Implementation

E. Forrest Christian Change 7 Comments

I’ve avoided talking about implementation for awhile. So let’s get into it!

I’ve got some questions and thoughts that I’ll be posting over the next few days about the general problems associated with “implementing RO”. Although I think that the whole idea is kind of whacked. It sounds a bit like “how do we get these people on board with our change?” My answer was always “Use physical coercion against their loved ones” but most people didn’t like that. Truth is, you can’t make anyone do anything. Without coercion. You can invite but that’s about it. Otherwise you can guarantee that the change will backfire in a remarkable way.

But maybe I say that because I’m such a controlling son of gun.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 7

  1. The implementation is a virtual impossibility where it is not lead from the top of the organization. To ensure maximum benefit this begins with CEO and has the board enrolled in those practices which are consistent with their governance role. For example the board of directors as a key accountability need to ensure that a succession planning process exists within the corporation. Their interest is obviously on a broader application than a particular managerial practice. The board and the CEO should both buy into the merits of SST and RO managerial practices.

    Appreciating all of this there really needs to be at this level a comprehensive understanding of the underlying theory in order to rationalize the systematic implementation of the managerial system and the order in which the managerial practices should be introduced to ensure a logical order and progression supporting a structural hierarchy that is designed to facilitate requisite role relationships and the proper levels of work. One of the potential pitfalls is the desire to cherry pick the system without the understanding that the system is a whole system for management. Couple this with the innate desire for an instant result and it is conceivable that the subject organization who is incapable of linking the input (implementation of the system) to an instant output and it is difficult for these organizations to stay the course.

    It is not surprising that even following exposure many of these organizations lack the discipline to follow through. The old adage that strategy fails in the implementation. In some organizations that I am familiar with even several years after introducing the concept managers have not found the discipline to read and understand the literature and attempt to learn through osmosis and winging it, or are out preaching the theory to their SI subordinates. Obviously by this point the system needs to be reduced to perform this appraisal of personal effectiveness or assign tasks in this manner cpQQT/R, or, or. It is inconceivable that individuals with disjunctive or conjunctive complexity of mental processing are going to be capable of rationalizing the theory and being capable of implementation of the system. As a minimum conditional mental processing is required for systems implementation and bi-conditional mental processing is required for systems design. We might consider that the complexity of the structural design and the orderly implementation would require SV capability for successful redesign and implementation considering that not only does the new system require a proper sequencing in its implementation but also the undoing of existing dysfunctional and corrupt systems need addressing in association with and in proper sequencing in conjunction with the implementation of the new system.

    Interestingly enough, at least in my view, central to employment systems are the compensatory processes and as much as organizations will argue for the absolute need for change they will also argue for preservation of these dysfunctional systems, Central to the purpose is an understanding of the current organizational culture and the potential interpretations that will accompany systems change, particularly where the existing culture is devoid of mutual trust. Specifically, while we undoubtedly agree that mutual trust is a correlate of the functionality of the system we need to be cognizant of the risks, obstacles and opportunities that are associated with altering existing systems where there is an absence of trust. Thus the critical consideration is the logical ordering of the implementation.

    From my view I would propose that the place to begin is in defining the structure, then the role accountabilities, descriptions and authorities, collateral and crossfunctional relationships, followed by an implementation of requisite managerial practices, and then an overhaul of the social and compensatory systems. From the onset mutual trust will be enhanced where the manager and subordinate are engaged in requisite managerial practices that build the trust through the social interaction. The discovery subsequent to these interactions will invariably be that there are all these antiquated systems in place that need to be revised to accommodate and enhance the functional capability of the organization.

    The achilles heel is if the leadership doesn’t stay the course the implementation fails. A difficult proposition where so many organizations and their senior officers are focused on operational and not strategic work and where the expectation of the market is if the business can’t demonstrate the value somewhere within one and four quarters management’s attention is misspent. One can definitely rationalize the significant need for courageous and persistent leadership, a strong CEO, supported by a knowledgeable board of directors. Finally, it is difficult to conceive that the magnitude of systems change being contemplated will be successfully enacted without some outside assistance. Thus what one really requires in the final assessment in addition to all of the above is a knowledgeable consultant.

  2. OK, let me play the contrarian. I’m in a mid-size organization as head of administrative services, and implementation of RO is an issue I’m actually considering. In my real world, no one has the authority to do this wholly and enterprise-wide.

    APFG’s scenario sounds like a conventional consultant prescription for a major strategic change. “. . . [I]mplementation is a virtual impossibility where it is not lead from the top of the organization. . . . One of the potential pitfalls is the desire to cherry pick the system . . . . [E]ven following exposure many of these organizations lack the discipline to follow through. The old adage that strategy fails in the implementation.”

