Staffing and Teams

Lean in Higher Ed is maturing

In 2005, Bob Emiliani wrote "Lean in Higher Education" -- a fascinating dissection of the state of service in higher education at the time, and a snapshot of the then-strikingly brisk evolution of the for-profit education system. From Emiliani's piece:

University administrators – even those at top-tier U.S. schools – should be alarmed, because what could happen to higher education is no different than what has already happened to the U.S. steel, electronics, automotive, furniture, and textile industries. And the same thing is now happening to service industries such as customer support, financial analysis, and drug research. While it is true that market dynamics often provide a useful and necessary culling of the weak players, it also offers compelling opportunities to improve and become even stronger.

Indeed, we were seeing just such a transformation, due in no small part to the for profit expansion; new players were applying new tools of efficiency across departments. Enrollment teams were becoming more streamlined. Marketing and lead generation became more aggressive. Program definition more convoluted, leading to new programs which flew in the face of long-held academic tradition, all in an effort to drive the business bottom line.

This was a new reality for those of us working in higher education, one of an uneven playing field; we struggled to find the rulebook to teach us to engage this market effectively. Old processes could not hold up in a space ruled by a breed of educational institutions that had turned the model of delivering higher education on its proverbial ear.

The concepts that the for-profits were applying came from Lean manufacturing. For those not yet initiated in Lean, it was originally a production practice that carefully considered the cost of any expense in production. Any cost not directly related to delivering benefit to the customer is typically considered to be waste, and would be a target for cut.

From the perspective of a customer -- or student, in our case -- anything a student would be willing to pay for serves as a benefit to the Lean relationship. Any process or service the student receives that does not benefit the ongoing relationship, which that student would not be willing to pay for, becomes a target for cut as well.

The bottom line of the Lean approach to efficiency: how can we preserve customer value and decrease the burden of work on the organization.

Flash forward five years and we've settled into a new new reality. As it turns out, the application of Lean principles in education makes a lot of sense. In April, 2010, Michael Sinocchi interviewed William K. Balzer on this very subject. Balzer did, in fact, write the book on Lean in higher education (Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes), and currently serves as Dean at Bowling Green State University.

In their brief interview, Balzer had this to say regarding Lean Higher Education (LHE):

In fact, a growing number of applications of LHE demonstrate significant improvements in college and university processes that result in better service to students, reduced costs for the institution, and greater employee ownership over how their work is done. Overall, LHE holds great promise for improvements in higher education at a time where resources are declining, greater accountability is expected, and higher education’s role in economic development and quality of life is increasingly important.

Further ...

LHE strikes a balance between the long-term needs of the institution and its employees. The elimination of unnecessary steps and activities that add expense and no value to the university saves resources, and it also allows overburdened employees to redesign their work so that it is more meaningful and satisfying.

If we walk away with nothing else from an evaluation of Lean in higher education, we have to walk away with this: reducing waste in the work we do every day brings into alignment the processes, technology, and people on our teams. Lean provides a framework, one that has been applied to great affect across industries for many years. Our job now is to use this framework to diagnose the waste in our operation and build a culture of continuous, competitive improvement.

Are you ready for millennials at work? Apparently they're already here

How Millennial physicians will impact disease management

Jaan Sidorov, MD a deceivingly bullish post on millennial physicians over at

The Millennial non-attitude about status or rank has implications for the hierarchical command and control that, up until now, has has been overseeing health system. No longer will a VP for Medical Affairs be able to assume young physicians will readily agree to taking “call” in evening outpatient clinics to off-load unnecessary emergency room visits. If a Grand Rounds speaker lacks sufficient eye-candied edutainment in PowerPoint, all the more reason for those young docs to skip out, grab some tofu and surf some YouTube. White coats will be optional and these docs will default to a first-name relationship with their patients.

Why deceivingly bullish? Reading the above passage you might think Sidorov's position is staunchly boomer, deeply rooted in the old myth that whatever generation comes next can't possibly be as hard working, determined, focused as those that came before.

To be sure, there's some of that in his post. So much of the flow of practice in a hospital depends on all parties buying in to the historic framework of how things have always been. Shake that up with med students that don't buy that line on some level and the status quo breaks down, falls apart, disintegrates. When patient care hinges on a status quo student and staffing process that is so fragile, it's no wonder the old school medical community is a touch on edge.

