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As we move deeper into implementing change, I wanted to make all of you aware that organizational leadership may not always want to make any change in their organizations.
Here is an article I published in October 2019 in the International Society for Performance Improvement’s PerformanceXpress highlighting just that.
I hope you find it helpful.
Please come back with any questions.
FROM THE CURMUDGEON
“You Can Lead a Horse to Water, BUT You Cannot (Always) Make Him or Her Drink”
Several years ago, Bob Carleton and I along with two other consultants conducted an operational analysis for a small company. I am talking about less than 100 employees. I will not offer much detail, if any, about the identity of this company or even where it is other that it is in the United States. I will not go into these reasons in this article either.
I originally wrote this as a two-part VectorView blog two years after we did this project. I will edit a great deal but keep the focus on the learning about “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot (always) make him OR her drink.”
Have you ever had a client “shoot the messenger in order to kill the message?” Vector Group had an experience that bears some examination and will offer some outcomes that may be helpful to others. This article will provide some background on this project and provide some “lessons learned.”
A small company contracted with Vector Group to conduct an Operational Analysis to help with its need to examine work processes, structure and systems to achieve a higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness in its overall operations. Sound simple enough?
Specific goals were as follows:
Conduct a comprehensive review of business and/or work processes with detailed analysis of manual, paper, software and automated processes from beginning to end.
Review current staffing, facilities, equipment, and projected capital projects.
Provide written recommendations for change based on the results of the operational analysis.
Define clear actions for the organization to implement needed recommendations
We accepted the scope of the work and understood that we would present the results in person to the company’s leadership.
From what we surmised, the company basically wanted to ensure that they operated as effectively and efficiently as possible and to make certain that its customers were being served well. The operational analysis would certainly uncover areas needing to be addressed leading to increased operational efficiency and effectiveness. We warned them about “opening a can of worms” and unless they were prepared to do something with the data gathered, it would be better not to do the analysis at all. They decided to move forward.
We used several tactics in our data gathering phase based on our Organizational Scan Model including manager and leadership interviews, staff interviews, group interviews (we spoke with every employee except for one who was sick on the day of his interview), workplace observations including management meetings and a documents review. Additionally, we also did some work process mapping and job analysis.
Early on, we learned the CEO was adamantly opposed to “outsiders” conducting the operational analysis. He wanted only an internal audit of operations.
During the three-week project, we kept management and leadership appraised as to progress and initial findings. We coached them in what needed to happen and when. We assured them that despite the organizational challenges we were finding, turning the operation around could be quite simple, quite dramatic and quite fast.
We completed the entire operational analysis within schedule and prepared our findings for a presentation to the organizational leadership. We put our findings into five “buckets” or themes for ease of understanding.
•Governance-the way the leadership directs the organization (process)
•Structure-the way the business is organized
•Management-assignment, monitoring and accountability for daily tasks of the organization
•Leadership-change, potential, strategy and how people feel (an offshoot of all the above)
•Culture- “the way we do things around here”(collective behavior-shared values)
We were somewhat surprised to find a general lack of processes in place to deal with these five critical areas. Work processes were definitely not at the core of the problem but management and governance processes absolutely were.
Strategic planning took place at the highest level but had no observable impact or even influence on daily work activities. Accountability and oversight were missing.
Management was built around command and control (“Do as I tell you.”) with little to no commitment to achieving results through people. Leadership was not understood or practiced in any sense. The organizational culture was left as it had evolved over years with no understanding of collective behavior and the importance of gaining people’s hearts and minds to commit to the success of the enterprise.
In short, we found the following:
The lack of planning and effective management was obvious.
•A CEO who was aloof, distant and disengaged from the operation
•A senior management staff that reflected and consciously emulated behaviors like the CEO’s behaviors
” Lack of trust, no sense of urgency and sinking staff morale. No joy at the workplace.
No oversight or accountability for the CEO and no performance evaluations conducted for senior management. The CFO had not had a performance review in ten years. No audit functions operationally.
I will not go into any detail as we presented our findings other than it became quite a melodrama.
Much of the news in the report was not good but certainly not grim. We understood how the leadership may have been uncomfortable in accepting the results of the analysis. Our perception early on was that they were attacking the results. Later in the leadership’s ensuing discussion about the report amongst its customers and with the CEO, it appeared to us that the leadership was dismissing or diminishing the results as “only opinion or perceptions” of the company’s personnel. This was the “shooting of the messengers” by attacking our credibility and expertise in conducting such an operational analysis.