    Well, who are these hacks at the top and how did all of them get keys to the executive washroom? This implementation strategy fails in the strategy. Refer back to Henry Mintzberg’s The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (1994), where he scans 3 decades of planning literature in a vain search for validation of the model of analysis/strategy/programs/implementation leads to promised result. Like Jaques’ method of constructing SST after years of research, not before, Mintzberg then works from observation to ask, what is an existing, new or emerging strategy, and where in fact did it come from? How did it get implemented? Strategy most often is what is really working in the operational context, the result of true tacit success experienced by real managers. Detachment of strategy from operations is a crucial fallacy.

    Change doesn’t come from the brilliant MBA chatting with the heroic CEO. That is, unless you’ve got the luxury of building an organization from the ground up (where you are changing a conventional model to an innovative one, before injecting real people), or a true entrepreneurial visionary CEO still enjoying the trust of his troops, or if you have been named CEO in receivership due to bankruptcy and no one cares any more.

    Both healthy and dysfunctional organizations push back when the new plan comes from on high. Those orders are a declaration that the top doesn’t trust the middle or bottom. The trick for the CEO is to know what is working inside the organization and to promote and replicate it, not hatch a mental model of a chicken and order his managers to start flapping and clucking. The latter is almost always the prescription for failure regardless of the idea.

    (I was truly amazed at the percentage of self-assessing executives who admitted failure in performance improvement efforts in that Celerant/EIU study, by the way. And I was doubtful of the rest.)

    Mintzberg noted that what is required for major change is personal trust and commitment. Top down strategic planning, programming and control tends to destroy trust by taking real authority away from managers who are ordered to serve the plan. Test this idea against SST, where each stratum has its own realm of authority, and constant communication is used for alignment of effort, not for transmittal of orders.

    Think trial and error. Think American Pragmatism and English Empiricism. Stop this crazy Continental Rationalism of contructing logical models of the world and lamenting the world won’t conform to the model. [“The last organization I advised unfortunately lacked the top-down discipline to follow through on my advice. But you don’t lack courage and discipline, do you, Mr CEO? I thought not. Won’t be our fault if it fails.”]

    Let’s flip the prescription over, and test the following: “Implementation will succeed only if individual managers learn the theory and have an opportunity to test it. Only if enough of them can experience success by cherry-picking the ideas, can full-scale implementation succeed. Only with courageous and persistent managers who will communicate with their CEO’s, peers and subordinates can systemic change be made. Without some degree of personal validation, managers will demonstrate the discipline to reject outside efforts to overrule their best judgments developed over years of experience.”

    Now, what is the implementation strategy going to be? If you are in top management, give learning opportunities, authority and resources to managers to try these ideas. If you are in mid-management, try these ideas. If you are in an entry-level job, try these ideas. Communicate. Ask questions. Play and learn. Look for the “tipping point” where critical mass can support a full or even partial systems change. Try to find ways to accelerate the articulation and dissemination of these experiences and prepare to follow through wherever they take hold. Give trust and grant permissions, don’t force.

    And hey, isn’t trust what RO and SST are about?

    I’m reminded of my friend David the landscape architect, who had me plant wax myrtles by the front walk. I asked, “How should I prune these?”

    He said, “It’s easy. Just remember that a wax myrtle is a bush that wants to grow up to be a tree.”

    Well, isn’t RO a declaration that every organization looks like a bush but wants to grow up to be a tree? We have to use the opportunities at hand to shape and make that happen. Forcing it all at once may be anti-requisite, because of the mistrust message it sends. Patience may truly be a virtue, after all. My organization is highly respected and successful by and large. But I can pull out years of planned change efforts that were a waste of paper and meeting time, and I can describe major and messy adjustments of strategy that were only fully articulated in retrospect.

    The comprehensive institutionalization of RO and reshaping of the organization according to SST, led by board action and CEO leadership, is probably a late stage of “implementation of RO”. A major early stage of learning and wide experimentation and partial adoptions is probably essential.

  3. I’m not at all concerned with most of what you are asserting. Consider however that those accountable for execution at SI and SII are not going to design and implement their own complex systems change, nor even will those accountable at SIII and SIV for the implementation of the new system be capable of complex multidimensional systems change integrating these essential social processes into the technological and financial processes driving the whole business system. Remember that to be considering the notion of complex systems change one has already acknowledged that what exists does not meet the organization’s needs. Said another way, the existing system is perfectly designed to deliver exactly what is being achieved.

