Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.


Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?


The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

Ready or not, Transition comes.

Tranistion comes

Transition and resilience

In an earlier blog on transition, I wrote about resilience. Resilience offers a way of dealing with continuous change. Or with transition, as I like to call it. I believe in the power of resilience. I have experienced it can make a real difference. There isn’t  a framework offering a real “grip” on continuous transition. If models do not offer support, guidance or, grip, we’re delivered to ourselves and to our resilience. Then transition becomes much more something to “live with” than to “manage”.
But there’s an interesting exception: the 3 zones of transition, by William Bridges,. It’s a framework about transition, not change. By writing about resilience I realized that this model acknowledges that

  • transition is permanently ongoing
  • transition happens almost „organically“

Many other models desperately try to manage, carry out and „close“ change as if it were the sum of ongoing projects. This model does not try to manage anything. It tries to understand transition.

3 Zones or phases

Bridges explains transition by 3 zones or phases:

  1. The zone of ending, losing, letting go.
  2. The neutral zone.
  3. The zone of the new beginning.

The border lines between the zones are not calculated “milestones”. They are “lines”. Nothing more. They could be at any other place in this graphic. Where they are is not important. It is very important that they’re there. They underline more the ongoing and organic character of transition, than any traditional model on change (management) ever would or could.

The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges
The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges

What are these zones standing for ?

1. Ending, losing, letting go

Changes includes losses. These losses can be about: (1) comfort and security, (2) familiar people and environment, (3) networks and resources, (4) expected outcomes, (5) power, influence and territory and (6) expertise.
How do you deal with losses ?

  • Don‘t be surprised when there’s overreaction.
  • Acknowledge the losses openly.
  • Define what is over and what is not.
  • Treat the past with respect.
  • Let people take a piece of the old way with them.
  • Accept the reality and importance of subjective losses
  • Listen with empathy.

2. The neutral zone

The neutral zone is a time when all old certainties break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore. Anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different. The „old“ is gone and the „new“ is not here yet.
There are some dangers in this neutral zone:

  • People‘s anxiety rises and their motivation falls.
  • People miss more work than at other times.
  • Old weaknesses, previously patched over, rise again.
  • People are overloaded. They get mixed signals.
  • Systems are in flux. Priorities get confused. Information is badly communicated. Important tasks are not done.
  • People might become polarized. Some want to rush forward and others want to go backward.

How to manage the neutral zone ?
Normalize the neutral zone. Create temporary systems for the neutral zone. Strengthen intra-group connections. „We are all in this boat together.“  You can install  a monitoring team to offer a point of access to the organization‘s grapevine. This team can also correct misinformation and counter rumours. It should enable bottom-up communication and show the organization wants to know how things are going for people. Finally, the team needs to check plans or communications before their announcement.
You should use the neutral zone as creatively as possible.

3. The new beginning 

A new beginning will take place only after people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way. People want beginnings but fear them at the same time. You cannot force new beginnings according to your personal wishes. You can only encourage, support and reinforce them.
People need 4 P‘s to make a new beginning:

  • Purpose
  • Picture
  • Plan
  • Part to play

This nice movie summarizes it once more.

A big Mouth full of Passion


Big Mouth

So big mouth, I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror shaving that morning more than a year ago. I was about to face the workforce of the plant where I worked as a plant manager and tell them that the owner (a large corporate) was about to announce that they intended to stop operations at the plant. Now is the time to put into practice all the stuff on leadership you have been reading and preaching about,  I thought.
At the outset let me say the inspiration for this article comes from what the +200 people of the factory taught me in this process of change. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to embark on this journey with them, to them all the kudos.
Now more than a year later I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learned along the way:

  • Optimism

    In many articles and texts on leadership you read that a leader needs to be optimistic and almost at all cost. I have to, not disagree as such but add some perspective or a dimension of reality as it were. I think a leader has to believe in the vision. And he needs to believe in what needs to be done to get there. And he needs to have a clear path to achieving that vision. In so doing he or she creates a belief that what the change is doable, possible. These are qualities that are essential if an organisation is to make headway.

     Lesson learned: Don’t confuse this with mindless optimism.

  • Honesty

    The announcement fell like a thunderbolt as it was totally unexpected given the track record of the plant performance. Almost immediately I realised that people raised their heads and put their shoulders back and took on a mantle of “we are not simply going to accept this – we are going to fight for our right to survive”. In our past and future journeys we need to overcome many obstacles and challenges. Tell the truth and be open. Reality can be worked through and taken on.

    Lesson learned: People are much tougher and resilient than we give them credit for. Facts are so much less damaging than rumors.

  • Plans change

    There isn’t just a plan A and a plan B. There are multiple versions of a plan. It surprises me that the alphabet only has 26 letters, as it simply isn’t enough in trying to manage all the versions and extrapolations of the plans made. You have to be agile and responsive. Having a plan cast in stone while the circumstances around you are ever-changing and fluid just isn’t going to help.

    Lesson learned: It takes courage to acknowledge and tell everyone that the plan is no longer working or relevant. It’s a bit like addressing a bad decision. These are the moments of reflection when the “no confidence” risk is highest. So prepare well and make sure you have critical support from influencers and key stakeholders.

  • Uncertainty

    With the announcement of potential cessation came a flood of uncertainty and the rumour mill started. Everyone knew someone who knew something or had an opinion. Whether you consider yourself a manager or a leader this is a mission critical phase. You have to actively manage expectations. Fact is that with a successful carve-out of the plant from a corporate to a new owner the uncertainty doesn’t stop. It just moves you from one uncertain situation to another. And I believe this is true of most business today. Every minute, day, week you have to think what if and what next!

    Lesson learned: It’s business people, you move from uncertainty to uncertainty. The key is managing expectation and keeping the communication fluid and relevant. Talk the game on the shop-floor – a notice in an email box or on the notice board is nothing more than information.

  • Unexpected champions

    At this time of change you need all the irons you can muster in the fire. You should not rely only on the dependable, reliable and predictable team members that you traditionally have used. A change and uncertainty on the scale of this needs something more.

    Lesson learned: Look for the quietest person in the room, harness the platform of the outspoken and give the loose cannon something to shoot at. Don’t exclude anyone of these stakeholders, they are invaluable in helping you move the crowd along.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

    At a time of such dramatic change and uncertainty with the rumour mill working overtime you have no option but to up the ante and spend time talking, re-talking, emphasising and gathering feedback, opinions and ideas. And don’t rely on the formal organization and hierarchy. Every time you revert to this channel you effectively install a filter in both directions.

    Lesson learned: If it’s written it’s information and not communication. And there is no substitute for looking a person in the eye and getting a nod of understanding to keep you going.
    And the last lesson learned: You can’t falter….as a leader be prepared to feel lonely.


If you can’t do it with passion you can’t do it at all. You cannot get others to believe if you don’t believe it yourself. That is why the vision has to be clear and consistently and constantly communicated. Otherwise the mission itself won’t be clear. And if the vision itself has no integrity best to let it go. For the record, I want to categorically say that chasing of the money as the goal has no integrity about it.
It’s now more than a year after the announcement and just under six months since the new investor placed their confidence in our team. Unlike most corporate carve-outs this is more like a new start as the business has had to develop new products for new markets in a very short time period. We certainly are by no means out of the woods and there is still an immense amount of work to get through. I remain confident that we have the wherewithal to achieve what most have thought to be nigh on impossible. Why, you might ask? There is no simple answer to that. I have to believe it is because the purpose is common, the goal noble and the pride in endeavor sincere. For me personally it’s about making sure that the +200 people I’m blessed to work with get the best chance to secure a future for themselves and their families. Our value mission is:

  • SATISFIED employees working in
  • COLLABORATION with suppliers & service providers to
  • DELIGHT our customers while
  • ENGAGING with our community and providing
  • ATTRACTIVE returns to our shareholders

Energy Shortage?


