It’s easy to talk about business transformation. It’s harder to actually implement it and even more difficult to make the changes stick. In the previous articles in this series we discussed how to identify emerging opportunities, optimize work space and encourage creativity. Each of these efforts represents an important step towards creating meaningful change but they can all be wasted if an organization goes back to “business as usual” after a brief trial period. The final piece of the business transformation puzzle is developing a strategy to make an innovative work solution or amazing new idea a permanent part of the organization. This can be accomplished with the following steps:
1. Communicate the Impact of Change
People are most resistant to ideas they don’t understand. Start any major change with a plan to explain the entire process (the rationale, the ultimate goal and the specific changes to work flow) to everyone in the company. Allow time for people from all levels to speak to management about their role and take this opportunity to describe to them how they can have a positive impact on the new process. Real change begins with emotional investment from employees, whether they are a line worker or the CEO.
2. Lay Out a Clear Path
Management should have a clear vision of how the organizational change will impact each sector of the company. One global energy firm created a “heat map” illustrating which groups had the most intense levels of change, and which were less affected. This allowed them to assign higher levels of oversight and assistance to the groups that were facing greater changes and challenges. Managers also provided detailed descriptions of the new deliverables expected from each team. Clearly stating new responsibilities and success metrics for the initiative ensures no one is caught off guard when asked to deliver them.
3. Leadership Buy-In and Role Modeling
Engaged employees have high expectations of their leaders. All levels of management need to be on board with the new process and demonstrate adherence in order to gain buy-in from employees. One middle manager resisting the change can influence an entire department to balk at new responsibilities and delay full adoption.
4. Embed the Change in the Organization’s Structure
In order to be successful the change must be implemented across all structures, human resource functions, processes and incentive programs. The vast majority of workers perform better within a defined structure. If the change creates breaks or redundancies in the current organizational flow, a new one must be devised before the change is implemented. Restructuring often requires giving staff new responsibilities, so the human resources department may have to work out title changes or even create entirely new positions. Attempting to implement a change without supporting it structurally will only lead to frustration and widespread failure to adopt.
5. Tracking Progress
Leaders are often too quick to declare victory after a change has first been implemented. Just because all of the pieces have been put in place does not mean the task is over. In fact, it is just beginning. Consistent, long-term measurement of the success metrics laid out at the start of the project is the only way to prove what the change accomplished. Creating milestones and tracking incremental progress in a visual way for employees helps encourage meeting smaller goals along the way. Leaders must be open to feedback from peers and staff on the new processes. If something’s not working, a different solution that creates the same end result should be implemented in its place.
Interested in reading more about change management? Check back next week to download ACT Conferencing’s comprehensive white paper on the topic.
Our business transformation series continues this week with ways to encourage creativity within an organization. The previous posts on identifying emerging opportunities and optimizing workspace during growth periods provided strategies for companies to target new opportunities and lower overhead with new workspace solutions. With these pieces in place, creating an environment that fosters creativity and innovation is the next step to transforming a business.
The terms creativity and innovation are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually two very separate processes that require different skill sets and environments in order to thrive. Creativity is the ability to see something being done a certain way and attempt to do it more effectively or enjoyably. Innovation is the process of taking these creative ideas and evaluating them in terms of the needs and capabilities of a business, then finding ways to implement them in a way that improves the business’s productivity and profitability. Both elements are needed to generate successful advances.
There are reams of articles written on how to encourage more creativity in the workplace but accomplishing this task essentially comes down to three simple steps: incentive, systemic implementation and follow-through. Simply having an “open door policy” with upper management doesn’t encourage lower level workers to share their new ideas. Organizations need to provide incentive for submitting new ideas. A monthly Bright Idea Award or profit-sharing programs for successful ideas give employees tangible motivation to bring their creative ideas forward.
Systemic implementation means actually carving out time in the day-to-day workflow to allow team members to pursue an idea. A classic example is Google, where employees are given “20% time” or one day a week to explore anything that interests them related to the industry. Many of Google’s most popular products have origins in 20% time, including Gmail and Google News. Exploring new ideas will always get shoved to the back burner unless a company makes creative ideation an ingrained part of daily operations.
