How the Brilliant Basics Transforms Complex Environments
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How the Brilliant Basics Transforms Complex Environments
No business can stand the test of time without adapting to change. Propelling the company is already hard enough, and the pandemic has made it more complicated. For example, the WFH (work from home) trend has become a catalyst for cutting down the “people culture” in most companies. As employees transition to home offices, building culture and creating dynamic systems becomes very challenging. To help us with this shift, industry expert Ashleigh Dueker is here today. She is the principal consultant at Agile Transformation, PA Consulting. Her work involves assisting organizations in adapting to complex systems and combining innovative thinking and breakthrough with technologies, tools and processes to progress further. Today, she will give critical points on building, maintaining, and managing company cultures. As well as help us better understand the basics that an organization needs to transform their business.
Welcome to the Business Transformation Podcast. I’m your host,Heath Gascoigne. This is a show where I cut through all the hype and noise and get to the facts of what actually is business transformation and what is required, how to and how not to do it. I’ll be talking to industry experts and professionals to share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you start, turnaround, or grow your business transformation. By the end of this podcast, we have some practical tips to use to make your business transformation a success. Whether you’re just at the start of your journeyor midway through, I hope you enjoy.
Heath: My name is Heath Gascoigne,I’m the host of the Business Transformation Podcast, and this is the show for business transformators who are part business strategists, part business designers, part collaborators, and part negotiators. Business transformators have moved past just business design and includes oversight of implementation of those business designs and business transformations and includes stakeholder management, coordination, and negotiation. If you work in strategydevelopment and implementationand you work to ensure that it is aligned to the business design and technology, then you’re probably a business transformator. This is the show where we speak to industry experts and professionals to share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you start, turn around, and grow your business transformation. Welcome to the Business Transformation Podcast and in this episode, we’re talking to one of those industry experts. We are talking to Ashleigh Dueker, Principal Consultant, AgileTransformation at PA Consulting. Ashleigh’s background is in change and agile transformation, helping organizations increase the ability to respond effectively and quickly to disruption and grasp opportunities for innovation. Seven years ago, she joined the agile community for the standups and two pizza parties and stayed for the people. Prior to finding her home in Agile, she worked in public health in the US and with Africa, developing and leading change and transformation activities in local communities. Outside of work, she leads the Agile Leadership Network of over 1,800 agile leaders, hosting meetup sessions and regularly bantering with industry thought leaders alongside Giles Lindsay.Ashleigh has an MBA from Lancaster University and a bachelor’s in psychology,PMI Agile certified practitioner and a Certified SAFe 5 Program Consultant. Welcome to the Business Transformation Podcast, Ashleigh. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. How are you?
Ashleigh: I’m good, thanks. Great way to start the new year.
Heath: Yeah, yeah. We just had a quick briefing before the talk and you gave me a little bit of a background into what you’ve done. You recently just a public speaker on something that I’m quite passionate about, the people element ofbusiness transformation, but also you gave a little insight about something that also I like is about the culture part of really organizations and transformation and I think it’s like I’ve mentioned this with a previous guest about this work from home trend right now is what I think is similar to the outsourcing roles to Africa — to Asia, to the cheap cost locations but what they end up doing is they brought those roles back on shore because of the customer experience wasn’t the same. So what I think now has happened with this work from home cultureis that the silent victim who has no spokesperson right now is the culture. You’re actually gonna kill the culture by having this — everyone else is working from home and not collectively in the same building,that people element of transformation that I think is missing right now.
Ashleigh: Agreed. No, 100 percent, and it’s really hard because we’re learning and growing together in how to navigate this new landscape, right? And when we are able to go into the office, it’s a completely revolutionized experience, you know, where it’s for collaboration typically, and then we go homeand we work from home and have a focus time at home, right? So how do you build and grow that culture? Because we’re two years into this now and this norm is here to stay so it’snot a temporary approach anymore. So, how are we building and managing cultures and maintaining them and evolving them? Especially amid, you know, trends we see now of the great resignationwhere a lot of folks went off during COVID and, I don’t know about you, Heath, but a lot of the companies that I work with, everyone is struggling to find people —
Ashleigh: — and retain people.
Heath: Yeah, no, it’s interesting you say that. When I did my MBA a few years ago now, it was the corporate executive MBAwhere everyone works in like satellites around the country, and this is in Australia, and so at any time in the week, you could go attend the lecture as if you were in Adelaide or if you’re in Perth or Sydney, but then you’d come together for the collaborative work and then work remotely for everything else. But when everyone was together, that was where all the fun stuff happenedbut also where I think the most value was gained as opposed to working remotely on your own focus time.
Ashleigh: Yeah, because, a lot of us, I mean, we’re working in these complex systems that are really adaptiveand they’re self-organizing. So, there are different ways, I mean, we all have our different frameworks and tools and approaches for business transformation. Every management consultancy, every business, courses, certifications, we all have similar but different approaches, right? For the brilliant basics on looking after the core things like set your vision and approach, look after the op model and how are you defining the new target operating model and business design, the leadership component, the people culture, the change management component, and then how do you deliver value in that governance and PMO piece. And there are loads of different tools, right? We have lean, we’ve got Six Sigma, we’ve got Waterfall, we’ve got Agile, we’ve got all types of tools in our tool belt, but some things that I see time and time againis people not appreciating the bounded applicability of tools, right? So, what outcomes do people want to achieve in their transformations, you know? And just going back to the brilliant basics and getting those right, what outcomes do you want to achieve? What is the situational complexity or complicated nature that you’re working with and use the right tools, but, then, you know, if we’re working within complex environments, which most of us are, it’s people and these interactions and this emergence of idea, that’s what’s going to solve complexity. And by complexity, I mean, situations where you can agree what the problem is but no one person can agree on what exactly the solution is, you know, what’s best practice, the solution out of this, right? That’s what I mean by complex versus, you know, complicated iswe know that there’s a problem and we can more or less agree what the solution is. And then there’s wicked, which is like, I don’t know, climate change. People can’t really — where you can’t really agree on what the problem is, let alone how to solve it. But in this complex areawhere many businesses are playing, it is emergence, emergence of ideas that will help unlock and find the solutions and help the systems still be dynamicand evolve over time, right? And to get to that state of emergence, we can use tools to get there, but I often still find people confusing tools for purposeand not getting the best out of people and our interactions and how do you get that emergence of ideas in a safe space.
