for these and then finalized the process.
- Keep metrics on the process. Within 60 days from when we started we were processing this activity in 3 days on average, when we had been completing the task in just under 30 days previously. It was a huge success. The group felt very good about the end product, the reputation of the controller’s area was enhanced, and the customers were extremely pleased. The data collection and results told the story. The team was proud and the unit was coming together.
- The force behind the change are the members of the organization. The group knew they were not meeting expectations. Previous management told them how poor they were doing and wanted them to “work smarter” and “not harder.” They knew all the right slogans. This approach demoralized the group members making it seem like it was their fault. This new approach to the process brought the group together to drive the change. The group came up with the answers as a group.
- Understand the culture. There was a lot baggage between various team members and negative feelings. It was important to label negative feelings and yet be positively focused towards supporting one another. To help facilitate this, I made certain individuals backed up one another. That is while individual “A” was gone on leave, individual “B” had to back up “A” and vice a versa. This meant they had to make an effort to learn each other’s role. This helped with understanding both technically and socially. It is hard to be angry with someone when you really get to know them. There may have been “this is how we always have done it,” but now with everyone working together on the process everyone could see that we were focusing not on the past, but on the future.
- Come up with a clear plan for implementation. This is critical. Yes, there were bumps along the way. An expectation was set up to be nearly right, but that we must continually test this with the goal of being “good enough” so that we could address exceptions to the rule for unusually circumstances. After the first process was tackled successfully with various stakeholders seeing the improvements via the metrics, customer service and personal interactions by group members were enhanced. This same process was applied on the other five processes one at a time.
The results just over a year later were that all six of the business metrics were in the top three of the thirty one districts. Others wanted to know the secret. The secret is the five step process above applying the above model.
To read more on this topic relative to software change, here is an interesting article from the blog change.walkme.com related to software change. You may also want to check out chapter 9 on “How to Lead Quality Process Improvement” from The Servant Manager. Whether you are involved with change making widgets, as a service provider or for software implementation, the same concepts hold true. By focusing on the problem and being hard on the problem, while being soft on the people, the people will come on board and want to be part of the solution.
Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link. On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (651) 633-5311.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]