Finally, follow-through may be the most important part of seeing a creative idea through to a game-changing new product. This is also where innovation comes in. A system must be in place for an idea to be thoroughly evaluated to determine if it is both practical and desirable. Detail and goal-oriented people (aka innovators) need to be brought in to provide suggestions for execution and assessment. Not every good idea will make it through this process: in this case it’s important to follow through with communicating why the idea won’t be implemented to the employee or group that suggested it. Nothing kills creative energy faster than ideas being shot down without an explanation.
Making incentives, systemic implementations and follow-through on new ideas priorities for an organization can encourage creative innovation, but it takes dedication and commitment. Many companies find that making changes to “business as usual” can feel risky. However, in a fast-paced economy the greatest risk an organization can take is not keeping pace with new developments in their industry. A business committed to encouraging and effectively managing creativity and innovation is building a foundation for long-term success.
Be sure to come back next week for Part 4 of our Business Transformation Series: Making Change Management Stick!
Last week’s post in our Business Transformation Series discussed how to identify emerging opportunities to grow a business. Accomplishing this growth achieves one goal, but also creates a new set of challenges for business leaders. Growing a team means additional workspace and additional workspace means increasing overhead costs. Smart leaders are continuously searching for ways to grow capabilities while limiting overhead. Whether it is a small start-up or an international firm looking to expand, technology innovations and redefining “the office” are two ways innovative leaders are meeting this challenge.
Garage to First Office
Some of the world’s most well-known brands started in a garage, including Apple, Mattel, Harley-Davidson and Disney. When a great idea takes off and the creators need a more professional space it can be difficult to grow and still hang on to the collaborative energy that got them there in the first place (not to mention the minimal expenses).
Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan is an excellent example of how to accomplish this leap successfully. The small software production and consulting firm was founded in 2001 and by 2007 was one of Inc. 500's fastest growing privately held firms in the US. The company philosophy is based on the creative and productive work at Thomas Edison’s “Invention Factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey. All team members work side by side in an open workspace to foster creativity and collaboration, and even have meetings outside when the Michigan weather cooperates. Their no-frills office environment keeps operating costs low while promoting idea innovation and teamwork.
First Office to Corporate
When an organization starts to burst at the seams of its first workspace it may be time to make the transition to a corporate office. This is an important time for leaders to shape the company’s financial future and culture by reviewing technology options that allow the company to grow without exponentially increasing overhead.
Financially, deciding whether to buy or rent a building is a major decision at this juncture. For an excellent overview of the pros and cons of renting or buying, check out this Microsoft Business blog post. The amount of space needed can be influenced by a shift in operations. Many companies are utilizing technology such as cloud-based programs and video conferencing to use a “crowdsourcing” business model. In the case of Boulder, Colorado-based Victors & Spoils, this means the corporate office houses only a handful of senior staff. They post project outlines to a large pool of freelance talent (the “crowd”), the top ideas are pitched to the client and the freelancer who wins the pitch is paid. This model drastically reduces the agency’s overhead costs without reducing any value to the client.
Culturally, this is an important time to retain the values and teamwork that got the company to where it is now. A little creativity and vision can help keep a corporate office from feeling boring and restrictive, even on a tight budget. Consider putting all of the smaller furniture on wheels. This allows staff to configure small meeting and work spaces as they need them on the fly. Inexpensive white board paint can turn meeting room walls and tables into active brainstorming surfaces. The key is to use whatever space is available to encourage the best individual and team performance.
Corporate Offices to Multiple Locations
Paradoxically, the never-ending pursuit of lower overhead can lead to expanding locations. A booming business may find that opening a local branch can save hundreds of thousands on travel expenses, or that having locations close to a manufacturing centers can save millions in logistical costs. According to Knoll Workplace Research, organizations can cut huge amounts of indirect costs by limiting travel (about a $100 million annual expense for a $10 billion company) and reducing square footage dedicated to the individual worker.
