Teams that Focus on Results

What is Patrick Lencioni's major premise on how groups develop into high-performing teams? In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, it comes down to five qualities that people bring to group dynamics: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results. When these qualities are present, groups are able to accomplish extraordinary things. In the absence of these qualities, groups become mired in personality and political distractions that take away from achieving their goals.

Breaking Down Silos; It's Not Rocket Science

Colleges and universities, corporations, local government — pick any organization with two or more departments — have got a silo problem. What would have to change to tear down these artificially constructed walls that create misunderstandings, gaps in communication, all leading to rampant inefficiencies? In this article, we'll look at these issues and I'll suggest how managers and staff can address this problem today.

Five Tips to Connect with Your Audience

For those of you who have had to give presentations, you're well aware of the challenges. How do you distill the details of your talk into sound bytes that people can digest? Too much information and people go south, too little information and they leave unsatisfied and expecting more. What's the right balance of disseminating information and making an impact on your audience? Here are some tips to keep you focused on maintaining this balance:

1. Less is more.
Rather than stuffing five topics in a thirty-minute talk, pick three and make time for comments and feedback. There's nothing worse than sitting through a presentation with five minutes remaining and the presenter rushes through the last ten slides. Picking fewer topics forces you as the presenter to ask "What's my core message?" With less content to cover, you'll have additional time to interact with the group. You can then focus on how the message is playing with your audience, rather than apologizing for going too fast.

2. Don't just tell your audience WHAT you're going to do, tell them WHY.
The most frequent mistake I've seen presenters make is assuming the audience understands your goals in speaking. You've probably heard the phrase "Tell them what you're going to do, do it, then tell them what you did." This is a good start but take it one step further. What you're going to do sets expectations for what people will hear. Why you're doing it reveals what your group should take away. When everything is said and done, what really matters is what people remember, learn or do differently as a result of your presentation. Asking yourself why you're speaking on a topic will force you to identify the CONTEXT behind your CONTENT. To assist you in identifying this, put yourself in your audience's seat and ask "why is the presenter telling me this?" Know the answer before you get up to speak.

3. Practice your first five minutes three times.
I have read numerous studies that suggest you have fifteen seconds to make a positive impression on your audience. Although no one needs this kind of pressure, practicing your introduction will set the tone for the entire talk. Delivering a good introduction conveys the following about you to your audience:

  • You're in control
  • You're credible
  • You're comfortable with yourself

4. You don't have to answer every question.
Believe it or not, your most difficult, outspoken participant probably just wants to be heard. You unnecessarily sabotage your presentation by defending your point of view against every challenge or hostile comment. Allow your participants to express themselves, without necessarily having to change their minds or prove that you're right and they're wrong. This takes self-restraint, but it allows you to stay focused on your objectives and avoid unnecessary battles.

5. Make time for group reflection.
Webster's defines reflecting as To make apparent; express or manifest. If you accept the premise that the value in a presentation resides with what the listener takes away and not what you're doing, group reflection becomes a critical step. Simply put, make time for people to verbalize what they heard or their reactions to your topics. Do they agree with your premise? Is your message clear? What will your audience do differently as a result of going through the presentation? These questions are examples of how you can help your audience uncover value. In a matter of minutes, the simple act of asking people to reflect on a topic can transform a seemingly bored group into an engaged, interested audience.

Traditional presentation coaching focuses on clarity and being dynamic, both important skills. At the same time, the heart of a great presentation is not what the presenter does, but what the listener takes away. If you focus on these tips, you'll observe a noticeable change in your presentation skills; not because you're clear or dynamic, but because your group will walk away saying they got value.

And isn't this where it counts most?

Practice Makes Perfect Sense

As a professional presenter and coach, I am often asked; what's the key to giving an effective presentation? I start out by saying what is not — proper posture, voice projection, clean appearance or any of the other qualities we associate with good speakers. Like the real estate slogan "location, location, location", my motto is "practice, practice, practice".

Practice is probably the most overlooked preparation technique but the most powerful one for improving the quality of your talk. At the end of the day, not practicing is your biggest risk, not the lack of flashy PowerPoint graphics.

Like a sport, your presentation will have inherent weaknesses, even potential land mines — an incomplete idea, poor sequencing of a topic or too much detail about a subject. Practice helps identify those weaknesses when nothing is at risk, that is, when you are not under the spotlight of your audience. Here are some techniques to uncover these presentation land mines:

  • Technique 1: Find an empty room in your office or home. Stand up and picture your audience waiting for you to begin speaking. Verbally introduce yourself to your imaginary audience, describing what you're going to talk about. Now here's the important part - As you speak, listen for your own clarity and understanding of the topic. When you find yourself unclear about anything, stop and ask yourself, "Why am I speaking about this?" Speak that part again, setting a better context for the topic.
  • Technique 2: Invite someone you trust to listen to your practice session. This will have a very positive impact on your comfort level when you finally do the actual talk. Ask for feedback on anything they found confusing or unclear. Let them know about the audience you will be speaking to and ask them to listen from that point of view.
  • Technique 3: After you've successfully practiced it once, do it one more time. This one extra run- through can make the difference between being comfortable and just getting through it.

A good backhand looks easy. What you don't see is the practice performed to get there. And once you observe the benefit derived from practicing your talk, you will never go back to being completely unrehearsed.

Practice makes perfect sense. Try it out.

Presentation Tip: Dealing With Falling Behind

No matter how good you are, you will run out of time in your presentation. Too often, I have heard presenters say to a group "we've fallen behind, so we need to, etc." This commentary adds no value to your presentation. On the contrary, it unnecessarily flags a problem where there was none.

Alternative: Privately adjust your agenda to make up for lost time (translation-cut stuff out!) and proceed as if this were your plan all along.

Making Change Stick: Moving Beyond the Rah! Rah!

What does it take to make change stick? I'm talking about a month after the organizational retreat. The mission that was so clear over coffee and muffins now seems like a lifetime ago. What happened? In this issue we will discuss what it takes to keep momentum building around organizational change, especially after your people have a glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyone who has ever successfully done anything that requires personal effort, like losing weight, quitting smoking, or going back to college at forty eight, knows the difference between insight and action.

Insight is hope minus action, a sense that something new is possible. It's moving beyond skepticism, doubt and even resignation. Hope is that first step to initiate any meaningful organizational or individual change. The dilemma with hope, however, is it will not "carry the day", or even a few days after that inspiring offsite.

That Intoxicating Feeling

Organizations do many things to bring insight to their staff — retreats and team buildings are two examples where renewed hope becomes the intoxicating elixir. "Maybe this can become a fun place to work again", or "I really enjoy my job" and even a senior management perspective that "We can become an effective, high-performing team." This feeling can lift the burdens and annoyances off the collective shoulders of an entire organization — until the next morning.

All it takes to kill hope is step back into your office. The "hope zapper" starts ticking. Check your 150 emails (delete 125, scan 15 quickly and read 10), check your voicemail and attend two meetings. You're done. By the end of the day, you could swear how you felt yesterday must have been a dream. Does any of this sound familiar?

Good News and the Bad News

The good news is you weren't dreaming. The bad news is the honeymoon is over before it started. "So what's the point of inspiring me only to have it go nowhere?" you ask.

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.

— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer Flight of the Buffalo (1994)

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.

— Aldous Huxley

What do these two quotes point to? Simply, that change is personal, even organizational change is personal. Organizations don't change. People change. And this requires two very basic yet difficult traits to bring to the table — patience and perseverance. Here's a direct quote from one of my customers prior to a recent organizational retreat:

"What will be the follow up to this retreat? We're spending a lot of time and money on this. My experience with previous workshops that were similar to this one is that there was no on-going follow up, so, generally, the participants (including me) went back to their old habits, ways of relating to others, etc."

Confusing Insight with Action

The bottom line is too often we confuse awareness with action. We set the wrong collective expectations for people — that somehow the work ends once the problems been identified. One of the key messages I deliver over and over again in organizations offsites is "the work begins when we're done." Not a popular message but the truth.

As stated in the client quote above "there was no on-going follow-up." In essence, the organization (both management and staff) went back to sleep. Why? Because it's hard work to change behavior, have the honest conversations about commitment and accountability. It's much easier to commiserate about too much work and not enough time.

Where do you start?

The next time you find yourself inspired to make changes, consider that the feeling will not get you there — not even close. It's about having the patience and perseverance to keep revisiting the need for change in the face of nothing changing. Nothing is going to make that easy, but that's at the heart of where change is possible.

Are you inspired? I didn't think so. Now get back in there and do the hard work that will lead to the change you saw was possible.


"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."

— John Quincy Adams

New Year's Resolution: Stop waiting for the Work-Life Balance. It Ain't Comin'!

"Mindfulness" as defined by Webster's is the inclination to be aware.

Of any time I can think of in my personal and professional life where this is important, it's now.

Mindfulness is synonymous with reflection. And it's only in reflection that we can realize progress on something or lack thereof. Most of us know the value of stepping back and reflecting on something. In the spiritual realm (did he actually use that word in a business article?), it's called meditation.

But in the "real world", there's no time for this airy-fairy stuff. We've got jobs to do and a limited amount of time to get that work done. The dilemma of this "time poverty", a term used in a recent Boston Globe article, is the view that spending more time in the office is our only option to be successful at work.

