Over the last few weeks, I have a number of conversations with colleagues who are leading transformation efforts in various geographies, with different clients. I hear the questions, or actually statements: “they don’t want to change; even my own team doesn’t get it.” My thoughts go back to my engagement with General Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. As part of assessment and strategy that was completed, we held a workshop to develop and clarify the vision and mission with the senior leadership team. It was an interesting experience that established the direction the program would pursue for the next few years. Some participants jumped right in, and embraced the vision that was crafted; others were skeptical not believing that it was necessary to be so overt in declaring the vision. One of the lead attorneys admitted a year later that having a direction to guide the organization, was one of the best things that could have happened. The opening sentence of General Counsel’s vision statement began:

“To protect the security of the United States, we will provide professional highly motivated, and client focused staff in sufficient number to promptly and effectively prosecute immigration and customs law violations, particularly those who threaten the safety of our citizenry.”

This was definitely a challenge to the organization. The goal was to align 900 plus attorneys with the vision to transform General Counsel to more effectively meet the threats the US faced. It worked, ICE’s General Council transformed itself; the structure and ability to meet their customers’ requirements has been proven over the last 8 years. The lessons learned were simple and straight forward:

  • Leadership needs has to create the vision and build the burning platform for change.
  • Make sure that the people, who are executing the logistics of the changes, are themselves ready to change.
  • Focus on the customer’s needs. If this becomes a visible part of the vision and objectives, this will focus of the organizations attention in the right direction. It is hard to ignore the direction the team has to go when it comes to putting numbers on the bottom line.

These simple requirements for driving change are often not established, and as a result change is delayed, or does not happen at all. A close friend was lamenting the resistance he was experiencing while working with one remaining old Big 8 Auditing firms. For the last 18 months, the auditing firm has been using Lean and Six Sigma to establish “standard work” to reduce costs in the auditing process. There has been some success, they now have project plans, and some standard procedures have been put in place…but resistance is cropping up everywhere. Auditors are realizing they must actually follow new procedures to reduce costs, while at the same time they must deliver a quality product with shorter lead times. Even the team charged with leading the effort is exhibiting resistance. ”For the record,” stated one young team member, I will not support the introduction of Pareto Analysis to the auditors. Pareto Analysis is a simple tool, one of the seven basic quality tools, and maybe the easiest to use and understand. This knee jerk resistance from the people charged with improving the auditing process, is both childish and typical example of a supposed change agent driving improvement process.

For my colleague, it is back to the basics; he will refocus the transformation team on the external customer and the vision, and reengage the senior leadership team to ensure that the vision is properly communicated, and supported. He may even replace some of the transformation team members…We will see what happens…