Change Management for Data Quality and Governance: The Mary Gregory Interview [Part 2 of 2]



Change Management for Data Quality and Governance

The Mary Gregory Interview [Part 2 of 2]

Mary Gregory recently provided us with some excellent advice in the following article: Change Management for Data Quality and Governance [Part 1]

Several members contacted me to discuss various change management issues following that interview and Mary has very kindly agreed to respond to those questions in this follow-up interview.

In this feature Mary provides a checklist of questions to pose before launching a major initiative, advice for identifying an appropriate change management strategy, the reality of working on a change project and sage advice for aligning executive sponsors.

Member Question: There are so many different change management methodologies and frameworks available – how do we know which one is applicable for the challenges in our industry?

Mary Gregory: There are certainly a lot of methodologies, some of which are complex in themselves and what is important in choosing any methodology or process is to ensure that it takes account of the human element. Organisations are only extra large groups of people so to proceed with a methodology that only pays attention to tasks and processes without really addressing the engagement of employees is asking for things to go wrong. Time and again it is proven that the more involved people are in the planning and delivery, the more likely the change will stick.

In terms of addressing the organisational needs and finding the solution that could best meet these, it is helpful to consider the bigger organisational system that is at play here.

In my earlier career I worked in Child and Family Psychiatry where the roots of Systems Theory comes from. How this methodology works comes from the premise that when a child is referred for therapy he/she is often considered the “problem”. In taking a Systemic view of the situation, the child’s problematic behaviour is looked upon as symptomatic of something in the bigger “system” that is not working, for example the parents relationship. Treating the child’s behaviour will therefore not deal with what is really the issue.

Systems Theory encourages us to step back and look at the overall bigger picture and how different elements of this may be contributing to things not working. Once you identify the real issue to be addressed and go address it then the whole functionality of the system is improved.

This methodology is particularly valuable in the organisational context, particularly very large organisations as they are such enormous systems. Where this methodology is so useful is it supports change happening at the most crucial point. In this example changing the child’s behaviour may have brought short term relief only for the problem to re-occur again later, whereas addressing the parents relationship, which was at the source of the family not functioning, would provide the chance for longer term sustainable change.

Similarly solutions in organisations are often geared towards treating symptoms and do not address the bigger issue that might be at play.

An example from a very early assignment I worked on was when I was invited to conduct a series of assertiveness workshops. It was thought a majority of the team needed to develop less aggressive customer handling skills. The training was not that successful and when I explored further why this was the case it seemed that the leadership style within the organisation was aggressive. If the managing director shouted jump the response was “how high?” People were inhibited and scared. They were also frustrated and this was directly reflected in how they spoke to and handled their customers.

Senior level sponsorship is fundamental to implementing change and another method which is invaluable is Executive Team Alignment, developed by consultant and author Miles Kierson over a 15 year period of his working with executive teams and organisational transformation. This offers a bespoke process which engages people from the very top down. It is a focused senior consultancy piece that addresses a part of the system that has a major impact on the rest of the organisation. As the driving force of the organisation, the dynamics that are at play on the Executive Team are most likely to be reflected in how teams and people in the organisation act and behave elsewhere.

For example in a marketing led organisation I worked with once, there was a competitive relationship between the marketing director and operations director. This resulted in the two not working together effectively which was then reflected in a disconnect between the marketing and operations departments. Marketing would create promotional campaigns without informing Operations who would find out quite often via the customer that certain special offers and facilities were expected. The impact was dissatisfied customers, loss of revenue, high levels of litigation, loss of reputation and high staff turnover, who were stressed out by having to deal with irate customers. Yet prior to this particular organisations change, the finger of blame was squarely pointed at the Operations department. Not until the Executive Board co-created a vision and aligned in their commitment to the whole organisations success did shared responsibility really take place and systems set up which ensured effective communication and consultation across directorates.

So aligning the Executive Team addresses the issue of senior management ownership and provides senior leaders with the capability to transform a company’s performance and shift their whole mindset so that to each senior leader is committed to the fulfilment of an overall vision, over and above personal agenda’s. Having a clear vision that everyone buys into, makes it easier to prioritise what change needs to happen and in what order.

However even a vision doesn’t stop change appearing like something that is just so huge its hard to know where to start. I like the old adage “You wouldn’t eat an elephant in one bite”, similarly change needs to be broken down into smaller steps. Its also important to look for as many opportunities as possible to engage people including the less formal ones such as round the coffee machine where most of the really honest conversation take place.

A challenge when it comes to IT change is that many people don’t appreciate why the change needs to take place and particularly if the population of an organisation are not inclined towards technical thinking and find such a change takes them out of their comfort zone. Such fear results in resistance which is why ownership from the top, alignment with the overall strategy and vision and constant dialogue and consultation with stakeholders is so important.

Member Question: “People in our organisation perceive change management as a large programme, that requires expensive external consultants and long periods of time to realise benefits, based on your practical experience in this field, what is the reality of a typical change management initiative?”