    Many of your assertions are promoting the essential need for engagement and not a top driven approach. I only postulated that the structure needs to be right and the system needs to be led. I didn’t specify that an autocratic approach was required. Obviously an invitation, engagement, authority and room to learn and experiment with the relevant considerations at each applicable managerial layer is significant. You are, at least in my view, correct in suggesting that this is what RO is all about. Rationalizing and applying stratified systems theory however, again in my view, is too complex to be contended with in its entirety by individuals with concrete disjunctive and conjunctive complexity of mental processing. These levels in the organization will be unlikely to succeed at designing the optimal organizational hierarchy, with full acknowledgement that they can contribute favorably (in defining which role relationships are gumming the works up allowing for input into the design of collateral and crossfunctional role relationships) , thus I have reservations with “flipping the prescription over”. As indicated one can cherry pick in terms of the logical order that practices are implemented in however at some point they all need to be applied to optimize and charge the whole system.

    Finally, I didn’t assert that the consultant need be an external one. A fully knowledgeable internal consultant will do fine. I’m not sure that every organization is a bush that wants to be a tree. There are some that look more like tumbleweed than a bush or a tree, and there are some others yet that would best be described as cesspools or septic tanks.

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    “there are some others yet that would best be described as cesspools or septic tanks”

    That’s pretty funny. But maybe I’ve been around seventh graders too much…

    You know, you both have good points and I’m not sure that you would disagree too strongly if I combined them. APFG is right that to have a truly Requisite Organization, you need to have a leader who is fit for the role at the top and encouraging requisite management practices. Some of the HR practices (performance reviews come readily to mind) would have to be blown apart from On High, as it were.

    Still, Jon makes a good case that change does not have to be top driven. Jaques makes much the same point in General Theory (someplace in the middle: I’ll cite in a later post) that change without participation is coercion. So having this massive change in the social contract, which is what we’re really talking about, needs to be something that all people take hold personally, feeling that they had a voice in what happened. Change is normally done by coercion, which is why the OD Summit Chicago I went to in 2003 had so many people ticking me off by asking “How can we get these people on board?” Peter Block has some great answers to that question. Yes, I still like Mr. Block.

    Change can indeed be driven from the bottom of society. This happened several times in America, including the recent move to conservativism in political dealings, which came from grassroots movements (admittedly finessed by some very savvy politicos) and movements following the Great Awakening which provided the footing for the American revolution against Britain.

    PCs are another bottom-up revolution specifically in the workplace. Workers brought in PCs to do their jobs, buying them with their own money, often aggregating funds from several people in one department. Since the mainframe-dominated MIS departments hated PCs, they hid them until they could show the big increase in performance of certain tasks. This led to the increase in use of PCs, which then led to MIS turning into IT. Sure, the advent of the killer app, Visicalc, provided the final boost by making the PC invaluable to the bean-counters, but these folks wouldn’t have had even the thought had not the earlier users broke policy and risked termination by purchasing PCs on their own dime. For more on this, I’d recommend Rosabeth Moss Kantor’s The Change Masters.

    We don’t need people on the top to start transforming our own worlds. We can start right now by working requisitely ourselves. We really can teach lineworkers and their immediate supers and managers (Stratum I and Str II) to work in a requisite way. They get the idea of “real boss” quicker than the professionals I know, maybe because they suffer more under tyrants as people with almost no power unless they’re unionized. They can work with the idea of hiring the right person for the role, because they have the innate ability to run their departments well, if these guys are at the right level.

    Certainly unions could use RO theory to their advantage by identifying potential leaders early and to resolve conflicts with management and between union workers.

    In my jobs, I talk about the idea of having a real boss, which people like. When I later talk about how some people get more faster than others, this meets with some grumbling but pretty much is seen as the way of the world, too.

    Sure, they aren’t going to revamp the corporate pay system. But they can organize their worklives around these simple principles of real boss. They can learn when it’s time to move on, whether within the same organization or to another, or to choose to be underemployed. They can see where their boss is too small and stop hating so much. They can’t do anything about fair pay except vote with their feet. In the States we have an easier time doing this than other nations do, so we find it easier to accept.

    I think that starting the conversation with everyone about how they can manage their own lives better is a great way to start. Jaques’s theories don’t explain everything, and the informal network that he touches on only briefly when he talks about employee participation is still important. The CEO is probably as restricted by bad HR practices as anyone in the company. He or she would love to have confident managers. As Collins points out in Good to Great, having the right people in the right place makes all the difference. We can work on some organizations and then watch performance increases put pressure on others.