As described by Juliet B. Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College and author of "Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure", she writes:

"At the end of World War II, the US had the shortest working hours among other industrialized countries. We now have the longest. We have surpassed Japan. The average American worker is putting in 200 more hours per year than he or she was in 1973."

But at what cost?

Two Lives

I believe many of us feel we are living two lives — the one we wear to work and the other, the life we spend waiting; for vacations, days off and whatever "free time" we fantasize about for the weekend. It's not the work-life balance that we're living; it's really the work-waiting balance.

It's like that Dr. Seuss book: "Oh The Places You'll Go"

"…and grind on for miles, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place… for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring… you get the point. Everyone is just waiting!!

It's simply that you've either got a life to live or you've got work, but not both. The suggestion is that you don't live your life at work and shouldn't even consider it. How resigned is that? No wonder we're unsatisfied with our jobs. We're teaching ourselves to think that way.

Consider this question: Are we mindlessly setting up our work lives to be unsatisfying to motivate ourselves only to work less hours? Is that really the goal we should be working toward? Given how much time we spend at work, the answer is no!

Assuming an average of 17 hours a day of conscious wakefulness (after coffee), not working on weekends, and a conservative 40 hour work week, we spend a third of our adult lives "at work". (I calculated this in an Excel spreadsheet) One third! For those of us who occasionally work over the weekend and evenings, it easily reaches half of our wakeful lives.

Here's the rub. The work-life balance isn't coming, doesn't exist and will never happen. The best it will ever get is an ever constant imbalance of recognizing when priorities go astray, being able to step back and reprioritize how we're spending our time. That's the nature of balance — it's constantly out of balance.

The Challenge of Being Mindful At Work

I imagine one of the reasons we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off at work is if we were to stop and reflect on what we're spending our time doing, it might reveal how disconnected we really are from half of our life. Not a comfortable thing to think about.

I walked into a new bakery the other day and began chatting with the owner. It ends up after years of being a software engineer, he decided to become a baker. Very inspiring and a great lesson of pursuing your dream. But for most of us, we're not going to jump that far, at least not yet.

So in lieu of completely turning your work life around, maybe the key is to make the time to step back and find satisfaction in the things you care about at work. Maybe we forgot that everything isn't equally important and it's not about how much you get done, but getting done what really matters. What "really matters" is up to you.

As we approach December 31st and our yearly ritual of resolutions about weight, diet, exercise and other bad habits to overcome, let's resolve to live it up at work. Not to spend more time there, but find ways to derive satisfaction from the people and things we care about in that 8,760 hours we spend at the office. This is close to half our life, and at the risk of overusing an overused cliché, "life's too short".

So I'll take the first step. I resolve in 2007 to have a satisfying life balance, at work and at home. I resolve to not leave my life at home but bring what I care about to others and what I do for work.

If we all do this, I believe we can truly proclaim, "Oh the places you'll go!"

Best wishes to you and your family (at home and at work).

On Waiting

"A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him."

— Ezra Pound, expatriate, poet, musician, and critic

Is anybody really listening?

...does anybody really care? Does this sound a little too close to lyrics from a 70's song? But I digress.

Last month we focused on the risk factors that contribute to project success or failure; Vision & Goals, Planning & Preparation, Capacity & Personnel and Buy-In. This month we'll look at the glue that keeps projects from falling apart. In the spirit of non-consultant speak, I'll simply call this "really good communication".

Communication is a funny thing. Looking back on most projects, you've either communicated too much, too little, but rarely just the right amount.

When you communicate something, three elements are present:

  1. What you intended to communicate
  2. What people heard as a result of what's said
  3. The unintended consequence of what's heard

A perfect example of "When good communication goes bad" is the following attempt to set a context for an organizational initiative:

"As a result of this financial implementation, checks will go out quicker, better reports will be available to staff and most importantly, we'll be able to simplify people's work and minimize the use of other systems to keep track of departmental budgets."

The communication appears to convey great benefit to the institution, and ties it to genuine value for those working there. But what do the people who are affected by this change hear?

"As a result of this financial implementation, we'll be working twice as hard, will no longer have control over the information we've taken years to understand and some of us will be looking for work."


Managing your listeners

What's communicated is often misunderstood because the speaker perceives that what's said is more important than what's heard. This is the heart of communication breakdown. What people say is rarely what's heard, even when you have the best communicator delivering the message.

Think of it this way. Everyone has a unique filter that allows certain ideas in and keeps others out.

If I say "you need to better manage your people.", some hear this through a filter of "thanks for the feedback," while others hear "my job's in danger," while others might think "you don't know what you're talking about." One message, unlimited listening responses.

Consider expanding these listeners' interpretations to 10, 100 or 500 people. The challenge then becomes compounded with the message going from listener to listener, versus from the speaker directly. These watered down communications have direct impact on the collaborative nature of project work, leading to the next problem.

The Blame Game

Projects fail, or are "discouraging successes," because an unproductive cycle begins with the deliverer of the message blaming the listeners for "not getting it," while listeners blame the speaker for being a "poor communicator". This ping-pong match creates a "virus of discontent" across the organization.

For example, if I were to ask you: "Have your piece of the project ready to go in two weeks.", you can blame me for not being clear what "ready to go" means and I can blame you for not following through on a simple request.

Taking Responsibility

What's needed is a paradigm shift away from "who's to blame" to each side taking responsibility for how one is heard and how one listens.

Management need to take greater responsibility for the unintended consequences of what people hear them say. For example, they may use the phrase "efficiency" while everyone hears "job loss".

At the staff level, taking responsibility means validating assumptions about what was heard. The underlying dilemma for staff however is an absence of trust between them and management; that it's REALLY about cleaning house disguised as "productivity improvement".

If trust is a problem across your groups, consider addressing these issues first. Opening this can of worms may benefit from professional facilitation, a service that Teibel Education Consulting can help you address.

Listening and Speaking Strategies

Assuming a basic level of trust and a simple need for better communication skills, consider this point of view:

The majority of the time, what you heard was not what was said or what you spoke was not heard by others accurately. If you come from this point of view, you'll be way ahead of others who are more interested in playing the blame game.

Strategy for someone making requests:

Ask your listener(s):

  1. "What did you hear me say? OR
  2. "What are you going to do?"

Most importantly, don't assume listeners got the message.

Strategy for the listener:

Tell the speaker one of the following three things, even if unprompted:

  1. "What I'm going to do is..."
  2. "What I heard was..."
  3. "What I didn't hear or what I am not going to do is..."

For the second strategy, the goal is to help close the feedback loop so the speaker can evaluate in real-time whether what they intended to communicate was heard accurately.

The Bottom Line

Good communicators are primarily great listeners. Great listening takes the extra step of validating what was heard by others, or makes sure that what was spoken by someone else was heard the way it was intended.

Communication is not the message being spoken; it's the act of two or more parties actively listening to the other for a mutually agreed upon outcome.

On Listening

"June Rokoff, Senior VP at Lotus credits her success in turning around the company's position to building a team that listens: she made listening the culture of her team."

— Glen Rifkin, New York Times

Eliminating Risks That Kill Projects -- A Roadmap

Conducting an organizational project is tricky, especially if it is expected to help realize some defined vision. How do you prioritize the people, process and technology goals associated with these efforts while minimizing the risk of losing sight of the larger purpose?

Assessing Project Risk

What does it mean to assess "project risk"? It's a matter of identifying elements of the project that if poorly managed will cause it to be perceived as less than satisfactory or an outright failure.

As stated by Lloyd Rain in an article describing the challenges of IT Projects:

"The truth is that the great majority of IT projects do not fail — most simply do not go as well as originally hoped, take longer than planned and cost more than anticipated. These are really not failures at all; you might classify them as "discouraging successes".

What would it take exceed expectations on IT and organizational projects that involve people, process and technology change? It starts with having a plan to address the following four elements:

The Four Elements of All Projects

Organizational project have hundreds of moving parts, tasks and milestones. These pieces can be collapsed into four broad categories. They are:

  1. Vision and Goals
  2. Buy-in
  3. Planning and Preparation
  4. Capacity and Personnel

Vision and Goals

A vision often serves two functions; it motivates decision-makers to commit time, money and resources to get projects off the ground and two, as a destination for what constitutes success.

Be careful though. The use of vision as a means to secure up-front commitment from senior management as well as defining the ideal end point for the project often produces this sense of discouraging success.

This is because once buy-in and resources have been allocated, vision takes on a lower priority. Lost among hundreds of tasks and milestones, the project becomes less about delivering on the vision and more about delivering something to justify the investment.

Questions to ask around vision and goals:

  1. Has the vision been clearly defined?
  2. If so, has it be articulated in a way that different stakeholders understand?


Buy-in is a critical success factor that for the most part needs to be reframed around commitment, not whether people feel good, bad, or indifferent. Enthusiasm is useful, but it's the incorrect measure for buy-in around a project.

We need to also do a better job of including skepticism, doubt and concerns as necessary phases that people go through in a change project. Having doubts or concerns is an appropriate starting point for people who are used to doing things one way and then asked to change.
Questions to consider:

  1. What does buy-in current look like in your projects and how can it be reframed as a question of "commitment"?
  2. Are you excluding skeptics, doubters and challengers at the expense of the long-term success of the initiative? If so, how can you change that?

Planning and Preparation

Of the four risk categories, planning and preparation are probably the most practiced and well understood in organizational change initiatives.