Mary Gregory: Change takes place at many different levels: personally, across teams and ultimately across organisations. The size of the programme depends on what is the organisations desired change.

Before embarking on any change an organisation needs to be clear of what its purpose is (why it is in business) and what it ultimately wants to achieve – its vision and goals.

It then needs to assess its overall fitness to deliver its vision and goals and from understanding what is working and what is not working and where the root of this is in the bigger system, a choice about the how and where change needs to take place can be made.

Avoid change for change sake. I had one client that even referred to themselves as having “change-itis”. The news of up and coming change was often met with rolled eyes and the comment “Oh no not another initiative”.

Change has got to be linked to strategy which in turn needs to come from a compelling vision to which the different elements of an organisation need to be aligned, all of which starts at the top with the executive team.

Change programmes don’t always have to be huge multi-limbed monsters. From taking a temperature check of the organisations overall “fitness” to achieve its goals, I would always encourage my clients to look for the smallest thing that will make the biggest difference.

In one instance the desired change was to create a more open and supportive culture. The intervention that was the most simplest and cost effective was to coach the CEO on his interpersonal style, overall presence and leadership skills. This then enabled him to lead the executive team more effectively, and develop role model behaviour which promoted openness and trust. This was then taken on board by the executive team who similarly influenced their own teams.

However not all change is so simple and the very nature of larger organisations is that they are complex places. The reality of many change programmes is that things do not usually go to plan. Every change programme has its own underpinning process or dynamics stemming from the organisations culture, politics and level of trust and openness. This will influence how easily the change rolls out and how quickly any benefits are realised.

The skills of an excellent consultant are that they are able to see the dynamics of the system and culture at play, thereby either pre-empting these in some way or at least remaining objective in order to deal with them. A skilled change consultant should also be able to support, hold and guide their client through the uncertainty and breakdowns that naturally occur as part of the change cycle. The challenge for the client when it comes to change is that they are often blind to the cultural forces within the organisational system that will inhibit the change. Like a fish is so immersed in water it has no way of distinguishing actually what water is, so the client is immersed in the organisations’ system and culture, making it very difficult for them to define it. It’s very difficult to deal with something you cannot see. Culture is also what sustains the status quo and prevents change happening, it becomes very clear that someone who is not wrapped up in the system has a really important role to play here.

The most common element that occurs with any change be it personal or organisational reactive or proactive, is it brings up thoughts and feelings which are uncomfortable and result in resistance. All resistance comes from fear and the way to reduce fear and make it safe for people is to allow concerns to be voiced and addressed. An effective change agent makes it safe for people to be able to embrace change.

External consultants fees can be viewed as an expensive cost, yet the cost of not utilising someone with the skills and understanding of the very nature of people, organisations and change is far greater if the change fails or the company cannot turn around performance. I have yet to see a change project be completed effectively without some form of outside support.

Member Question: “In our current data governance project, it is widely accepted that the executive sponsors are really only paying lip service to what we have set out to achieve. Do you have any advice for how we can get these type of stakeholders active in our project so that their support will help to change the culture and behaviour of our organisation?”

Mary Gregory: I think when looking at this issue it’s important to take account that any senior manager sponsoring the change is part of the much bigger organisational system. Blaming one element or person within that system is not necessarily constructive. Pointing the finger at the senior management sponsor and saying they are paying lip service is only one perception and when this is happening what often is also happening is that the senior manager(s) may well be pointing the finger right back and the whole situation results in polarisation. When this occurs, nobody wins and the whole purpose of the change is lost while people use up time and energy in pointing out the shortfalls of the other party. This is a very helpful method if you want to not only sabotage the change but also avoid any responsibility for it not working out!

My question would be more about how can you be sure the senior manager who is sponsoring the change is totally bought into it? To make your initiative successful the senior manager has to really own the change.

To understand this further, it’s useful to consider what we mean by ownership.

If I own a car for example I will want to make sure its fit for purpose so will keep it well maintained and legally in order with regular services, insurance etc. If I don’t do that I will have to face the consequences that the car could break down. I have to put time and energy into keeping my car in good condition and fit for purpose. I do that because I own the car and want to use it rather than face the alternative consequences. As a senior manager responsible for sponsoring a change, there needs to be the same level of ownership that causes the action that will implement the change.

Why senior management sponsorship can appear lacking, is often a reflection of how the whole system is functioning or in this case dysfunctioning. Which in turn is usually a reflection of what is going on within the executive team itself.

To really create the level of ownership required to ensure the change happens there needs to be alignment on the senior executive team on why the change is happening and how it will serve in fulfilling the vision. Yet how well a senior team is functioning and how aligned they are is something that is frequently left unaddressed. Energy is far more easily put into focusing on operational issues than looking at how a team is functioning interpersonally and the impact this has on implementing the strategy for change.

Alignment is a word that is being used more and more in the context of organisational change and there are many different interpretations of it. Some people use it as a description of a teams level of compliance to a decision. The question gets asked “Are we all aligned with that?” and the board responds with various nods around the room, when in reality there may well be lots of non-aligned thinking really going on. The impact is that outside the room the complete opposite actions take place.