In Belgium, a possible local shortage of electricity (an organized “black-out”) is menacing many companies, individuals and families, spread over 6 areas in the country. Because of this news, all actors have become fully aware of the risk of running out of light, electricity and even some basic infrastructure. The temporary closing of two nuclear power plants, suddenly made the people aware of their dependency of electricity and gas. Awareness is the first and necessary step for starting an effective change process.
Now consider this question: How do you prepare yourself for such an energy black-out?

  1. Personally: You gather relevant information. You foresee some nice candles and blankets in the house. You’re turning off some devices to save energy, … .
  2. The people around you: You inform your family. You share some best practices with your neighbours. You talk about the upcoming problem with your friends (maybe they can give you some advice too).
  3. “The house” : You consider structural measures to improve your energy consumption. You need to ask some questions. Is my house energy-proof? What are the alternatives? How can I gain some sustainable energy instead of wasting it? You can ask for a temporary energy advisor/coach who coaches you.
solar panels
(C) Franky242 on freedigitalphotos.net

Personal and Company Energy Level

Now back to business: What about your personal energy level? Do you feel still comfortable?  Are there enough provisions to go through the next reorganization within your company? And what about the general energy level of your colleagues? Are they aware? Are they pro-actively taking actions?
What can we as (HR) business professionals learn from the above phenomenon? Just consider the same question: what do you do to prepare yourself for not falling out of energy?

  1. Personally. You are individually responsible for driving your career. Sometimes you go fast and you’re using plenty of fuel. Sometimes you slow down a bit. Compare your long-term employability to the weather seasons. They also come in cycles. Your career goes from spring to summer, and from autumn to winter. And then spring starts again. Each season requires a different energy level. In what season is your career now?
  1. The people around you: As HR professional, you help to increase the skills and development of the mindset of the leaders in your company to become real people managers. They are the (energy) coach of their team. They should be aware of the long term employability of their team members. Leaders who are investing in the professional and personal development of their employees, are taking care of the structural energy level of them. They focus on the strengths of their people and are succeeding in discovering the unfold potential.
  1. “The house”: In order to anchor the structural energy level of the whole company, HR should also contribute to design “an energy-saving company structure” (just like the construction of a passive house). The result should be a sustainable collaboration culture, that is adaptable to multiple changes (both inside as externally driven). This means that organization structures should be sufficiently flexible. It also means that we don’t depend on function descriptions but mostly act based on roles and projects rather than on departments. And most of all, it means that there is trust within the company.

energy scale
How does your company rate on this energy scale?

Each house in Belgium that is for rent or sale on the real estate market must have an energy performance certificate.
How does your company should score on such a scale? Think about it. And manage your energy.

Resilience, the ultimate mindset for change ?

Resilience is relatively new in the change management – vocabulary.
Kurt Lewin has developed a traditional model for explaining change. His model is known as “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze”. It explains the three stages of any change process.
Lewin uses the metaphor of an ice block. If you have a large cube of ice but want a cone,  what do you do? First you melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you solidify the new shape (refreeze).

Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin's model (resilience)
Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin’s model (resilience)

  • In “unfreeze” you will feel loss, regret or grief.
  • “Change ” is an in-between time. You will feel uncertainty, confusion, and questioning. You are out of your comfort zone. You can’t see a path forward.
  • In “refreeze” you move into a new beginning. It’ a time of energy and excitement. Here the future becomes clearer.

Continuous change.

Today, there is no  “refreeze” anymore. We are continuously in the middle phase. The change phase.
Or you could say these 3 phases continuously repeat themselves very quickly. You can hardly see any cubes or cones in these cycles. The only constant is change.

Managing continuous change ?

