Over the past eighteen months I have lost almost three stone. It’s been hell. I have two pounds to go before I go on holiday next week, and as I was dying on the treadmill this morning I was thinking how there are lessons from dieting that can be applied to change programmes.
1. Admit you have a problem
For me I spent my thirties putting on weight, I went from eleven stone to over fifteen. And with each stone I put on I just managed to convince myself that it was a natural turn of events, I was just getting older.
Then two things happened to shake me out of my complacency. The first was that when I turned 40 I got a letter from my Doctor to go for a cholesterol test. My cholesterol turned out to be five points higher than average (I tried to explain to the doctor that using averages was not a good way to think about measurement) but in the end he won; no contest really especially as I had high blood pressure, and was (at 5ft 9inchies) the weight of man considerably taller. My GP told me that if I didn’t lost weight I’d be going on drugs to reduce my cholesterol, and as these drugs were not the good kind, I reluctantly decided to get dieting.
But the real crisis came when I feel asleep on the couch with Matthew on my stomach. Denise took a, supposedly cute, photo. But let’s say that the reason that my three year old went to sleep on my tummy was because it resembled (although I think I was photo shopped) a fluffed up pillow. It was then that I decided enough was enough.
In organisations it’s much the same. The once lean healthy company starts to get sluggish. The processes can no longer cope with the variety of demands of placed on the system and the whole thing starts to slow down. The people, much like blood in an unfit body, can’t perform in the way that they want to and after a while they give up.
But often leaders won’t admit they have a problem. Setanta sports, a predominantly football TV channel, have just gone bust. Vicky, a Vanguard consultant, tried to arrange Setanta sports for her Dad’s Christmas.Â The process was so convoluted that in the end he got a jumper (obviously both Dad and Setanta lost out there). Vicky wrote to the TV company to point out where they went wrong, they wrote back apologising but saying there was no problem. Setanta went bust because of lack of subscribers; I wonder how many people tried to become a customer but simply gave up in the end because it was too difficult.
So step one is that for the leaders to admit there is problem. Often however they are too remote from the business and their measures tell them nothing about its health. Hence they need to get into the operations and find out how it feels to be a customer of the business. Listen to demand, find out how much is failure, how much is handled one stop, get data on actual capability to fulfil a customer request, ask what is the purpose of a process and see how well it achieves its purpose.
Admitting you have a problem is by far the most difficult step, and though some might see it as recognition of failure, you need to get there so you can move forward.
I decided that I would remove all Ch’s from my diet. This meant no more cheese, chips or chocolate (or white bread, or biscuits, or white pasta etc). I replaced the bad stuff with low GI carbs (ooh listen to me), proteins that were low in fat, and fibrous vegetables. During the first two days I would have happily traded my house for a wispa, but I soon realised that most of my eating habits were simply that, bad habits.
Managing change is just the same, purge the P’s. Get rid of the policies, processes and performance indicators that don’t work. Many of the rules and process exist simply out of habit, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” I frequently hear people say. But if they don’t add value then they should be removed and changed for healthier option.
To find out what works and what doesn’t requires that build you have a picture of how the system works from the customers perspective such as this system picture of the West Lothian criminal justice system. The areas shown in red were those that required change. And don’t forget that changing the process is not enough, the deeper issues such as management thinking is ultimately what needs to be tackled. It’s much like losing weight, giving up Mars(TM) bars isn’t enough you have to actually change your lifestyle.
3. Keep track using visual measures.
I could not have lost weight without weight watchers. I entered my food daily on their points calculator. It kept me honest and gave me an awareness of what I could and couldn’t eat the rest of the day. Every so often I just eat what I want but I still put it in to the calculator, and then I work extra hard (two hours cardio and a green bean for tea) the next few days to get my points back.
The other great thing about the weight watchers site is that you enter your weight once per week and you get a graph to show you just how far you have travelled. After all every so often we all need to be reminded that we have done and can do remarkable things in our lives.
Change programmes work the same way. To get it going you need to be honest about where you are right now and to keep it going to you need constant updates about how you are doing on a daily basis. This is best done via a visual measures board
A visual measures board should do three things.
- Give you instant data on how the business is performing today.
- Provide insight into why it is not working
- Remind you of what you have achieved.
I recently attended a visual board meeting run by Alison Angus at Edinburgh city council, the new system had been going well but then started to flounder, as Alison said “at least we knew and were able to get the new system back on track quickly, this would not have happened without the regular board meetings”. Why not set up a visual measures board this week. A PDF on the rules of running a board meeting can be downloaded here.
4. Get expert help
Once into my diet for a few months I soon hit a plateau. I wasn’t getting the results that I thought I should have been getting. So I sought out some help. I started to train with a fantastic personal trainer who sorted out my diet and training. Most importantly he became my conscience and kept me on the straight and narrow.
It was Deming that said that managers need help externally to see their business differently. Hence the role of external help is to show leaders how the business works from the customers perspective and how this is connected to how leaders think.
Laurence Barrett (now Chief Executive of Falkirk Enterprise) reports that when he was a Director of VELUX that they were losing sales because front line staff were incentivised to only take calls from people who wanted to buy a product now. Those customers that wanted to ask questions (that may have led to a sale) they were passed around the business, and left to shop elsewhere. Laurence says that he would never had seen the problem (his incentive scheme) unless he had someone come in from the outside to give him a different perspective on how to view the problem.
5. Get objective feedback and never stop improving.
Finally during my diet it was important to have people around me that gave me honest feedback about how I was doing. This wasn’t very difficult. I remember asking Daniel (fifteen year old son) if my stomach looked smaller he replied “I don’t know dad it’s currently blocking out the light from the sun so I can’t see anything.” My family keep my on the straight and narrow.
On a change programme it’s common for leaders to stop once they have made some gains, often because those around them get complacent. So it’s important to get a vision of what perfect would look like and continually remind people that the end goal is to be remarkable.
Let’s be honest at forty two it’s unlikely that I will ever look remarkable but in shooting for the best it may at least avoid Daniel calling me chubby dad, and for me that will be good enough. But I want to finish with the best bit of advice I got which was: don’t wait, start today.
What about your business is it unfit? Does it need to change? When are you going to start?
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