Alignment in the way that we use it at Playing Hamlet is much more than that.

It is about a team truly pulling together, so that they take on the decisions of the team and CEO as their own, even though they might not necessarily agree with all of them. It’s also about them being committed to each others success as much as their own and letting go of the competition between silos.

To truly be an aligned team takes something exceptional from each individual member of the team, because to sign up to such a way of being for a team requires all members to overcome some fundamental human programming.

Being truly aligned as a team requires the courage to hold your colleagues to account, participate in straight talk and to get over your own ego. It is possible and it takes something to achieve.

My advice to any organisation who may be struggling with senior management sponsorship in implementing change is to look to the whole senior executive team and address the dynamics that are impacting the team pulling together and aligning. An aligned team does not tolerate senior executive under performance. The very nature of becoming an aligned team supports the development of commitment to implementing necessary changes and the whole team holding each other to account on promised actions.

Member Question: “How do you define the different phases of change an organisation must go through?”

Mary Gregory: This depends whether you are talking about an organisations evolution as a whole entity or the phases of a planned proactive change as opposed to reactive change which is a response to circumstances.

I think the S curve is useful to appreciate where an organisations is in its process of change as this also indicates the different skills and personality types which work best for different phases – i.e. entrepreneurial skills to get the change moving, evaluative skills at the conclusion of the change.

Kotter’s Change Process maps out 8 steps which illustrate the behaviour and attitude required at each stage and which focus on developing a sense of urgency and persistence.

I also like these simpler 4 stages developed by Miles Keirson:

1) Formulate:

  • Recognising the need to change – creating a compelling vision
  • Putting in place the foundations from which to launch the change – executive team alignment, CEO/senior executive ownership
  • Structures and strategy for fulfilling the vision
  • Development of leadership capabilities
  • Engagement of stakeholders
  • Championing and communicating the vision throughout the organisation

2) Manifest:

  • Action taken to fulfil the strategy for change
  • Local champions supporting and facilitating movement towards the vision
  • Development of organisational capabilities
  • Systems for accountability and key milestones
  • Dealing with breakdowns and managing the ambiguous process

3) Realise:

  • Persistent and consistent action focused towards the vision
  • Responding to emerging and created opportunities
  • Ongoing communication and acknowledgement of progress
  • Collation of results

4) Culminate/formulate

  • Action to fulfil completion of the vision
  • Recognition of achievements and peoples contribution
  • Evaluation and analysis of process and progress
  • Review results and re-formulation

Member Question: “What advice do you have for an organisation like ours that is looking to start out on a data governance programme that is largely dependent on change management?”

Mary Gregory: Before embarking on any change I think the most valuable thing to do is to ask some basic questions:

  • Why change? What purpose is it going to serve?
  • What is the outcome we want to achieve with this change? What will be happening as a result of this change that is not happening now?
  • How does this change link to the business’s overall strategy? Is it aligned to the strategy or a localised, reactive change which bears no relation to the overall vision of the company?
  • What is the overall vision? How will this change take the business closer towards fulfilling it?
  • What is the cost of the change vs the cost of not changing?
  • Who is leading the change? Does leadership come from the executive board? Are the executive board aligned and championing the change?
  • Who is this change going to affect? Therefore, who are the stakeholders we need to be in communication and consultation with from the beginning?
  • What are the dynamics at play in this organisation? What factors will help or hinder change? How will these potentially impact the implementation of this change? (This could include more implicit cultural elements such as cross department ways of working, openness to change, to more visible dynamics such as Union representation)
  • What messages and education do I need to give about this change and why it is taking place? Who do I need to give this to?
  • How can we make sure that people are involved in the change from as soon as possible?
  • Is this change compelling for everyone? And if not how can we make it so?

Mary Gregory

Mary Gregory helps organisations develop strong, cohesive leadership teams to deliver business growth by creating a culture of engagement and high performance.

With a successful track record in learning, development and change management, Mary takes a pragmatic approach underpinned by her knowledge and understanding of both individual and organisational behaviours.

She works mostly in large complex service organisations in both the private and public sectors, with particular experience in retail, finance, travel and leisure and media.

Core competencies: Application of all stages of the learning cycle, leadership development, team alignment, strategy implementation, culture change, dealing with conflict, silo thinking and fear of change.

Mary has worked for the last 15 years as an independent consultant and interim with blue chip clients such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Tesco, BAA , MTV, T Mobile, The Economist, HBOS, First National Bank. This followed a career heading up learning and development with TUI AG (First Choice Holidays, 1989 – 1994) Head of Hotel Services, Trafalgar Tours (1988 – 89), and TUI AG (Thomson Holidays 1986 – 88). Prior to this she worked in child and family psychiatry. Mary has the CIPD Certificate in Training, a Post Graduate Diploma in Change Agent Skills and Strategies, University of Surrey, is a qualified coach and coach supervisor and is a licensed facilitator of the Executive Team Alignment Process (Executap ©).

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