The challenge around planning comes back to making sure there is a direct line from tasks to vision. Without continuous reflection of "where are we relative to our vision?", milestones and tasks take on a life of their own. Getting things done becomes more important than evaluating if the work is moving toward or away from the overall goal.

The project may be successful in that people are working hard to get things done, but it's also a "discouraging success" in that the work is moving away from its intended outcome.

Questions to consider:

  1. Are we closer or further away from our vision relative to what we're spending our time doing?
  2. Have we given up the vision to get the work done? If so, what needs to happen to get our tasks aligned with the vision?

Capacity and Personnel

Whether labeled a technology, IT or organizational project, it's capacity and personnel that drives work to completion. There are two primary groups — those helping to realize the vision and the intended beneficiaries of the change. Too often we move forward on projects with untested assumptions about people's preparedness — both to lead the projects as well as inherit the change.

For a group to become a successful team, there needs to be much greater transparency in what each person can count on others for. Knowing each others strengths and weaknesses is central to building a well-oiled team.

Team question to answer:

Rate each person on the team based on the following criteria. Then discuss as a group where the gaps lie and how they can be filled:

  1. Management skills
  2. Communication/presentation skills
  3. Organizational/business knowledge
  4. Technical skills
  5. Accountability to results

Project risk can be minimized or eliminated by understanding gaps in vision, buy-in, planning and capacity. Avoiding or not addressing any one of these categories runs the risk of creating another "discouraging success" initiative. It's time to raise the bar and focus on exceeding expectations of going from an initial vision, through tasks, and back to the vision itself.

Achieving Vision

"If it wasn't for the 'last minute', nothing would get done."


Successfully Merging Organizations - Uncovering the Knowledge Gaps

Mergers and acquisitions take place for various reasons. Corporate entities merge companies to increase their competitiveness in the market. Internal mergers, i.e., departments being consolidated into one organizational unit, are a different kind of consolidation. The cultural change may not be as great as bringing two companies together, but the need for uncovering knowledge gaps is just as important.

Internal audits often drive these efforts, uncovering inefficiencies and opportunities for cost savings. The real challenge, however, is not in identifying efficiency gaps, but getting disparate groups working together so real benefits are realized.

The big picture

A consolidation reveals the need for "big picture" understanding of roles and processes across groups. Departments that perform related tasks often know very little about what the other group is doing. For example, a purchasing department that oversees the rules around acquisition of goods and services has a strong connection to Accounts Payable, responsible for dispersing funds. Ask either group about the day- to-day operation of the other and you'll probably get a few blank stares. This goes for many functional departments expected to work together; IT, Finance, HR, and other centralized groups.

The cause for this lack of understanding starts with the definition of doing a job effectively. Being successful in a role often does not demand knowing "why" work is performed, as long as the task being performed is done correctly. We call this "work by rote", i.e., doing a series of steps by memory (often aided by yellow stickies plastered all over ones monitor).

Knowing why one performs a task starts to become important when the steps need to change. With business as usual, the objective is to get work off ones desk as quickly as possible and make it someone else's problem.

Wake up call

When a department consolidation is announced, people begin to wake up. With business processes and system changes looming, newly formed project teams make their way around both departments asking questions like "Why do you do this?" and "Can we do it this way instead?" Owners of the "to-be" changes quickly begin to recognize the need to understand more of the logic behind their work, something that is rarely explained or even necessary in the day-to-day performance of one's job.

The cause for this lack of knowledge doesn't just rest with the individual, but also the organization. Although employees need to take greater responsibility for what they don't know, organizations need to be more systematic around helping people learn and develop new skills.

What are three key things an organization can do to better facilitate departmental consolidation?

Plug the leadership gap

Inherent in these efforts is a need to identify someone who will lead both groups to a better place. Sometimes this is the manager of one of the existing departments, while other times it should come from outside either group. The key is to not postpone any longer than necessary making this decision, primarily because the direction of the new organization will be driven by new leadership. Leaving this gap in place too long creates tension among both groups, with people spending more time vying for power than focusing on how to collaborate.

Conduct facilitated dialogue sessions

Once a new leader is identified, the next step is to alleviate confusion and set proper expectations. Not everything will be changed overnight. A matter a fact, much will evolve over the next year. People need to be reassured that some of the changes will be gradual, while others need to be in place on day one.

Bringing both parties together through facilitated dialogue sessions can help alleviate tension, frustration and anxiety about the change. Most importantly, you want to get both groups working together in as positive a framework as possible. These sessions should be both an opportunity for people to get to know each other, along with discussing new business practices and vision for the new organization.

Designing learning maps

One final technique to demystify upcoming changes in work processes is to develop learning maps of the organization, combining visual flows of roles, processes, and handoffs across groups. For example, the steps to pay a vendor cut across roles and departments. Having a visual understanding in one place of who does what and why they do it is an important step to build competence for the consolidated environment.

To see an example of learning map, go to

A smooth transition

With strong leadership setting the right context and expectation for the change, facilitated sessions where people can come together and voice concerns as well as get to know each other, and finally, visual representations of the "as-is" and "to- be" processes, you will be well along your way in creating a smoother transition for the new organization.

Facilitation Tip

When facilitating a discussion, a key skill is how you handle questions. Keep in mind two things: Listen carefully to the question. Secondly, answer as if the group asked the question. This has three benefits.

  1. When questions get asked, you won't get tunnel vision by focusing on individuals, ignoring the rest of the group.
  2. By answering for the group, you'll more likely remember to repeat or paraphrase the question, an important technique to keep everyone engaged in the dialogue.
  3. You'll minimize getting sucked into the void of "one-on-one" confrontations by directing your response to the group.

Productivity and Achieving Business Goals: They could be apples and oranges

I think most of us would all agree that if you've achieved your business mission or vision, you've probably produced a high-level of productivity. But is the opposite true? Does a high level of productivity automatically translate into business success? The simple answer is no.

What's the difference and why is this a critical distinction for your organization's success? This is the topic of this month's newsletter.

Take this example from a Higher Education institution. Imagine a new and improved Grant Submission tool has been identified to help faculty secure research dollars. The current system is a conglomerate of Word, Excel, emails and faxes going back and forth between
administrative offices and departments.

The proposed technology appears to streamline the collection of data into one coherent set of screens and reports. The majority of faculty are loosely aware how the new system will work and have been given an overview of the benefits that this new system will bring. Ultimately the unspoken expectation by all is that it will support the institutions mission. The software gets installed and is ready to use.

The devil's in the details

On paper, everything looks great. That is, until people actually start using it.

Unbeknownst to faculty, the data entry requirements are greater than expected and the majority of the work ends up falling on their research assistants. It doesn't take long for a growing dissatisfaction to take hold.

What appeared to be a tool to help faculty meet the institutions mission of world-class research, has instead taken their key resources and turned them into data-entry clerks.

Sold a vision but delivered a tool

Software is all about productivity, i.e., simplifying, streamlining, or automating some series of tasks. Software can be a tremendous productivity solution, minus one small caveat — human involvement and the lack of understanding how it impacts people and processes.

Take email for example. The original promise of email was how we would be able to spend more time at home or on the beach, getting more done with less effort or time. (Can we all agree we're not there?)

Software is a linear, problem-solving solution that leads to what we think we want, i.e. "productivity". Unfortunately, productivity is not what we're truly striving for. It's achieving the mission or goals of the organization that is what we're looking for. Achieving vision may involve software, but the real challenge is in understanding and asking broader, mission-driven questions.

Back to our story

Frustrated with the new grant submission tool, a senior faculty member complains directly to the president. What used to be a kluge yet workable set of tasks now has research assistants spending the majority of their time manipulating data-entry screens. To make matters worse, faculty are expected to learn the system themselves to get reports about their grants. This is not what they signed on for and a minor revolt ensues by a few influential teaching fellows.

The unintended consequence of this "improvement project" is that it unfolded as a linear, software solution, versus a means to genuinely support the mission of the institution. In their haste to streamline and simplify work (remember email), the sponsors of the project lost sight of the larger goal; to support faculty in publishing well respected research and attracting the best graduate students. Although well-intentioned, the tools actually caused a greater sense of lost productivity and increased frustration.

Don't get me wrong

It's not that these software tools are bad or don't have a place in helping achieve organizational goals. It's that we don't evaluate them through the lens of meeting these larger questions.

More often than not, productivity projects lose their true value somewhere in the hundreds of pages of technical specs that drive these efforts.

What's the alternative?

The alternative is to not underestimate how easy it is to lose sight of the vision while getting caught up in believing the software alone will solve the problem.

Starting from original conception, through vendor sales, design and finally execution, broader questions about people and processes will help uncover where the real opportunity and pitfalls lie.

Remember, as a pure technology project, the questions are primarily limited to:

  • Can the software perform the following function?
  • How much does it cost?

Focused on mission, the question is:

  • What does business success look like and how will technology help us to realize these goals?

Asking the latter question may yield a completely different set of choices. Your team may even discover that the full suite of "productivity" solutions (i.e. — the software you paid for but didn't install yet) may inadvertently cause a greater sense of confusion and ineffectiveness.

Don't assume technology will keep you moving in the right direction. You may just find yourself and your people working harder but further away from the real value you were looking for.

Achieving Vision

"Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with vision is making a positive difference."