    The real buyers are probably at the top and at the bottom with the middle managers being the sticking point. And most of us can create a viable reason for this. But if you have control, reasonably so, over one location that is physically separated from corporate, you can do more than you think. Most of us aren’t StrI or StrII workers but higher on the food chain, to say nothing of our personal time horizon. We can affect the world where we are at and even do so against the wishes of upper management. As someone who has successfully led an ISO 9001 certification effort that was opposed by the site management, I can with total confidence say that it can be done. You may have to be sneaky, underhanded and politically smart but you can truly turn the world upside down from anywhere in the system.

    Sure, having the top on board will help. Van Clieaf’s work on the responsibility of corporate boards is looking like it’s getting some traction. That’s only happening because of the threat of losing endemnity (if I’ve spelled that right) for the board members, but a start is a start. Perhaps the board works better as a starting place than CEOs do. The board and the shop floor.

  5. I’ve read a number of APFG’s posts now and would certainly defer to APFG on the application of RO, and I appreciate APFG’s acknowledgement of the points I made. Our points are not in direct contradiction. I am enjoying engaging in debate and hope making points a bit sharply results in constructive exploration and testing of ideas.

    I may really be into a different subject of consulting practice, with more to do with how to post-mortem a failed change effort and who bears responsibility. Again, speaking from within a sizeable organization, I just don’t buy the “leadership failure” explanation readily, and saw it implied (perhaps not consciously) within the post on implementation beginning with complete leadership commitment.

    I’ve seen leadership failure that is explained very readily by role mismatch. But I’ve also worked with external and internal consultants who protect their egos by using the “leadership failure” defense to disavow responsibility for the implementation. The reason I went off on strategic planning is that we have been through a multi-year experience of strategic planning whose design was supposedly to get “leadership commitment” and where failures in execution were blamed by the internal and external consultants on “leadership failure”. In fact, two critical things were going on that the consultants ignored: 1) senior leaders were in increasingly open revolt over the charade of annual planning exercises as a waste of time, because critical strategic decisions cannot wait for the annual exercise and the group’s consensus (division leaders were proving SST); and 2) the consultants were gaming the process to insert their own prescriptions into the plan. When there was no follow through the poisonous word was put out by the consultants, “leadership failure” and “no accountability”.

    My specific point on RO is the unlikeliness of a truly top-down adoption and implementation that will succeed. I suppose we could debate what successful means in the context of Commonwealth Industries. In Social Power and the CEO Jaques gives a timeline of about 5 years as I recall. First, a foreign company buys CI, and installs its own CEO to implement RO. He’s Australian, and kangaroos get burned in effigy as labor disputes escalate and the structure is fiddled with and work processes change. A strike follows, and the CEO is replaced by an American who continues the work. Benefits begin to be realized after five years.

    Now, the point Jaques makes is that benefits were realized. But from a consultant’s perspective, is this a successful implementation: 5 years, 2 CEO’s and a strike, with change driven by an external owner with cash to burn to reach the goal?

    If there is not a more workable model we won’t see much RO implementation. In my own mind I’m trying to figure out a model for experimentation and learning within the organization that has structural durability and discipline. My thought is to inject RO to try and get a cadre of believers in mid-management, because I think this is where initiatives live or die. There comes a point where systems must be forced, but legitimacy among a core group must come first.

    APFG is certainly right that the SI and SII staff won’t lead the way in a systems change. However, an SIII or higher CPC might be sitting in an SI or SII role and look for a constructive outlet for that capability. I’m saying no one should wait on the top to begin something important.

  6. The discussion is rich, relevant and compelling.

    Picking up from Forrest’s “change can be driven from the bottom of society” I suggest the need for change, and the effects of the existing system(s) manifest themselves in the “bottom” of society (bottom denoting the individuals who fuel the economy and execute to generate real wealth performing SI and SII roles). The catalyst for change may very well be “driven” or presented from this level in the heirarchy however, (acknowledging there appears to be agreement at this point), these individuals will not design and implement complex change in isolation. The real problems, the dysfunctionality in the organization is only manifested by this group. It’s origin rests with management. To suggest that CEOs are restricted by bad HR policy is a real stretch considering that they are accountable for the entire management organization and its hierarchy. Granted the board has some influence here however the intended purpose of their function is as an association representing the shareholders, with the accountability of providing governance. As a result if the board is fettering the management practices being advocated and administered under his managerial leadership there is apt to be a parting of company somewhere down the road. You’ve indicated that you’ve had some success implementing ISO 9001 change at a site where the site management was opposed to the implementation. I suspect the relevant detail you omitted to mention was that the change initiative was supported by more senior management as I doubt that one would walk into a site and have any success in the implementation absent any support from anywhere in the organization. The distiction is subtle yet telling when you qualified that the management in resistance were “site” management.

