15 December 2005

Follow-Up Contracting

Everyone at O1 is high after their historic Team Transformation Retreat. We needed to capitalize on this upward momentum to maximize our results. However, high energy and excited hearts are not enough to bring breakthrough change in the entire company. We axed the traditional 'step-by-step' philosophy and are now ready to incorporate the 'drastic leap' way of thinking. This means following challenging and provocative actions that support strategies which if implemented correctly, will undoubtedly lead to the achievement of bottom-line goals.

The retreat laid the foundation for dramatic positive change in O1. Ideas for follow-up conceived at the retreat are now coming to life.

My first task was to get a contract written up, describing my post-retreat follow-up work with O1. The document laid down my role in terms of purpose, specific actions, people who I would interact with, and time-frames.

This contract is extremely crucial for the success of the subsequent Change Process. Contrary to what you might be thinking, the contract's purpose is more for clarity rather than legality per se. In the futuristic OD world, a true OD Consultant would never embark upon a Change Process without establishing trust with a client. I predict that the fear of legal backlash will diminish when the core competency of the ability to build trust becomes a determining factor in the selection of consultants by potential clients. Positive appreciation and high trust levels will decide which consultant gets hired to facilitate a Change Process.

As one can see, an OD Consultant never would have just one contract with a client. It is in our disposition to provide crystal clear steps and get them sanctioned by the owner of the process. Here is a general progression of contracting documents that an external agent may need to present during the course of the consulting journey:

1. Process steps leading up to the retreat
2. Purpose, outcomes, and agenda of the retreat
3. Post-Retreat Follow-Up contracting
4. Next possible transformative launch steps

A simple but surprising outcome of drafting and re-drafting the follow-up contract was seen with the top Director Team of O1. Although they stormed due to their differing viewpoints on which actions should take top priority, this was still positive to see. Pre-retreat, the Director team had trouble making solid decisions together as a unit. Now, with the exquisite facilitation of the external consultant, they weathered the storm and came to conclusive decisions on actions needing priority and who should be delegates responsible down the ladder.

The most fantastical outcome post-retreat (so far!) has been the decision of the Director Team to discuss one key topic every single day at lunch time. Now that the actions for O1's growth stared at them so compellingly, the Directors will now openly talk together in the lunch room about their personal and professional growth.. all because of an exciting follow-up contract that has them on the edge of their executive chairs.

09 December 2005

Day 3: The 1st O1 Team Transformation Retreat

As experts in group dynamics, we make it a rule to finish no later than 1:00 p.m. on the last day of a transformation retreat. The 1:00 p.m. rule must be adhered to strictly because the group will have been exhausted as well as excited after the retreat. The most important thing to remember is that the group must leave the retreat on a high note.

For O1, the third day was a highly emotional and inspirational morning. It was surreal. The 15 of us were sitting close together in a circle and actually talking our hearts, a very rare occurance in today's high powered corporate world. Here is the agenda that got them there:

Agenda for Day 3

1. Reflections on the Retreat

We gathered around the last morning in a tight circle of chairs. After I presented the high-level agenda for the day, each person went into 'free association mode'. An open talk about their experience seemed to come extremely naturally. Nobody looked down on their notes to read from a prepared speech. The conversation flowed so beautifully, it was a great realization for the entire group about the fact that they were more than individuals. The most important comment we heard from the group was: "We need to change if we are to become greater."

2. Identifying the 'Rocks on the Road to Achievement'

The team broke into groups and were asked to jot down factors that would contribute to resistence to change, i.e. the rocks. There were genuine fears ranging from 'things going back to square 1' to 'the team will not take our action plans seriously'.

Some of the rocks on the road included:
a. Clash of different working styles
b. Changes needed in infrastructure
c. Changes needed in channels of communication

The Directors faced their team and considered each rock. They answered their team's concerns about what could be done to make our plans work and combat the rocks. This exercise was probably the most important one of the entire retreat, as it deals with managing threats to the change process. This always needs to be done head-on so that the 'Road to Achievement' gets free from ditches, puddles, and muck. We did not end this exercise until the team were completely satisfied with the responses from their CEOs. The Heads of Department and the Directors came up with solutions together, which always results not only in satisfaction, but in motivation. They owned it.