— Joel Barker
Independent Scholar and Futurist

Why Projects Fail and What You Can Do About It!

Much has been written on implementing large-scale change projects. TQM, Six-Sigma and other approaches to managing organizational change have morphed into methodologies used in Higher-Ed projects. Drawing from corporate best practices, colleges and universities have successfully integrated process tools and approaches to manage the design phase of enterprise technology projects.

What they haven't practiced effectively is a structured approach to the decision-making process around what to implement in the first place.

Sound familiar?

Here's a typical scenario: A senior manager in Information Technology is asked to evaluate the cost and scope for a new ERP System. The reasons for this effort include: outdated systems that are no longer supported, decentralized tools that don't talk to each other, and non-existent centralized reporting.

A budget for the new technology is drafted (hardware and software) along with an estimate of the consulting help needed to build the system. The case is presented to senior management, who invariably asks for a reduction in overall costs. Vendors and consultants, eager to get in the door, adjust their fees. A project team is formed, a kick-off event is convened and the project begins.

Senior management buy-in is an important first step to get the ball rolling. What's missing in this early selling phase, however, is a rigorous examination of the following three things:— genuine business readiness, criticality or relevance and customer involvement.

Genuine Business Readiness

Enterprise initiatives are not about technology, although they can quickly become systems projects. The work performed on the project and end result desired is all about rethinking how organizations conduct business. Ignoring organizational readiness around process changes, business structures and use of new tools is at the heart of more missed deadlines and perceived project failures.

Take this statistic: The Standish Group International Research report in 2004 concluded that of the 9,000 enterprise projects evaluated, 71% either failed or were seriously challenged, while only 29% were considered successful (delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions)

Would anyone in their right mind not re-evaluate the scope of their projects knowing these statistics? Unfortunately, common sense and prudence disappear once the train departs the station.

We've Got To Talk

Business readiness means that inheritors of the change have an early voice in the change process. Think of it this way. Would you wake up one day and tell your kids you're moving, without at least giving them a sense that their opinion matters? (that is if they are older than 3) No, you would sit them down and describe your reasoning, allowing them to express concerns, maybe even have a voice in the decision.

Much of the time resistance to organizational change is misidentified with the emotion of anger or confusion about not being communicated with. Contrary to popular belief, people accept change. What they don't accept is change being imposed on them. Although conventional wisdom is to limit stakeholder feedback to those who have positive things to say or are the biggest potential troublemakers, you don't improve your chance of success by avoiding difficult conversations or constructive disagreement.

Two Kinds Of Stakeholders

Stakeholders (both advocates and detractors) are key to making the case for change and should be included in evaluating the scope of large-scale project. Advocates demonstrate what it means to have an open mind around change, often helping to test the viability of what's being put in place. Detractors are equally important, uncovering where the real challenges lie, sometimes voicing concerns that should be addressed before the implementation begins. Detractors also reveal who in the organization will dig their feet in no matter what the benefit, which is good information in itself.

Either way, advocates or detractors help the organization make the case for change, and should be fully communicated with in the early stages of a project.


Before management commits the resource investment, setting in motion a chain of expectations up and down the organization, a few straightforward questions need to be asked and answered: What can we count on ourselves to follow through on? What's critical versus nice to have?

Finally, why is it necessary now?

Criticality needs to be examined in a way that balances project best practices with organizational business readiness. Criticality is more than researching other institution implementation practices or following consultant recommendations for what has to be implemented. It's a bit of a Catch-22 situation though: Senior management waiting for a compelling reason to make the investment while technologists looking for resource commitment to research compelling reasons for change.

It's the sponsors of these projects that are in a unique position to demand a higher standard for what's being promised, what's nice to have, and what's out of the question. Criticality needs to be examined carefully, taken apart, and then communicated clearly to those investing in the change. If the goal is to achieve strategic benefits (savings), expectation setting needs to be established up front - Which leads us to our third contributing factor for project success.

The Customer!

Who is your customer? It's commonly understood that front-line staff and their managers inherit the work associated with process and system change. In the long run, these groups are the champions who will make or break its success. Too often, we forget that human beings are at the heart of these change efforts. Ignore their concerns, and they'll only do enough to make sure failure won't be pinned on them.

Keep in mind that just because your customers have serious concerns does not mean a project should be put on hold. At the same time, focusing only on your most outspoken or obvious constituents won't serve the project in the long run.

The Glass Is Not Half Empty

If anything, too much time is spent preparing for "resistance to change", and not enough time explaining what's coming, inquiring about what people think about the change and validating their concerns. With a direct approach to dealing with conflict, resistance will begin to dissipate on its own.

In the Standish Report of 2004, ten factors were determined to have the most impact on project success. The top three were:

  1. Executive Support
  2. User Involvement
  3. Experienced Project Manager

The study validates that with an emphasis on executive support and user involvement, the condition for project success can be laid. Executive support means more than "show me the money" - It demands that business readiness is uncovered, criticality is carefully examined, and customers know what's coming.

Only then will "getting off the ground" have a direct impact on the quality and success of the project over the long run.

For the complete Standish report, go to

Facilitation Tip

There is no more powerful communication tool than the one that appears to require the least work: listening

Listening is a lifetime art, one that can never be perfected. More can be learned from genuine listening than any constructive feedback or insightful comment you may give.

Taken from Edgar Shein's book Process Consultation Revisited, "I cannot determine what is the current reality if I do not get in touch with what I do not know about the situation and do not have the wisdom to ask about it." Stop talking, listen and you'll discover what you don't know. Then listen some more.

Excellent Reading!

Here are two articles and one book that focus on how to improve success of your projects by more effective selling up and down your organization:

  1. Enterprise Technology: Selling the Vision -- Campus Technology Magazine
    Overview: The difference between an enterprise technology implementation that soars and one that dies a painful death is planning, people, and—most of all—vision.
  2. Marketing and Selling Technology-A White Paper -- ThinkOne
    Overview: A Revenue death spiral: sales are down so marketing is slashed, which leads to reduced sales so marketing is cut more, and so on.
  3. Managing Information Technology Projects: Applying Project Management Strategies to Software, Hardware, and Integration Initiatives -- James Taylor
    Overview: Studies consistently show that 80-90 percent of all software and 30-45 percent of all systems projects fail. Yet management tools and techniques, as well as software development techniques, are constantly improving. What are the causes of these seemingly uncontrollable failures?

Building Organizational Capacity

At the risk of alienating those who detest jargon, I lead with the title "Building Organizational Capacity". If you've gotten this far, you're either A. intrigued yet unsure where this is going B. excited and on the edge of your seat or C. taken enough time away from real work.

Building capacity is one way to look at organizational effectiveness, pointing to a concrete element that is central to any change initiative — your people and how they work together.

Webster's defines capacity as "the facility or power to produce, perform, or deploy". Building organizational capacity is key to a long-term strategy for organizational effectiveness by focusing on getting more from what you have — i.e. getting more from your people.

The Final Release

When people say "we need to get more from this technology!", everyone nods their head in agreement, believing there must be some hidden features in the application that will transform organizational efficiency. What would we focus on if there really wasn't a better way to do something? Imagine your software and hardware being as good as it's ever going to be. Release 8.027 Final Version Ever. Where would we look for improvements? The same place we should be looking today — in our people.

The Cart Dragging The Horse

Millions of dollars each year are spent in large organizations attempting to get the most from electronic systems, yet efficiency continues to be a problem. In many cases, the problem is getting worse, with software becoming increasingly complex, and people becoming even more insulated from the tools they are expected to get the most from. It is the cart dragging the horse, and smart organizations are beginning to recognize the horse needs to get back up front.

"We're Not Upgrading!"

An example of reversing the tide is a university I work with has decided not to upgrade to the newest release of their ERP application. I repeat — not upgrading. Blasphemy! The IT department, as well as those familiar with the benefits of the upgrade are left with the unenviable tasks of working with what they got. Management recognizes the dilemma of just focusing on technology to solve organizational inefficiencies.

It's not that software and hardware upgrades should be avoided at all costs; it's just that they don't necessarily address the human side of efficiency. It's just a fact that it's much easier to sell and install a software patch than address department collaboration issues.

Putting aside the laundry list of things you can do to focus on people capacity — governance, leadership, defining mission, partnership, and collaboration just to name a few — what is the roadmap to help keep your eyes on people?


Although most of us will agree that technology is just the tool, there is less of an understanding how to navigate the less quantifiable elements that get people behaving productively. The steps are simple to define, yet complex to implement. Let's name three.

Step 1: What are you trying to achieve?

Improving people capacity centers on changing human behavior. To get there, you must first know where you're going. Step 1 involves clarifying where the organization is headed (the mission) and matching those to the actions people need to take to get there. For example, if the mission is "to promote awareness of heart disease", everyone's actions need to directly or indirectly contribute to this goal.

Step 2: What skills/competencies do people need to get there?

For example, if you're trying to promote awareness of heart disease, raising money is a logical contributor to this mission. Developing competent fund raisers would be a skill that your people should have. The technology solution would be to drop 30k on the latest upgrade of fund-raising software, putting minimal focus on the people skills that key people should be developing. A smarter use of time and money may be to initiate a comprehensive training of staff in developing fund- raising fundamentals and interpersonal skills. Maybe both, but don't be fooled that technology alone will get you there.