Can continuous change be managed ?
A lot of leaders try to do so.
They develop change overviews. They spread change over consecutive quarters of the business year. Green, orange and red indicate how concrete changes on the field are corresponding to the change goals.
They appoint a project leader, responsible for implementing the change. The project leader sets up a change team. The change team does all that needs to done. Or it makes sure other people will. The team wants to guarantee that the change gets implemented.
Of course there’s also the “human” side of change. People will not always like or agree when leaders declare that the change is done. People need to be listened to, given attention and coached. Certainly when change becomes very tough on the emotional side.
I’m convinced that all these initiatives are necessary. I’m also convinced they approach change as something that will “stop” someday, after the project ends. At that moment a “new” period of rest and stability will start. Someday the last topic on the change overview will indeed turn into green. The change project will formally be declared “completed”. The day after however, a new change will present itself.
You need more than just some management models, to keep on doing this. Every human has his/her limits.
You need resilience. You need resilience. But what is resilience ?


Resilience allows you to return to the original state. It’s about you, not the organisation. After being stretched, compressed or bent. Resilience allows you to recover from adversity. Developing resilience is highly desirable in today’s world.
In his book Resilience “Managing at the speed of change”, Daryl R. Conner outlines five characteristics of resilient people. They are positive, focused, flexible, organized, proactive.

    • Positive

      Resilient people are optimistic and self-assured. They perceive life as complex but filled with opportunities. Optimists believe defeat is temporary. Its causes are not their fault, but rather due to unfortunate circumstances. Pessimists believe defeat will last for a long time. They blame someone, including themselves.

    • Focused

      Focus means having a clear vision of what you want to do. Focused people write down their goals and describe obstacles. They focus on the strategies they will use to find solutions for problems.

    • Flexible

      Flexible people are adaptable to uncertainty. They name their fears when facing new and intimidating situations.

    • Organized

      Organized people approach ambiguity in a structured way. They creatively plan, carefully set priorities and engage in deliberate action steps.

    • Proactive

      Being proactive means you engage change and not defend against it. Proactive people take the offense and not the defense. They take calculated risks. They apply lessons learned from experiences, to similar challenges facing them.

Developing resilience

Years of research into the nature of resilience have created a solid understanding of it. And how it develops. To develop your resilience, here are some key qualities to develop. (Inspired by Al Siebert)

  • A playful curiosity. Ask lots of questions. Play with new developments. Wonder about things, experiment, make mistakes, get hurt, laugh. “What is different now ? What if I did this ?”
  • Constantly learning from experience: assimilate quickly new or unexpected experiences. Facilitate being changed by them. “What is the lesson here ? What early clues did I ignore ? The next time that happens I will…”
  • Quick Adaptation. Be mentally and emotionally very flexible. Be comfortable with contradictory personal qualities. Be strong and gentle, sensitive and tough, logical and intuitive. Be calm and emotional, serious and playful, and so forth. The more the better.
  • A Solid self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. It determines how much you learn after something goes wrong. It allows you to receive praise and compliments. It acts as a buffer against hurtful statements. While being receptive to constructive criticism. “I like, appreciate, and love myself.”
  • Good friendships and loving relationships. People are more stress resistant and are less likely to get sick when they have a loving family and good friendships. Loners are more vulnerable to distressing conditions. Talking with friends and family diminishes the impact of difficulties and increases feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.
  • Honest expression of feelings and emotions . Express anger, love, dislike, appreciation, grief, etc… Do it honestly and openly.
  • High tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Being able to work without a job description, is a good role model of professionalism. Bring stability to crises and chaos. “How can I interact with this so that things turn out well for all of us ?”
  • Empathic reading of others. See things through the perspectives of others, even antagonists. Win/win/win attitude in conflicts. “What do others think and feel ? What is it like to be them ? How do they experience me ? What is legitimate about what they feel, say, and do ?”
  • Use intuition. Accept intuition as a valid, useful source of information. “What is my body telling me ? Did that daydream mean anything ? Why don’t I believe what I’m being told ? What if I did this ?”
  • Have a talent for serendipity. Learning lessons in the school of life is the antidote to feeling victimized. Convert emotionally toxic situations into emotionally nutritious. Convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity.