3. Ideas for Post-Retreat Follow-Up

This next activity always proves to be high in terms of importance. We needed a solid strategy for the goals of O1 to be realized. Having goals, strategies, and actions are not enough. O1 needs a set calender on a specific follow-up process that comprises of meetings, activities, and documenting progress. We set up a system together for the external consultant to work with one of the Directors for a constant feedback process, and to continually generate the committment to go through with action plans.

Here is what O1 came up with:

1) Each person assigned an action/committment will report to the external consultant every 6 weeks and collect success stories
2) The external consultant checks on people's individual progress every 3 weeks
3) A monthly meeting to be organized and designed between the external consultant and the CEO Director team
4) Each team member chooses a buddy and they do a feedback assessment on each other once a month
5) The external consultant will do one-on-one personal interviews with all team members every 6 months
6) The external consultant sends Management tips once a month from contemporary publications
7) Organize and design an annual 'Open-House' where all employees of O1 can come in and talk about anything they like, don't like, suggestions they want to make, and changes that need to be made.
8) Organize and design an entire company meeting with all employees of O1 to share the results from the retreat, and share the new goals and action plans. This meeting will solicit input from all employees about how the change process at O1 will affect them at work.

4. Positive Feedback

We were toward the end of our retreat, and it was important for the team to literally leave with an adrenaline rush. In our tight circle, each team member openly talked about the positive behaviors, attitude, and performance of one team member at a time. The person appraised then nominated the next team member that would receive glories from the team. This exercise was the most emotional and it lasted for 2 hours and 15 minutes. A lot of tears of joy were shed, especially from team members who had not been appreciated before. Some people confessed that they didn't know they were seen by the other team members in such a positive manner, and some others said that they didn't even know about qualities they possessed. The magic of a live 360 feedback lies in this realization of positivity. Written feedback forms are just too boring! Here, individuals listened to the feedback in front of the entire company using the positive tone of voice, body language, eye contact, and spontaneous unedited adjectives.

5. Wrap-Up

We now came to the close of our dynamic, inspirational, life-changing 3-day experience. Mr. Yogi gave the group his closing statement. As consultants, we are the first to admit that our lives change first and foremost whenever we help achieve change in a client system. He commended the Director team on having certain qualities that some businessmen from Harvard did not possess. He admired the Directors' mastery at relationship-building. We were changed from this experience as it opened us to applying our process in the Middle-Eastern cultural environment.

It is not the end. The retreat is the beginning of a steady change process to meet the goals of O1 for next year. Getting aligned was the first step, which we have done gracefully at this retreat. As a last ritual, each team member went up to Mr. Yogi and did a military-style salute and handshake. It was a tremendous mark of self-respect which nailed down committment from the entire team. Every group has its own rituals to mark the beginning of a new beginning, and this one was pretty unique.

08 December 2005

Day 2: The 1st O1 Team Transformation Retreat

Mr. Yogi says, "Something always happens to retreat teams at 11:00 a.m. on the second day." Are all groups really that similar in their natural process? Today was the 2nd day of the retreat and I was determined to find out what was going to tick with this O1 team.

Agenda for Day 2

1. Vision of O1

The Directors introduced their vision for O1. The following definition of a Vision was applied:
The vision of an organization is a concise word picture of the organization at some future time, which sets the overall direction of the organization. It is what the organization strives to be. A vision is something to be pursued, while a mission is something to be accomplished.

Their vision was the foundation for the most enjoyable team exercise for the day. The entire team was broken into two groups and each had to have an artistic creation of their vision for the company. We read out this scenario to them:
Imagine it is 5 years from now. Bill Gates runs into you on the street and says “Oh you are from that fantastic O1 organization. Tell me about it!” What would you want to brag about O1 if it became the most efficient and successful organization ever?
The groups got into high gear and used art materials provided to them so that they could stretch their imaginations. The results of this exercise were phenomenal. The artistic visions of both groups were unique but resonated similar values and future aspirations. Standing ovations for both visions were spontaneous as group representatives presented their creative pieces to the team.

2. Creating the New Vision of O1

Taking the two creative artworks together, the team brainstormed on the new vision for O1. I was to record their words as they explained their vision for O1 and rewrite it for the team overnight, as we could not reach a final vision today. The groups just couldn't stop thinking about the new vision! The atmosphere was so positive, and it was very hard to move the group to the most important activity of the day. Applause as the team got inspired about their new future.