A simple question to ask before committing to a solution is: Are we sufficiently focusing on what directly or indirectly contributes to the mission? Shying away from less quantifiable solutions potentially leaves a gaping hole in your plan.

Step 3: How can you sustain sufficient capacity over the long-term?

Finally, the most difficult element of organizational capacity is sustaining it over the long- term. The difficulty stems from people reverting back to old behaviors and no one stepping up to remind others of the new standards of behavior. For example, if an organizational learns how to conduct effective departmental meetings, effectiveness among staff should follow. Although the techniques for getting the most from meetings are not complex, sustaining it over time is difficult.

As the weeks pass after great strides have been made in meeting effectiveness, people start to show up late again, agendas become vague, and people walk out of meetings saying "nothing was accomplished or that was a waste of time". When this happens, a structure needs to be in place that allows the group to revisit how they're doing, and putting the correction in to get back on track. It's just like exercise or dieting — easy to start — difficult to maintain.

What's KISS? As a former client used to remind me when dealing with him and his staff — Keep It Simple Stupid. The best solutions are simple to understand and simple to follow.

The Bottom Line

It's time we stop avoiding the difficult conversations and look at setting higher standards for our people. It starts with clearly defining our goals, what actions will support them, what skills people need and how will we remind each other when we get off track. If upgrades and patches are viewed as necessities to continue smooth operations, and not panaceas for solving organizational inefficiencies, you've got the best of both worlds. Remember, the latest hammer doesn't make an exceptional carpenter. It won't hurt, but you need to know how and when to use it.


"The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

— Bill Gates

How To Accelerate Business Result

What is a Business Analyst?

The business analyst can go by many names — Business Systems Analyst, Systems Analyst, and Functional Analyst. Each description points to a common title for the person responsible for "analyzing the business needs of their clients and stakeholders to help identify business problems and propose solutions." -- Wikipedia

Whatever name you assign, the role comes down to translating ideas, knowledge, and data into collaborative behavior that has the potential to produce real change in an organization.

From management's point of view, the role is about helping them steer the ship with quantifiable data to measure results against organizational vision and goals. It's about being able to synthesize a set of conditions in an organization (financial, strategic, process and relationship) to improve the bottom line.

Whether internally developed or brought in from the outside, there are certain competencies someone should bring to the table. These competencies fall in three categories — organizational knowledge, business process and interpersonal skills.

I Organizational knowledge

This skill is about language and relationship. The business analyst needs to understand internal jargon and be able to converse with groups that use it, along with being able to translate "business speak" into English.

They also need to be able to navigate key relationships on projects (both management and staff) and work with these groups to uncover problems and opportunities.

Organizational knowledge is often stronger in an internal candidate, who has had time to acclimate themselves to the business. For external candidates, having strong interpersonal skills is key to establishing good working relationships, and getting up to speed quickly on demystifying jargon that people throw around so easily.

II Business Process Skills

The second competency is business process, or the language of how work gets done. At the most basic level, business process is the series of steps taken to perform tasks in your organization. There are high-level business processes (Overview of a procurement process) and detail processes (Paying a vendor, getting purchasing approval etc.).

Business process skills include:

• Applying analytical skills to business requests (which are often high-level or lacking in detail)
• Understanding the requirements from the business perspective and translate them into a form that can be understood and acted on by the customer. Go to for a Sample Process Map.
• Synthesizing business requirements, including recognizing patterns and conceptualizing processes

III Interpersonal Competencies

Finally, the last competency is being able to work with other people and be an effective "translator" among groups. This competency includes:

• Being an effectively facilitator
• Building relationship across teams that need to work together
• Understanding and negotiating the needs and expectations of multiple stakeholders

Together, these three competencies make up the critical elements for a business analyst to make genuine impact in an organization.

Advantages of the In-house Business Analyst

The advantages of developing the in-house business analyst include the following:

1. The person already has relationships and network in place
2. Over long-term, it can become a cost effective investment over hiring repeatedly from the outside
3. It creates a sustainable internal focus on managing change and improvement

On the other hand, the challenges associated with positioning an internal candidate is that internal politics and personalities may make it difficult for them to produce timely change. Sometimes an outside perspective and unbiased point of view is needed to unstick something that has been in place for a long time.

Tool to Assess Internal Candidate

Assessing an internal candidate is about identifying someone who recognizes this role as an opportunity to take the next step in their contribution to the organization. At the heart of a good candidate is personal motivation to transition into this role. Without it, no amount of assistance will help them become an exceptional business analyst.

If you are interested in a tool we designed to help identify potential candidates and their strengths, download the assessment tool below. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about it.

Assessment Tool To Develop The Business Analyst

If you are interested in an assessment tool to evaluate internal candidates, go to this URL:

You can also inquire about our consulting services and workshops that enable individuals to develop business analyst skills.

Five Phases to Exceptional Meetings!

There are two concerns people bring to the meeting experience; "Why am I here?" and "Where are we going?"

These concerns come up because meetings are often placeholders to guarantee face time with coworkers. This rationale for meetings, however, rarely impacts individual or group productivity and is a low standard for meeting excellence.

So what can be done to transform meetings so they are a valuable use of people's time and contribute to group productivity?

The Five Phases

When exceptional results are realized in meetings, the following five phases are navigated effectively. They are:

Phase 1: Define objectives for each topic
Phase 2: Identify type of actions needed for the topic
Phase 3: Conduct focused dialogue
Phase 4: Transition to decision-making and accountability
Phase 5: Validate results (what was heard and what was said)

Phase 1: Define objectives for each topic

Often overlooked, people dive into a topic without a clear sense where they want to end up. It usually is characterized as an "update", which actually means the presenter hasn't thought through why they are bringing this topic to the team.

Groups that regularly meeting often do not distinguish topics that require a decision from those that could simply be communicated offline. The mistake is thinking the topic itself is the objective, versus it being the background that leads to an objective. Define the outcome in terms of "What do I want individuals or the team to do differently as a result of discussing the topic"?

Phase 2: Identify type of actions needed

Often unspoken, groups leave it up to each person to determine the mechanism for achieving objectives. Consider ten people planning a trip to California from Boston, each having a different idea how they are going to get there. Some want to fly, others drive, while still others think a bus is the best alternative. Now imagine these alternatives don't get discussed. What a surprise when people discover the trip never happens.

This ambiguity happens constantly in meetings. Like planning a trip, groups need to be explicit with each other about HOW they are going to achieve meeting objectives. Will it be a vote, consensus, thumbs up or down or maybe it's just information gathering? As an example, if you were attempting to come up with quarterly goals for your organization, the type of actions needed might be brainstorming, prioritizing, then voting.

Framing how the objectives will be achieved gets people on the same page. By taking time to identify the "type of action", you'll have a better chance of getting out of the parking lot and on the trip.

Phase 3: Conduct focused dialogue

Focused dialogue is that phase in a meeting when people get to express opinions, ideas, facts, arguments and counter arguments. It's basically an opportunity to engage in discussion so that everyone is up to speed on the topic.

This is not decision-making, but information sharing, a critical step to insure buy-in for the next phase of the discussion.

Phase 4: Transition to decision-making and accountability

Once sufficient dialogue has happened, the discussion must move into this phase, which is the equivalent to "We've heard everyone's point of view. Now it's time to focus on our agreed to method to achieve the outcome."

It's critical that the group collectively agrees to make the transition to decision-making. Often groups unconsciously move into this phase out of frustration that the dialogue is going on too long. Then someone slips back into expressing an opinion, easily digresses the group back into unfocused dialogue.

However, when it's been explicitly stated that the team is in phase 4 (decision-making) and someone slips back into an opinion, it's possible to express "I just want to point out that Johns comment will move us back into dialogue. Is that what we want to do right now?"

Being able to ask this question at that moment will keep the group focused on the task at hand, and is only possible if the group has the awareness where they are in the five phases.

One more thought on decision-making. Don't confuse buy-in around a decision with the need for consensus. Buy-in is about agreeing to approach the problem in a specific way. Everyone does not need to agree with the approach, but everyone does need to express that they are willing to go along with the decision. Buy-in is not necessarily consensus.

Phase 5: Validate results

Finally, one of the most critical pieces to meeting effectiveness is validating results. It's an opportunity for those people who committed to something to verbally reflect on what they will do. It's also the leader asking the group "What did you hear me request", and then letting people speak what they heard.

You will be surprised how often what was heard was not what was requested, or some key piece was left out. Validation takes the ambiguity out of who made what decision and each person's understanding of what they committed to.

By conducting your meetings with these five phases in mind, you'll have greater success getting to meaningful outcomes, potentially transforming the meeting experience from one of frustration to one of value to you and the organization.

Meeting Effectiveness Model

If you are interested in a visual representation of our "Meeting Effectiveness Model", send an email to I'll send you a copy. You can also inquire about our programs that teach this skill to individuals and teams.

Getting More For Your Consulting Dollars

After all is said and done, consultants are only as good as their ability to leave the client in a better position. Whether we're assisting with integrating a new technology, developing a sales or marketing strategy, or doing an organizational assessment, there is a common element in each of these initiatives; you and your people.

What are you really buying?

A new financial system is going in? — get an expert who can help you. Doing an organizational merger? Hire someone who can navigate these choppy waters.

What are you buying when you retain consulting services? In a nutshell, it's the promise that you won't have to reinvent the wheel. It's the hope that by relying on someone who has been through it before, you'll get the best path to success.