All that said, the millennial transformation at work offers several key benefits for organizations always at the ready for change.

They are technical, and they don't even know it. Millennial employees have an understanding of technology and communication tools which they didn't have to learn, they simply absorbed. They understand email, twitter, social networking and collaboration online at the genetic level, and have experience first hand how these tools make them more efficient communicators. No, they don't communicate the way we do, but don't mistake that for a lack of insight on their part

They are expert collaborators. Fueled by their technical experience, millennials have an innate understanding of what it takes to work together to achieve their objectives. While they might be stymied by an empty cubicle, give them a integration problem and a conference room, and their natural team dynamic takes hold with great positive results.

They have much to teach. If it were 1995, I would be able to make a joke about an 8-year-old setting the clock on the VCR right here. I haven't seen a VCR in years, but the millennials have the same experience to offer today as that 8-year-old of the 90's. They're quick studies, they love to play in the most constructive fashion, they are quick to the point and, most important of all, they really do work to live. There are reminders in the millennial work ethic that can make work better for all of us, if we're willing to listen.

Canary in the Coal Mine: When your teams aren’t functioning

This week, we sat down to record an episode of Navigating Change which addresses a topic that has become critically important in the work that I do with my clients. Across the higher education space, teams have been tasked to work differently, to face up to new challenges and obstacles, and to deliver results under conditions they have never encountered before. And while the obvious challenges that come with working in complex teams are plenty, those that can hurt the team the most tend to be hiding right under the surface. To sum it up:

As a manager, you are probably not aware of what is going wrong on your team.

Your first task as a manager or department leader is to deliver results. As such, we have established a cultural bias against sharing bad news, anything that doesn’t directly relate to delivering those results. When a staff member levels a concern of this nature, they risk being labeled a complainer, and so the routine continues. The result? A self-perpetuating culture of ignorance to the more insidious issues that may be occuring on your teams.

A leader needs to be willing to recognize that people will not be willing to share information that will potentially make them look bad unless they are confident that it won’t be pinned on them. In an environment of fear and blame, hiding the bad news trumps candor every time.

There is good news: you can change it.

First, understand that a mature, high-performing team does not have to agree 100% of the time. In fact, the best, most productive teams may not even have team members that like one another. But what you will see in every case of teams working well together across functions and projects is an environment of respect. As a leader, your job is to implement this key rule for interpersonal relationships: You may not like your colleagues, but respect them for the work they do.

Second, be a role model for open communication. Your teams will build their cultural habits based on cues they receive from you. If you are able to muster the strength to deliver news — the good and the bad — to your teams regularly, quickly, and succinctly, you will begin to see the same sort of respect for you.

Finally, take every mistake and use it as a visible opportunity for continuous improvement. Show that bad news does not equate to blame, but is a platform for conversation, learning, and new directions.

There is certainly more to be said here. I invite you to subscribe to Navigating Change (iTunes) and listen to the entire episode. Then, share your comments below and bring the discussion online.

The Economic Crisis: Danger or Opportunity?

Is the economic crisis a threat or hidden opportunity?  It depends.  For those who see it as a threat, they will maintain the status quo, keep their heads down and hope for the best.  For those who see this crisis as an opportunity, an entirely different set of behaviors come out - a renewed sense of energy and willingness to demonstrate their value to the organization. Which set of behaviors increase the likelihood of landing in a good or better place?   It reminds me of the story where a man is praying to God in hopes of winning the lottery.  After months of not having his prayers answered, God finally reaches down and says to the man “I have heard your prayers but if you could do me a favor…buy a ticket.”  To get something better in life, you’ve got to get in the game.