“I would never choose to go through anything like that again, but it was the one of best things that ever happened to me.”

When you can imagine this quote coming from you, you are probably developing your own resilience very well.

Being resilient

You need more than resilience to get the change done. Resilience needs some management skills as well. There is nothing wrong with that. Continuous change will make you aware that managing it is key during your career. Resilience will  make you successful in it. Without getting desperate, without negativity. Resilience will help to avoid this trap.

Vision is what you need. Not eyes.



I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.

“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”

A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.

A guided Tour through Algiers

My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said  the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that  there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of  the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.

  • How does a manager realize change?
  • How about the sense of time?
  • How do manager and team relate to each other?

1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria

“We can only dream about modern management”

“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”

Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.

  • Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
  • You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.

It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.

This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.

Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.

Let’s be honest.  I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.

2. Approach to Time

“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”

Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.

Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.

3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?

“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”

Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.

Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.

Change as compromise.

Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well.  Do we not accept compromise against better judgement?  Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.

How are we doing in Europe ?

I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.

HR strategy: Control + Alt + HR function ?

snale - HR Strategy

HR strategy, the discussion.

I’ve been in HR now for more than 15 years. In all these years the “strategic” role of HR has not been out of the debate.
Through the years I’ve noticed that this strategic role is complex and intangible. I will not try to define and describe the word strategic in this blog. You could check other literature for that. I am looking for what defines the strategic role. And I would like to answer the question how HR could become more strategic in the future.  I am aware it’s not perceived as strategic today.

The management team

There’s a perception that being a part of the management team is the most important indicator for the strategic nature of an HR manager. Only when you’re on the team, you are strategic.
But this is nothing more than a perception. I’ve known HR managers who are member of that team but who were not strategic at all and vice versa. So it’s not that. So it’s not team membership. Could the strategic role depend on the person?

The person

If an HR manager is not perceived as being strategic, surely it’s due to his or her own behaviour. There is one key question. Does the HR Manager have enough power to influence the strategic decision-making ?
Being able to influence is always an advantage. Sometimes it might be necessary. But it’s absurd to limit the strategic power of the HR function to the personal impact of the HR Manager.
So it’s not team membership or the HR Manager’s behaviour. What then is the determining factor for  HR to become strategic?

The functions and roles

Dave Ulrich has introduced one of the most influential models in HR. He clearly described 4 roles for HR. HR was to become next to the administrative expert also a champion for the employees, a change agent, and a strategic partner.

The 4 HR roles, inclusive the HR strategy role.
Dave Ulrich’s model of HR

This offered a framework that helped HR departments to develop into what they are  now. Various people fulfill the different roles within the department. Those people need to collaborate with one another and with the internal client.
The focus on the internal client cleared the way for the HR business partner. This is a generalist who functions as a single point of contact for the internal clients. This function also integrates a change driving and strategic dimension.
So here we were and are.
HR finally became a full function, covering the four roles. And the people in  HR departments started integrating the strategic dimension in their roles. The strategic HR role was born.
Was it ?
If all of this were true, why hasn’t the discussion about the strategic role of HR not stopped? Why have certain HR functions dramatically felt the crisis? Why have they been hit by serious cost cutting? Why was HR unable to turn the continuous “noise” about its HR strategy into satisfaction ?
Could it be that we have forgotten the people?

The people

Employees and their managers do not benefit a lot from the fact that the HR function is strategically positioned. That’s because there’s a long way between the definition of a strategy and the experience in the field.
Suppose your manager:

  • is a member of the management team.
  • supports and communicates the HR decisions to the own department.
  • is actively participating in the HR decision-making process.
  • has the active support of an HR business partner.

Then chances are that

  • the implementation of the HR strategy will go ahead smoothly
  • you will effectively feel “something” of what the HR strategy is all about.