Heath: Yeah, I think you touched on a key point there about I think the use of tools and I think maybe the dependence on tools, thinking that the tool is the answer. I have used —
Ashleigh: Or the process, right?The tool or process.
Heath: Yeah. I tried to promote that, you know, you listed a few tools there, Lean Six Sigma and — well, Leanand Six Sigma and then they’ve got whole BPMN and process management and BPMN and all the other stuff. Now, it’s not so much what I say to my clients and even students is that it’s not the tools, it’s the skill of the practitioner in using those tools. You got to understand the context, you got to understand, you know, the two points I push off, applicability of applying it to the right degreeand in the right context. Otherwise, you would just be like, you know, mostly technical guys get a bit of maybe the wrong end of the stick occasionally, that they run around with the hammer and technology and every problem is a technology,therefore I can solve with this. And it’s like the same thing.
Ashleigh: It’s all good, right? You get some satisfaction out of thinking thatyou’re doing stuff. “I’m doing stuffand I’m doing good stuff.” And it feels good, right? But that’s an illusion, because what outcomes are you actually working towards in achieving and that’s the question, right? Are we doing the right thing, not are we doing the thingright, are we doing the right thing?
Heath: Yeah, there’s a big difference. Are we doing the right thing. I start most of the transformations I get involved in is what’s the vision and then as this word “vision” gets morphed into,“Oh, that’s our mission,” so well,no, the mission is a purpose. This is why you exist. The vision is like that the North Star. This is the outcome you want to achieve. What does that look like? And then they get to this 25,000 foot really lofty statement and I say, “Well, you know, okay, if you’re actually going to achieve that, how are you going to do that? So what strategies are yougoing to employ?”They go, “Well, actually, we haven’t actually thought that far,” and so we’ve gotta ground it — Yep?
Ashleigh: Sorry, no, go ahead.
Heath: But you gotta ground it in reality, otherwise, it just ends up being a throwaway comment and so the people point is, if the people,which they will see it from this perspective of the what’s in it for me, the WIIFM, and if they can’t see in their vision statement, which is the sole reason they exist, I go, “Well, I can’t see where I’m involved in this vision so I’ll tell you what, how much involvement I’m gonna provide?”
Ashleigh: Yeah, 100 percent. It’s not that we don’t like change, because change is good, right? We don’t like, we resist being changed, being forced to change, not being engaged and collaborated with. And we all have different perspectives. And I know diversity is a really hot topic right now, but often what I hear about diversity and the diversity agenda is things like how do we tolerate differences and treat others equally without prejudice. But, for meand with my background, which, you know, my career started in a tribe in the Saharan desert in West Africa for years, so I learned a lot of indigenous ways of working and kind of tribal mentalitiesand that really impacted and with my neuropsychology degree, in undergrad, you know, that really impacted how I see the world. I live in the UK now, I’m from America so lots of cross cultural, just things that I’ve picked up over the years. And, to me, diversity is an asset, it’s not an issue to be managed. You have to have different viewpoints. And there’s this phrase that we used to sayin a village I lived in where you stand in a gully and see the rainbow and a person is standing on the hill seeing the same rainbow but from a different angle and you have to share each other’s perspectives to see the whole. And we all perceive the world differently and we perceive the same situations differently, right? So when you’re talking about that visionand mission and case for changeand, you know, setting those brilliant basics, right? Say happy path, you do know what that is and we more or less can help bring people on that journey, right? You have clarity, you know where you’re going, but what about if you don’t? What if you have complex situations where you don’t know the answerand you need people to come together to share their different perspectives? And this is where I think just going back to the brilliant basics of learning from different cultures and how can we build trust and respect and listen, truly listen, without judgment, and bring these ideas together, you know, agile methodologies really tap into that where they essentially, you know, the way that they promote leadership and ways of working is delegate authority to people that have the knowledge who can make the right decisions, you know, at pace. And when I’m going into new businesses or giving talks, I often like to ask the question, or people can raise their hand or do a poll or whatever, of “Who right now is in a leadership position? Who right now is in a leadership role?” And that is really insightfulto me, the answer, because a lot of times, you’ll have maybe 50 percent, 60 percent raise their hands. And then I challenge them, every single person is in a leadership rolebecause we have a duty of care to everyone that we work with. Even if we are the most junior person in role profile on that team, we all have a duty of care to look after one anotherand come together to find and create interesting, bizarre, wild, and wonderful solutions to these complex problems.
Heath: Okay, so you said an interesting point there. I think when you ask the question, people might have seen it from the perspective of leadership position of do you have leadership in your title, but where it is, no, you actually have leadership in your behavior. Yeah, and that maybe comes from the culture part of the people feel empowered thateven though they might not have leader in their title, that they still have leadership in their ability to behave as if they, you know, they have that power. You talked about culture and I think a key partly about trust, likeyou talked about culture, and your backgroundgrowing up in Africa with different tribes, like I’m born in New Zealand, and Maori culture and tribes is — that’s one and the same, and people,when they held the All Blacks as almost unbeatable, you know, the world-winning number, the most successful team. It’s like you’re missing the point. It’s the culture. That’s why they’re so good, because they, like what you just said, the trust part. They think like their one person, the whole team of 15 people is actually one person, and so as an extension of when they read each other’s minds, because they, you know, they think and behave like one thing, that culture part, I think it is major overlooked, and it’s maybe like you talked about the complexityof transformations is it’s not around the processand it’s not around the technology, it’s the —
Ashleigh: You have to have it though. You have to have it, right? You absolutely have to have the brilliant basics. Without that, it won’t work. You have to have it, but then you have to go beyond that, right?
