I was recently visiting a major university. Their IT department is in “transformation” and it’s stuck. The new director has 167 people reporting to him. He and his second in command are dumbfounded because they’ve been leading this team for over a year, and the team refuses to take on the new way of doing things. Despite formal training, team building exercises, and regular meetings to try to solve problems, the long-time employees he inherited have successfully dug in their heels and made it impossible for him to move the transformation forward. He didn’t know what to do and was completely exasperated. This happens all too frequently. In fact, that’s exactly the conversation that I had with a VP of HR recently during another client visit. She said, “35 or 40 percent of our people are simply unwilling to move forward and with their legacy knowledge we have no choice but to leave them alone.” She feels like they’ve got her over a barrel.
The message I delivered to these executives may have sounded a little harsh at first. I said, “You’re stuck because you aren’t doing your job. You haven’t been clear about your expectations. Effectively you said, 'Hey guys, try and come this way and while you’re at it, please decide for yourselves what I want and what you’re willing to execute.' Instead, I urge you to say, 'Here is the standard going forward and here’s the delta between your behavior and the new standard. Here’s what I need from you by tomorrow.' When you present your expectations that way, they will realize that they can no longer hold out and try to maintain the status quo. They’ve been holding out for over a year and you can’t blame them because it has been working!"
I explained to both of them how knowledge transfer could help them become crystal clear about their expectations and set detailed, measurable benchmarks for expected approach to the work – down to the keystroke if necessary. We talked through how we use the KSM, the Big Picture Questions, the Skill Development Plans to clarify the way forward in really direct plain language. With these tools they could compare each employee’s work, and their behavior, and their process to the new standards. With that clear backdrop, they can manage every resource (employees and contractors) to that standard. For those who continue to choose not to go forward, then we have a performance management problem that we can really methodically address.
Using the tools like the Knowledge Silo Matrix, the Skill Development Plan, the Big Picture Questions shines the light on the true issue at hand. It establishes the standards and gives you the ability to hold your team to those standards with undeniable clarity.