Because of our research, we made 112 actionable recommendations to the leadership which included recommendations on governance (8), structure (10), management (23), leadership (11), and culture (5) and for the CEO we provided 65 specific recommendations for action.
Our conclusion was that with no changes in staff the entire operation could be turned around in 90 days with significant and noticeable changes within 30 days. This small company could have been built into a model of effectiveness with increased efficiencies. The staff really wanted things to change for the better; the leadership wanted things to be better but did not want to “stress” the CEO. But management thought things were fine and were not going to question the CEO’s judgment on anything.
In a follow-up communication to the leadership, we clarified how the analysis was conducted and reminded them once again that the staff were expecting to at least hear the results and were seriously hoping for positive improvements. We also added the caveat that if the leadership and CEO did not follow-up quickly and effectively, the company was ripe for the return of a labor union.
As predicted, the company returned to union representation after just a few months of waiting for management to take some clear actions with the results of the analysis. This could have easily been avoided. Even data gathering for this kind of operational analysis raises people’s expectations. The employees knew what they shared. They now knew that management knew . . . and management did little to nothing with it.
Lessons Learned for Vector Group
In this scenario, a meeting at the outset between the leadership, the CEO and the consulting team would probably have cleared up some misconceptions and given us more indication of the relationship between the two which could have been managed more effectively and with less conflict
We depended too much on our client (the leadership) to direct the CEO to handle this appropriately
We could have prevented the misunderstandings of the importance of perceptions and the emphasis we place on looking for themes and patterns. One person’s opinion is not reflected in the final report but when the same perception is reported by multiple people, it has significant relevance.
” The two concepts are not interchangeable.
Historically, the leadership relied on operational input from only one source: the CEO. For his own apparent high need for control, the CEO told the leadership what they wanted to hear to make them comfortable. The results of the operational analysis brought a level of tension, discomfort and a heightened degree of accountability on the part of the leadership.
In defense of the leadership, this was undoubtedly something that they did not sign up for because generally, this is a group of nice, well-intentioned people who want to represent and advocate for their customers and attend meetings that are productive, informative and void of high drama and conflict.
Our assessment of the CEO, however, remained in flux as we never got the whole story. On the positive side we saw the CEO as a nice guy with principles who may have been over his head in directing operations, potentially working out of fear that he could be found out and painfully oblivious as to the impact of his own behavior. On the not so positive side, we viewed him as an arrogant, petulant and narcissistic manager who just did not care about the impact of his behavior on others.
In subsequent communications with the relatively new leadership body, it was validated that the “messengers (Vector Group) were shot to kill the message” but we were assured that the leadership now understood why the changes were needed and that they were reportedly holding the CEO accountable for implementation of those changes.
Over the years, Vector Group has been “fired” from a few consulting engagements for some similar reasons as found here. I remember a client in Michigan whose CEO terminated our contract because we “made it so uncomfortable for the HR staff” with the news of their ineffectiveness with the organizational challenges they faced.
On the other hand, Bob Carleton and I, along with two of our other consultants, did a cultural assessment for a Canadian hospital in October and November of 2017. We found this hospital to be a “toxic workplace” and Bob said it was one of the “three worst functioning organizations we’d ever worked with over the years.” Over two weeks we met with 473 people including doctors, nurses, and hospital staff.
We knew this was a volatile situation and the media would be all over the situation. Our finding that we shared with management and two staff committees hit the news that night. I was in bed at the hotel watching an old movie or something, did a channel and found out we were on the 11 o’clock news. I called Bob and said, “Bob, we’re on the 11 o’clock news!” In his usual calm demeanor, he replied, “Gary, we were on the 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and the 10 o’clock news.” We also made all the provincial newspapers.
We were not “fired” from this project even though the news was bad, but we continued to do a knowledge transfer with their OD and HR staff on what they must do to turn the place around. They ultimately did at last report. The moral of the story? In fact, you CAN lead a horse to water and (most of the time) make him or her drink!
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About the Author
Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. He is a 30-year member of ISPI. You may reach him at email@example.com.
Mr. Gary Craig’s career represents almost 30 years of experience in organizational change management, human resources development and organizational development and effectiveness. Recognized for his ability in efficiently and accurately assessing organizations and recommending and implementing changes aligning organizational culture (human behavior) with infrastructure and strategic business objectives, he is highly skilled in driving for optimal performance within organizations. He contributed significantly to several large-scale strategic initiatives in the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Mexico, South America and the Middle East (Yemen). He has worked in 16 countries on four continents. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Management/Human Relations and Organizational Behavior.