What are some strategies that can help shift ones point of view to recognizing opportunities in a crisis or difficult situation?  Here are five:

  1. Attitude Adjustment – Of all the strategies that can help shift one’s focus, attitude is the most important.  Attitude drives behavior.   As Dr. Alan Zimmerman talks about in his book Pivot: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success, “No one gave you a good attitude and no one can give you a bad attitude.  It’s a choice.”  This is a powerful statement and for many a useful wake-up call.  Recently Dr. Zimmerman was interviewed on CBS's Early Show and he was asked how we can maintain a positive attitude in the face of many challenges people face today.  His response was “Failure is not the falling down but the staying down”.  When people have setbacks, he suggests that they avoid the “Why” question.  Why did this happen to me?  Instead, focus on how you can learn from the failure.  Simple, yet useful advice.
  2. Network – Whether one is gainfully employed or looking for work, networking is a key strategy to stay connected with new opportunities.  Many of us find the prospect of networking to be outside of our comfort zone, but networking can bring huge dividends in learning about how one's organization is changing or about job opportunities that may be perfect for one’s skills.  Most jobs are filled through someone knowing a person who is right for the role.  With all of the hiring freezes, vacancies or even layoffs, now is the time to stand out and show your interest in making a greater contribution.  Management is looking for the best people right now, and they have much to choose from.  Improve your position by building relationships through networking.
  3. Take Risks – Networking is a form of risk-taking, i.e. getting out of your comfort zone.  Practicing stepping outside of one's comfort zone is an important skill to develop, especially in times of perceived crisis.   While others may be retreating to cautious behavior, those who take calculated risks can reap huge rewards.  Opportunities are waiting.
  4. Professional Development – This may be the best time to develop new skills.  If one’s organization offers professional or technical classes, jump in.  There are multiple benefits to this.  Firstly, new skills put one in a position to take on new responsibilities; secondly, it’s a networking opportunity. Most importantly, focusing on developing new skills increases one’s confidence and focuses one’s energy on positive action, versus the default reaction to how bad things are.
  5. Update One’s Resume or CV - Updating a resume can be a great way to increase one’s personal confidence.  Most of us wait until we need a resume for a job application versus using the process of updating a resume to survey one’s skills.  When we see our accomplishments on paper, it builds confidence to pursue other challenges or take on greater responsibility.  Even if you’re content with your current role, having a resume handy can be very useful if a new opportunity arises.  This is a competitive job market and many others are prepared to jump on an opportunity that may be perfect for you.

In times of crisis, we can dig our heels in, close our eyes and wait for the anticipated changes around us to happen.  This is one option.   We can also choose to get in the game by facing the challenge and asking “How can I help myself be in the best position when the dust settles?”  Reminding each other we have this choice is the best way to help ourselves and others through this economic crisis.

There are hidden opportunities in a crisis. The question is: Will we allow ourselves to get involved, take a chance and trust that we will benefit from our decision to be proactive?

Many thanks to Denis Walsh for his observations and feedback.


The Key To Getting Through This Economic Crisis

The economic crisis has jump-started a long-standing conversation among senior leaders in Higher Education. How can we best deliver services to our core stakeholders while finding ways to positively impact our financial condition? Since the economy tumbled in September 2008, actions taken by universities run the spectrum of “wait and see” to rethinking how to deliver services and programs, all while keeping the academic and administrative trains running. Like its corporate partners, colleges and universities are now publicly embracing the “bottom-line” as the core enabler of its mission. For institutions that have embarked on broad organizational change, one thing’s for sure. Staff and faculty are anxious. While the most prevalent anxiety spoken is “Will I still have a job on the other side of this crisis?”, it's not always about losing one’s job. The underlying fear is uncertainty.

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between… It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to. Marilyn Feguson Author and Public Speaker

In this period of change, institution leaders have two primary concerns: What if our planned restructuring to address the financial crisis evoke a sufficient negative reaction that cause it to fail? Even worse, what if the changes put in place are not enough?

On the other hand, if you ask staff doing the work what they fear, it's the uncertainty of how they're jobs may change or worse, go away.  The power of uncertainty can have great control over our lives.

The Power Of Uncertainty

Take this example from a study conducted at Emory University:

A team at Emory University examined what happened when people waited for an impending electric shock. Some people dreaded the shock so deeply that they chose to receive a more powerful shock earlier rather than waiting for a lesser shock to arrive at a later, random time. David Eagleman NY times Op-Ed, December 3, 2009

Why would someone choose this counter-intuitive behavior?  Simple.  It's more stressful to wait for something negative to happen than get it over with now.  Knowing what's coming has tremendous influence over our ability to focus.  When changes like possible layoffs or organizational restructuring are anticipated, people's anxiety levels are raised and strong emotions  are evoked - from anger and fear for some to enthusiasm and excitement for the lucky few.  The majority react to anticipated change assuming it will be bad for them.  This, in itself is an irrational reaction.