Ashleigh: And All Blacks, that’s such an interesting case study. I studied that in my MBA too. They’re in a Harvard Business Review, I think, actually.
Heath: Oh, wow.
Heath: I’m not surprised.
Ashleigh: And I think they studied fewer moves and mastered them instead of practicing almost over and over and over again, they practice fewer and became experts in them and that was a really useful for them as well, but, yeah, the culture point. And culture, I really like to explore this a bit more with you on this callbecause culture can be a bit woollyor it can just be something where people just pay a bit of homage to, yeah, we need to work on the culture, right?Let’s look at lulu and look at the cultural web and, you know, do some semi-structured interviews and some surveys to understand the as-is state and then map the 2Band then we can create our plan on how to get there, right?
Ashleigh: And it’s all very — it’s very scientific and ordered and, you know, we all wish that we could live in this rational worldwhich we all know that we don’t. I like to think we’re rational beingsbut we’re not. So, yeah, I think, for me, they’re just some real brilliant, simple things that we can all do to start facilitating, building this trust and building a culture because, I mean, it goes without saying, you know, anyone who works in transformation knows that. Even if you aren’t focusing on your culture, it’s still there. It is always there.
Heath: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: Whether you are acknowledging it and working with it or not, it will be there.
Heath: Yeah, that’s the — yeah, the cultureeats strategy for breakfast, regardless of how great —
Ashleigh: Oh, yeah, Drucker. And it does.
Ashleigh: It does.
Heath: Yeah, people ignore thatand like — this clientI’m helping now, I might have mentioned it on a previous podcast, is they had the name of the project, and the name of the project had the term “optimization,” and I said, “I don’t think actually what you’re trying to do is optimize this process. Actually what you’re doing before this process of creating projects was you are enhancing or creating new business capabilities. In order to do that, you want to, at the moment, let’s say, you are in oil and gas, but you want to be in all things energy, how do you do that for your projects? So what you’re doing is you are actually creating, enhancing new business capabilities that do two things. They either save your business and make moneyor save the business and cost money. But if you do a really good job, they’ll save the business and you’ll make money but you better do it again, again, again, again, quicker, cheaper, and then you can turn the ship.” They said, “Yeah, that’s what we wanna do.” I said, “Okay, if that’s what you wanna do, what you’re talking about is not optimization, it’s transformation.” They said, “Oh, yeah, that’s what we wanted.” I said, “Okay, but now you’re gonna — we’re calling your transformation, we’re gonna change the name of the project, the big elephant in the room right behind us is these transformation projects got a massive 70 percent failure rate so we’re up against it from day one.”They said, “Oh, okay,” and I said, “You knowthe four problems, four main causes?” They said no, I said, “Well, lack of business user involvement, lack of senior leadership support, changing requirements, and complete requirements.” I said, “From the first one,” I said, “You know, the lack of business involvement, I think you’ve got good engagement. I see what you don’t have is leadership. No one from the top wants to put their hand up and support this projectso I can tell you how well it’s gonna go.”
Ashleigh: Yeah. And, you know, best processes and tools around that, it’s not going to solve that red tape. The red tape that you find in businesses, the bureaucracy, meeting culture, whatever the case may be, not getting the leadership buy inbecause they each have their own specific points of viewor what they’re trying to get out of this, different agendas, you know, tools and frameworks aren’t gonna solve this stuff. The people side, the people skills, which I hate that it’s called soft skills, just like, they’re people. These are — these are human skills. They’re not soft, they’re human skills, right? How can you break that down? How can you break down those barriers and get the people aligned, right? So, again, it just comes back to simple stuff to me, likestart with respect and really listen to everyone, every point of view, because you realize you cannot solve this alone or one agenda times 12or however many is in the leadership team, etc., that’s not going to solve the problems alone and it’s not going to get the outcomes that you want to achieve alone. Solutions to complex problems takes a lot of dissimilar points of viewand we’re all interconnected so we have to respect and hear all points of view, remove hierarchy, be reciprocal with how we’re listening and, you know, be warm. There’s a great HBR article called “Connect thenLead” where, you know, what’s better to — so there are two main components, two main characteristics that we judge in other human beings. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of characteristics, but the two that always come up with like90 percent of all cases on how do we actually judge others, it’s on two characteristics: How lovable are they, okay, how warm and trustworthy are they versus how fearsome are they, okay? Strength and competence, right? And often in many of our organizations, people start with competence of,“I’ve done this, this, this.These are my creds.This is my expertise,” right? Instead of connecting with the people, you start with the creds, but that starts from a backfoot where you can put people off and drive fear behaviors and worry and stress and drive bad day behaviors so you do need both. But connect, start with the warmth and genuinely care to connect with people. Listen, respect them, and then show those fearsome behaviors, right? And your competence. And oscillating between those is really how you can engage and lead and go on the journeys together as a leader.
Heath: Yeah, I think you — what you’re talking about there about, I think the likable, lovable, warm, trustworthy is like in marketing, you’d say, know, like, and trust. And so you’ve built some form of rapport and now you can come through with the —
Ashleigh: Just influence, join, disarm, put out the fires. When you and I go into other organizations, they’re struggling, right? They’re struggling with their transformations. There’s a lot of failure. There’s a lot of different agendas being pushed. Put out the fires and defuse.Get those brilliant basics, the vision, you know, op model, leadership, people, culture, change, governance, all of that, but disarm, defuse, and get people to listen and respect and value the different points of view, realizing that even when people share weird and wonderful ideas, even if those aren’t potentially good ideas enough themselves, they might spark one that is, right?That may spark that idea —
Heath: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: — and more dynamic and we have to go through this period of collaboration and emergence and, you know, bringing in continuous improvement and kaizen and just constantly questioning, because it’s hard to ask these questions, and be honest of are we still doing the right thing? Are these the right outcomes? Are we doing the right stuff to achieve these outcomes?And ask them over and over and over again.
