437 — Manage Uncertainty and Change with Adaptability



Charles Darwin discovered a key principle of evolution — survival of the fittest.  Massive dinosaurs dominated Earth for 20 million years, but following a sudden environmental change it was the insignificant, tiny, agile mammals that adapted and survived. Darwin recognized that in the long run fittest meant most adaptable.

With today’s increasing uncertain business environment — in markets, technology and regulation — organizing your company around yesterday’s predictability, brings unacceptable risk. We no longer have a stable environment — where the appropriate response is a hierarchic structure, policy manuals, and detailed procedures for each contingency. In a changing, uncertain, unpredictable environment, employees who are hampered by old-style structures and policies can’t respond quickly or properly. That’s the path to extinction.

Engage Employees with the Marketplace

The key to quickly adapting to the changing marketplace is being highly engaged with that marketplace. You can’t predict where the changes will come from but you will minimize your risk if every employee is fully committed and engaged, rapidly responding to change by feeding information into the organization, information they constantly receive through their engagement.

That kind of organizational adaptability takes strong relationships and trust. But how can you hold an employee’s trust when you can’t even promise they’ll be here tomorrow? “I want committed employees, but I can’t commit to them.” This looks like a dilemma. The challenge is to build a company culture, where employees are committed, open and trusting, but at the same time understand and accept that there are no employment guarantees.

It Takes Honesty, Openness and Trust

Employees know the realities of business. Adults appreciate straight talk. Unfortunately many managers think they should always put on a good front and that that sometimes means concealing negative information that may significantly affect employees, such as a severe financial downturn. But in an open and trusting workplace, where people at all levels are committed to each other, managers can talk as straightforwardly to employees about the financial health of the company, or unstable markets, or employment as they can about anything else.

Employees should be able to trust management to be open and honest, no matter what the topic. In such a workplace employees will accept the facts as facts because they know that no matter what happens, managers will do their best for everybody. That’s the new contract. It’s powerful and it works.

Does that sound hard to achieve? You might need help getting there, but the result is an adaptive, market-responsive company, guaranteeing survival. Darwin would approve, maybe even smile.

cc 437 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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424 — Managing Your Boss

darthvader faceIs that your Boss? Your Dad? Your Mom? Darth Vader? Or a person like you?

Morphing your boss from giant — or mom, or dad — back to person, boss-human being, can be a liberating experience. Doing it can build a valuable skill to carry into future jobs. And doing it doesn’t require cooperation.

Our feelings about our boss come largely from childhood, when we experienced our first bosses, our parents as all-powerful giants. Burdened with this old baggage, it’s sometimes hard to see some authority figures, maybe our boss, as a person like us — with hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, problems at home, and self-doubts. But presidents, media celebrities and bosses are not giants — they also put on their shoes one foot at a time. Fortunately there are some actions you can take to build a more casual rapport with “your boss.”

Open Up…Start Talking

Lets start with one fact. Managers often feel isolated, left out of the loop on what’s happening below them. This is an acute problem for CEOs at the top of the authority pyramid. This isolation happens when employees don’t feel comfortable initiating casual conversations — they leave it up to the boss to make the first move. This limits upwards communication and the flow of information.

Senior managers are hungry for improved relationships and information, but often don’t know how to change things. Some were taught not to have personal relationships with subordinates because it might make inhibit giving honest negative feedback or might be seen as favoritism.

If you are an employees, improving the relationship with your boss does not have to be a big event. You might just smile and say, “Hello” in the morning, mention your son’s baseball game, or ask how his or her weekend was. One small comment might open the way to a conversation, and lead to a more responsive boss. Here is an even more proactive way.

I taught management courses at the UC Irvine campus to budding supervisors and managers. In the week between each all-day Saturday class, the student assignment was to apply class work to their job. One assignment was to practice “The Cultural Interview”. Each student had to “Interview” a person they worked with but did not know well personally. The results were always striking. Here’s one.

Mike was a mid-20s first-level engineer in a 12 person consulting company. He felt distanced from the firm’s owner, who Mike said, “Spent too much time in his office.” Mike decided to invite the owner to lunch and “Interview” him. He was apprehensive but the class was encouraging. The following Saturday Mike said that the interview went well and that the day after the lunch the owner walked around the office talking with other employees. “It was the first time I had seen him do that.” Two years later, at a professional conference, Mike sought me out to excitedly report that he had been promoted to office manager. He said his promotion began with that Interview. It changed their relationship.

Do Something Together

A more ordinary, and a very effective way to build a relationship, is to do something together. This might be working together on a business project or it might be something informal, like playing together on the unit’s softball team, or working on a United Way drive.

What if Your Attempts at Bridge-Building Fail?

