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phil buckley

When a Step Back is the Way Forward


Organizations going through big changes often fall prey to their original change plan because following it suggests that leaders and their project teams have everything worked out. The longer the team stays on track, the greater the confidence that it is the right plan. Conversely, adjusting the plan can make it look flawed and raises doubts about the path forward.

In an environment where changes are seen as mistakes, people focus their efforts on delivering the plan versus testing it to make sure it will still deliver results. This behaviour is reinforced when rewards are tied to plan completion instead of what it delivers.

This is not how change initiatives work; the plan often needs to be modified as new information becomes known. Making real-time adjustments can mitigate risks and focus resources where they will have the greatest impact. 


You need to take a step back when new information becomes known to see if it has any bearing on the change plan. I do this by asking these questions:

1) Why is it important?
This helps me differentiate between important and urgent information. Sometimes things can seem important based on how it is delivered. If it is important, what are the implications of this data? How does it impact the plan, if at all?

2) What do I need to know?
New information requires investigation, which usually creates additional information needs. Asking this question helps me determine what I already know and what I need to source. It also demonstrates to stakeholders that action is being taken. 

3) What experiences can I learn from?
Similar circumstances have most likely occurred in this organization. This question often leads to hypotheses or options to consider. Similar experiences also help identify risks associated with different courses of action.

4) What works and doesn’t work?

In any organization, culture and current business realities influence what leaders and their teams will support or reject. For example, a very hierarchical organization will most likely reject a course of action that requires employee empowerment and decision making. Looking at options through these filters help identify changes that will be effective.

It is easy for your plan to become the goal versus the result it is intended to deliver. Taking a step back to ask a few questions will help define the best path forward, even if it is different from the original one.

Phil

Three Steps to Marketing Your Business When You Don’t Have the Time

Early in My Career

Early in my career I ran a training and development department in a Toronto branch of the Business Development Bank (BDC). Our mandate was help small and and medium-sized businesses by building their knowledge, skills and capabilities. One of my most popular courses was on small business marketing that I taught at a local college in the evenings. 

Every group raised the challenge of needing to marketing but having little time or money to do so. Time was the biggest issue; when business was brisk you had no time to market, which resulted in an eventual drop in business. It seemed impossible to do both activities at the same time. 

Now, as a small business owner, I am experiencing the same challenge. When I am at full capacity with consulting assignments, I have little time to market. I know that if I don’t market I will eventually gain capacity, which isn’t a good thing.

I have taken three simple steps to ensure I market regardless of my workload: 

1. Define the portfolio of marketing activities worth investing in

There are twenty-three activities I use to market. It may sound like a lot, but many of them require minimal time or have low frequency.

2. Detail the work required for each activity including when it needs to be done

This step has helped me plan my marketing time, often late at night or on weekends. I manage by lists and adding these activities has helped me ensure they don’t get forgotten.

3. Set goals by month and track progress weekly

Weekly marketing goals didn’t work for me because of the variability of client needs. It was was an unproductive and frustrating exercise. Tracking progress weekly, however, let me know what I had achieved and how much I had left to do.


Now I am focused on working my plan and track progress. I am also measuring efficacy of each activity so that I can focus on the most effective ones. 

I still feel I don’t have enough time to market, but I am achieving a lot anyway. Should any business owner feel like they have done ‘enough’ marketing?

Phil

Have You Helped A Reporter Out Lately? You Might Like It

In January, I was looking for new ways to promote my book and consulting business. One of my goals for 2014 is to broaden my global reach and I knew I needed to adopt new marketing efforts to do so.

I discovered a great opportunity for free PR. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a matching service for reporters and information sources. Reporters from media agencies such as The New York Times, Huffingtonpost.com and ABC News post information requests for articles. People with that information respond to an HARO email address. The reporter gets the information she or he needs and the information source gets mentioned in the article. A fair trade.


Signing up was easy. Within five minutes I had completed a short registration form and selected my areas of interest. Shortly after, I was scanning the first of three daily emails listing queries.

I have responded to two requests: one on workplace productivity and another on learning how to relax. Like most things in life, it takes a couple of attempts before getting it right.

My initial approach was to provide all of my content in the email. For example, for the learning to relax article, I talked about how I needed to recalibrate my life after a whirlwind year and my three-point plan to get back on track:

  • Scheduling recreational activities on my work calendar 
  • Devoting more time to running, a fitness activity that I find relaxing, especially when listening to music
  • Stopping work-related activities thirty minutes before going to bed
I realized that I was writing the story versus pitching my value as a source for it. What if the reporter wasn’t interested in a three-point plan?

My next response will be different. I will mention why I would make a good information source and provide an insight to spark interest. It might be more help to the reporter and create more PR for me. I know I will like helping a reporter out.

Phil

Helping People Set Their Own Expectations Around Change

The importance of setting expectations about change came to mind when I got our son Charlie’s phone repaired. I had scheduled the time to do so based on little information (hours of operation) and a lot of optimism. This won’t take long, I thought.

I saw 22 people waiting to be served when I entered Samsung’s walk-in service centre. My expectations and my mood immediately fell. 

In front of me was a touch screen that dispensed tickets indicating your place in line. It also displayed how many people were waiting and what type of service they needed.

As I waited, I noticed that each transaction took five to ten minutes to complete, except for pick ups that took less than five. A large tally board helped me update my wait time expectation based on how quickly the four service representatives moved through the line. My 40 minute wait didn’t seem too long.

When I returned an hour later to pick up the phone, the number of waiting customers had grown to 28. Not great, but I quickly estimated my wait time, adjusted my expectations and settled in for a longer wait. 

My mood brightened when eight numbers were called with no owners  they didn’t wait. Again, I recalibrated my waiting time. Next, a service representative called for all pick up orders. The three of us jumped out of our seats and within five minutes we were on our way. That didn’t take long, I thought.

The parallels between my phone repair experience and large organizational changes are compelling. We need to provide people with the tools and knowledge to set realistic expectations about how they will need to change  without doing so, they will form first impressions and judge progress based on their own expectations and little information. 

Leaders need to share their expectations and the assumptions they are based on. Then they must provide updates (like the tally board) on what has changed so that people can recalibrate their expectations. Often, people interpret delays as failures when they are only prudent adjustments based on new information. Giving them the knowledge and tools to manage their expectations makes them active participants in the change process, which leads to greater commitment and engagement. It also builds their capabilities for the next time when something needs to be fixed.

Phil

Helping People Set Their Own Expectations Around Change

The importance of setting expectations about change came to mind when I got our son Charlie’s phone repaired. I had scheduled the time to do so based on little information (hours of operation) and a lot of optimism. This won’t take long, I thought.

I saw 22 people waiting to be served when I entered Samsung’s walk-in service centre. My expectations and my mood immediately fell. 

In front of me was a touch screen that dispensed tickets indicating your place in line. It also displayed how many people were waiting and what type of service they needed.

As I waited, I noticed that each transaction took five to ten minutes to complete, except for pick ups that took less than five. A large tally board helped me update my wait time expectation based on how quickly the four service representatives moved through the line. My 40 minute wait didn’t seem too long.

When I returned an hour later to pick up the phone, the number of waiting customers had grown to 28. Not great, but I quickly estimated my wait time, adjusted my expectations and settled in for a longer wait. 

My mood brightened when eight numbers were called with no owners  they didn’t wait. Again, I recalibrated my waiting time. Next, a service representative called for all pick up orders. The three of us jumped out of our seats and within five minutes we were on our way. That didn’t take long, I thought.

The parallels between my phone repair experience and large organizational changes are compelling. We need to provide people with the tools and knowledge to set realistic expectations about how they will need to change  without doing so, they will form first impressions and judge progress based on their own expectations and little information. 

Leaders need to share their expectations and the assumptions they are based on. Then they must provide updates (like the tally board) on what has changed so that people can recalibrate their expectations. Often, people interpret delays as failures when they are only prudent adjustments based on new information. Giving them the knowledge and tools to manage their expectations makes them active participants in the change process, which leads to greater commitment and engagement. It also builds their capabilities for the next time when something needs to be fixed.

Phil

Did Culture Destroy This Company?

I was surprised to read that a top ten Canadian law firm had closed down. The partners of Heenan Blaikie LLP had voted to dissolve their 40 year old firm of more than 550 lawyers. They chose to do so after recording a profit of $75 million on $222 million revenue in 2013. What would make them do that?

In the last week, Heenan Blaikie’s demise has been attributed to:

  • The 2012 retirement of Roy Heenan, one of its founders and chairman for 39 years
  • The inability of the executive committee to appoint a replacement
  • Replacing the two long-standing co-managing partners of the firm and heads of the Montreal and Toronto offices
  • In-fighting between the new co-managing partners and their teams
  • No aligned vision of the future or long-term strategy
  • Product mix issues caused by a decline of M&A and resources industry work due to the recession
  • Greater competition and client demands for big discounts
  • Over-expansion during the recession 
  • Reputation damage through association with a client charged 
  • Restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting tensions
  • Loss of star partners, along with their clients and capital
  • The closing of a few large files that were ongoing sources of revenue
  • Exodus of partners (40 in the last few weeks of the firm), many being poached by other firms after partners learned that profitability (and their compensation) decreased by 15 percent versus last year
  • A change in culture

I found the last reason the most revealing and significant. How did a culture change contribute to closing a venerable law firm that had attracted former Prime Ministers (Trudeau and Chrétien) and other dignitaries to join as partners? To answer this question I had to understand the culture before and after it changed.

Heenan Blaikie LLP was formed in 1973 by three school friends. Their partnership was sealed by handshakes. As the firm grew, a people-first culture was built and maintained by the partners, led by Roy Heenan. “We had a happy firm where people liked each other. We didn’t try to be the highest-paid firm but the happiest firm in the country.” John Craig, who joining in 2001, described the firm as “a really great place to work. It wasn’t the stuffy Bay Street environment that people hear about.” Many partners described the culture as collegial and family-like.


In the last couple of years, there was more focus placed on M&A and financial business. Hiring practices also changed. One person observed that they were hiring for revenue versus cultural fit. “They were just taking on people to bring in a lot of money.” 

Managers began scrutinizing and comparing practices, questioning billable hours versus lawyers employed. Matters became worse when some partners left for more money. Mark Power, a lawyer in the Ottawa office, said “The issue isn’t that Heenan Blaikie was not profitable; the issue seems to be that it was not profitable enough for some.” 

Without a leader or a common vision of the future, squabbling, rivalries and power struggles heightened between the Toronto and Montreal offices. Accusations were made that offices weren’t contributing their fair share. As Roy Heenan summed it up, “There was no trust” and people weren’t working as a team. Once you start feeling that this isn’t a happy place, you go somewhere else.”

Marcel Aubut, partner and Canadian Olympic Committee President, joined another firm on Monday. “My team and I are joining an entrepreneurial and forward-thinking company, two important criteria that (match) my values.” He may not have had to if the values and culture at Heenan Blaikie had survived.

Phil

Did culture destroy this company?

I was surprised to read that a top ten Canadian law firm had closed down. The partners of Heenan Blaikie LLP had voted to dissolve their 40 year old firm of more than 550 lawyers. They chose to do so after recording a profit of $75 million on $222 million revenue in 2013. What would make them do that?

In the last week, Heenan Blaikie’s demise has been attributed to:

  • The 2012 retirement of Roy Heenan, one of its founders and chairman for 39 years
  • The inability of the executive committee to appoint a replacement
  • Replacing the two long-standing co-managing partners of the firm and heads of the Montreal and Toronto offices
  • In-fighting between the new co-managing partners and their teams
  • No aligned vision of the future or long-term strategy
  • Product mix issues caused by a decline of M&A and resources industry work due to the recession
  • Greater competition and client demands for big discounts
  • Over-expansion during the recession 
  • Reputation damage through association with a client charged 
  • Restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting tensions
  • Loss of star partners, along with their clients and capital
  • The closing of a few large files that were ongoing sources of revenue
  • Exodus of partners (40 in the last few weeks of the firm), many being poached by other firms after partners learned that profitability (and their compensation) decreased by 15 percent versus last year
  • A change in culture

I found the last reason the most revealing and significant. How did a culture change contribute to closing a venerable law firm that had attracted former Prime Ministers (Trudeau and Chrétien) and other dignitaries to join as partners? To answer this question I had to understand the culture before and after it changed.

Heenan Blaikie LLP was formed in 1973 by three school friends. Their partnership was sealed by handshakes. As the firm grew, a people-first culture was built and maintained by the partners, led by Roy Heenan. “We had a happy firm where people liked each other. We didn’t try to be the highest-paid firm but the happiest firm in the country.” John Craig, who joining in 2001, described the firm as “a really great place to work. It wasn’t the stuffy Bay Street environment that people hear about.” Many partners described the culture as collegial and family-like.

In the last couple of years, there was more focus placed on M&A and financial business. Hiring practices also changed. One person observed that they were hiring for revenue versus cultural fit. “They were just taking on people to bring in a lot of money.” 

Managers began scrutinizing and comparing practices, questioning billable hours versus lawyers employed. Matters became worse when some partners left for more money. Mark Power, a lawyer in the Ottawa office, said “The issue isn’t that Heenan Blaikie was not profitable; the issue seems to be that it was not profitable enough for some.” 

Without a leader or a common vision of the future, squabbling, rivalries and power struggles heightened between the Toronto and Montreal offices. Accusations were made that offices weren’t contributing their fair share. As Roy Heenan summed it up, “There was no trust” and people weren’t working as a team. Once you start feeling that this isn’t a happy place, you go somewhere else.”


Marcel Aubut, partner and Canadian Olympic Committee President, joined another firm on Monday. “My team and I are joining an entrepreneurial and forward-thinking company, two important criteria that (match) my values.” He may not have had to if the values and culture at Heenan Blaikie had survived.

Phil

What is Wrong with Change Management Consulting?

Many leaders hire external consultants to help them and their teams adopt new ways of thinking and behaving to achieve desired results. These experts apply their capabilities and experience to assess the organization, build a change plan and manage the transition process. If all goes well, the change is made and the consultants move on. Nothing wrong with that, unless the consultants:

  • Create a dependency on their expertise so that leaders defer decision making to them. I have seen leaders look at consultants for approval before answering questions about the business. This isn’t healthy or sustainable. Consultants provide perspectives for leaders to make better decisions, not make decisions for leaders.
  • Don’t build change capabilities. Change is constant, complex and uncertain. Building people’s ability to navigate change is a must. Change agility, the ability to manage multiple and continuous changes, is rapidly becoming a source of competitive advantage. Part of a change consultant’s mandate should be to transfer their knowledge and skill to clients so that they need less or no support in the future. Instead of holding a client’s hand, he or she needs to strengthen their muscles.
  • Rigidly employ their proprietary methodology. Frameworks are helpful in structuring the activities required to change how people think and behave. Although change is rarely linear, a sequential approach or methodology is helpful in ensuring that your address all aspects of a change. The problem arises when the framework is implemented without customization to the client’s circumstances. This happens when consultants are in love with their design or they don’t want to invest the time into rethinking it based on client needs. This can lead to a checklist mentality where completion of the steps is the goal versus implementing the right steps for the change. Also, adherence to one methodology excludes other approaches and tools that might be better suited for the organization. The best change management consultants use a blend of approaches and tools that are appropriate to the need. They only use what is needed for that change regardless of who created it.
  • Leave before the change is embedded. People need time to internalize new ways of thinking and behaving. Launching a change doesn’t mean it will stick. People need guidance and encouragement as they try out new ways of working to see if they work for them. If not, many will revert back to old ways, reducing the benefits of the change. Change consultants need to monitor progress and provide assistance to those who need it until they work. Only then can they move on knowing the change has taken hold.


So what is right with change management consulting? External consultants partner with leaders to transition their organization to new ways of thinking and behaving. They consciously build change agility skills and resist the temptation to “do the change” for leaders ‒ they help leaders lead change. The best consultants also invest time in assessing the organization and its needs, employing the approaches and tools that are best for the change. Their work is done only when new ways of working become everyday practices, knowing that the benefits of the change will be realized. 

Phil

The Easier it Looks, the More Preparation it Takes

I heard Commander Chris Hadfield speak at the HRPA conference last Friday. He commanded the International Space Station last year and developed a worldwide following by posting Youtube videos about life in space. He also recorded a version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity that was watched by ten million people in three days – 21 million to date.

Chris talked about his career and his experiences. He also spoke about the importance of teams having a shared vision, developing deep relationships and investing in exhaustive preparation. He told stories of working with his crew for five years in preparation for their mission. 

At the end of Chris’ talk it was announced that he would be staying to sign copies of his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Hundreds of us bought a copy and stood in line for the opportunity to share a few words with this inspiring man.

After thirty minutes of waiting, a coordinator apologetically said that given the unanticipated high interest to the book signing, Chris would have to leave before everyone could get their books signed. A pre-signed card was offered as a consolation prize. 

To my surprise, forty of the sixty people on the wrong side of the line left. They had just heard a hero talk about perseverance and giving it your best then quickly they took “no” for an answer. 

The twenty, including me, who stayed were a motivated bunch. We reasoned that there was no way a commander of a space station would leave without signing our books, not this commander. The next twenty minutes were spent strategizing and reviewing scenarios – how many security guards were guarding him, which way would he exit, should we get his attention by singing Rocket Man or Oh Canada? Failure was not an option.

We were not disappointed. Once Chris saw the band of twenty he welcomed everyone to join the line. After shaking his hand I asked him if it was a bit overwhelming. I was referring to his popularity but he assumed I was talking about the long book signing. He said, “Absolutely not, I get to meet all these great people.” He made it sound easy.

That night, I watched the Space Oddity video a few times. It was well edited and Chris looked like he spent all of his time in orbit calmly singing, play guitar and floating around a space station. It looked easy.

I searched the Internet for details on making the video. The process started with Chris’ son, Evan, convincing his dad to record the song. Evan rewrote the lyrics so that the astronaut returns to earth safely, a good omen for his dad. 

Chris recorded an initial vocal track on his ipad using Garage Band software. He asked his friend Emm Gryner, a musician who had toured with Bowie, for her opinion. She liked it and added a piano track and asked her friend, Joe Corkoran, to add instrumentation. The song was sent to Bowie, which he really liked. Once his permission was secured and legal requirements were completed, Chris rerecorded the final audio track. 

In his spare time, Chris filmed himself singing and playing guitar in different parts of the space station. After mixing and editing, the video was uploaded to Youtube by his son on May 12, 2012, the day before the commander returned to earth.

What a story, what preparation. Definitely not easy. Phil

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

I thought of the Steve Martin and John Candy’s movie Trains, Planes and Automobiles when I was stranded in New Jersey on Tuesday.

It was a busy week that started with an early Monday morning flight to Newark followed by a day and a half of client meetings.  

I rarely take afternoon flights but I needed to be home the next day for an HRPA Conference speaking engagement and book signing. I remember Morten Hansen, the co-author Great By Choice, saying that he never travels on a speaking day because of unforeseen delays. I didn’t want to test his rule.

At 10:49 am, I received a text from Air Canada informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to weather. I had been rebooked on a flight at 6 am the next day (the day of my session). It was inconvenient but my flight would still arrive seven hours before my 3:10 pm start time. I toyed with the idea of driving home but the 10 hour trip and loss of sleep didn’t make sense.

Throughout the morning people talked about the big storm that was about to hit the northeast coast. The first snow flakes fell at 8 am and by 12 pm the storm was in full swing and most people had gone home. 

By 3:30 pm, visibility was low and there were six inches of snow on the ground. I left the office with my fellow traveler, Tim, to buy a change of clothes at the local Marshall’s. The roads were slippery, especially since our rental car did not have snow tires.

Back at our hotel I received another text from Air Canada: My 6:00 am flight had been cancelled (due to weather) and I was rebooked on a flight the next morning at 8:40 am (the day after my presentation!).

“Dread” is the best word to describe how I felt. It was possible that I would miss a speaking engagement at the one of the largest conferences in Canada where over 100 people had signed up for my sessoin. The car option was back on the table.

Tim and I analyzed the problem. How important was the commitment? Extremely important – cost was not an issue. What were my options? Planes, trains and automobiles.

The train option didn’t work due to schedules. The car option didn’t work either: New York City’s mayor declared a state of emergency and hotel staff shared stories of four-hour commutes. I wouldn’t make it through the storm.

Plane was my only viable option. Although Air Canada had cancelled all of its flights, Tim located a Porter Airlines flight leaving Newark at 11:10 am. I would arrive in time for my session as long as the flight was less than 90 minutes late. 

I had kept the conference coordinator apprised of my situation since the first cancelled flight. Also, my wife, Barb, was on stand by, ready to meet me at the airport with a suit. The only thing left to do was follow the plan.

I got to the airport two hours ahead of my flight. The calm of the deserted airport seemed at odds with the magnitude of my challenge. Even the border guards and coffee baristas were chatty, which I would have enjoyed under other circumstances. I kept thinking, “take off on time, take off on time”.  We did. 

I arrived at the conference centre with 55 minutes to spare. I tested my slides with the tech team and was settled in my room before the first attendee arrived. I opened my session by saying, “The hardest part about working in change management is following your own advice when you are managing personal change.” My planes, trains and automobiles story was an effective metaphor for organizational change.

In managing change, you do the best with what you’ve got. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. The only thing for certain is that you will have a good story to tell when it is over.


Phil

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