Heath: You raise a good point there about collaboration. I think, like in brainstorming sessions, like I have led a few transformations and one of them, I won’t name any names, but you could probably work out who it is, that as part of the brainstorming, really it was the vision, the strategy, objectives, and measures exercise, the SMT, the senior management team, I said, “We’re gonna brainstorm this,sticky notes on the wall here, and no one’s gonna talk for two minutes,” and I had individual meetings of each one of the senior management team and they had a different opinion to the director, and they said, “But the director comes from this backgroundand they have this mindset of cost cutting and we have a mindset of valuating,” and so they’re at opposite ends. So how do we come up with a vision for all of us? And I say, “This is how we’re gonna do it.” So I said, “Okay, you got two minutesand there’s no talking, because as soon as you start talking, you kill the creativity, because the criticism comes in,” and they say —
Ashleigh: Then you go to analytic mode, don’t you? Yeah.
Heath: Yeah, yeah. And they say, “What are you thinking that for?” And this is the part about giving people the freedom to go and express themselves without risk of being judgedor prejudiced,and like you said about I think the two types of groups, the heterogeneous and the homogeneous groups, you know? You put two of those groups together, the same people and diverse people who’s going to come up with more creative ideas?
Heath: Yeah, you put engineers together, come up with creative ideas and a mix of people, the mix. Yeah, so I think people will look at that almost like tools and techniques and they think that’s the answer. So well —
Ashleigh: Oh, 100 percent. Oh, my gosh, time and time again. I mean, that’s the phone calls I get, you know? “Hey, Ash, IT is too slow to deliver. You know, we’ve got shadow IT across the organization,” and developer saying, “We’re working so hard, you know, but we’re being micromanaged, you know? People are coming to us for urgent things all the time. But, you know, we’re getting thrown off of all of this,” and then you’ve got PMO and governance saying, “These teams can’t estimate their retirement budget, we’re not doing the right things,” and you hear that time and time again and then you think, “Agile will save us.”
Heath: Yeah, we’re going agile, yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: You start it and then realize, you know, agile didn’t save us and then it’s like, do we need to be better at agile? Do we need to do more agile?Are we doing this right? Are we doing enough of it, you know? And then you try and try againand it just leads to confusion and fear. But, again, in this complex space where agile works well, the tools and frameworks are there to enable emergence of idea and co-collaboration and co-creation.They’re in a complicated environment, again, where you, more or less, you kind of have a happy path to a solution. Don’t use agile, right? Use the other tools in the tool belt where that is actually process over people. If you need to do Six Sigma and Lean processes out and be super-efficient with a 0.01percent margin of error, you know, use your Six Sigma, that is process over people, and that’s fine. But you can’t have these dual operating systems or multi — you know, you have to look and be aware across the landscape of the organizationwhat is the right tool for the job.
Heath: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what I was saying earlier about applicable and the context. It’s interestingyou talked about the learning or using Six Sigma. One of the recent clients I was working with, they had decided within the transformation divisionthat all the process maps must be mapped, by anyone in the business, anyone who’s not even in the transformation division, using BPMN notation and if they don’t know how to use BPMN notation, they’re going off site for two days to learn how to do it. And I was like, “Wait a minute, so you’ve got practitioners, pharmacists working in the research labs, and you’re telling them they must go do two days off site BPMN notation to learn how to do process maps, but then they’re not processmappers and they’re not in transformation, they’re not consultants. Why are you making them do that?”“Well, that’s the process, that’s the standard we adopted.” I said, “Well, how’s that working for you?” “Oh, they hate it.”I go, “Why is that?” They said, “Oh, because they don’t know it.” I said, “But do they need it? You know, you could just use a swim lane or a flow chart, that’s good enough, you know? You’re not helping yourself. That’s crazy.”
Ashleigh: Wonder where they got that idea from.
Heath: I don’t know. I think someone might have created a little cottage industry for themselves and that was a protection mechanism to make sure that everything was done to the nth degree but, you know, you talk about business agility, you’re not creating business agility there. This is — yeah.
Ashleigh: It’s hard. You know, business agility is hard, it really is, because it’s different in every organization and you have to have courage to face into the legacy stuff, you know? The legacy wrappers that have been accrued over the years, especially in longstanding and large enterprises, where, at one point in time, a tool or process or a grade log with 17 columns, it served a purpose, and then the person who introduced itor the reason why it was introduceddissolved and something else came inor someone else came in, new regulations, you know, fill in the blank, but then it’s just additive, right?
Ashleigh: And these processes and tools, it’s just additive instead of pausing and reflecting what do we actually need to statutorily comply with? What is best practice here? What do we actually need to do? And challenge the rest. But that takes courage and that’s really hard and people can get really defensive with that, even if they inherited this stuff, even if it’s inherited tools and processes and standards, if they’re the owners of these inherited tools, you know, that’s challenging. This is a difficult situation. So all the more reason why just, you know, people coming togetherand everyone seeing themselves as a leaderand having this duty of care to everyone they’re working withand building these kind of positive behaviors and interactions and holding people to account, right? Because if you want to actually change behaviorsand therefore the culture, we have to have the courage to call people out when they’re having bad day behaviorsand take people aside and really challenge and do that and that’s hard. And sometimes it’s risky for your job.
Heath: Oh, yeah.
Ashleigh: Especially in this environment and it’s hard with reading the nonverbal communication with video calls. Thank Godwe have the ability to do video calls and it’s not just camera off most of the time —
Heath: Yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: — so you can pick up on some of that, but it is hard and sometimes we get it wrong, right? So we need to also be able to forgive when we do mess up. But that’s quite an adjustment. And I’ve not really seen too many tips or answers to that listening,so like listeningor the super effective listening where, you know, 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. Have you heard any tips or tricks on that in this remote world?
Heath: No, not really, to be honest. Maybe that’s a new talk you can do. Yeah, nonverbal, yeah, like, yeah, I think there needs to be some maybe best practice for use of video calls for your meetings. I’m not a fan of having video calls and turning your camera off. What’s the point? And I would sooner say, that’s it, not just turn the videos off, turn the computer off and come into the officeand then let’s have a meeting in a room, you know?And if we want to get this solved, solve these problems, the nonverbal communication where people have got their screens off, it’s like, okay, what are you really thinking? Because what’s going to happen in the end is that people will do what they want to do anyway. Yeah, so if you don’t pick up on that nonverbal, then that’s a massive clue, like you said there, 70 percent, I think it’s something like that. Yeah, like two-thirds, at least. So, yeah —
Ashleigh: Or at least we can designate which calls is best for having cameras on because sometimes, depending on the culture of an organization, is they’re a heavy meeting culture, you know, I’ve had clients where I average 12to 16 meetings every single day, literally every single day, and it’s exhausting, right?And having the camera on, I have read a study where, because we can see ourselves in the corner of the screen, we end up looking at ourselves when we’re talking, you know, and that’s exhausting for people, because we’re not used to that. We’re not used to seeing ourselves all the time. So that is quite tiring. So maybe just clarifying a preference of which meetings where it’s a collaborative type of engagement session where it’s best to have the cameras on and then other times where, you knowwhat, if you don’t want the camera on for this one, let’s all go camera freeand just have a bit of a rest, right?
Heath: Yeah, okay. No, I’m a big fan of, although, you know, I could turn the camera off but I’m a big fan of — because I think the silent victim is the culture. When people — well, people don’t come into the office, you know, if you don’t come into office, there is no culture, you kill it, so when does the culture happen? When you’re together. When you can touch, see, feel the presence of other people, their emotional intelligence part. So if you are turning off the cameras, you’re going to kill the culture. So I keep my camera on for all meetings. People will probably think I’m a bit crazy. It’s like, you know what, you know, these business transformations don’t fail because of the technology, they failbecause of the people’s contribution or lack of contribution to the project and —
Ashleigh: And do they feel empowered and in a safe space where they can make the contribution or are they even being asked for the contribution? Are they being told what to do, right? And, you know, in addition to the camera, I guess there are some other things that we can be doing, which I think a lot of people have probably caught on to during this COVID world of things like intentionally building in coffee catch-ups or having the first five minutes or last five minutes of the meeting, have just a bit of a juicy gossip, right? Like have a social —
Heath: Yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: — conversation, just to catch up on things that aren’t related. Because we can’t just go get a cup of tea with people anymore and just have that catch-up so you have to be intentional with it and build it in more.
Heath: Yeah, yeah. I actually was — well, one client, we madelike one hour, four o’clock on a Friday or a Thursday because people wanted to do something on Friday, and we made that, it was either some games and someone had to explain it —
Ashleigh: Yeah, social, yeah.
Heath: Yeah, or drinking —
Ashleigh: Yeah, yeah.
Heath: Yeah, otherwise, it won’t happen. I was actually having a conversation on LinkedIn with actually a former program manager I used to work with and he said, “No, we’re 100 percent working from home now. No more coming to office, except for a meal. We’re gonna get —
Ashleigh: I love that.
Heath: And I said, “Isn’t that funny —
Ashleigh: Maybe you still need to work but if you’re coming in for the meal, may as well have a working day, right?
Ashleigh: And get that collaboration together and then go out for the meal, right?
Heath: Yeah. I said, so why is it that you can’t just eat at your desk or in front of your computer but you need to be sitting in the same room beside each other eating? I said do you not see that will you think that you need to be in a room to eat versus being in the room to collaboratively work is the same thing? And he goes no —
Ashleigh: You need to build the bonds, right?With dinner. And then leverage the bonds, right? Leveraging these collaborative sessions, working sessions together.
Heath: Yeah. Like I actually was gonna write another book before — oh, I actually started writing it but I was told not to publish it because I would never get another job in the industry again, calling out — and I said, “Well, maybe I don’t want another job in the industryif this is the behavior,” and that was about people’s behavior. And if you don’t have any trust and people can’t speak their mind, people are just gonna do what they want anyway and what happens?These projects fail and then what happens there?Then there’s more money committed to it and it goes around in a circle and then it fails againand there’s no transformations happening here. It’s just actually money getting thrown after bad money.
Ashleigh: That just triggered another thought, actually. I love this. I love this bouncing ideas back and forth between one another. This is great. Your podcast is awesome.
Heath: Oh, thank you.
Ashleigh: You know, change and change fatigue, right? And constantly trying to go through initiatives and change fatigue, just another elementwe’re just building up this picture of culture because culture is ephemeral, right? It’s hard to — even anthropologists can’t agree the definition of culture. But we know it’s kind of behaviors, right? You can see it in behaviors and stories and signs and symbols and all of these different ways that we interact and bring meaning with one another. But with change fatigue, that is a really important topic. And in Agile, so agile, the industry is kind of moving, for lack of a better word, like to Agile 2.0, if you will, right?Agile’s been around for decades and it’s kind of morphedand everyone has a different opinion on what it means. It’s changed, just like digital. Digital transformation, all things digital, everyone has a different opinion on this. But trends I’m noticing in the industry is moving away from agile or agility towards flow, a state of flow. How can you actually minimize the perception of changeand the jarring that comes with forced changeespecially and we already touched on this, right?Of engage people so that they’re co-creating and collaborating on this so it’s not change being done to them but they’re part of this, shaping it together, and you do it one step at a time. And it emerges as you go down this path. But also, as you start to go down that path, then you get to the point where you’re just flowing. And especially, you know, different op models are structured to help enable this flow.Matrix-style op models and, you know, agile, organizing around value, around customer linesessentially, value streams and value, organizing that way really does help enable this concept of flowwhere it minimizes and negates change fatigueand helps keep people plugged in.
Heath: Yeah, I’m a big fan of avoiding the change fatigue. Yeah, that’s one of the first questions I ask aboutwhat recent change have you been through and usually it’s a — ’cause my interest there is around about lessons learned, about what you did well, what you wanna keep doing, what you stopped doing, what you wanna start doing. And then most of the time, it’s, “Oh, well,” likeI remember the first project I did in the UK with the government regulator, I won’t mention any names, but they had done an insurance regulation change and, oh, this must be something similar to a banking regulation change. “Oh, yeah, yeah, we just did that.” And I said, “Okay, so what’s the lesson learned?”“Oh, we didn’t capture any.”“So how long was that project?”“Like five years.” And no lessons learned so,“Okay, so you wouldn’t happen to have anyof those old staff members on that project still here?”“Oh, yes, yes, yes. Actually,remember that going away party you went to yesterday? That was the last person who just left.”I was like, “You’re kidding.”And so, you know, that’s where you identify change fatigue, you know?What was —
Ashleigh: Yeah, what’s hindering us?What’s not working? As you go into that state of flowand you’re doing the next thing and then the next thing and the next thing, yeah, it’s that constant, continuous improvement loop, the feedback loop of how can we be doing things slightly differently? Are we still doing the right things? What’s blocking us? What can be better? What can change? 100 percent. And also, I’ll add a sprinkling of the growth mindset in there too of, because in the past couple years, I think a lot of us in business, maybe not all but some of usI think sought mental health might have been a bit woo-woo.
Heath: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: All is well now. It’s not that like — this is a real thing, right? And that’s been — I think all of us have, at some point, encountered issues with mental health in the past few years and how can you lead and how can you work with your teams when you’re going through this and I find pursuing and promoting a growth mindset, where instead of thinking, “I can’t solve this,” or,“Oh, no, another change. Oh, no, another thing’s gone wrong. Oh, no, this happened, this happened,” you know, “This is impossible. I can’t solve this,” it’s changing that mindset to, “We haven’t found the solution yet,” right? “I haven’t found the answer yet,” and working together on that growth mindsetand mitigating change fatigue by getting into the state of flow, you know, and I’ll just throw another final curveball into this, but purpose. I think probably one of the single most important things that we can help our colleagues, ourselves, the people that we lead, the people that we manage, find to help build that resilience and build a culture and a team is finding purpose and there are so many different types of purpose, right? Organizational purpose. Now, a lot of consumer behavior is demanding purpose-led organizations, right?And contributing back to the environment, etc. We’re really seeing that consumer shift of preference and behavior. So you have organizational purpose, you know, team purpose, but also your own individual purpose. And when that is challenged, how can we help people re-find their purpose, especially when a lot of people say now, I don’t know if you hear this but I hear this,“I just don’t wanna work anymore,”you know, first day back in the year, right? Did you hear anyone who said, “Oh, I was really looking forward to going back to work today,” you know?You have like resignation and all sorts of stuff going on so how can we change — if we can’t change our roles, how can we change our mindsets and be more of service to others? Like there’s this great story, I think it was of John F. Kennedywhen he visited NASAand he asked the janitor, “Oh, what do you do here?” And the janitor’s response was, “I put people on the moon,” you know?And connecting to that higher purpose.
Heath: Yeah, yeah, his role in the whole process, yeah, or the organization.
Ashleigh: He contributes to putting people on the moon, you know? So, purpose is something that I think is extraordinary and if we tap more into thatand have that intrinsic motivation, for ourselves, for our teams, and for our organizations, that helps bring people togetherand helps transformations be a bit more successful. And, again, to build on everythingwe said, you still have to have those brilliant basics, you still have to have the tools and the frameworks and the processes. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve talked about the challenges with them and the limitationsbut you do have to have them. But those alone aren’t going to remove the obstacles that often businesses have, right? You have to go beyond that and go into the people sphere. Culture is part of that but people and interactions and co-creation and trust and empowerment and delegation of authority, maybe not always but where the situation calls for it, things like that.
Heath: Yeah, I’m with you with the — I like your brilliant basics, the vision, operating model, leadership, people and change, governance, the part about the tools, you need the toolsbut you don’t make the tools, you crutch, you know? I think that’s been the misuse maybe of tools right nowis that they are seen as, what’s that word? The panacea of this.We’ve got agile. We’re using BPMN notation. No. Understand first the context of where you’re using it and if it’s suitable, then, yes. How you apply it is one thing and the context that you apply it is the other. Yeah, I think when we talk about these transformations, and I’m sure for your timecurrently at PA and before that, you know, these transformation projects are not small, cheap costing projects, they’re into the hundreds of millions of pounds, and they fix hundreds, if not thousands of stakeholders, and so you get it wrong, there’s no transformation and there’s lost money, lost opportunity. So, yeah, no, we need to be doing things differently. Otherwise, we’re repeating mistakes. So a lot, I reckon you could write a book. Yeah, seriously, so when is it coming out? I can tell you how long it took me to write mine so —
Ashleigh: How long did it take you to write yours?
Heath: Well —
Ashleigh: I saw it’s in Audible now too. The Transformation book is on Audible, I saw.
