From Flavour of the Month to Spécialité de la Maison
You’ve discovered the ultimate solution, the answer to all your business problems, the business method you’ve waited your entire professional life to find. How will you get your colleagues to take it up? How will you make sure that it will be going strong next year? How will you take it from ‘Flavour of the Month’ to ‘Spécialité de la Maison?
Selling the concept
Everybody says that senior level sponsorship is essential, which it is. So first of all, you’ve got to sell the concepts to the people who matter, the ones who hold the purse strings and who permit you to proceed. Your Method is full of rational and logical value. You are convinced it’s good, so it’s hard to see why no-one else is. Sadly, they haven’t given it the thought and study you have and they don’t always see things your way. You will have to pitch your proposal to them. Even the most un-commercial, egalitarian organisation will have some element of internal competition. You will find yourself competing for senior level sponsorship with all the other initiatives that are vying for their attention, time and budget. No matter what rational value you can bring, you will lose to the person with a more attractive offer. There isn’t space here to take you through all the relevant sales techniques so get the help of your sales and marketing colleagues to make an offer no sponsor can refuse.
Credibility is a common problem
People will not take the help you offer if they have no confidence in it. Any successful ‘Head Office imposed business method’ requires credibility to survive and this isn’t easy. Maintaining the Board’s interest and approval is an on-going job. Boards are naturally fickle and it can be safely assumed that any sponsorship at Board level will be fleeting. They are soon distracted by the next big thing or the recurring problems of daily organisational existence.
If your senior sponsor tells you their work is now done and the Method has been absorbed into the corporate bloodstream, then it’s as good as dead. Line managers will lose interest and it becomes the responsibility of the ‘Resident Expert’. This person is more likely to be appointed for their availability, not their skills. They will be seen as being out of the daily grind, very much a ‘them’ not an ‘us’, the woman / man with a clipboard from head office. Relationships spiral downwards, with poor results and a general desire to back out of the whole process.
So, you have two audiences to engage, the Board and the end-users.
The people who tell you that senior sponsorship is essential will also tell you that the way to their hearts is through their pockets. All you have to do is get the promotion of the Method into their personal objectives and they’ll drive it for you. In practice, this will be short-term and output-focussed and won’t get you very far. Your Method may be a work of genius that will change the enterprise significantly but it’s going to be a low priority in any executive’s KPIs. Given personal objectives of, ‘Raise sales in Asia by 10%’ or ‘Ensure all staff complete Form 37a’, which one is going to have the higher reward and so motivate the executive?
The way to maintain Board-level commitment to something new is to embed its tools and techniques into the standard operating procedures that the execs and seniors use. For example, if you are promoting Benefits Management then make sure that the standard business case template contains a basic Goal Model Map or Benefits Dependency Network. Include a stakeholder analysis in every options appraisal. Have a Benefits trained facilitator aid their strategic planning discussions.
Using the tools at Board level will encourage, if not mandate their use elsewhere. If a Director has to report to her colleagues using these tools then she will expect her staff to support her by using the same tools.
So, the Board are on board, how do you bring the rest of the organisation along with them? The end users of the Method are the people who have to make the changes to their working practice and live with the consequences. They are going to be busy and under pressure to deliver. They may be too busy fire-fighting to recognise an extinguisher when it’s offered to them. You cannot expect their instant and enthusiastic cooperation. You will have to convince them of your great idea first, which brings us back to credibility. Dealing with the credibility issue means the Method has to attract the right people to champion the cause and spread the message to their colleagues. In branding terms it is affinity marketing, building on the strengths of both sides.
The actual people who become Champions will obviously depend on the organisation in question. In general terms, we are looking for positive role-models. Often this means respected peers rather than senior staff or head office functionaries, people with a good reputation who lead opinion amongst their colleagues. Respected peers usually have very busy day-jobs which they will not or cannot leave for a permanent role specialising in the Method. They may be available for short-term secondment though.
If the organisation has a fast-track promotion route or leader development scheme then include a secondment as one of its stages. This gets the bright go-getters involved and they take the skills with them as they rise to the top.
The downside of this secondment process is that the churn of people passing through risks corrupting the Method. Anyone on a short secondment will still be learning as they leave for their next assignment. There won’t be much improvement over time because all the lessons learned will be from people reinventing the new starter’s wheel. If they are the only ones available to train their replacements then the Method will deteriorate through that well-known party game of Chinese Whispers.
Someone is going to have to provide an element of stability at the centre of the seconded group. This Subject Matter Expertise will provide the common core training to the Champions. It will assure the quality of their work to ensure that everyone is applying consistent best practice. It will support them with higher level skills and techniques to resolve the complex cases. It will collate and analyse lessons learned and look to improve the Method over time. The Champions will depend on them and so have a good incentive to see the right Experts are selected and supported by the organisation. The Experts get to work with the brightest and best (and most demanding). All in all, a much more positive outcome than the traditional Resident Expert will achieve.
So, for the successful implementation of the Method, the best balance is to set up a core group / expert who can maintain and enhance it and to place a broader team of respected secondees around them to champion the Method across the organisation.
Only the largest or most specialist organisations will have the manpower to staff such a centre of excellence fully. The credibility issue is so important that the Champions have to be local, known and respected. However, there is an argument for out-sourcing the subject matter expertise. Most of its skills will be reasonably generic and will be improved by wide experience. The Experts won’t need to know too much about organisation-specific work-flows and personalities. They will need to know the Method inside out and how to apply it appropriately within your organisation.
An external Method hub will bring a breadth of experience and best practice. It also encourages an element of benchmarking competition between members and raises the bar for them all.
Each organisation’s culture, context and budgets will determine where the centre of excellence will sit. It could be in-house, a shared service between similar organisations, a bought-in consultancy or a combination of the three.
Finally, remember that nothing lasts forever. You’ve got your Method beyond being Flavour of the Month and into active use. It’s become ‘the way we do things here’. By all means, keep it going while it’s adding value but recognise when to stop. Don’t let it get in the way when something better comes along.
The core message boils down to:
- You have to sell the concepts
- Credibility is key
- Senior sponsorship will not last unless tools are established in the processes that the seniors use.
- Credibility in the workplace will depend on Champions. These should be respected peers or high-flyers seconded into the Method team
- Champions will need Subject Matter Expertise to support them and to maintain and enhance the Method
- The location of the Subject Matter Experts will depend on your organisation’s culture, context and budgets
- Don’t keep pushing the Method when it’s stopped adding value