    Shifting attention to Jon’s comments, consider that the post mortem on change is significant in determining where the change implementation failed and what adjustments need to be promoted in the future. I don’t believe you’re on a different trail with your consulting practice assertions and there is full compatibility and there are some obervations offered that we need to note the significance of. Agreed that each level needs engagement and enrolment and perhaps most important needs to understand why the change is being implemented and what the change means for them. This essential context is very often inadequate and is regurgitated without being reduced in its purpose and meaning to something relevant for each layer in the organization. I don’t agree with the adage that everyone’s objective is to maintain status quo and to see their roles in a static state. People will embrace change where its context and purpose are relevant and compelling. To further the implementation disucssion an astutue CEO in leading the change will mobilize implementation actions at the “bottom” of the organization in parallel with his or her implementation actions cascading down from level to level so that there is both a downward cascade and an upward compression.

    My experience suggests that somewhere between the CEO and the worker within middle management as Jon suggests one should anticipate meeting pasive resistance. I label this the clay layer that appears to be impermeable. This clay layer is the confront in the organization that does not appear to understand the relevance of the change and the risks that the implementation presents for them personally. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that this is also the origin for causes associated with the present dilemma but would point to leadership failure above this group in enrolling them sufficently to satisfy the concern. Consider that if the underlying hierarchical structure is wrong this may represent a group that intutitively cannot rationalize how it adds value within the organization, thus the significance of getting the structure and role accountabilities and relationships worked through before fully implementing requisite managerial systems.

    In so far as the leadership and accountability failure defense is concerned it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion when performing the post mortem. Either the change initiative was wrong in the first place or its implementation was poorly designed and executed. The consultant in this case cannot be separated from the managerial leadership as architects accountable for the change process, thus in these instances where the implementation has failed it is of no use to promote that the consultant had it right and the managerial leader had it wrong or vice versa. They either both had it right or they both had it wrong. The experience of five years, 2 CEOs and a strike although unfortunate may have been essential in realizing the objective, taking into consideration the existing culture, the desired and committed future state and most importantly the absence of mutual trust in the organization. We have discussed the signficance of enhancing mutual trust as the essential foundation for success in any relationship before. Where there is an ongoing functional and mutual level of trust it is difficult to conceive that a strike is an imminent risk. Employees associate themselves (at least in the first place) with trade unions because they do not trust their employers and they have concluded that the capitalist motives of the corporation are in direct conflict with their social well being. I’m not at all surprised acknowledging an absence of mutual trust that a strike would occur and the CEO would get changed out twice. Five years on the other hand is not an unreasonable amount of time to implement complex muti-dimensional change of this magnitude. Consider that the CEO changes are either absolutely coincidental or are a good indication of the relevance of leading the change from the top.

    In many respects Jaques has been entirely pragmatic and matter of fact in his discovery and articulation of SST and RO. We need to appreciate that for him (and some of us) the theory and practical application are so compelling that it is difficult to rationalize the need to spend any inordinate amount of time debating the relevance of it. There were some similarities Between Elliott Jaques and W. Edwards Deming in their “take it or leave it” approach. Where the understanding does not exist the first objective needs to be to broaden the comprehension so that those being engaged in the impmentation can come to appreciate the relevance and perhaps more important the presentation that connects the relevant pieces in their associated context to the layer in the hierarchy that it is being presented to. In order to illustrate the point there is often no particular value in simply regurgitating concerns with cashflow models or debt:capitalization ratios or earnings per share to the SI operator who is executing the work however reduce this to the actions he or she can take to influence them favorably and one will see a favorable response, particularly where the context and purpose is understood at that level and where the individual feels valued and there is mutual trust established through the social interaction originating through the application of requisite managerial practices. Work is a social process and as much as we would like to point to technological and financial processes as the lifeblood that sustains an organization without social capital these organizations have no heart that circulates the blood essential to the their life.

    I would suggest to the extent that any of us engaged in this debate have the intention of broadening the understanding and application of the subject matter that we are serving the fundamental needs of society and the vast numbers of men and women who are currently incomplete in their lives because they are not deriving basic and fundamental satisfaction from their work and are failing to realize their full potential capability not only at work but in life itself. I truly hope that Jon, Forrest, and all of the others who have contributed so fully to this objective continue to do so by applying fully their current capability to this end.

    Alas, where do we go from here?

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Tell Forrest how wrong he is: