Corporate reorganizations can cause headaches

How to Manage Corporate Reorganizations Without the Headaches

Whether you call it reorganization, restructuring, reengineering or realignment, there’s one thing you can be sure of: it’s not going to be easy. In fact, many of these interventions are costly and painful—and in the end, don’t work.

One industry, in particular, that is dealing with this right now is the information technology sector. Mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, financial concerns and other issues are causing leaders to take a closer look at how their businesses are structured and whether or not they have both the agility and the depth they need to remain competitive.

But before any organization goes headlong down the “re” path, they might want to reevaluate the process first.

Why Restructuring Efforts Fall Apart

All too frequently, management implements these kinds of initiatives with an emphasis on ROI (return on investment) and execution. Seems like a logical approach, right? But this is often counterproductive because it overlooks some essential, make-or-break elements—things like culture, vision and morale. The future.

In fact, when the objective becomes so narrowly focused on issues like cost reduction, for example, creative and innovative possibilities won’t even be considered. But creativity is essential when you’re looking for new ways of doing things. Without creativity, restructuring efforts often end up getting good marks for intent, but very bad marks for results.

Reinventing Your Process

From a thinking standpoint, the word reinvention is more descriptive of what should really take place when a major change occurs. And whole-brained reinvention is the whole-brain-modelbest descriptor of all.

Our data has shown that the process of invention very clearly involves both analytical and imaginative thinking. If you look at the Whole Brain® Model, these are the upper A and D quadrants. When you add in the necessary B quadrant activities, like form, sequence and implementation, with the C quadrant preferences for interpersonal relationships, teamwork and communication, you have a much more mentally complete process to support the outcomes you really want.

So, where can you find this breadth of thinking?

You’re in luck. It’s most likely right there in your organization; you just have to be sure you’re tapping into it. That means making sure you have the thinking diversity you need represented both in your project leadership and within your implementation teams, and just as important, that everyone recognizes the business value these different perspectives contribute.

4 Steps to Check Your Thinking

If you’re involved in a “re” effort (or are suffering through one that’s not going very well), here are four diagnostic areas to evaluate to make sure you have the thinking processes in place to support the results you need:

  1. Are the desired financial and business objectives achievable as planned? If not, your analysis may have overlooked key elements from other thinking quadrants. Consider what those might be.
  2. Are timelines and schedules well planned and being communicated and respected? If not, then the planning process wasn’t thorough enough. An easy way to check for gaps is to review the Whole Brain® Model to see what you might have missed.
  3. How are the workforce and customers responding? If morale is a problem and customers are aggravated, you’re likely overlooking some important people-related elements, and there could be other contributing gaps, like overlooked process issues and financial factors. Are you encouraging the imaginative ideas and solutions that could anticipate and preempt potential implementation headaches?
  4. Is this a good strategic decision? Are any innovations or creative solutions emerging? Reorganization is about the future, so it requires future-oriented management decisions. This is a great opportunity for the whole organization to get energized by going creative, but it has to start with and be supported by the leadership.

If you want to read about an M&A initiative that bucked the trend and exceeded expectations, check out the story of the merger of Westpac Bank and Challenge Bank.

Westpac didn’t just avoid morale problems during and after the merger; staff turnover actually went down from 14% to 6%. The bank also increased opening hours, making their customers very happy in the process. To top it off, they were able to save the $10 million that had originally been set aside for redundancies.

Now that’s a great example of mindful merging.

How Global Leaders Think

Quotable Business Advice from the Whole Brain Business Book

Quotes from The Whole Brain Business Book, 2nd Edition

Twenty years ago, Ned Herrmann’s groundbreaking book opened the eyes of business leaders and professionals around the world to the power of Whole Brain® Thinking. With the release of The Whole Brain Business Book, Second Edition, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrmann International, is carrying on her father’s legacy and bringing practical new insights and advice specific to the challenges of the 21st century business environment.

Filled with real-world examples and essential charts, action steps, exercises, and tools, The Whole Brain Business Book shows you how to rethink your business, prepare for the future, realign your goals, and reinvigorate your team—by putting your whole brain to work.

The select quotes below give you a taste of what’s inside: Read more

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

In our always-on/always-connected environment, between work and family, texts and emails, new demands and ongoing change, most of us are feeling like our brains are full.  And yet the constant stream keeps coming. It may seem unrealistic to hit the off switch, but we’re hoping to at least find a pause button.

This is one reason for the growing interest among business, HR and talent leaders in mindfulness and deep thinking, practices that just a few years ago would have seemed completely at odds with what it takes to be successful in business.