Some managers use their role to isolate themselves and avoid intimacy. These managers find relationships too difficult, preferring to keep employees (and others) at a distance. In that case your attempt to improve relationships upwards may fail.

If your repeated attempts to establish better communications with your boss are getting nowhere, you may just have come up against one of these well-defended (fearful) managers. In that case there is little you can do. If the lack of a strong relationship is actually a problem your best solution is probably to find another position, hopefully with a more open person. Surveys show that poor relationships with an immediate supervisor is the number one reason people resign.

cc 424 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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502 — Bullshit Bingo

Author, Anonymous, circa 2000?
(I put this article on the website for your entertainment and enlightenment. This is not a real suggestion.)

Sometimes topical or fashionable words block real communication.

Do you keep falling asleep in staff meetings? What about those long and boring conference calls?

Here’s a way to change all of that:

1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call, prepare your “Bullshit Bingo” card by drawing a square — I find that 5″ x 5″ is a good size — and dividing it into columns — five across and five down. That will give you 25 1-inch blocks.

2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block (or include other fashionable but fuzzy words used in your company):

    •  Game changer
    •  Disruptive technology
    •  Bilateral
    •  Bandwidth
    •  Transparency
    •  Strategic fit
    •  Core competencies
    •  Out of the box
    •  Bottom line
    •  Revisit
    •  Take that off-line
    •  24/7
    •  Out of the loop
    •  Benchmark
    •  Value-added
    •  Thought leader
    •  Proactive
    •  Win-win
    •  Fast track
    •  Result-driven
    •  Empower (or empowerment)
    •  Knowledge base
    •  At the end of the day
    •  Touch base
    •  Mindset
    •  Client focus(ed)
    •  Ballpark
    •  Game plan
    •  Leverage
    •  Cascade
    •  Sequential or sequentially
    •  Multiple times


3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.

4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand up and shout “BULLSHIT!”

Testimonials from satisfied “Bullshit Bingo” players:

“I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won.”
— Jack W., Boston

“My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically.”
— David D., Florida

“What a gas! Meetings will never be the same for me after my first win.”
— Bill R., New York City

“The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited for the fifth box.”
— Ben G., Denver

“The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed “BULLSHIT!” for the third time in two hours.”
— Harry A, Chantilly

“Thanks Bingo creator for thinking outside the box and proactively creating this value-added knowledge base that is a strategic fit with my core competencies and current client focused mindset. I can leverage our existing process and exploit the inherent synergies to expand the knowledge base to cater to our result driven team members who will work 24/7 to put it on a fast-track. This cascading game-plan is what I call a truly win-win situation, a disruptive game changer.”
— Swami S, Sunnyvale, CA

cc 502 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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145 – Resilience


A company’s level of resilience may determine whether it succeeds or fails, how constructively it responds to change, setbacks and stress. A well developed culture is resilient.

Resilient Plant

A 400 person California manufacturing plant, one of 10 in the national corporate system, had during 30 months, doubled its productivity. No other plant in the company was even close. Along with this highly developed “we-are-the-best” company culture, came a positive attitude to stress and trauma.

Introducing new products into the production process was normally stressful. Most of the company’s other plants maneuvered to avoid taking on new products and making the necessarily disruptive changes to their production. It invariably meant a drop in their performance. Not so in this California plant. Employees there relished the challenge posed by the new products. It energized them. It was the one plant that actively solicited new products. The employees enjoyed devising new and creative ways to respond to the manufacturing and packaging challenges. The employees saw themselves as successful achievers, proud of their company-wide reputation as being the “do-anything-number-one-plant”. While every other plant saw new products as a negative, this plant saw them as a positive. That was their attitude toward everything — which was why they were number one.

Increasing Unpredictability Calls for New Ways

Many gurus of corporate life and the marketplace suggest we are moving further from predictability – more towards managing change and uncertainty. I agree. The appropriate response to an increasingly unpredictable world is not to try and develop more refined predictive models, but to develop systems and organizations that respond rapidly and appropriately to the expected but unknown new demands.

If what you predict is constant, accelerating but unknown change, the appropriate response is an engaged, healthy, stay-calm, resilient, positive, energized corporate culture. Resilient companies succeed because there is corporate wide trust and support, open and honest communications across divisions and between levels, and no resistance to change, because everybody is appropriately joined to their environment.

In a rapidly changing world we don’t know where we will be next year. But we do know that with the right corporate culture, with the right attitude, with engagement and resilience, we will arrive safe, sound, and successful.

cc 145 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Why is Culture Important?

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328 — Promotions and Transfers

Use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. This is a variation of the process described in 327.

Imagine that you are filling a vacant position by making either a lateral transfer or a promotion. You have advertised the vacancy throughout your organization, and have eight internal candidates. How can you choose the best candidate in the best way? Try this well tested process. It:

•  Guarantees a good decision, i.e. a highly qualified candidate.
•  Gives all the applicants feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.
•  Clarifies to everybody what is required to do the job.
•  Leaves all the applicants satisfied with the process, whether or not they were selected.
•  Develops the company culture, by demonstrating good values.
•  Ensures the person selected will be supported, i.e. it builds success into the position.

Begin by Announcing The Selection Process

Tell the candidates that you want them to be involved in the selection process. Schedule a meeting with the eight candidates and the people who would traditionally make the selection, e.g. the Superintendents, Department Manager, and HR manager. At the start of the meeting, describe the selection process, e.g. “We will ask you to develop the selection criteria for the job. Then we will ask you to secretly rank yourselves, and any of the other candidates that you know well, against your criteria. Then we will look at the results and decide what the next step should be.”

Agree On The Selection Criteria

First ask the candidates. Using a flip chart or whiteboard, go around the group and ask the candidates to brainstorm selection criteria, “What should be considered when judging applicants for the position. What qualities should the successful candidate have?” Allow one criteria from each person. Write down just what the person says. Number each item and do not allow discussion. Go around and around the group, until everyone is finished. (You will probably have between ten and twenty items.)

Now ask the managers, “Are there any criteria you would like to add? Any significantly different criteria that aren’t on the chart?” If they have any, add them to the list.

Ask the applicants to group similar items. Do this by starting with the first item and saying, “Are there any other items similar to this one?” Mark similar items with a color, symbol, or letter. Go to the next unmarked item and repeat the process. This step will generate discussion, and build a common understanding of the criteria. The list will now be reduced to between five and twelve criteria. Ask the group to give a descriptive word, or name, for each group of criteria. This will probably mean highlighting one or two words that are already in each criteria group.

Rank Order The Criteria

Now ask the applicants to rank order the grouped criteria. You might begin this by writing the new grouped criteria “titles” on a fresh sheet. “Which of these is the most important?” Allow discussion. It will help build consensus. Rewrite the criteria in the new rank order.

“Now we you have the criteria rank ordered let’s give each a percentage that will total 100%. What percentage, goes to the first? . . . . . and the second?” The total should be 100%. Again, allow discussion. You want consensus.
Now ask the managers, “Any comments on this list? Does it look OK to you? Can you go along with this as the basis for the selection?”

Prepare a Criteria/Candidates Matrix

Take a piece of notepaper. Write the ranked criteria in a wide column down the left side. Draw a horizontal line across the page separating each criterion. Draw narrow vertical columns to the right of the criteria, one for each candidate. Put candidates initials at the top of each narrow column. Write “Criteria” at the top of the wide criteria column. You now have a grid, or matrix, with criteria as rows, and candidates as columns. If any of the criteria have factual or answers, e.g.”EE Degree”, or “Years on the job.” ask each candidate to say what is the correct answer or number for their name. Now make a copy of this page for everyone in the room.

Rank Order The Candidates

Hand a copy to everyone in the room and say, “For the people you know well, rank order them, 1 high through 8 lowest, by how you see them on each of the criteria. Take your time. We will tally the results. This is a secret ranking. Your individual rankings will not be discussed. The tally will not necessarily be a decision. After we tally the results, we will all decide the next step.”

Make a separate tally for the applicants, and for the “management” group. Because people may not know everyone well enough to have ranked them on every item, you will have to decide how to fairly tally the results. This may take several minutes.

Take the two scores and draw each on the easel pad so everyone can see. Say, “Look at the results and see what you make of them. Take your time.” . . . “When you are ready I would like to hear from each of the applicants and after that, from each manager. Then we will have a general discussion.”

The Group Agrees On The Final Action

Perhaps one or two candidates are obvious leaders, or something else appears. Wherever the group seems to be headed, encourage them to discuss where to go with the results. There may be an obvious decision, they may wish to pass the results to managers to decide, or something else may emerge. You are seeking a consensus from everyone on an appropriate next step. This is somewhat like step four of the Four Step Decision Process.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating.

Getting the Customer Involved

If the customer for your team’s work is another person or another department you can ask their opinion on selection criteria. For example, in manufacturing the customer for Maintenance is Operations. At one Texas chemical plant the maintenance manager decided to ask the operators for their opinion on what was important in a maintenance supervisor. To the maintenance manager’s surprise the operators did not rank technical maintenance skills highly at all. What the operators valued was a person who could quickly bring together the right people to solve the problem. When the maintenance manager used this new criterion it caused the selection and promotion of the first female mechanic to supervisor. She was a great success in what until then had been an all male supervisor group.

cc 328 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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