Heath: Yeah, yeah, that took — well, that recording of just the audiobook was over 30 hours. There’s a lot of words to read. And not just to read them, you know? You gotta read them and be clear so that was one thing. But to write the book, the writing of the book was 18 months. Twelve months of that was full time and then it was another twelve months dealing with the editor and the publisher. So, all in all, it was a two-and-a-half-year project. So, yeah, no, but, you know, at the same time, because I always want, you know, you need to do one, right? So there’s two other books in draft, I just don’t have the time to finish them. But I’ll tell you what, some of the stuff you touched on now, which I don’t see a lot of people talking about, we talked about this earlier before the podcast started, there’s some technical guys that have been on the podcast and, you know, their naturalprobably deposition is, because they’re technical guys, is to start with technology. But all they were talking about were people. Technology, like the tools, is not the panacea, but it’s first understanding the people, understanding the culture, and then, you know, whatever, if a process needs to support these new ways of workingand they’re enabled by technology, then, hey, you got your answer, that’s a solution. But that’s not from the start. You don’t start at technology then add more technology and think you’re gonna get a transformation. No, you’re probably gonna to get a 70 percent failure rate.
Ashleigh: Yeah, and, you know, diversity, getting that diversity of thought and all the different approaches and people with the different fortes and bringing that together in a way where you can tap into thatand leverage and work with that diversity of thought because having diversity isn’t enough, right? Unless you can actually hold space where you can leverage the beauty of that emergence of idea, that’s the jackpot. That’s what we’re all striving for, I think.
Heath: That’s a key word,diversity.Diversity that’s getting pushed right now I think is you can have your diverse thinkingas long as it’s the same as ours. Like, well, that’s not diverse,that’s just you want me tosay my piece then do exactly what you just said, but nothing to do with what I just suggested to you. Yeah, I think that what you said there, give people the space when to say it, but then, okay, you need to act on it now. Not just a throwawaycomment and go, “Okay, this is what I believe that we should do,” and then go, “Okay, if we just wait long enough, they’ll be quietand then we can go and do what we want to do.”
Ashleigh: Yeah, and the hard part there is you getting the culture to a place where leaders can act on that, right? And you can have that agility of the enterprise where you can pivot quickly and take the new information, whether that’s from your own peopleor from the end user that you’re learning from, you know, take that information and quickly pivot and be able to make a swift decision that is well enough informed on what to start, stop, and continue. Especially now, with the nature of business and how complex the environments are that we’re working inand competitiveness and changing consumer behavior at the drop of the hat, it’s really important now. It’s always been importantbut it’s particularly important now. And I think the trend is just gonna keep continuing. And how can we hire, attract, hire, and retain that talent and build this, right? Because you can’t get this stuff overnight. Going through that forming, storming, norming, and performing cycle, that takes time. You have to —
Heath: Improve formation, yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: Yeah. So, yeah, this great resignation is something that I’ve been keeping my eye on quite closely and that, to me, and maybe it’s just me, you know, I could be wrong but when I look to, when I think about the trends for this yearand the future, the biggest threats that I see to the success of transformationisn’t those brilliant basics that we talked about. We already know that.We know what we need to do, right? We knowwe need to get on and do it. But when we can’t attract the right talent, incentivize the right talent, invest in that talent, because, in our generation, how often do you see careers in a job? You don’t anymore. In fact, when I’m hiring for roles, if you look and see someone’s been in the same role for 5, 10 years, you think, “Oh, that person doesn’t have very much ambition,” you know?It’s seen almost as a negative thing at times. It’s changed that much between generations. Now, there’s this almost commonly accepted thought that if I want to get promotedor get a pay rise, my company won’t do that for meunless I fight tooth and nail to get itand have an offer to hand and, you know, hold it up to my boss and say, “Hey, either give me what I’ve been asking for and deserve or I’m walking,” you know? That threat, why — I just don’t understand why, personally, but this whole, what’s called the employee value proposition, you know, looking at that attraction and retention and investing in talentand understanding what capabilities, as the organization evolves and as you go through that state of flow, what capabilities are required to deliver these outcomes and what are you going to invest in internallyversus have your third party suppliers, your partnerships, your relationships, your contractors, etc., what does that ideal blend look like for your enterprise that’s the happy mix, right? Where you can get this culture because I do want to make that point quite clear. When you and I are talking about people in interactions, I’m not just talking about FTEs. Most companies aren’t only FTEs now. It’s always a blend of heavily outsourced providersor dev teams, if we’re talking about the technology sense, a blendof contractors and consultants and all that. It’s all of this, right? When we’re talking about the people interactions, it’s blending all of this.
Heath: Yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh: So how are we — how are organizations, I just really challenge any person listening to this podcast in the future, just really think about that blend in your organizationand how are you investing in the capabilities in growing that talent and is loyalty still a dirty word? Can we start to bring this back as a positive trait that we should be striving for? You know, loyalty to our workforce and loyalty to organizations and really invest in that and grow that because those bonds, that’s where the magic of longstanding adaptive organizations overcoming challenges and complexity, that’s where it’s gonna come from, right?
Heath: Yeah, yeah. You said a lot of things there and it’s all good stuff. You know, the attract and retain one, look, I did an HR transformation just recentlyand one of the key objectives that they had was they want to attract and retain the key staff, beststaff, and so,well, why even got that a goal? I said, “Well, at the moment, because of Brexit, they had lost the revenue channel but they now had opened up to the rest of the world, they had the opportunity to do other things, but they didn’t have the staff to do it.” And they said, “Okay, sowhat does it mean, attract and retain?”Well, at the moment, so why is that an issue? Because currently we can’t. And so why not? Because we don’t have the capability. And so you unpick itand you get down to the root cause and go, okay, no, here’s the real problem. But, yeah, that’s all coming back againto the people element and, you know, that capability part is like, you know, it comes back to the first part, where’s the vision? Where you want to be? Oh, you want to be this new, let’s say for HR it was the strategic people partner or trusted partner to help the business continuously improve, so how do you see yourself in that role? And so how do you help the business? Oh, because we have a strategic part, the continuous improvement. Oh, and where does that come from? From our staff. And is it — yeah, it’s all cyclical, you know? And the people, they talk about it and I think it’s been renamed.Firstit was human resources, and then it got renamed to human capital and I think now coming back to human resources againand so that part is cyclical. But —
Ashleigh: Human capital.