But whether you’re responsible for helping others develop and grow, managing people and projects, or just managing yourself, it’s easy to see how the distractions of the modern world are taking a toll, not just on performance, productivity and morale but also on people’s health and well being.

How can our businesses continue to thrive if we aren’t able to put our best thinking to work?

In fact, mindfulness is being aware of what’s going on in your brain. This is far different than being “mind-full”—letting your brain get so full that you feel overwhelmed by information.

Here are three strategies anyone can apply to increase mindfulness and become more productive as a result. Read more

How to Handle the Leadership Challenges of a Changing World

How do I become a better leader in a changing world?

It’s a question that’s been on the minds of so many I’ve talked with recently. It was also the question that lingered in my mind this past year as I was deep in the process of putting together the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book.

The response we hear so often is, Be more agile. Build your agility. But how? And what does that even mean?

Well, for one, I believe it means unleashing your full brainpower. The only way you can keep up with change and lead through the chaos and uncertainty and distractions and complexities and big data and on and on and on…is to get more conscious about your thinking and how you apply it.

Unleashing your full thinking potential can be uncomfortable, though, whether you’re a highly structured thinker who needs to experiment and take more risks, or a highly imaginative person who needs the discipline and organization to be more productive with your time.

Fortunately, brain research supports the fact that you can stretch and overcome your mental blind spots to become a more agile thinker and leader. It’s something we talk about throughout the newly updated Whole Brain Business Book.

Although the second edition won’t be on the shelves until this spring, you don’t have to wait until then to get started! Here are 6 tips from the book you can apply today to make thinking agility your leadership advantage in a changing world:

  1. Get used to being uncomfortable: Discomfort is a sign the brain is engaged and learning. Instead of wanting to avoid those who make you uncomfortable, recognize the opportunity they offer to help you stretch your thinking. Hire and enlist them. They can become your biggest asset. Make it a personal challenge to work through the discomfort to new understanding.
  2. Challenge your assumptions. The brain is very efficient, and it will “fill in the blanks” for you when you’re looking for a solution. But when you’re trying to see something in a different way or find a new way of doing things, the quick leap to conclusions can ultimately be a trap. When you begin to make an assumption, flip it around. Ask yourself, “What if this was not true?”
  3. Embrace the unknown. It’s your ally, not your enemy. Change presents a great opportunity for new thinking, but only if you deliberately and consciously take advantage of it.
  4. Optimize your toolkit. Use your own thinking preferences to determine the tools that work for you. For example, if you’re a highly visual thinker, a linear, spreadsheet-style planning tool may make the task of getting organized even more difficult for you. If the techniques and processes aren’t helping, look to thinking preferences for clues and help on how you can find or create a more workable solution for you.
  5. Lighten up. Unconventional approaches free the brain and stimulate new ideas and perspectives. Find ways to jolt your thinking, and have fun with it!
  6. Make it a mental habit. Decide what you want and go for it, making your desired future outcomes a reality.

Especially in today’s knowledge-intensive world, your greatest strength lies in your ability to get smarter about your thinking—to make your thinking work for you instead of being trapped by it. Try it, and see how it makes the difference!

(And if you want to get more insights from the book—and be among the first to get a copy—be sure to join me at the ATD 2015 International Conference & Exposition in Orlando this May.)

 

Just Don’t Do It: Fight Distraction with Subtraction

Today’s world generates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

We forget how much of the chaos in our lives is self-imposed. We complain about the complexity of our lives, we survey our crowded calendars and cluttered garages, and we wake up to the day already feeling overwhelmed. Yet at some point we agreed (or acquiesced) to taking on all those things. We complain about information overload even when we choose to over-consume information—a habit that we can control.

Here’s an idea: Don’t just do something—stand there!

When faced with a packed schedule and long to-do list, the natural inclination is to get busy and do something—anything. There is another option: Before you dig in, stop to think. Is everything that’s on your plate truly worth doing? You might be able to get the most important things done by filtering out the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Because most of us are unconsciously allowing more possessions and commitments to stream into our lives. Stuff comes in so fast that we don’t realize how much we’ve accumulated. In contrast, letting go of stuff calls for mindfulness, new ways of thinking, focused action.

If you really want to get things done, you have to get more conscious about what you choose not to do. In other words, fight distraction with subtraction.

Imagine what it would feel like to have to have one more unscheduled hour in your life every day. What would become possible for you with that added space in your schedule? Now visualize a life where your weekends are largely unscheduled and you leave your office by 6 pm at the latest on a workday. It’s harder to let go than to take on, but it can be done. It just takes some practice over time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Write a three-item to-do list. Keep a master to-do list, then choose the next three things you intend to do and write these down on a Post-it. A three-item list is doable and inviting. In addition, crossing off those three tasks provides a dopamine-driven sense of reward and momentum.