So why is it still such a common experience that organizations feel less than satisfied with external involvement? Yes, there are consultants who far surpass client expectations and deliver lasting value. But far more frequently, the client is unable to perform the tasks on their own, or make the changes permanent.

The Missing Piece

Consultants enter a project in one of two ways — Do I catch fish for you or help you learn to catch fish yourself?

Consultants and customers often have different expectations — the consultant delivers recommendations, while the client expects measurable benefits. These are potentially two very different outcomes.

What's really going on is both parties are often unwilling to do the difficult thing, that is, uncover how little the organization is prepared to inherit change.

So what is a better model for transitioning responsibility and skill to the true owner of the change, i.e. you and your people?

Helping Vs. Doing

The shift that needs to take place in organizations is "helping learners help themselves". Take any initiative where a set of skills needs to be transferred from one group to another. What would it take to make the learning stick? Here's a hint. It's not about recommendations, assisting, coaching or doing for you — but simply "helping you help yourself".

We're all so good at doing, but turning things over to others requires a different skill, sometimes described as "delegating". But delegating only is only the first step in transferring skills.

Helping others help themselves is about incorporating the following approach:

1. Model the correct behavior or point out the ineffective behavior
2. Observe your people in action
3. Provide correction and feedback
4. Step back and observe again

Try these steps the next time you're demonstrating how to perform a task - running an electronic report, incorporating a speaking skill or performing a new business process. It's step 2 and 4 that are key, but are the ones we avoid doing.

Your Worst Culprits

Who are they? It's those "experts" running around your organization doing everything for everyone. They are the worst culprits because we buy into their excuses of "it's faster for me to do it myself" or "I'm just not a great delegator or teacher" etc. etc. etc. "Those that can't do, teach — those that can't teach, consult".

A Personal Story

Over the last eight months, I've had the privilege of applying the principle of "helping others help themselves". A formal practice even exists that exemplifies these principles, i.e., the practice of "Process Consultation". My role with a particular client is to help them become a high performing senior management team — not by making recommendations or taking them through exercises, or even coaching. I observe them in action every two weeks during their all day staff meeting, continually looking for opportunities to apply the four steps described above. To their credit, they insisted that Process Consultation be used, which forced me to be disciplined about "what does it really mean to not do for you, but to get you to do for yourself?"

At first it appeared to be the ideal consulting gig. I listened, did very little talking, maybe even made an observation here and there, finally letting them deal with the problem. Sounds simple right? It's probably the hardest consulting work I have done to date and required the highest level of patience on my part.

Why? Because I am so accustomed to being the expert, the solver, the guy to make it happen. As the consultant, I'm expected to provide out-of-the- box ideas, lay out a plan, and to my private desires — save the day. Clients don't ask "Can you make sure whatever you're doing outlives your involvement?" and it's definitely not in my contract to make sure they integrate my recommendations.

Process Consultation

We underestimate what it takes for people to make new behavior and skills their own. The book "Process Consultation Revisited", by Edgar Shein so exemplifies the challenges and value around the "helping relationship". His work is at the heart of making customers effective versus creating an enabling behavior between consultant and client. A must read for any internal or external consultant.

What's fascinating about this philosophical approach is becoming aware how much customers inadvertently turn over their power to suggestions, recommendations or coaching, as if our ideas are sufficient to make the change happen.

What Can You Do

Start by asking the question "How can I help prepare this group to help itself"? If you're the client, ask "What can I do to take ownership of this process?"

Once you shift the focus from doing to helping, an entirely new set of questions emerge.

"What does it take to genuinely transfer knowledge or skills?"

"What are the barriers to someone being capable to perform the task themselves?"

The Bottom Line

Consultants should help more and solve less. This is not to say that there isn't a place for expert consulting, bringing years of knowledge to a problem, evaluating it, then recommending a course of action. But how many times have the most well respected consulting firms participated in one of your projects, only to leave before the change is implemented. What's missing is genuine listening for what it's going to take to leave your organization in a stronger position, not just with good ideas that don't make it past a report.

If you're consulting, just know there are a million "fix- it" firms and individuals ready to solve clients problem. If nothing else, be different. Start applying a helping role in your work. You'll discover new areas of value you can bring to organizations.

And if you're using consultants, stop listening to everything they tell you and ask them to help you help yourself. Don't wait until they leave to realize you don't know where to start. This focus on accountability to results will serve all of us in the long run.

Quote About Learning

"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself."

— Lloyd Alexander

The Top Ten Things You'll Never Hear A Consultant Say

Number 10: "You're right; we're billing way too much for this."

Come on. We're not all that bad. Exceed client expectation and billing rates becomes secondary. End of story.

Number 9: "Bet you I can go a week without saying "synergy" or "value-added".

OK. Maybe I can't. Jargon is our security blanket, a way to feel connected to others who have also left the comforts of a 9-5 job. We use phrases like knowledge transfer, business process or strategic initiative because it feels good. Maybe it even makes us feel important. Now can we get on with this collaborative dialogue?

Number 8: "How about paying us based on the success of the project?"

Now let's not get carried away. On further thought, I'm not sure some clients would like this arrangement. By success of the initiative, do we mean the value we're delivering? So, if we can help save a client two million dollars and take just 5% of those savings, that would be $100,000. When do we start?

Number 7: "This whole strategy is based on a Harvard business case I read."

Expertise used to mean experience. Now you could build the facade of a consulting practice by googling "Consulting Methodologies". Thankfully, most customers know the difference between talking the talk versus walking the walk.

By the way, when searching in Google, use quotation marks to help narrow your search.

The Number 6 thing you'll never hear from a consultant is:

"Actually, the only difference is that we charge more than they do."

Not us. Fixed price projects, defined scope of work; you know exactly what you're getting and what it's going to cost. (A little shameless self-promotion)

You'll definitely never hear Number 5:

"I don't know enough to speak intelligently about that."

So here's the problem. We believe not knowing something means we're not as valuable to our clients. I say it's time we collectively show our true selves, even the less than perfect side. Here's a little exercise. If you're consulting, repeat after me: "I don't know". Again. "I don't know". One more time. "I don't know". Good.

Number 4: "Implementation? I only care about writing long reports."

Why does every consulting gig have to end in a report? Is is really necessary? I say quantify the problem, solve it and move on. We're not being paid for long reports, are we? Read through those hundred page documents you've written or received. If you can't find a clearly described problem and road map to solve it, you've basically got a hefty paper weight.

Number 3: "I can't take the credit. It was Ed in your purchasing department."

It's no secret that consultants have a strong need for attention. I'll admit it. Although it's not our most flattering trait, it's consistent with our desire to save the day.

Think Doug Flutie in the final seconds, throwing the famous touchdown pass for Boston College. That's how we put ourselves to sleep at night. Alright, that's how I put myself to sleep at night.

Number 2: "The problem is, you have too much work for too few people."

The nice thing about bringing us in rather than additional employees is it's so much easier to boot us out the door. For a short period we get to be part of the family. You may even invite us to your parties. And then, bam! projects over, thank you very much, we're out. Yes, we all succumb to the occasional project where we go on "permanent adopted status"? Long term projects do create stability in our uncertain consulting lives, but don't kid yourselves - we're still outside the family. Don't forget that.

And the Number 1 thing you'll never hear a consultant say:

"Everything looks okay to me."

At least once in every consultant's career, the following words should come out of our mouths, "I can't help you." What an honest expression of our commitment to customers. What an exhilarating thrill and ethical stand to turn down work outside our scope of expertise.

By the way, if you do find that courage to turn down a project, congratulations! Now call me and I'll figure out how I can get it done.

Public Speaking Quote

"It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

— Mark Twain

To Implement or Not to Implement - That is the Question

When you car battery dies, you jumpstart it or buy a new battery. Simple problem, straightforward solution. In your organization, when voices are heard up and down the hallways that people feel misled, kept out of a process, or don't think changes are necessary, the remedy is not as straightforward as replacing your car battery.

Complex enterprise projects are unique from conception to completion. There is no script that guarantees success.

"Problems can be solved while dilemma's need to be managed." Enterprise projects are perpetual dilemmas.

Unfortunately, human nature attempts to place simple labels on these complex projects; Success, failure, good, bad; these are insufficient descriptions of what's really going on.

In a commentary by Lloyd Rain titled "IT Project Failure", he states:

"The truth is that the great majority of IT projects do not fail - most simply do not go as well as originally hoped, take longer than planned and cost more than anticipated. These are really not failures at all; you might classify them as "discouraging successes." Almost all IT projects are discouraging successes. Unfortunately, managers, outsiders and even users view them as failures to some degree."

"Discouraging successes" is that grey in the middle, which points to one of the least understood elements of project work; the art of communication and managing expectations.

"Don't Look Behind The Curtain"

Too often, the early-selling phase of an IT project focuses exclusively on buy-in from senior management. As long as funding is secured, the rest are just "details, details, details".

The problem starts with the dialogue and decision- making leading up to the actual execution of the work. It can be characterized as "don't look behind the curtain". In order to get this buy-in, vendors, consultants and even internal project teams get caught up in creating a misleading or incomplete impression of the "true value" of an IT implementation.

How else can you explain The Standish Groups CHAOS report of thousands of IT projects;

  • 31% cancelled before completion
  • 53% doubled their original cost estimate
  • 16% completed on time and on budget

Of those completed on time, only 42% had the original proposed features and functions.