Ashleigh: That’s a whole topic for another podcast, I think. Yeah, the people agenda.
Heath: Yeah, the HCM, human capital management, which is just a rebranded human resource management maybe. But, yeah, no, some really good takeaways there. Thank you very much. So I wanna recap what we talked about. I was writing notes the whole time so if I had my head down, but I’m viciously writing down the notes, but I like, from what I said earlier, was the brilliant basics and I think that organizations need to get that right. That’s the starting point of I think any transformation. You saidthe vision, which my approach and process is it all starts with the vision, you get that. So you get that vision right. Understand your operating model. Leadership is key, like, you know, I said that, one of the second causes of business transformationfailure is lack of leadership. So understand your leadership and people in change, what does that look like and how is it gonna change, then governance, like who have you got making the decisions here? One of the key things I talk about is, you know, if you look into your project and your governance board, like I’ve been in some big UK government projectsand they have a governance authorityand it’s called the solution design authority, and I said, “Okay, so what are you making decisions about?” They said, “Oh, business decisions.” I say, “Okay, who here is representing the business?”Oh, no, no, no, no, no, not invited. And I say, “So who’s making the decisions for the business then?” They said, “No, no, they’re not invited.” I said, “Well, okay, so this is a technologyauthority,” and they said, “Well, it’s actually the business authoritybut the business is a bad word so we call it solution.” I said, “Oh, my goodness, you know, this is the starting point of the problem right here is,” you know? So governance is a key part. If you can’t look into your governance authority into the board and there’s no business representatives there, that’s the first call out. You mentioned the tools and frameworks, which they exist and there’s a lot out thereand they’re all good to be used and to places, the applicability for the — how much to the degree, the light touch or detail, then the context of, okay, is this suitable for this environment? If not, hey, maybe don’t use BPMN notation, maybe use something else. There’s a lot of — you hit the three things on the different types of complexity. You talked about these, I think like we called them maybe a continuum of complexity, the complexity complicated and wicked, wicked being that no one agrees about what the potential solution could be.
Ashleigh: Or what the problem is.
Heath: Yeah, even worse. Even worse. Yeah. And the merging ideas came through as a result of diverse groups of people coming together to solve those problems, which I saidthe difference between homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, you know? You’ve gotta have different minds come together to come up with the creative ideasand creative ideas with not being criticized and your word you said, to allow the freedom and the space to talk about that, so people listening, it’s like, yeah, okay, you can — it can’t be lip service. Otherwise — then you talked about loyalty and trust. You don’t get that by giving lip service.
Heath: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so what else did we cover there? I think a major part there about change fatigue, and the Agile 1.0 has moved to 2.0 and we’re moving to a state of flow, that there is always going to be continuous change, that continuous change might have an order to it and that order is like a flow down the stream, if you will, but it is always moving. The thing that is, I think we would have said a few years ago about mental health is a little bit of what are you talking about, that’s a little bit of a softie, softie, little bit of nonsense, but now, in this environment, post-COVID, well, if it is still post-COVID, although we won’t get on that subject, that, you know, mental health is a major thing, not a thing that can be brushed under the carpet. Mental health, part of people’s behavior, part of people, part of culture. You can’t overlook that. I think a thing that you talked about was a major, probably it could be — maybe it’s the panacea is the purpose and you talked about purpose on three levels, the self or individual level, at the team level, and at the organization level, the example that you used about JFKand the cleaner, he saw his individual role as his ultimate purpose is part of putting people on the moon, although, you know, his direct day-to-day tasks may not be directly involved to, you know, fueling that rocket ship but he saw his role as playing a crucial part in putting people on the moon. So, you know, so having a clear purpose at the different levels is, I think, probably a key part. And the last one here about the speed of change and group formation. I think the big change is that we are maybe not sure what the driver is, whether it’s consumer driven speed of change, that consumers change their mind so much, or it’s because of organizations provide their new tools or new products or new services at a speed and it becomes cyclical and in the middle is an employee who have to cope with all the change.
Ashleigh: 100 percent. Great recap.
Ashleigh: Well done. We talked about a lot.
Heath: Yeah, no. Well, I find, you know, my MBA was majored around change management, one part of it, which I think, you know, it’s the most overseen, overlooked element of business transformation. If you wanna get more bang for buck out of your change projects, you can’t ignore the people part. If anything, that’s where you’re starting and, funnily enough, you’ll probably end up finishing there too.
Ashleigh: Agree. I feel like we could talk for ages on this topic, actually.
Heath: Yeah, we have to have a part two, a part twoand maybe even the human capital part that we just touched on there and we can elaborate on that and if you do another talk in between part two, then maybe you can fill us in on what that was and how that went and then sort of drop a few gems for the audience.
Ashleigh: Will do. Perfect.
Heath: Okay, Ashleigh, we’ll wrap it up there. Thank you very much for your time on a Tuesday evening, which people won’t know what evening it is when this gets published though. But, yeah, thank you. Thank you very much.
Ashleigh: Thanks so much, Heath. This has been fantastic. Thank you for the opportunity to come speak with you tonight and just bounce some ideas back and forth with each other.
Heath: My pleasure. Okay. Thank you. Have a good night.
Heath: Okay, bye.
What is business transformation? This is a two-part answer. The first part is what is business transformation, and then when is the change the organization goes through deemed a transformation? Firstly, the definition. Business transformation is where business changes the way it does business. That is, it changes how it creates and delivers its products and services, its CVP, its customer value proposition to its customers. It doesn’t necessarily change what it does, but it changes how it does it.
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Hi, I’m Heath, the founder of HOBA TECH and host of The Business Transformation Podcast. I help Business Transformation Consultants, Business Designers and Business Architects transform their and their clients’ business and join the 30% club that succeed. Join me on this journey.