2. Clean out your inbox and unsubscribe to any automatic e-mail list that you do not always read. Purge your subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

3.  Outsource your cognitive load. Draw out a map of your cognitive load:

  •  Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking preferences as depicted in the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues
B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues
C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues
D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

  •  “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.
  •  Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

4. Stop the madness by creating a no-to-do-list. Attending meetings with no clear agendas or end times, spending large chunks of time on low-value/low-return activities or clients, mindlessly filling out unnecessary reports or other activities “because we’ve always done them,” checking emails throughout the day instead of at scheduled intervals… name your not-to-dos and then stick with it!

5. Get offline. Yes, you can.

You can balance FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) with TOTO (the Thrill of Throwing Out). Savor the pure pleasure of a calendar with more blank space and a life with less stuff.

What have you chosen not to do? What about your team, colleagues or employees? How can you encourage them to overcome distraction with subtraction?

 

A Leader Learning Gap? Digging into our CEO Data

Updating The Whole Brain Business Book has been a fascinating experience. One of the most interesting aspects has been looking at what our HBDI® data tells us today about how business people think, and in particular, how the C-Suite thinks.

As we saw when the research was conducted nearly 20 years ago for the original book, CEOs are a unique breed. What’s consistently true is that no matter what changes are occurring in the world—whether it’s the economy, demographics, market trends, technological advances and new regulations, or disruptions, catastrophic events and other factors—the data reveals that CEOs are different when it comes to thinking preferences. On average they tend to have strong preferences across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model (analytical, structured, interpersonal and strategic)—more so than any other occupational group.

This might explain the puzzlement people often feel when trying to “psych out” the CEO. To an uninformed observer, this balanced profile, what we call multi-dominant preferences, can appear both disarming and tough to pin down because of the wide array of interests, approaches and “clues” they provide.

It also explains why CEOs as a group are so effective at the role they play in overseeing numerous different specialized functional leaders. Their multi-dominance provides them with the ability to translate ideas from the language of one quadrant or function to the next.

It’s a crucial skill when the time comes to take action: CEOs and other C-suite leaders have to be able to advance facts and data toward conclusions and articulate concepts and incorporate the human factors into those concepts and synthesize many ideas into a few. The power to lead and communicate clearly with a variety of internal “tribes” in such a way that they effectively work together is the critical competitive work that must take place at the C Level.

The richness of the HBDI® Profile data in our database of global CEOs provides endless insights and information to slice and dice. One area we looked at was the “work elements” section, which is a part of the assessment that asks the person to force rank the work elements that represent the types of tasks or activities (e.g., problem solving, innovating, expressing ideas, planning, etc.) they have to do to perform their job.

We found that the work element “Teaching/Training” was near the bottom of the list for CEOs in all of the 12 countries we studied. This data point mirrors a recent Deloitte study that showed less than half of all C-suite executives care about developing the leadership skills of their people.

These findings are particularly worrisome as companies could face a huge knowledge gap when these C-level leaders leave. While there’s been plenty of talk about addressing the looming “leadership crisis” and thin leadership pipelines, companies aren’t going to be able to hire their way out of it—and the C-level can’t outsource this task entirely. They need to take an active role in mentoring, developing and transferring their knowledge and expertise to the next generation.

What do you think? Have you noticed that C-level leaders seem to have that ability to “translate” from one thinking quadrant to another? And are you seeing those at the top do what they need to do to groom the next generation?

If you’d like to learn more about our study of CEO thinking preferences, let us know. And be sure to mark your calendar for the 2015 ATD International Conference & Exposition, where Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will present the session, “How Global Leaders Think: Development Strategies from New Research.

In the meantime, watch for additional updates on the new edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, which will be released in 2015.

Don’t Fall Back on Mental Habits

For those of us who observe Daylight Savings Time, this Sunday we’ll “fall back” by setting our clocks back an hour, and that extra hour of sleep will be good news for our brains. A growing body of research is finding that sleep enhances the brain’s ability to process and retain information and memories, unravel complex issues to make better decisions, and make connections that allow us to get more creative, among other learning and performance-improving activities.

But our brains also love their routines. Just try to change someone’s mind (even your own), and you’ll see how firmly engrained those routines are.

In fact, our brains naturally seek and organize around patterns we’ve developed in our thinking throughout the course of our lives. We develop mental habits based on what has always worked for us—and it feels safe.

But when you approach a new situation with your habitual thinking, you severely limit your ability to generate new ideas or solutions. If your thought patterns continue to be processed by your brain using the same neural pathways as in the past, you won’t be able to effectively lead and respond in different ways.

Think about that for a moment: Do you need to do things differently today? Find new solutions or inspiration? Adapt to a changing world? It’s a good bet that you do.

So whether you or your employees want to increase creative output, find new perspectives on how to handle day-to-day issues, or simply lead and manage in new ways, you can’t do it successfully until you break those existing patterns.

Of course, you’ll first need to know what those patterns are. The HBDI® assessment, which measures degrees of preference for different modes of thinking, is a great way to help people understand their thinking patterns and the impact of these patterns on how they communicate, learn, solve problems and more.

Once that baseline is understood, here’s a four-step process anyone can take to break out of their mental defaults:

  1. Visualize it: Because we know what to expect when we do the things we’ve always done, our mental habits feel safe. By visualizing something from a different perspective, we can get more comfortable with it. Here’s an easy exercise to try: Imagine your living room. Now imagine it from the perspective of a burglar. What do you see? How about as an interior decorator? The brain doesn’t necessarily know the difference between visualization and reality, so this is a great way to “try on” different perspectives and make them become reality.
  2. Define your goal: What is it you want? What’s the end game? Write it down and post it in a place you will see every single day. We need that constant reinforcement to remind us why we’re doing it and to keep it top of mind. Otherwise it’s too easy to fall back into the comfort zone of our patterns and preferences.
  3. Use the buddy system: There’s a reason why support groups are so effective for issues like weight loss or dealing with addiction: We’re social beings, and buddy systems actually work. Think about who can help you stay accountable as well as those who could provide some of the alternate perspectives you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a co-worker, someone in your personal life or even an online group.
  4. Make a plan: Give yourself the gift of setting milestones. That way you can celebrate some of the changes you’ve made and figure out where you’re succeeding, where you’re struggling and how to go from there. It’s going to take some time to overcome a natural mindset you’ve probably spent years and years developing and reinforcing.

Change keeps coming. If you keep falling back on your mental habits, you’re going to fall behind.

Don’t just change your clocks this Sunday. Start changing your mindset!

Managers, You Aren’t Responsible for An Employee’s Motivation

With all the chatter about employee engagement and its impact on productivity and retention, we know that employee motivation is a key issue at all levels of leadership.

But people who lead continue to make a fundamental mistake in this area: They believe and behave as if they are responsible for an employee’s motivation.

Here’s a news flash: Motivation of an employee doesn’t come from the manager; it comes from within the employee.

Why is this so hard to grasp? One possible reason is we’ve established a cadre of leaders who think that visible action on their part is the primary way to lead—that you must do something or you won’t be viewed as a leader by those who are led.

The fact is we all motivate ourselves. The more important and useful function managers and leaders can serve is to encourage this inner self-motivation, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Provide employees with work they find stimulating. When people aren’t stimulated by the work, they drop out of the game. Look for clues in their thinking preferences, paying attention to both their primary preferences, which typically are associated with the work they’ll most enjoy, and their areas of avoidance or lack of preference.
  2. Provide a work climate that allows this stimulating work to be performed in ways that satisfy and fulfill the employee. Don’t assume the way you would tackle the work is the best way for the employee. Create an environment where employees have a say and a stake in their own productivity and engagement.
  3. Provide incentives and rewards that supplement the self-actualization the employee is already experiencing. But remember, when it comes to rewards and incentives, one size doesn’t fit all.
  4. Provide the necessary tools, materials and support that allow the employee to optimize quality performance. Employees frequently have a better sense of how to get the tasks done in the most efficient, effective way. Give them the tools they need, and then…
  5. Get out of the way!

This surprisingly direct and simple process is founded on two human resource basics:

  1.  Know your employees. Understand their thinking preferences, their expectations and their job needs.
  2. Understand the mental requirements of the work being done. This requires an investment in time, energy and skill to diagnose the work elements of the tasks to be performed and then construct a thinking profile of the job.

The next step in this process is exceedingly elementary in concept, but impossible to carry out if the preceding steps have not been rigorously performed. This next step is bringing the employee into alignment with the work. When the employee’s thinking preferences are well aligned with the mental demands of the job, they’ll be more productive and engaged, and their companies will benefit as a result. It’s a win-win all around.

Want to fuel your own inner self-motivation? Read more about job fit and alignment for greater work satisfaction in our post, Commencement Advice for Everyone.

 

Decision Making in the Midst of Business Crisis: Think Before You React

No organization is immune to adversity. Whether the result of unavoidable external events, like an earthquake or economic crisis, or internal issues and upheavals, challenging times can—and most likely will—hit every business at some point.

The question is, when crisis inevitably hits, how will you handle it?