These savings are accomplished with remote technologies and combining centralized work places (traditional offices) with alternative workspace solutions (collaborative work stations and working from home). For example, an employee may telecommute three days a week to a local branch and share his workspace with four others on the two days he is in the office. Along with saving hard overhead costs, this employee is also reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of his personal workplace footprint by 80 percent and his emissions from commuting by 60 percent.
Across industries and across the world, organizations are utilizing technology to transform large and small workspaces. Tools such as video conferencing, cloud-based programs and high-speed internet allow business leaders to redefine what “the office” means, and in the process create more cost-effective and successful outcomes during periods of growth.
Be sure to check back next week for Part 3 of our Business Transformation Series: Encouraging Creativity!
What better time to begin a business transformation than the start of a new year? While some people may think ACT is simply a conferencing provider, we see our products as tools to transform the way an organization conducts business. To that end, we’re starting off 2013 with a five part series on the best practices for businesses to create real positive change. This post will focus on identifying opportunities but be sure to check back the rest of the month for articles on workspace optimization, encouraging creativity and making change management stick.
Identifying emerging opportunities is the key to any business staying relevant, whether it’s a local non-profit or an international technology giant. While correctly identifying, integrating and executing new opportunities is a complex task, the process begins with two simple steps: listening and evaluating.
Listening in this case is not a passive action; it requires consistent surveillance of industry news, participation in industry events and actively seeking feedback from clients, consumers and staff. Staying on top of industry news allows leaders in any organization to spot opportunities on the horizon. Consider creating an RSS feed of relevant blogs and follow industry leaders on Twitter to receive a real-time stream of information. While conferences may occasionally feel like an expensive chore, an entire trip can be worthwhile if leaders come back with a single game-changing idea.
Most importantly, listen to what people are struggling with. Listen to your consumers on social media and through customer service. Listen to team members when they ask for better tools. A successful product or service is first and foremost a solution. The first step to a solution is discovering the problem, and that can be accomplished most efficiently by listening.
Evaluating possible solutions becomes the next great challenge in business transformation. One marketing leader said the evaluation process is like surfing: the waves are unending and you have to know which one to grab. Some are going to fizzle out; some might drown you. So selecting the right wave becomes the most important skill.
If there’s a downside to the amount of information and data business leaders have access to today, it may be that it makes grabbing the right wave more difficult. By the time you’ve identified a new tool, decided it fits your needs, implemented it and tested it on a small market, there is likely to be another option available. Is that option better? Better test it. This cycle can lead to paralysis by analysis, where the search for the perfect solution leads to zero solutions actually being implemented.
Fight this paralysis by setting internal goals for rolling out new tools. By requiring deadlines for new opportunities to be implemented you can develop a work environment where creating advancement is part of the job description. Set baseline goals for the solution and track performance meticulously. If the solution falls short, revisit the other options and new opportunities.
The process of identifying emerging opportunities to keep a business growing and successful starts with listening and evaluating solutions. But this is only the beginning of the work it takes to keep a business on top of its game. J. Bruce Harreld, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy for IBM states, “Because [emerging business opportunities] don’t represent business as usual, they need a lot of care and feeding.” Freeing up resources from operations, encouraging creativity and developing new workflows can all help the process of business transformation take place more seamlessly. Check back throughout the month to read more on these topics!
Did you know only 7% of a message is conveyed by words? The other 93% of the message is made up of facial expression, body language and tone of voice, according to research by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA. When it comes to communication over the phone it may seem that body language and facial expression are taken out of the equation, but this is absolutely untrue. Your posture, facial expressions and breathing when talking on the phone matter immensely for both physiological and psychological reasons. You can improve your communication over the phone by making the following adjustments.
The phone rings and you see it’s an important client. The first thing you should do is get out of whatever slumped, curled or twisted posture you’ve fallen into in the course of concentrating on work. Sit up straight, or even better, stand up. When you speak exhaled air passes over the vocal chords. You sound best when that passageway is clear. Sitting and slumping restricts the passageway and words sound more muffled when your shoulders and chin are dropped. Speaking while slumped over makes people sound unhappy and uninterested, even when the opposite is true. Standing while on an important call has the added psychological benefit of making you more alert and aware of your posture.
