When Your ‘Check Engine’ Light Is On

Posted by Richard Moran.

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The Uber driver was on his cell phone mumbling to someone and I couldn’t hear what he was saying and didn’t want to hear. But as I looked over his shoulder I noticed that nearly every light on his dashboard was flashing. All of them, from “check engine” to “inflate tires” were pleading for someone to pay attention.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Is the car about to blow up? Should I get out?” He replied, “Don’t worry about it, we are fine,” and drove on. The car did not blow up but it made me wonder, does anyone pay attention to dashboards?

Unless you work in a place that doesn’t have computers, you are probably dealing with operational dashboards that control your daily mood. Some are so complex that they measure your daily caloric intake. Some are so simple they are like huge thermometers. Do you pay attention to any of them? Probably.

Unless you have an old clunker, your car dashboard is full of lights that can flash when you least expect it or want it to happen. Some lights cause panic and with others, you just drive on. When some lights come on I just turn the radio up louder or drive faster. Although we may not admit it, all the lights are important signals. And when it comes to our careers, each of us has a set of lights flashing that are worthy of our attention. Using the car metaphor, here are a few lights on your dashboard and what they might mean:

  • Door Open /Gas Cap Ajar: Oops. Slight problem, like wearing two different shoes to work. You still have to stop and fix it.
  • Refill Washer Fluid: Dang, I need that but I can keep driving. Like getting a little behind in emails but allowing time to catch up later.
  • ABS: No one knows what this light indicates so turn the radio up louder and hope it’s not serious. Like looking at pivot tables in a staff meeting. Just get back to work.
  • Tire Pressure Low: This requires attention. Get out and make sure you don’t have a flat tire before you keep driving. Like having a coaching session in the hallway, pay attention to what you hear.
  • Service Vehicle Soon: Yep, all vehicles need maintenance and some need more than others. Like having a performance review and learning that you need lots of improvement.
  • Check engine: Could mean time for a new car. Or, for your career, could be time to take stock and decide if it’s time to look for a new job.

None of us have that sophisticated dashboard like that of a car that will shoot us warning signs about work, career or life. We have to create our own and know when to pay attention to it. If you dread getting out of your car and walk into work feeling nauseous I would say your “Check Engine” light is on.

Is “Change Management” Dead?

Posted by Richard Moran.

The kick off is always dramatic. The CEO or other executive proclaims, “We need to change to be competitive. It is no longer business as usual around here!” He or she continues, “This is so critical, I’ve asked (fill in the blank: the COO, the head of Strategy, the head of HR) to carve out a significant part of his (or her) time to lead the effort.” Questions abound immediately. If the appointed executive leader has been there for more than ten years, don’t waste your time. Abandon the change initiative immediately.

But maybe the change leader seems enthusiastic. The next step is to identify a batch of internal stakeholders in the firm who will be empowered to make change. Maybe consultants are brought in. The entire group will meet, maybe off-site for a day of inspiration, planning and to create a vision and mission. Teams will be formed as a part of the planning day and each will be tasked to tackle a batch of issues in a focused area. Each team will have a leader who will facilitate meetings and develop a plan. The group meets regularly and sets up timelines and objectives. In each meeting there is a flipchart for notes and at the end of each meeting the word “communications” is featured prominently on the cover page.

After months of work, PowerPoint presentations are given to senior management with recommendations. The recommendations include cutting costs in the staff functions and eliminating redundant processes. Other recommendations include making the customer more embedded in how we plan and conducting surveys more frequently.   In addition, enhanced communications is important and more transparency is a must-have. But management has been there for a long time and doesn’t want change. So everyone goes back to their old jobs and continues to plug away at making things better in their own little way.

Sound familiar? We have been at change management now for a while and almost my entire career is about change management. Most organizations around the world have been through a change initiative of one sort or another. What I’ve learned is that people don’t like change and don’t want to change. I have seen some initiatives succeed but many die of their own weight in process and meetings. The efforts always begin in good faith that change is required. So what’s the problem? Here are but a few…

  • Although it’s clear what we need to change from, it is not clear what we need to change to. The end state is amorphous so we regress to the old ways.
  • The change process is planned to take too long with too many people involved and too many meetings. Change management becomes a substitute for work.
  • Executive sponsors lose interest right after the kickoff meeting. 
  • Change management is really a polite way to say we need to cut costs.
  • Measures do not exist or are not understood.

Is change management dead? In it’s present form, it may be. But organizations still need to change. So let’s get serious about change. If change is required, here are three simple things to do.

  1. Set up a decision-making system to get it done. Make decisions quickly and implement them quickly. Don’t get bogged down.
  2. Never put long-tenured leaders in charge of change.
  3. Keep the leader involved. Involvement is not as an extracurricular activity. The leader needs to be involved as a full time change leader.
  4. Separate cost reductions from change initiatives.

Doing those four things might make change happen. Change management isn’t dead; we’ve just over-engineered it into something that doesn’t make change. Change management may not be dead but it needs to change. Hope about change springs eternal.

What do you believe is required for change management to succeed?

Rock, Paper, Scissors? Six Decision Making Ways to Watch For

Posted by Richard Moran.

Who made that decision?! Why can’t anyone make a decision around here? We just made a decision to sail away on the Titanic. The same decisions always means the same results…

Ever hear any thing like that?

The manner in which any organization makes decisions says a lot about that organization. The decision making process should broadcast what is important and the direction of the organization – for better or worse.  How things are decided is so important that the process could be the key indicator as to the potential success of the organization. Watch decisions being made so that you can decide whether to stay or go. Decisions, decisions, decisions, here are six decision clues that will tell you a lot about your organization.

  • The Rock, Paper Scissors technique. Also known as the “Magic Eight Ball” technique. No matter what it is called, it shows management doesn’t know what the hell is going on and how to make a decision. It shows too that the organization is in trouble because they are guessing what might work. Imagine people turning over the Magic Eight Ball and seeing “Answer hazy, try again” so they keep turning it over.
  • The Mission Driven way. Probably the best way to build a successful organization and the most effective way to make decisions, assuming there is a mission. For example, if the mission is to save the planet, every single decision should further that cause. Every single one. (Also works for value driven organizations.)
  • The Crisis Driven way. Bouncing around from one crisis to the next one is not optimal. It’s hard to plan or do the real job when one is always in recovery mode and making decisions just to survive the latest crisis. Eventually a crisis will be so bad that there is no recovery.
  • The ‘Whatever’ way.  Saying “whatever” when it comes to decision making usually means no one cares. As in, “Should we cut jobs in India or in Mexico?” If the response is “Whatever!” that is an organization that is adrift.
  • The ‘CYA’ method. (Cover Your Ass) Middle managers are often accused of making decisions in this way but it can be rampant in any organization. When everyone is protecting their own job not much good happens for the entire organization.
  • The Analysis driven way. Analysis is good but it is rarely the only criteria on which decisions should be made. It can also be an excuse to not make a decision because there is always more analysis to be made. Combine analysis with mission and there could be magic in decisions.

How decisions are made is a reflection on any organization and should cause you to reflect on whether or not it is the place you want to be. Your own decision making process can have a bearing too on your own satisfaction and success. Take decision making seriously.