3. Creating Actions for Strategies

Here came the most important activity for O1 ever in its history. For the first time, their top team came together to co-create the action plans for the next quarter. Directors realized that they had missed critical ideas in the past because they had not listened to their subordinates as carefully before. The team members got the chance to express their ideas in front of their boss, and without identifying themselves if they didn't want to. That is why this Change process is so unique.

Each strategy was pasted up on the wall. Every team member had to write out their ideas, actions, and committments that would be essential for executing strategies that were finalized the day before. Mr. Yogi always prefers to have blue post-it notes so that a "sea of blue ideas" ran across the entire room. Writing out all the ideas to each strategy took the group about half the day. We witnessed solutions to problems coming out of the system itself, rather than paying a so-called expert to spew alien and impersonal programs down the system's throat.

4. Documenting Action Plans for 1st Quarter

After all the ideas, actions, and committments were posted up on the "strategic walls", the team was split up into groups and set to work on their allotted strategies. The instructions were to divide up the post-its into 'actions' on the left and 'committments' on the right. Then we had the team work the actions and committments that needed to be thrown out in case of repetitions, or rewritten in case of new ideas due to the group's synergy. Ideas from individuals were then consolidated by the group with discussions about which actions and committments should be prioritized for the 1st quarter of year 2006. After the prioritizing task, the laptops were out to enter in the action plans. The format used was a table with columns of 'Action', 'Committment', 'Person Responsible', 'Result', and 'Next Steps'.

So what happened with the team on this second day? They gave themselves ideas they never knew they could have. It was within an environment created especially conducive to the free flow of thoughts. Another major event was for each person to list three 'Change Goals' based on the developmental feedback they received. Each person handed over their ideas on what they would work on to improve themselves, which they were in total control of. Nobody forces them to change what they don't think they had to.. but they needed to have three goals for personal change out in the public. Goals made public usually result in the person getting a heightened sense of will power to achieve them, as opposed to those that are not shared with the world.

Our process not only ensures action plans for the entire organization. What emerges along the way are also individual development plans based on live 360 degree feedback. So, why send your employees to personal development training workshops when the entire team can get together in a carefully designed meeting that helps individuals personally as well? No training program will work for employee development if the people working around them are not part of their development plan.

07 December 2005

Day 1: The 1st O1 Team Transformation Retreat

There was a great excitement in the air as the team reached right on time at our retreat site. Bright and early, we were ready to start our first day's agenda:

Agenda for Day 1

1. Purpose of the retreat

The purpose of this retreat was presented to the group by one of the Directors. The purpose statement read: "To bring Change for the betterment of O1." The purpose to a retreat must be specified to get a broad directional view for the entire team to keep in mind.

2. Expectations of the retreat

The team was broken up into groups and the following questions were answered and discussed: 1)This is what I hope will happen in the retreat 2)This is my fear about what might happen 3)Here are 2 ground rules we suggest to follow in the retreat.

3. Reactions to the data report

In the same groups, the team was asked to respond to what they found in the data report in terms of the following: 1)What was surprising in the data 2)What was not surprising 3)What was missing in the data 4)General reaction to the report

4. Motivational message from the Directors

Each Director gave their response to the data, the same which was discussed at the CEO Alignment Meeting. Here they came across as one united front to the team. They also clarified a few surprising responses in the data and misperceptions on the part of the team members about what the Directors' work/authority delegation were cleared out in a straightforward manner. One of the Directors gave an empowering speech which essentially laid a foundation of trust and self-belief in the team to get the goals achieved.

5. Sharing of O1's Mission

The mission of O1 was presented by the Directors. This definition of a Mission was utilized:
A Mission is a statement that specifies an organization's purpose or reason for being. It is the primary objective towards which the organization's plans and programs should be aimed. A mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued.

6. Sharing of O1's corporate goals for 2006 and 2007

Each Director took turns and carefully shared and elaborated on the corporate goals for O1 to be achieved in the next 2 years. They were clear, concise, challenging, realistic, and inspiring. A standing ovation.