Let’s take the example of the recent economic downturn. Often when companies feel the beginnings of a financial crisis, the leadership mentality goes narrow, focusing in on the numbers and “downshifting” to a highly controlled, risk-minimizing approach. When all that matters are the numbers, putting on the brakes is an obvious, visible response to take.

So travel is limited, and expense account rules are tightened. Trade shows are cancelled. Purchasing ground rules are severely tightened, and building for inventory cuts back. Hiring stops, and layoffs start. It’s a classic crisis mentality, and it feels right because people are doing something. They’re taking firm action.

But is it the right action? One CEO candidly told us all the cost-cutting activities he directed during the last downturn actually left his company much worse off than they would have otherwise been. The cuts were so deep and his focus was so narrow on budgets and numbers that he couldn’t focus on growth, and that kept him from making a critical strategic hire. He not only lost sight of the company’s strategic purpose, he lost years of momentum.

In thinking preference terms, this kind of response reflects an emphasis on analytical (A-quadrant) and safekeeping (B-quadrant) thinking almost to the exclusion of the interpersonal (C-quadrant) and future-focused (D-quadrant) preferences we know are equally important from a business and leadership standpoint. It’s a common reaction when you’re dealing with a situation that involves so much unpredictability and ambiguity.

Our colleagues in New Zealand looked at a very different sort of crisis response when they conducted research on how organizations can be more adaptive and resilient during the recovery phase of complex, disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, they discovered the opposite problem can occur. Leadership may feel they don’t have time to spend on the supporting data or process and procedures (A- and B-quadrant thinking), and as a result, there’s a potential to overlook important considerations for decision making, particularly when it comes to what gets priority attention.

Thinking time may feel like a luxury, especially in chaotic circumstances, but being conscious about how you shift and apply your thinking is never more critical than in a high-stakes situation. In fact, if you’re going to apply Whole Brain® Thinking as a leader, there’s no better time than during a period of business crisis.

This is the time to develop multiple options rather than considering only those that are security-focused and safekeeping, to employ savvy leadership rather than single-minded management. This is a time for wide-angle binoculars. Because in crisis after crisis, the companies that fair best are those that are both realistic about the situation and committed to the long-term vision. They are prudent but not at the expense of keeping customers loyal and retaining good people.

With so much unpredictability in our world today, thinking agility has never been more important. Here are some resources for applying Whole Brain® Thinking as an organizing principle for making sense of the issue and making smart decisions under pressure:

  • Enhancing Organizations’ Adaptive Capacity and Resilience: Research report by Dr. Erica Seville and HBDI® Certified Practitioners Dr. Dean Myburgh and Chris Webb, published in The Business Continuity and Resiliency Journal
  • Whole Brain® WalkAround: Making Decisions in a Business Crisis:A handy tool for making sure you have a balanced view of both the short- and long-term implications of your decisions

How Do Your Employees Think? The Answer Might Surprise You

 

Last week we talked about why you should expect difference when it comes to thinking preferences.

Taking it a step further, one of the things we’ve learned from the data we’ve collected is that not only can you expect difference, you can expect balance: Organizations, ethnic groups and any group of a large enough size will have a balanced distribution across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. That’s why we say the world is a composite Whole Brain®.

In fact, our hard data from around the world demonstrates this finding conclusively: If the sample size is large enough—even just 50 or 100 employees—the composite of individual HBDI® Profiles will represent a highly diverse, but well balanced, distribution across the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.

CEOs are always surprised by this. They often think their organizations have a tilt to the left mode or reflect the mental preferences of the leadership team or culture of the company. As a result, they aren’t managing their companies on the basis of the composite Whole Brain® reality of their organizations. Their leadership and communication styles have been either tilted in one direction or too confined for the global nature of the thinking and learning styles of their employees.

Just think about how much it might be costing these businesses, simply because they’re making the wrong assumptions about the true thinking diversity in their organizations. For starters, there is sure to be some degree of misalignment in jobs, training, communication and leadership approaches. But there is also likely an untapped well of perspectives and ideas that could be generating better decisions, solving problems more effectively and stimulating more innovative thinking across the board.

It’s highly likely your company’s workforce is made up of a balanced distribution of thinking preferences. The question to consider is whether this diverse workforce is being managed to take advantage of its potential productivity.

Most businesses today are made up of knowledge workers, and this is true even for those that have a large manufacturing component. In these highly competitive and complex times, production workers need to work smart; therefore, the mental demands of the work are greater than ever. Recognizing, managing and getting the benefit of all of the company’s thinking resources is essential to managing a successful company.

How well is your organization managing its thinking diversity?