Less than one tenth of all projects deliver on the proposed features after making it through the acceptance phase!

What factors contribute to these statistics? It starts with the tone and execution of communication. The two extremes could be characterized as "full disclosure" and "complete fluff". Full disclosure might look something like this:

"The price for this project will triple by the time all the functionality is in place. Our people will be overworked for the next 12-18 months and stakeholders will continuously question management's rationale for this investment."

OK. I think we all agree. Too much information. How about...

"We'll be on-time, on-budget, with all functionality on day-one."

At best, this one is disingenuous, at worst - irresponsible. So what should be communicated?

The Middle Ground

Selling the project means balancing the need to create positive momentum (funding, enthusiasm and resources) with setting appropriate expectation. "Full disclosure" doesn't work but neither does playing it so close to the vest that no one knows what's coming.

The grey in the middle means recognizing the importance of creating a shared vision, along with an acknowledgement of the very real challenges in bringing change to an organization. And if you don't believe these challenges are real, re- read the statistics.

A simple yet infrequently performed task is to initiate a dialogue with sponsors and project champions around the type of communication desired.

  • Will we share bad news?
  • Will we include difficult stakeholders in the process?
  • What does it mean to have a balanced communication strategy?

Having this conversation will go a long way toward establishing a clear message throughout the project.

Influencers Vs. Decision Makers

Think of the following complementary roles: Nurses and doctors, administration and faculty, staff and managers. What makes them complementary? Some roles hold the key, while others know how to open the door. Both groups are critical to running a smooth organization or implementing a successful project.

An influencer may be a respected employee, an effective communicator or a trusted advisor to management. Influencers don't control the final decision, but they do provide key information to decision makers about the direction the organization should go. Decision-makers rely on influencers more than you know.

Find out who the influencers are in your organzation. Ask the decision makers who they will use to help make their key project decisions? And finally, approach the influencers and find out what their concerns are. It's selling 101 - "What's the pain they want to avoid or what opportunity do they want to take advantage of?"

The Language of Senior Management

It comes down to putting yourself in the shoes of those making the decision. The language of senior management is simple. It's either:

  • What is the risk they're trying to mitigate?
  • How can they improve the bottom line?

Everything else is just details. Remember, senior management is also responsible to someone, whether it be the board or other governing bodies. You can help senior management by giving them a simple framework to evaluate projects.

Using the following four categories, ask management to place each project in its proper place:

  1. Not important and not urgent
  2. Important, but not urgent
  3. Urgent, but not important
  4. Important and Urgent

This will do a number of things. One, it will clarify which priorities will probably get funding. Two, it will reveal which projects need more data before they can decide and third, it will help you understand senior management goals and where to put your own resources.

"To Be or Not To Be"

Finding that middle ground in your communication strategy, drawing up influencers in the decision-making process, and speaking the language of senior management - these are three elements that have great impact on getting a project off the ground properly.

Facilitation Tip

Regardless of how much information you need to speak to in your presentation, reserve the last twenty minutes for group reflection, otherwise known as "the debrief".

The most frequent mistake made is not leaving enough time to recognize what attendees have learned. Say something like:

"There's more content that we can cover in the last 20 minutes. Instead, let's look back on the last 3 hours and discuss what we've learned or next steps that should be taken."

This is one of those common sense actions that most agree with, but few make happen.

Remember, what YOU say is less important than the results you produce in others.

Who Knows How Things Work Around Here?

Process maps can be used in a variety of venues. In organizational mergers and acquisitions, they can set proper expectations for the organizations new structure and uncover redundancy of work tasks. In enterprise technology projects, process maps can facilitate design dialogue between all levels in an organization and can become the foundation for communication and training content.

What is a process map? It can be defined as:

"A clear and comprehensive picture of the way business is done."

"Any method used to depict a process in a manner similar to the way a map depicts an area."

"A method for depicting information flow in a diagrammatic form, defining key input and outputs along the way."

These definitions describe three important elements: the way business is done; its use as a guide or map; and key inputs and outputs. Let's look at each:

The Way Business is Done

Process mapping is not just about back office use of Visio to represent complex technical designs. Its greater value lies in demystifying how people conduct business and clarifying jargon that is too freely used in business redesign.

Even more important, these visual depictions open dialogue for non-technical people to intelligently inquire and understand how work gets done across groups.

A Road Map

Think of process maps as a visual guide to go from A to B. For example, the entire procurement cycle in an organization can be visually represented from the point of a purchasing need through payment to the vendor.

Designed in a user-friendly format, process guides help stakeholders, end-users and project team members with a shared view of the organizations structure. It can serve as a critical communication tool to help stakeholders speak the same language around change.

To see an example of a procurement cycle map created for an organization, go to:

What Goes In Must Come Out

Process maps also provide a view of what it takes to get information in and out of a manual or electronic system.

An input might be entering a purchase requisition or new employee into a system, while the output is the payment on that requisition or a summary report of the HR record. Inputs and outputs are key components to process map content.

When inputs and outputs are graphically represented, key milestones become clearer, giving further meaning to the successful completion of a task. If nothing else, capturing the critical inflows and outflows of a process puts the team in a much better position to understand who's involved in what task and the interdependence of each others work.

What to Include

Business process maps often take into account a horizontal view of an organization, cutting across many departments and central administrative groups. Four things should be captured in process maps:
Who (people or roles performing the tasks)
What (tasks they perform or electronic steps that take place)
When (proper sequence and timing of tasks)
Why (to what end is this work performed? ex: Hiring process, purchasing cycle or new organizational structure)

Two additional elements should be considered in process maps; business jargon and helpful hints. Out of context, business jargon can be confusing. By introducing acronyms and organization specific terms into process maps, this in itself can clarify the jargon. In addition, helpful hints can be inserted to assist people with performing steps in the process (i.e. queries they can run at a given point, who to call to confirm posting of an HR record etc.)

Balancing Simplicity and Complexity

For process maps to be an effective communication tool, they need to be user- friendly. This means non-technical people are able to follow the flow without having to know business process jargon (multiple flows, logic Time, and FIFO lane, just to name a few).

If your primary audience doesn't find the visual representation appealing and simple to follow, it won't communicate value. So who are your best candidates to design these maps? The work of designing process maps is to put complex tasks in the context of a business need. People with strong technical background may not be the best resource to build these diagrams.

Your best people are those who:

  • Can think conceptually
  • Are able to focus on how others learn (strong communication skills)
  • Are good translators of complex tasks into simple steps
  • Are able to use visuals as metaphors (ex: passing a baton in a relay race to represent collaboration, the space shuttle for "go-live" etc. )

Assume Less

Finally, don't underestimate the value of capturing organizational process steps. Although it may not be obvious that your people understand the big picture of how work gets done, they probably don't to the level you would expect. User-friendly process maps can bring organizational confusion to the surface, where it can be dealt with and demystified. This can go a long way to improve work effectiveness, especially during technology or organizational transitions.

Facilitation Tip

Common sense dictates saving conclusions for the end of a talk. This can inadvertantly confuse your audience. Consider starting your talk with the conclusion, support it with a few key points, then end by reinforcing the conclusion. This has a number of benefits:

  1. Unlike a mystery novel, your audience wants to know where you're going. Summarizing your conclusions up front gives them a road map for where you're going.
  2. By cutting to the chase, you will require less formal content to support your conclusions. Instead, you'll find yourself synthesizing supporting content with talking points, versus slide upon slide of mounting evidence.
  3. Finally, with a stronger connection between where you're going and how you're trying to get there, you'll be creating better opportunities for people to engage in dialogue.

Streamlining The Administrative Function

In the book Organizational Paradigm Shifts, Kidwell and O'Brien argue The new economic realities confronting higher education require a serious rethinking of the way that work is done, the way it is organized, and the systems needed to support the academic enterprise.

Alternatively, as described: Today's "corporate" re-engineers are taking apart current hierarchical business models and are developing in their stead process-oriented organizational structures.

Slowly but surely process-focused business structures are making their way into higher education. On the administrative side of the house, project teams are the means to lead and manage enterprise technology initiatives, organizational efforts that require significant business process redesign.

What Makes Project Teams So Critical?

Project teams are a byproduct of the lack of process-focus in the traditional hierarchy of business units. For example, in enterprise initiatives, project teams manage the redesign of a procurement process, with representation from the finance division. The finance division will eventually inherit elements of the new system, but is not in a position to take apart the current system and reassemble on its own.

With consultants having implemented elsewhere, partnering closely with "loaned" internal experts in the procurement process, the new team works to unravel the current business practices that make up procurement. When the new system comes into being, management's expectation is that the project team will disband, consultants will depart, and employees will return to their permanent roles, albeit with a new set of skills. It's when these employees move back to their respective jobs that the disconnect in process-oriented work and hierarchical structures reveal itself.

What Is A Process?

By definition, processes are about inputs and outputs, with sequential steps that lead to a recognizable benefit for a customer. (however you define the customer) Pick any example of business activity in your organization-paying a vendor, buying supplies or hiring a person. These processes run horizontally across the organization, traversing multiple business units. At the same time, the business units responsible for specialized administrative functions are managed vertically, each owning a piece of the larger process.

The basic dilemma with hierarchical structures is that they are primarily set up to maintain control, not manage ongoing change. But in the words of Yogi Berra "It ain't over til it's over", and these projects ain't ever over.