7. Sharing strategies to reach goals

The Directors again took turns in revealing the strategies they had come up with in the CEO Alignment meeting to meet the needs of each goal to be achieved. They expressed their longstanding vision for the company through these strategies and made the team believe they could do it together if it was done right. Here is when the Directors came out more united than ever before in front of the team. The team did not expect their Directors to come together without a single argument, as was common occurance in the day-to-day office routine.

8. Team dialogue on strategies

The Directors and the team sat face-to-face and openly talked about the importance, the practicality, and the viability of each strategy together as a group. Each strategy was refined, and additional strategies created with brainstorming by the entire team in the room. The Director strategies did not change, but by the end of the exercise, the team managed to consolidate a lot of new ideas to make the corporate goals achievable. Another standing ovation.

9. Developmental Feedback

This was by far the most time-consuming and somewhat controversial activity of the retreat. It was put in by Mr. Yogi who hasn't used this technique in quite some time, but the Directors were insistent upon it as there was a lot to be said out in the open. Cultural norms allowed for such an activity. Ground rules were laid down which reminded people not to take anything personally, allowing them to ignore what they didn't want to take as advice, and being able to express their surprise at what was being told to them in terms of how they needed to change. At the end of this activity, the team was given an assignment to list down 3 'Change Goals' for themselves based on the feedback they received from the rest of the team.
Each team member was to go outside for 5 minutes, while the rest of the team in the room discussed areas that the person needed to improve on to be more effective. The rule was that the developmental feedback would be positive in nature rather than be blatant criticism. Thus, Mr. Yogi specifically made sure that comments were made in terms of "It would be effective if you were more..." rather than "You don't do this well at all.. you are bad at..." This activity had the Directors be on equal par with the rest of the team, as they too received open developmental feedback.

So it was a wonderful first day's work for O1. The team sang songs at dinner with one of the team members bringing in a traditional drum instrument. The only rule these guys were not going to follow seemed to be the early-to-bed rule.

04 December 2005

Principles of a Great Offsite

Designing the agenda for the 3-day offsite retreat has got to be one of the most intensive learning experiences for a young consultant. It was an unforgettable experience because the design team worked together to create a large-group process that would get transformed mindsets by the end of the third day. We the external consultants had to use subtle knowledge of group dynamics, which is where we added great value for the client.

The design team consisted of Mr. Yogi, myself, the Head of Sales, and one of the Directors. We took 10 hours in total to get the right agenda for the 1st O1 Team Transformation Retreat, starting in two days.

Offsite retreats to build the top team of an organization must follow certain principles that will ensure its success. These principles include having an environment that's safe for people to express their hearts, always maintaining a positive outlook so that nobody in the group feels isolated, and probably the most important principle is that the ideas, thoughts, and solutions must come from the group itself. Mr. Yogi insists on this principle with every potential client we meet:
the consultant does not speak for more than 15 minutes. The group sessions will be structured so that they are highly interactive, with no powerpoints and nobody falling asleep. There will be a lot of noise, laughter, clapping, and hot exchange of ideas from all across the room.
Transformation can only happen with everyone present in a room and ideas being heard from people who may not have had a say in the past. The offsite retreat is a great way to empower your team.

Other than the deep principles of an offsite retreat, Mr. Yogi cannot stress enough on perfect and flawless preparation for the 3-day event.

1. Lots of large sized post-its
2. At least five newsprints with stands (commonly known as flip-charts)
3. Black felt tip pens
4. Lots of newsprint markers
5. Masking-tape should be abundant
6. At least 5 laptops should be available, one for every group
7. Overhead projector
8. Portable printer
9. No heavy food!

On the first day of the design team meeting, it was important to work out administrative issues and logistics for the event. Groups, car pools, and hotel rooms were pre-assigned to the team. The agenda for the entire retreat team meeting before the retreat was planned. Ground rules like casual dress, and punctuality were to be communicated at the group meeting. The consultants had to prepare all the newsprints in advance to avoid losing time in forming groups, presenting the agenda for the day, and going over the company goals and strategies when the retreat is in session.

The design team gets together and creates a transformative experience that's inspiring and practical.

03 December 2005

CEO Alignment Meeting

O1 has been experiencing a significant change ever since we conducted individual interviews of all the top team members. Two of the top team members dedicated themselves to quit smoking in the office to increase their effeciency and productivity at work. Mr. Yogi always told me how changes in the client environment suddenly take shape when the entire team has to prepare for an intensive retreat.