Shifting One's Focus

If we’re serious about transforming Higher Education, we need leaders to make tough decisions that position our institutions in a fiscally sound direction. These changes will not come all at once and require thoughtful analysis before implementing. There is no getting around that in this period of analysis, anxiety will be heightened because not all the answers will be clear.  Institutional leaders need to help their most important assets, people, get through this period of accelerating change.

But it's ultimately up to the individual to decide whether the coming changes are something to avoid or an opportunity to take advantage of.

Those who maintain a positive attitude through these challenging times are not free of fear or anxiety; they just choose to put their energy elsewhere.  How can I improve my value or get more involved?  What opportunities may come out of these changes that I can take advantage of?  Are there things I can be learning that will help me get through this better?  These questions are at the heart of shifting one's point of view from "Why is this happening to me?" to "How can I best get through this?"

The key to getting through this economic crisis is to build a business culture that helps people learn to make positive choices in the face of uncertainty.  It's a partnership between management needing to focus on the big picture and the individual choosing to be part of the solution.  This is true change management, transforming fear that breeds inaction to optimism that promotes opportunity and personal growth.

The Burning Platform For Change

Every once in a while management wakes up saying "let's get disciplined".  This is one of those times. In a strong economy, there's no compelling reason to embrace the idea of "doing more with less". The irony is if we were more disciplined in good economic times, downturns like we're experiencing right now would not be as difficult. But that's water under the bridge and human nature - a topic for a different time. The burning platform of "doing more will less" has spread to every industry, from corporate to non-profit, and educational institutions. The challenge is not "How do we get through this?" (which we will) but how can we build organizational structures and practices that retain the disciplines we're putting in place right now? It's easy to justify building stronger foundations when a tornado sweeps through.

Sustainability is a reminder to focus on the long term, not just the next financial cycle. It is necessary to start by tightening our belts, reducing budgets or institutionalizing temporary hiring freezes. But if we don't learn how to retain that discipline when the economy stabilizes or improves, we've learned very little - except to run from a tornado when it strikes.

A great book that takes this long-term horizon on sustainability in Higher Education is Boldly Sustainable, by Peter Bardaglio and Andrea Putman. I highly recommend this book, both in the context of environmental sustainability but more importantly, how Higher Education needs to reorganize business structures and practices to produce greater coordination across academic and administrative functions. This is critical for sustainability in the broadest sense of the word.

Raising the Bar on Buy-In!

Asking for "buy-in" to your latest initiative will get you passive indifference at best.  Maybe indifference is what you're looking for - light years improvement from outward dissatisfaction or hostility.  But if what you really want is to motivate stakeholders (senior management, administrators, researchers, faculty or staff) to your idea, buy-in often only produces a willingness to not go against the initiative.  Most likely you're looking for champions or enthusiastic support.  Saying to a group "we're looking for your buy-in" communicates you want to inform, not involve. The way to get enthusiastic support is if you bring them into the circle by asking for help, feedback, ideas and participation.  Yes, some stakeholders may ask difficult questions.  But don't fool yourself into thinking that by keeping them at arm's length with periodic updates that you've got their support. 

Too often the bar is set too low around what we can ask or expect of others. For a group to be jazzed about an idea, you've got to get them involved in the change, not just inform them what's coming.

To learn more about how to do this, feel free to contact me.  I'll be happy to share some of our strategies.
Howard Teibel
617 448-3634 mobile

If It's Not Broke...

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving As part of a larger strategic effort to improve operational performance across your organization, centralizing business functions can be a very useful change. The rationale behind these projects is that by reducing redundancy, the quality of the work can be improved, processes can be made more efficient and cost savings can be realized.

If only it be this easy. Like many initiatives that include structural and people change, solving one problem creates another. Imagine an army of people sitting in their metaphorical chairs for years at a time, comfortable with what they know and their position in the organization. Centralizing work changes all the rules.

