Monthly Archives: January 2013

//January

I don’t believe in change agents

During a break in my Change Management class at the Vlerick Business School, one of my students asked me for my opinion on change agents.  He said “with all respect Mr. Lovegrove, I don’t believe in them”. I had just been explaining how important they were and I knew he wasn’t stupid so I asked for some extra background information.This is what he told me:

“My company recently went through a major business process re-design project. Because the planned changes were rather complex and some resistance was expected the company decided to bring in a professional change management consulting firm to help us. One of the first things they did was to recruit a team of ‘change agents’. They did this by selecting people at all levels of the business and put them on our project organization chart in a box labeled ‘change agents’. It became their official title and the list was circulated to everyone impacted by the changes.  In addition they gave the Change Agents a full days training explaining exactly what they had to do. In the end, they turned out to be almost useless, they didn’t change anything. Here we are today, a few months after go-live and people are still creating chaos by trying to work in the old way.”

When I heard this I almost burst out laughing, but I decided to remain polite, I mean how was he to know any better? He’s not a professional change manager.

I replied: “A ‘change agent’ is not a title; it is not even a function. A Change Agent cannot be put in an organization chart. A change agent is anyone who sometime after hearing about a proposed change decides for themself that the change is a good idea. And when they think it is a good idea they actively support bringing it about. Change agents know no rank, they can be cleaners or CEO’s, mechanics or surgeons, they can be anyone that helps bring about a desired change in one way or another. Sometimes they can appear in the most unlikely forms.

I once had a row with my wife, she was upset, I was upset. We were in a kind of gridlock. After a couple of days she ended up talking about her predicament, and no doubt about what an idiot her husband was (and to be honest he was!) to a colleague at work. Her colleague, listened and then spoke to her, reminding her that what I had been proposing sounded very much like an idea she herself had told her only a little while earlier. Completely unknown to me something her colleague said helped my wife see another point of view, my point of view, or something close to it. She then helped my wife find a way to take the first painful step on the path of transition from ‘resistor’ to ‘believer’. Her colleague was what I call a natural ‘change agent’.

Change agents are an essential ingredient in all change initiatives. However, professional change managers know that they cannot be recruited from a random list of names.  It is only by talking to people in an honest and respectful way; explaining why a proposed change is necessary, that you can ever hope to inspire others to support an idea rather than to resist it.  By doing so they will, in their own time, begin to try and persuade others to support the idea too. This is what I call ‘change agents’.

In my experience, I find my biggest believers nearly always start out as my biggest ‘resistors’. Resistance is normal. In fact I don’t like to use the term ‘resistor’ in a negative way at all because it creates a kind of war like connotation. For me resistance is logical. A resistor is only someone that does not yet understand why a change is necessary and fears the consequences it might bring. In short resistors are perfectly normal people that do not yet share your point of view.

Politicians like to use lobbyists to get their own way. But mostly, in the work place, when there is often nothing to bargain for, we can detect a phony lobbyists a mile off. 

So my suggestion is; the next time you find yourself surrounded by resistors, remember to talk to them about the ‘why’ of change and never the ‘what’ or the ‘how’. Only once they fully understand the ‘why should you encourage them to help you work out how to make the change happen. The reason being that if they work it out for themselves then the solution will be their idea and not yours. And ‘their’ idea will stand a much better chance of survival in the long term than any of yours!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Some advice

If you are like me then you will often find yourself being asked for advice. Mostly about choices. In fact I wish it were as simple as choices because they are relatively easy to help with: “Should I take the job or should I stay?” “Should I remain with my partner or should I leave?”

There are many tried and tested techniques for helping people through these dilemmas but too often I find that people come to me for advice without really being prepared.

This week a charming young man, who I sincerely wanted to help, asked me for some career advice.

The conversation went very much like the following text from a piece that Lewis Caroll wrote 148 years ago:

        "Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?"
            "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
        "I don’t much care where" said Alice.
            "Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
        "so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
            "Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

George Harrison paraphrased this verse rather nicely in his song ‘Any Road’:  

        “If you don’t know where you’re going then any road will take you there”.  

I think in future I might just be tempted to give this one liner as advice because for those who are drifting through life already, not expecting much, not being disappointed any, then what better words are there to share?

Have a good week,

Harley

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Never underestimate your neighbour

In the back gardens of houses all around the world you can find people working in sheds inventing and building contraptions, the likes of which the world has never seen.  It is all too easy to write these people off as eccentrics or geeks. Many of them become fixated with their hobby and have no time for anything else. Even eating and sleeping are seen by some as annoying interruptions.  The sad thing is that often the results of their labour is never known or appreciated. 

For the most of us, if we want the best that technology can offer we go for global brands, Apple for computers, Rolex for watches, BMW for cars etc. But the power of powerful marketing detracts us from what’s happening on the peripheries of engineering. While global manufacturers design new models to strictly allocated budgets garden shed micro inventors have no such limits. If they want to increase the power of a motorcycle engine by 100 times they will design and build a turbocharger to do it, it might take them twenty years but they will do it.  If they want their watch to be more accurate than any other mechanical watch in the world, they will make one.

