Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Change Management "Ipanema" Style

Ten years ago there were very few genuine change manager or culture transformation roles. Change was something you did to enterprise architecture, software and processes. We all now know that was only ever half the story at best.

It's the 2016 Olympics and Rio de Janeiro has been "transformed"; yet not without its problems and the bad publicity it has attracted. And while I know some of you "just want to watch the shooting" and are complaining bitterly about the "colour" stories, the pre-occupation with the Mitch (Larkin) and Emily (Seebohm) relationship, the beautiful adoption story of Ellia Green, one of our superstar women's Rugby Sevens players and anything covered by Neil Kearney or Bruce McAvaney, I found myself struck by the timely reminders unearthed by the Opening Ceremony.

The rumours abounded. We knew Giselle was coming. We knew it would likely be her last catwalk ever. We heard the rumours about her getting "mugged" on stage to reflect the honest and seamy underbelly of one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I admit I was shocked to learn that of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, 21 of them are in Brazil so we're not being uncharitable here. We knew the ceremony budget was one fifth that of London's. Even the ceremony director told us it would be low tech, yet creative and beautiful.

So back to the ceremony. We heard the music. We saw the dancing and the parkour up and down the Brazilian skyscrapers. We enjoyed the visual magic of hundreds of people collaborating in breathtaking synchrony and how something so low tech as holding up and rotating a few shimmery foil dooverlackies could be powerful in its tight unity.

We heard the strong thematic message about climate change and the environment. We could argue this is riddled with hypocrisy given the tragic way in which Brazil and its eight neighbours have plundered one of the most remarkable ecological wonders of the world - the Amazon rainforest - but the country doesn't hide from that if you read some of their press; they're full of shame and remorse and seemingly committed to doing what they can to try to arrest this.

So the lessons for our change messages...

1. They need to be Giselle Bundchen cat walking the stadium. Have the right people doing what they do best and keep it simple and elegant. Don't overcook it or confuse the message.

2. Beware the rumours of possible muggings or other critical incidents. Quash false rumours early or show quickly that people's worst fears about the change are not going to happen.

3. Manage expectations and tell people what will happen and what won't. Think the Ceremony Director's message - low tech, yet creative and beautiful.

4. I know. Some of us just want to watch the shooting. But others are kinaesthetic and will want their emotions stirred. It's for them we need the stories. The performer of Girl from Ipanema sitting at his piano alone on Saturday night was the grandson of the lovelorn artist who wrote the song back in 1964 about a girl he met on the beach.  

5. Be honest about having made mistakes - even big ones - like ruining rainforests or rampant squandering of company revenue on failed ventures. Fess up. Don't cover up but show what you're going to do to try to ensure that negative history will not repeat itself.  

6. Focus on the why (think the Olympic spirit, peace through sport), not just the what (international sporting meet with no prize money and possibly the Zika virus at no extra charge).  

7. And finally, demonstrate the wonder of collaboration and unity, celebrate volunteerism and affirm people. Don't just expect they will come along for the ride because you're excited. Recognise they make a choice and never take it for granted. As soon as you assume that near enough is good enough when it comes to meeting people's reasonable needs, the "Head of Delegation" in your workplace might just pointedly and publicly draw attention to everything that's not working.      

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mr Rudd clearly very UN-happy but was he wronged?

I understand, Mr. Rudd. I really do. You wanted the job, possibly even more than you ever wanted the prime ministership (We're just a small island in Asia after all). You hoped for endorsement from the government of the day. You needed it to have any chance of being appointed to the top job at the UN.

You didn't get it. You're sore. Totally understandable. 

So sore that you sat down to write what we might call the "WorkCover letter" which can often be genuine and necessary. You chronicled your beefs, the conversations that took place; at least how you recall they went down. There was the selective recall of significant events and the evidence base, all of which led to your incontrovertible conclusion that a) you should have been picked b) you were wronged and c) that you're very aggrieved/stressed/shocked.

Please don't  misunderstand me. It is possible Mr. Turnbull did indicate over previous months that he would support you. In one of your leaked letters, Mr Rudd, you confirm you understood the decision would have to go to Cabinet so no-one lied there. You may have imagined the decision was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps Mr. Turnbull really did believe you'd get the nod and overreached in his assurances. Perhaps he did a poor job of managing your expectations. Perhaps his language was "careless". The Libs now admit the matter could have been handled better.  

It seems clear that Mr Rudd, much of the media and certainly a large number of readers assumed the PM was simply being spiteful... and that he made the decision alone. It's a juicier story and certainly easier for Mr Rudd to rationalise that it was one man playing party politics vs. the notion that Mr Rudd wasn't a great candidate and maybe lots of people thought so. 

What does a good leader do when they have failed to manage expectations? When they exercise their assertive right to change their mind? When they re-examine an issue/belief/mooted change some time later in a shifted context? When they consult others and examine said issue with fresh eyes only to receive compelling contrarian views? In other words, when they are given genuine cause for pause? They don't hold steadfast to the previous position if it now makes no sense (if indeed it was that fixed in the first place). The good leader has to be prepared to wear the backlash and to accept that in any of those previous conversations, the psychology of ego and self-belief  - and those who seek and accept jobs like Prime Minister tend not to be short on self belief - means that people will have heard what they want to hear and seen what they want to see and are even capable of unethical (even unconscious) reconstructions of events to suit their own purposes. In this case, this could equally be said of both Mr Rudd ("But you told me you'd support me") and Mr. Turnbull ("But I never told you it was a done deal"). Remember, the human brain doesn't need to be logical, but it needs to be right. 

I will never know whether or not Cory Bernardi really did get all those text messages and phone calls from Labor frontbenchers thanking the government for determining Mr Rudd would reportedly have been a bad choice for Australia. We can be sure Mr Rudd will not choose to publish any of that correspondence if he could obtain it! 

A decision based on merit is never the wrong decision. 

A leader who consults, weighs up the input of trusted advisers and then has the courage to make a final call in light of that feedback, is a good one. A brave one. 
As I teach often in EEO training, the "unpopular" decision is not the same as "unlawful". Just unpopular. In this instance, the Cabinet didn't say: "We have someone better." It gave Mr. Rudd the same unsuccessful message managers have been giving since the year dot. "You weren't well suited to the job." The PM could have have crafted a more politically astute message. That there was a lot of depth to the field this time. That Eastern European nations would likely hold sway. That actively supporting Mr Rudd's candidature would absorb a lot of time and energy for a low probability of success etc etc. Indeed, the feedback was unflinchingly honest, albeit not very comprehensive and I respect that honesty even if Mr. Rudd doesn't.

The construction of Mr. Rudd's "WorkCover letter", probably designed to hang Mr Turnbull for misrepresentation and megalomania (#irony) was a most human but the least emotionally intelligent thing Mr Rudd could have done other than stick his foot out and trip up Mr Turnbull on the pavement outside Parliament House.

Perhaps his decision to publish his letters constructed after the fact was the ultimate validation of a decision not to recommend Mr. Rudd for the job.

According to the United Nations website, the role of Secretary General is "equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO".

Mr Rudd's "WorkCover letter" is a fair indicator of his comfort for advocacy. And he has experience as a former CEO of Australia. But diplomat? Hmmm.