Three guiding principles will help when embarking on centralizing work projects:

1. Getting management on the same page

The best way to create positive momentum on these projects is to have leadership speaking with one voice. Once new roles are defined and the model is tested (ex: a Business Center becomes operational) it is critical for staff to know that management will hold people accountable to their new roles. Without a consistent voice from management and regular reminders of people's roles, staff will push on the boundaries of their shifting responsibilities, making it much more difficult for everyone to adjust to the new model.

2. Building trust by being inclusive

The process your staff will go through getting accustomed to new roles and responsibilities takes time and requires patience from everyone involved. Management should set up check points where people can weigh in how the new process is working. Asking for feedback and genuinely listening to their ideas and concerns will go a long way to helping build trust. The more people feel they have a voice, the more they will take ownership in the change.

3. Attitude is everything

Two primary groups are affected by this change - those who will be inheriting the work of others and those giving up pieces of their job. Although this can be stressful, at some point people need to make a choice - they're either part of the solution or part of the problem. This doesn't mean accepting an unworkable process, rather for all players to ask themselves what they can do to help the new process succeed.

By applying these three principles - Leadership speaking with one voice, management listening to staff ideas and concerns and most importantly everyone asking themselves how they can be part of the solution - this is how you get through initiatives that involve changing roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.

The New Normal

You'd be lying to yourself if you weren't privately hoping for the stock market to stabilize, win back your losses and pick up where you left off last September 15, 2008. It gives me comfort to think this is just another blip in the big picture and all that's needed is time for the recovery. The prevailing wisdom is "let's just get through this." Although denial is a powerful emotion and an effective way of getting through difficult times, maybe "getting though this" is not what we should be striving for. If a crystal ball could somehow show that the next five years don't look much different from today, would you navigate your business decisions differently right now?

Management struggles with questions like: Is this the time to invest or be conservative? Retrench or expand? Do we shed more workforce or move forward with what we've got? It’s even tougher for those who don't know what management will choose to do next. Am I being leveled with or should I start looking for work elsewhere?

Regardless of our role, we need to find ways to focus on accepting the challenges ahead without becoming pessimistic.

Step One: Stop fixating on the business section of your newspaper (For those who believe "information is power", continue reading but remember bad news sells much better than good news!)

Step Two: Consider we're all adjusting to a "New Normal", which is the idea that things will never go back to the way they were. Navigating the new normal is the equivalent of hitting the reset button on your computer and starting with an entirely new set of expectations, balancing reality with a positive view of the future.

A Necessary Core Belief The irony of this very difficult economy is that with so many challenges facing us, including debt issues, job losses and people’s concerns at home, many of us will come out stronger. For those that do come out ahead, a common theme you will find is a view of the world centered around optimism. Not false hope but a sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Optimism drives ones sense they can make a difference no matter how bad things get.

Consider the following: Management across all industries are beginning to raise their heads above the fox hole and are asking “Who are the people we want to move forward with”? Today, there is as much an opportunity to stand out as a contributor than ever before. The key question in the face of this culture of pessimism (often driven by the news) is: Can you avoid getting sucked into negativity and remain aware of the challenges, while remaining positive?

Yes, being awake to the challenges surrounding us can be emotionally draining and difficult to deal with as one person. In business, we address this by focusing on teamwork, which is much more than a poster on the wall that offers pithy sayings how to get things done. Businesses in this new economy will fail if they don’t learn how to put real teamwork into practice. Think hospital emergency rooms as the model for effective teamwork. Behave with this sense of urgency and you’re more than halfway there.

If you can find ways to bring optimism and genuine teamwork to your organization (or a business you’re looking to join), you become part of the solution. Wait for things to change and hope for the best - you’ll probably find yourself on the sidelines with a reinforced view why things are so bad.

Ten Team Behaviors To Look Out For

It's reasonable to expect teams to collaborate. Human nature however leads people to manage their own "slice of the pie". Management needs to take a hard look at the real message being conveyed across the organization about getting things done. The question can be boiled down to: Is success measured by realized strategic outcomes or is it about not being singled out as the reason for failure? Too often, senior management assumes that groups are working toward a common goal while at the tactical level, sub-groups or departments are playing hot potato with their unique tasks. Being accountable is often about not getting caught holding up the larger project versus being collectively accountable to the overall success.