The exciting thing is that via the internet you can now discover some of these communities, what’s more, specialist forums link their discoveries and failures together into a kind of global knowledge laboratory in a way that has never been possible before. From pure natural scientists to astronomers and acoustics engineers, their discoveries and findings are often further advanced than the established community.

Whether we in business like it or not, if we are going to keep ourselves ahead of our competitors we have to enhance our knowledge and experience to every source available to us. Mankind’s arrogance of always thinking one can do it better than anyone else is both a strength and a weakness. It inspires individualism but it also means we are reinventing the wheel over and over again.

If the global supply chain collapsed today, how much knowledge and expertise would we need to make even the most basic appliance, the light bulb?  

Romans invented cement. They did so because they needed a mortar that could harden underwater to build their harbours with. They even invented reinforced concrete. At the end of the empire the recipe was lost and concrete was not re-invented until the late 19th century. You could say that it obviously wasn’t that important as alternatives proved sufficient. However, deep down we know that this is not the case. 

This week I saw an amazing program on the BBC about groups of amateur motorcycle engineers each attempting to build a machine on which they can break the world speed records set on the salt lake at Bonneville, USA. Their determination, ingenuity and perseverance were astounding.  You can find these people in all kinds of genres and if truth be known I belong to one too. Maybe I am not as obsessed as many of those on the BBC TV program, I still spend some time with my wife and I also work at least eight to ten hours a day on my books, lectures and Bayard stuff but still, I have been busy inventing too and in a few weeks’ time the secrets of what it is will be revealed!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Business plan, what business plan?

In the UK there’s a family business that has been in existence for more than four hundred years.  It is a relatively small building company that built their first house in 1591 and, as you can see from the picture, it is still standing today and looking better than ever. 

Just like the house, the family business has survived the plague, the great fire of London, the English civil war, the Crimean war, two world wars and more than one hundred other wars and skirmishes that the British have been involved in since they began!  On top of that unrest they have had to face countless economic crises but none perhaps much worse than today’s.

So you can imagine my surprise when the current CEO was recently asked on a radio program what his plan was to secure the long term financial success of the family business for the next generations to come. “Plan, well I think we haven’t got one really!” The radio interviewer pushed on further “What is the secret to your family’s success?” “It’s not all about the bottom line” the CEO replied, “Our name is above the door, it’s about quality, morals and respectability. It’s also about sticking some money away for a rainy day”.

I found myself agreeing with the young CEO and believed his business to be in good hands.  I like to run my businesses in the way that I like my suppliers to run theirs: namely focusing on quality and service, ensuring they meet the needs of their customers at a fair and reasonable price. On top of that I want to be sure that my companies have sufficient assets to ride out difficult times. Often that involves daring to take decisions that some shareholders might not be happy with. 

I have witnessed several occasions when investor shareholders have been upset by very modest levels of cash within a business, accusing the board of being too careful.  But what about in times such as now when the banks are reluctant to lend and new ideas need funding quickly?

I am not sure if The Bayard Partnership will be around for as long as Durtnel’s, the building company I mentioned but I do know of one business that won’t.  

A friend of mine recently told me of a company he knew that was making a fortune buying the lowest possible quality French wine and re-branding it for the Chinese market at a massive mark up. It was clear the intention was pure and simply short-term margin. I just wonder if it wouldn’t be a better plan to establish a long term partner relationship with the Chinese by ensuring that both supplier and consumer get a good deal and thereby continue trading for several generations. 

I personally prefer moderate returns, rather than closing a few one off deals at unsustainable margins.  After all, John Harvey & Sons have been running their business on a very similar basis since 1796 and they’re still doing OK!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Where have all the SMS’s gone?

Last night was so peaceful and quiet, just my wife and me and our two cats sitting in front of the fire that the New Year slipped in almost unnoticed. Time was when New Years Eve was a constant run-in of SMS’s with our mobile phones beeping in reminders of a world outside our window. The SMS traffic nightmare for our telco suppliers has passed it seems; Facebook, Twitter and apathy haven taken their place.

I thought this morning I would pass on the best of the best wishes I received but to be honest I didn’t have a lot to choose from!  But these two from Michel Vanderlinden set the scene nicely:

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. And today?”

“Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” – Babatunde Olatunji

“One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails and not the gales
which tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life:
‘Tis the set of a soul that decides its goal,
And not the calm, or the strife.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Right now I am gearing myself up for 2013, it’s going to be a challenging year with many businesses running out of credit. That’s the scariest thing about a long recession – companies cut back and back until there is almost nothing left and just when they think they have hit bottom a big new deal comes in, so big that they have too little credit left to service it. Many companies go to the wall when pulling out of a dip, especially as there are often healthier competitors hovering above, simply waiting to move in and pick up the pieces.  It’s a pattern we find everywhere in nature, so it should not surprise us.

All this being said, I feel confident about 2013: If the US can steer their economy in a pragmatic way and China likewise, then there is room for optimism for everyone. If not, 2013 will be the beginning of a completely new and uncharted era, unwelcome but yet exciting in its own way.

Happy New Year,

Harley

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