Our next step was to design the agenda of our 3 day offsite retreat. However, one crucial stepping stone needed to be covered which we did today. The top 3 Directors who are part owners of the company needed to be aligned so that they would come across as one face in front of their team when we go off to the retreat in a few days. They would all have to be in agreement about the company's goals for the next two years, their strategies, and the financials needed to support their vision. So, this meeting was called for after we shared the 50-page data report of what all the team members said on their interviews, without identifying who said what of course.

The Director alignment meeting lasted for a total of 6 hours over 2 sessions of 3 hours each. It is important to have one session in the evening and the next one immedietely the next day in the afternoon, so as to not lose the flow.

Session 1 had the following outcomes:

I. Basic principles presented by Mr. Yogi about the following:

1. The role of consultants as facilitators and not experts
2. The importance of the collection of ideas rather than individual opinions

II. Message to the Directors by Mr. Yogi:

1. The Directors of the company are in total control of the entire effort
2. "The need to change at the speed of imagination" in the fastest changing city in the history of mankind
3. Directors need to work out what they expect out of their team

III. Conversations between the Directors before embarking on the retreat:

1. Discussion about an opening presentation by the Directors to get this message out "we have tremendous potential if we act as one"
2. Questioning whether certain employees can keep up with the next level as the organizational performance goes up
3. The initial thought about keeping an Assistant to the Directors who can run the company under them i.e. a Manager of Operations
4. Brief outline of the role of the external consultant following the retreat
5. An open talk on where the Directors opinions differ
6. Set policy stating Directors convene before any major decision is made
7. Expectations of Directors themselves as a team
8. Company goals in terms of high priority

The major outcome was that of setting out the goals for the company, which the Directors would share with the group in the retreat. It was interesting to see the three of them interact like they have never done before as they admitted themselves. It is a simple enough concept, but coming together to discuss goals of the company can be a frightening prospect when you know that a lot has to change to be able to achieve them in the first place. It was a stormy session but extremely fruitful. Directors realized that all three of them had different theories and numbers on where the company's profitability stands the next year. They worked late as they had to get one number to be able to present it to the team at the retreat. At the end of our session, the Directors were given an assignment to lay down each of their job duties and responsibilities, to take care of overlaps and areas of confusion.

Session 2 of the CEO Alignment Meeting brought the Directors closer together, and created a self-belief at the thought of achieving goals for the Company.

Session 2 had the following outcomes:

I. Reactions to the Data Report:

The Directors' reaction to the 50-page report (it is not as long as it sounds) ranged from shocking to amusing. There were statements made by some team members that did not ring true for the Directors in charge. These statements uncovered the lack of clear communication downward, upward, and sideword throughout the organization. There were also some brilliant ideas suggested by the team at changing ways and methods of the key business processes. The Directors had a great attitude of being open to all the ideas in the report that they had never before come across. There were a lot of repetitions about major issues related to communication, clarity of roles, and job design that resonated with them. The data report brought out issues that were swept under the carpet for a while in the past.

II. Strategies for Company Goals:

The goals for the company were finalized, including main strategies to achieve them for next year. Goals included profitability, sales revenue, branding, customer success, and revamping the organization. These are very ingenious goals and a lot of innovative and creative strategies were offered by the Directors. This would serve as the starting point for building action plans at the retreat. Most importantly, the team will know that these goals come from a united Director team.

III. Job Responsibilities of the Directors:

Each Director noted down their job responsibilities and their professional committments to the growth of the company. A significant outcome of this exercise was to reduce overlap, and to be aware of what each Director could afford in terms of time and energy for actions of follow-up after the historic retreat. Moreover, the job responsibilities of Directors will be clarified and communicated to the team either during or as a follow-up to the 1st O1 Team Transformation Retreat.

So here is another advantage to an external facilitator, where the top team sometimes needs to be led to where they have to go. The belief that consultants are not therapists in the workplace will soon disappear as the new wave of Organization Development enters the future. As facilitators and not experts, Mr. Yogi truly believes that detailed measurement to find out if change really occured is not necessary if the change becomes so dramatic that the entire organization would know what made the real difference.