Are We Done Yet?

One of the problems with process projects is what is meant by the term "over". Redefining a business process may appear to be simply replacing an existing system with a new one. On the surface this is true, except that it always takes longer than expected for the "new" process to become "old" again. Is the project "over" when the system goes live? Is it when the project team disbands? The truth is once a new process is in place, the process of acclimation is just beginning. And it's those hierarchical structures that end up inheriting the responsibility for bringing acclimation of the new process to the larger organization.

Information Flow-Vertical Or Horizontal?

Hierarchical structures manage up and down, but not across units. Processes, on the other hand, flow horizontally across business units. The result is administrative structures have little understanding how current and new systems touch departments outside their own.

When employees who participated on the project move back into permanent positions, they are often given the responsibility over some piece of the new system. It doesn't take long for them to realize that the existing administrative structures, (such as HR, Payroll, Student Services or Finance) each own a piece of the new process, but are collectively an impediment to supporting ongoing improvement. The communication and activities that flowed easily within the project team now don't exist among these structural silos. With this pattern repeating itself over and over again on technology projects, management ends up keeping the project team intact and/or retain consultants, both options interpreted as unexpected consequences of poor project management.

In hindsight, these projects are bound to create an ongoing need for external departmental support. Sponsors should consider at the very least to open the question of how the transition will flow back from the project team to the administrative departments. This conversation should happen early in the project, when business structures can be evaluated and potentially modified to accomodate new processes. Unfortunately, this is rarely done and causes much misunderstanding and chaos at the end of the formal project phase.

The Greater Dilemma

An even greater dilemma facing senior management is this: Just when they are looking for the benefits of their investment to start paying off, does it become apparent that the strategic value outline in the project charter has been hijacked by the sea of technical and structural hurdles. It becomes almost impossible to effectively manage IT, HR and Finance groups through this maze of challenges. In this case, the structural silos play havoc on the expectations for a timely return on investment.

So What Can Be Done?

Without completely re-engineering the administrative function (which is a great idea but may not happen in your tenure) what would it look like to loosen up the top-down approach? First, it needs to be acknowledged that project-style work more closely supports these strategic initiatives and must be integrated across organizational structures, especially when the project is perceived as "over". The inter-relatedness of department activities and employee day-to-day work demands more people understand the big picture and where they fit in.

Secondly, faculty and administrators need to demonstrate better collaboration across administrative and academic departments. This is critical to improving process flow. Institutions can no longer afford to have the highest form of problem-solving across these two groups be faculty complaining about administrator's lack of mission focus and administrator's complaints about lack of faculty compliance. Both sides need to genuinely start working together if business processes are going to improve.

Finally, sponsors of administrative initiatives needs to take a more active role in leading people to the promise land of improved business performance. There is so much inertia to maintain traditional hierarchical structures as they are. Leadership needs to get creative in taking apart existing departmental structures and bring more process-style thinking directly into the groups that own these systems. It's only then that the disruption created by taking apart old systems and creating new ones that the intended benefit will get realized in a more fluid and timely way.

Facilitation Tip

One of the most useful low-tech tools that a facilitator can employ is introducing "Post-it" notes into group dialogue. Invented by Art Fry back in the 1970's, the Post-it's create the following value:

  1. It allows individuals to generate ideas before settling in on any one path.
  2. Because of the size of the Post-It, people are forced to describe their idea in succinct ways.
  3. Once displayed on a board, the group can participate by reorganizing the information, thereby creating collaborative opportunities for discussion. The next time you want a group to brainstorm, give each person a post-it pad and ask them to write down five ideas. Then post each on the wall and discuss. As obvious as this is as a brainstorming tool, it is rarely utilized by groups working through a problem. Don't wait for consultants to introduce these in your group!

Excellent Reading!

Here are three books that focus on improving the quality of Administrative functions in Higher Education:

Responsibility Centered Management -- Jon Strauss and John Curry
RCM or Responsibility Centered Management is the coupling of financial choice with consequence, seeking to right the imbalance of authority lying with faculty in departments and schools, while most responsibility lying with Central Administration.

The Strategic Attitude-Integrating Strategic Planning Into Daily University Work -- Nathan Dickmeyer
Learning how to integrate strategic thinking into day-to-day management can transform an institution into a strategic organization that operates with an effective understanding of environment, mission and values.

Organizational Paradigm Shifts -- NACUBO Selected Authors
Collection of essays that explore different methods of seeking, implementing and coping with a new higher education paradigm, i.e. the growing demands institutions face to reduce costs, improve quality, and work harder to meet the needs of their customers.

Stop Calling it a Technology Project!

"There are no exclusive technology projects. There are however, people projects that use technology". This subtle language shift can have profound impact on the success of an enterprise initiative. What's the difference in this apparent play on words?

Managed as "technology initiatives", with all the expected breakdowns in the development of a new system (crashes, system bugs, improper coding), these projects often produce normative, not exceptional results. On the other hand, focusing on organizational impact, from project charter to design and finally to implementation, has a significantly greater chance of creating results consistent with the initial vision of the effort; i.e. results that are forward looking and serve the desired goals of the entire organization. Easier said than done, I realize.

As articulated by Rick Zahniser:

"This is why so many breakthroughs happen in new, small companies. Circumstances give them no choice; if they don't produce extraordinary results with the resources they have, they die. Large organizations must learn to create these same small company conditions if they expect breakthroughs"

What's an example of breakthrough or exceptional organizational results? Take GE's transition from a slow-growing industrial goods manufacturer into a financial services powerhouse; Dell's ability to satisfy customer demands around quality, responsiveness, and competitive pricing; the work of the Boston Consortium for Higher Education to act as an external resource for colleges and universities, creating collaborative environments for cost saving and quality improvement ideas.

These organizations use technology as an enabling force to conceive of and produce superior organizational results.

A New Way Of Doing Business

Organizational improvement projects start with a vision, leading to the formation of a project charter. Inspired by promises of cost savings, increased profits and employee efficiencies, the vision often centers on "a new way of doing business". In the transition from concept to design, project management strategies get integrated to negotiate disparate groups toward a common purpose. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for the realized design to become a shadow of the original promise.

True, the vision needs to be replaced with step-by- step approaches to implementing a new process or system. However, too much is given over to the technologists. The business value gets lost or watered down in an almost obsessive attempt to put something in place. Instead of continuing to measure project progress against the initial vision or charter, "what's possible" becomes encumbered by the silos of those doing the hard work, but removed from the business outcomes. It's not uncommon that by the time the project comes to a close, multimillions of dollars are spent creating a variation of the original system that barely satisfies its stakeholders.

There are so many factors that contribute to this gap in vision and implementation; vendor over promises, a lack of customer understanding and project team overwhelm, just to name a few.

With these expected challenges in complex initiatives, what are some things to be mindful of in maintaining a focus on organizational impact?

Personal Limiting Views

Breakthrough success in organizational projects is a function of each persons willingness to honestly reflect on personal limiting views of what's possible, and shifting these view. Preserving ones image and avoiding criticism is one way that people limit what's possible on a project. The human tendency is to reach for the excuse rather than speak frankly about what's working and not working. This is one example how individuals can unconsciously sabotage a team effort.

From sponsors on down, personal limiting views need to be revealed to overcome the inertia of group inaction. Uncovering these unconscious behaviors and mental modes of thinking contribute directly to individuals bringing a commitment to the larger vision or goals of the project.

Authentic Commitment

Commitment cannot be forced, but it can be uncovered, generated, and affect others in a positive way. Authentic commitment starts with a genuine assumption of choice ("I can say no"). On enterprise initiatives, employees are often given the opportunity to participate in the design phase of a project. For some, this is what they've been waiting for to take their skills and knowledge to the next level, while others have no interest in the pace and challenge of project work. Not giving employees a genuine opportunity to opt out is the equivalent of forcing your kids to play an instrument after it's clear they have no interest. They may go through the motions, but the motivation does not self-generate and like disinterested employees, you'll be pulling teeth the whole way.

Authentic commitment also opens the door to genuine teamwork, i.e. a commitment to the success of an entire effort, not just the incremental successes brought by sub-teams. Project silos are a result of a lack of personal commitment to the final results, with one sub-team able to derail the larger project effort.

The desire for meaning and risk

People will not necessarily reveal that they will take on risk to give meaning to their work. Contrary to the popular notion that individuals resist risk at all costs, the greater the risk they take, the more likely they'll surround themselves with others prepared to follow them, toward success or failure.

People need to be explicitly asked to rise to the occasion and want to know that their work is critical to the success of the overall effort. Exceptional results occur when an opportunity presents itself that wakes people up to what's possible. In the eyes of the beholder, the outcome must be out of the ordinary, because as everyone knows, with great risk, comes great reward.

Labeling change efforts "technology project" devalues the impact these projects can have on customers and lower expectations of those making genuine attempts to make a difference. Raise expectations by reminding people what it really is, i.e. organizational change. Also, keep reminding people of the risks and rewards. The leaders you're looking for will jump to the front of the line.

Presentation No No’s!

In any presentation, your primary goal is to capture and hold your audience's attention. Distributing the presentation on paper may give you and your audience comfort, however, you run the risk of diminishing the value of what you have to say. It comes down to, where do you want their attention and listening? You may want to keep the mystery of the next slide to yourself!