You’ve all heard the advice to smile when speaking on the phone. It’s true you can “hear” a smile and the reason is scientific. When you smile the soft palate at the back of your mouth rises up and makes sound waves more fluid, which translates into your tone sounding more warm and friendly. Conversely, the muscles used for frowning can make your voice sound more clipped and irritated. So instead of scowling when the phone interrupts a train of thought make yourself smile before you even reach for the receiver to give a better first impression.
Breathing patterns have a significant impact on your communication over the phone. As air passes over the vocal chords they vibrate to make sound. Breathing more quickly or slowly, deeply or shallowly has a major effect on how you sound. When faced with stress people tend to breathe more quickly and shallowly. This tightens the vocal chords and makes voices sound higher and more strained. Taking deep, long breaths regulates your voice and also helps you concentrate and relax. Before an important call consider practicing breathing exercises to get in the right mental and physical zone.
As you can see body language plays a significant role in effective phone communication. Of course tone, pitch, pace and paralanguage also have major impacts on getting a message across clearly. But going into any call with straight posture, a smile and regulated breathing can get you started off in the best way possible.
As audio and video conferencing become more and more common in the workplace it’s inevitable for a few conference calls to go horribly wrong. Most employees have experienced the minor inconveniences of bad conference call etiquette: the barking dog, the heavy breather, the person eating potato chips at top volume. But these annoyances pale in comparison to the Horror Stories from Conference Calls found around the web. Take a look:
“Since going mobile, I have had my fair share of times where the call was a bust. I was working from home and discovered that my dog left the screen door open while I was on a conference call. (Yes, my dog can open doors, but cannot close them.) A squirrel had entered the house while I was in my home office and proceeded to tear about trying to find solace from my dog, the nice canine gentlemen that let him into this fine establishment (aka my living room). Dog chases squirrel, things get loud, I start to yell (profane) all while my mobile phone remained un-muted. The kicker was that this call was with my whole staff. I sounded (and acted) like a lunatic until it discovered the open screen and returned to the yard. Needless to say, they will never forget.”
-Brad, Mobile Day blog
On Oct.4, 2010 Citigroup held a call with Brian Lenihan, Ireland’s Finance Minister
“The call with Brian Lenihan and hundreds of investors rapidly descended into farce, forcing Citigroup, which staged the event, to pull the plug… Mr Lenihan had been speaking for less than two minutes on Friday before a mistake by Citigroup meant that the bank’s clients were all able to be heard on the line. Between 200 and 500 investors are understood to have been on the call, and as they realised their lines were not muted many began to heckle Mr Lenihan. Some traders began making what one banker on the call described as ‘chimp sounds’, while another cried out “dive, dive”. A third man said “short Ireland” before adding ‘why not short Citi too?’ As the call descended into chaos, with one participant heard to say ‘this is the worst conference call ever’, Citigroup officials shut down the line.”
-As reported by Harry Wilson in the The Telegraph
“We once had a toilet flushed on a 300+ participants, all-department, global conf. call!”-Toth1969 on YouTube
“There's also nothing worse than you and a major VIP being the first two callers on the line. Your voice automatically becomes more high pitched than usual, and you can't stop yourself from making ridiculously bad jokes. Before you know it, you're channeling Paul Rudd's character from I Love You, Man and calling the VIP, ‘Jobin’."
-Jessica Solloway, The Savvy Mrs. blog
Avoid your call becoming a horror story by always checking your system’s functionality prior to the call, employing your mute function when appropriate and using a conferencing partner with 24/7 customer support.
Last week’s post, Buying Decision Checklist: Part I, outlined the first four steps to making better decisions and discovering more satisfying solutions. These steps were developed by Dr. Ralph Keeney, a decision analyst at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about this topic in Dr. Keeney’s book Smart Choices, co-written with John Hammond and Howard Raiffa. Take a look at the final steps in this approach to decision making and how it can be applied to information technology solutions.
Step 5: Define the inherent value tradeoffs.
“Your task is to choose intelligently among less-than-perfect possibilities. To do so, you need to set priorities by openly addressing the need for tradeoffs among competing objectives.”