What are the symptoms that point to issues of team performance? Consider these ten behaviors and attitudes:

  1. Low output and productivity
  2. Frequent complaints within the team
  3. Internal confusion about roles
  4. Ineffective meetings
  5. Lack of clear goals or low commitment to goals
  6. Problems working with the team leader
  7. People do not speak up and contribute ideas
  8. Decisions are made that people do not understand or support
  9. The team does not appear to have good working relationships with other teams
  10. People feel that good work is not recognized or teamwork is not valued

If you believe half of these behaviors are present in your group, it's probably worth taking a look at what can be done to proactively turns things around. Much of the work of building team is about having greater transparency and dialogue around the issues described above. Finding ways to talk about it goes a long way in addressing the problems.

The Art Of Delegating

All of us need to delegate at some point. Whether we're the person in charge or doing front-line work, delegating is a critical skill to be effective in the workplace. The difficulty is it requires the following four key behaviors:

  • Ability to instruct or teach
  • Patience
  • Allowing the other person to make mistakes
  • Letting go of an insatiable desire for control

Many of us have forgotten what's it's like to learn something new. Our own skills and competence came from others allowing us to step into new roles or responsibilities. We learn best by doing, and delegating to others gives them that opportunity to grow.

When delegating, keep in mind these three things:

  1. Does the delegatee understand what's expected of them? Don't assume. Ask!
  2. Are you prepared for the delegatee to make mistakes or come back with questions? If not, don't delegate the work. You're only setting them up for failure (in your eyes).
  3. Are you willing for this person to do the work using their style and method? How one performs the task is only one way it can be accomplished. Focus more on the outcome you're looking for, not the style or method someone uses to get there.

Communicating Bad News

Breaking down communication barriers is no easy task, and it opens the classic question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Management is waiting to hear what’s really going on while staff is waiting to hear it’s ok to communicate breakdowns or bad news. (This, by the way, is not the same as complaining, which is communicating bad news with no commitment to action.) Organizations are often left with the “blame game” being played out over every missed deadline or poorly rolled out deliverable.  Here's what management needs to realize - your staff will not take the step of communicating bad news unless you explicitly demand it of them. For staff - you may never get explicit permission from management to stop filtering bad news.  The good and bad news?   Regardless of your role, the ball is in your court.

Broadening the Definition of "The Bottom Line"

I don’t like change. If you say you do, there is a good chance you are either a masochist, a consultant, or just plain lying. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to change—it can even be inspiring, but do you really seek it out? Or is it just that you are adept at responding to it? Love it or hate it there is no denying that change is disruptive, plain and simple. In business, you’re constantly faced with change - new markets, economic forces, staffing issues, software upgrades, the list goes on. The work of the 21st century business leader is to evaluate how to deal with this endless list of opportunities and challenges, and filter it through the “bottom-line” – financial measures that reflect the health of the organization.

Besides financial measures, what else should leaders take into account in making strategic decisions? How about “Trust Equity”, or how well you and your people operate transparently with each other.

Do you not say your most important assets are those you surround yourself with? Ideally, this core group of bright, articulate and entrepreneurial individuals operate as your eyes and ears, evaluating economic, market and technology changes.

Does it matter if your financials are solid but there’s tension across department? Should you care if your staff isn’t operating to their potential but you’re still making money or expenses are under control? How often do we honestly step back from the fires we are dealing with and ask the broader question “If we were a really solid team, how much more could we do?”

Face it. You really don’t know what’s going on. Your direct reports will do everything in their power to show how well and on target they are, while avoiding news that may concern or upset you. This should come as no surprise. It’s human nature to look out for ones security.

This is a core benefit of building trust equity. Trust is the means to an end, the most important end is knowing what’s going on around you. Although we often operate by the principle “No news is good news”, it’s “What you don’t know that will kill you!” Building trust allows you to manage down in a way that encourages people to uncover issues they don’t think you want to hear.

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.