Complex needs lead to multiple objectives, which often compete with each other. An obvious example for IT professionals is the need for new technology clashing with budget restraints. Finding the one product that wows users, fits every objective and still comes in under budget is the Holy Grail of technology solutions, but may not always exist. During this phase weigh tradeoffs between objectives to identify the solutions that meet the majority of needs.
Step 6: Clarify the relevant uncertainties.
Uncertainties make decision making even more difficult. IT professionals can clarify some uncertainties with research. Will your employees need twice as many conference lines by next year? Estimate an answer by working with business development leaders to create projections based on current growth and incoming projects. Will customers continue to want a dedicated service portal, or will social media interaction take over this role in the coming years? Get more information by researching market trends and even conducting your own online survey with current customers. There is no way to foresee every future complication, but it is possible to increase your understanding of the relevant uncertainties to make better long-term decisions.
Step 7: Calculate your risk tolerance.
Knowing the amount of risk you are willing to take can narrow your field of choices significantly. An IT manager operating in a high-risk, high-reward environment will be more willing to try a cutting-edge technology that shows impressive short-term results but has no long-term track record to back up its claims. On the other hand, the IT manager for a non-profit organization may need to find a solution without many bells and whistles but with excellent customer service and industry reputation. Developing a conscious awareness of your risk tolerance can make the decision-making process more efficient.
Step 8: Consider implications for interrelated decisions.
No decision is made in a vacuum, and this is especially true for IT professionals. Installing a solution that takes up a large amount of space on the company server means limiting future program installations. Committing to more expensive sales software can mean sending representatives into the field with old laptops. When considering interrelated decisions, attempt to solve for today’s problems while researching long-term issues. Knowing that a new generation of a product is launching next year can help you decide to keep patching your current solution instead of investing in a small upgrade that will be obsolete when the new product comes out. By considering the entire ecosystem of your company and predicting decision implications in the future, you will be able to make better choices today.
Purchasing a business technology solution can be a daunting task. A bad decision on a critical piece of technology, such as an e-commerce solution, can cost the company huge profit losses. Researching and providing recommendations for these solutions often falls to the information technology (IT) leaders in an organization. Wouldn’t it be a relief for these professionals to have a sort of “buying decision checklist” to help guide them in these choices? Consider this list of eight keys to effective decision making developed by Ralph Keeney. A decision analyst at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Keeney received his PhD in operations research from MIT. Read more about this topic in Dr. Keeney’s book Smart Choices, co-written with John Hammond and Howard Raiffa. Take a look at the first four steps in this post and check back for Steps 5-8 in Part II.
Step 1: Identify your real decision problem.
“To choose well, you need to state your decision problems carefully, acknowledging their complexity and avoiding unwarranted assumptions and option-limiting prejudices.”
In terms of business technology problems, this means thoroughly defining the need that the potential product will fill within the company. This can be accomplished by consulting a sampling of the employees who will be using the solution to determine actual needs. Also ask them to project future needs so a scalable solution can be put into place. Draw up a summary of the needs in order to accurately define the problem.
Step 2: Specify your objectives
The next step is to take those needs and create a list of successful outcomes. For example, a need may be “the ability to teleconference in high-definition”. The objective then is to identify and purchase a teleconferencing solution that provides high-definition streaming that is compatible with current technology, as well as HD cameras and displays. This may seem obvious, but clearly defining what a successful solution looks like at the beginning of the buying process helps make decisions clearer at the end, especially in the case of very complex needs.
Step 3: Create a full range of alternatives
The research phase is a critical part of any decision-making process. Gathering facts and exploring alternatives provides the basis for an educated decision. Don’t limit possibilities at this stage. Even if a product provides most of what you need but not everything, still take the time to explore its features and note its capabilities. This information may come in handy for pricing comparison down the road, or it may suit the company’s needs at a later time. Being open and curious during this phase prevents you from missing an opportunity or new idea.
Step 4: Understand the consequences of the alternatives.
Fully explore the potential outcomes of each alternative. For IT professionals this means projecting costs, creating usage models and ensuring alternatives would integrate with current technology already in place. A thorough examination of these consequences should narrow the field of potential products considerably.
Any experienced manager will tell you that happy workers produce better work than miserable workers. As the business world becomes more global, many workers are required to spend extended periods of time on assignment away from home. This time away from the comfort of home and family connection can reduce morale and make even the most dedicated employee less productive.
The Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies at Cornell University conducted research in this area and produced a study titled Remote work: An examination of current trends and emerging issues. Through interviews with companies employing remote workers, the researchers found that feelings of isolation and loneliness were pervasive among these workers due to the absence of face-to-face interactions and few opportunities for personal and professional relationship building. The study also cites research that states, “…common forms of communication technology (e.g., email) do not provide a high level of information richness and can inhibit social exchange.”
Progressive employers are addressing this issue by providing video conferencing solutions for remote workers so they can have the next best thing to face-to-face contact with loved ones at home. There are many benefits of video conferencing that can’t be replicated with email or phone calls. All parents know how fast small children change. When a parent is on an oil rig for five months, or deployed in the military for two years they miss seeing all the little changes and big milestones happening with their children. A live video feed can let them see wobbly steps while hearing the sweet first attempts at words. Email and texting make it easy to “stay in touch” but hard to actually connect. An international business traveler may touch base with her husband many times a day but miss all of the non-verbal communication that comes with talking face-to-face. One five minute video conference can communicate volumes more about what’s actually happening at home than a hundred short texts.
Of course, video conferencing abilities also make collaborating with managers or other teams much more effective as well. While it’s well documented that remote workers miss their homes and families, the Cornell University study also pointed out some benefits for onsite work including reduced stress levels from commuting and minimized during working hours. The companies interviewed during the research project pointed to manager’s use of advanced technology to develop a team environment and facilitate better communication as ways in which they were able to make remote workers feel more connected.
Whether an employee is setting up a new branch in Dubai, consulting at a hospital in Brazil or training workers in China, providing them a reliable video conferencing solution keeps them happier and more productive.
Busch, E., Nash, J., & Bell, B. S. (2011). Remote work: An examination of current trends and emerging issues. Ithaca, NY: Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University
Integrated audio and web conferencing allows a business to more efficiently utilize one of its most valuable resources: quick and accurate communication. When the lines of communication are open and easily accessible between employees, partners and customers, productivity and profit can be dramatically increased. Of the many benefits associated with integrated audio and web conferencing, the most commonly cited advantages are cost efficiency, more effective collaboration, ease of use and more engaging meetings online.
Integrating Audio and Web Conferencing is Cost Efficient
Businesses large and small find that they save a considerable amount of money using integrated audio and web conferencing over traditional face-to-face meetings. Travel costs can add up quickly, especially if a number of employees, administrators or project managers must travel lengthy distances in order to attend meetings with customers, suppliers or partners. Ground travel, air fare and accommodations add thousands of dollars to a business's annual budget, cutting into annual profit margins.
With integrated audio and web conferencing, meetings can be held anywhere. Attendees from both sides are able to attend the conference from the comfort and convenience of their own location. Employees spend zero time traveling from place to place and more time being productive at their jobs.
Improve Collaboration with Integration
With an integrated conferencing system all of the individuals attending a meeting are on the same page throughout the course of the entire conference. Files, documents and important information can be shared quickly, accurately and efficiently, cutting down on time spent checking data and emailing files back and forth. When all members are working together cohesively via an integrated web and audio conferencing system, ideas flow more freely and stronger, lasting professional relationships are forged.
Ease of Use
Most modern audio and web integration systems offer an intuitive collaboration interface with both ease of use and security in mind. Meeting attendees can share ideas and information with a few simple clicks and customize their conference experience with personalized program settings. Professionals looking for a conferencing solution should ensure the software makes it easy and intuitive to set up meetings and change preferences to suit their needs.
More Engaging Online Meetings with Audio and Web Integration
Because audio and web integration allows businesses to connect with one another more quickly and more easily, members of the meeting as well as the moderator are constantly aware of participation and the group dynamic in general. Presentations can be shared with partners and customers from all over the world in a way that promotes enhanced connection and more stable long-term business relationships. Work, data and ideas are infinitely more streamlined, resulting in a more engaging, real-time experience with every conference, every time.