But even then. Interpretations, convictions, emotions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities between the business and HR could spoil the party.
Should we conclude that an HR department can be as strategic as it wants, but that at the end of the day it’s the people who mess up ?
Absolutely not.
If people perceive the collaboration between HR and their department negatively, there is a problem. People do not experience the  HR strategy as intended. In that case HR has seriously messed up.
HR and the company face a huge challenge here. An HR strategy can only be successful if there’s a good collaboration between HR and the line managers. And I’d take it a step further. The line manager should become the real owner and executor of the HR strategy in his/her department. The HR business partner can give support and not drive the HR agenda. It’s about coaching business people towards HR (strategic) decisions. The HRBP should not take this decision him/herself.

The people processes

So the line manager is responsible for HR. And the HR business partner has a supporting and coaching role. We cannot expect our line manager to set up a “mini HR team”. That would not work. That would only lead to ineffective fragmentation of the HR function.
But line managers manage a lot of processes. So they can also manage HR-processes if they’re supported by experts and coaches. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Outflow of weak performers
  • People Development
  • Team building

Let me introduce a new process the business could perfectly drive: the HR strategy process.

Control + Alt + HR function

HR Strategy is about the continuous improvement of people processes. It’s driven by the business. HR is no longer a function. It’s a process, driven by the business.
How do we have to understand these processes?
Some examples. Improvement of:

  • Hiring. How and where to attract our future talents ? Business people  know the market better than HR people.
  • Talent acquisition and development processes. Which competencies will we need within 5 to 10 years? Business people  know the future needs of the customers better than HR people.
  • Industrial relations. How can we convince the unions better than by telling them how the business is working ?
  • Internal communication. How can we integrate social media in the existing employee communication platforms?
  • Retention. How can we use the output of exit interviews more appropriately?
  • Team building and collaboration. How can we better deal with conflicts in our teams?
  • Leadership development. How will our own leadership have to evolve if we want to stay successful ?

Imagine managers becoming responsible for driving and managing these people processes. They are not only responsible for driving existing people processes but also for co-creating new ones. Of course, they are supported by colleagues and HR.
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 20.13.24
I think these managers will be much more willing and able to:

  • see the HR strategy as their HR strategy
  • make it much more concrete for their people.
  • transform employee’s negative perceptions about HR into transparent understanding of it.

That is the real meaning of strategic HR.
Read also:

Change Uncovered – embrace the informal organisation

The capability to change

Permanent change is like daily food:  you simply can’t do without it. But there’s a difference. Food you just have to eat. But we need to manage change, don’t  we ?
No. This is not one of the so many blogs on change management, I wouldn’t dare…  But I dare to state that our managers have – kind of – “had” it with change. And certainly with their objectives to manage it.

But then what ? We can’t just “hope” or “trust” things will turn all right, can we ? Surely not. A lot of managers are “control freaks” by nature.  (That’s maybe why they became managers in the first place ?) So, also change will be managed, controlled, followed up, fine tuned, coordinated, visualised, and last but not least “measured”… as if it were like any other kind of target to achieve.
And that is where it goes wrong. That’s why we’ve had it with change. In most cases it’s not necessarily the change itself that is bothering us. It is our own incapability of dealing with it.
Double change
If managing the way we all know it is not the way to do it, then what is ? Is this the moment for bringing in some other old concepts like dealing with complexity, letting go, coach the organisation through change rather than manage the change, etc… ?
I don’t know.
But a clear observation I’ve made several times is that managers wishing to realise their change objectives, often start from the perspective of the actual team,  systems, processes, boards, measurements, structures and organisation. We seem to think or believe that our actual – call it – “working world” is capable of realising change, making use of it’s actual ways of working. We seem to forget that our actual working world, while trying to do its very best to realise change projects, is going through change itself as well.
So we have to manage two changes ? The change project that is on our plate and the change the team, systems, processes, boards, measurements, structures and organization are going through themselves  ? Can we have a break please ?
Yes we can.
Chaos Lovers
And how? By just letting go. He or she who is not capable of letting go and of tempering the control freak inside of him or her will get seriously stuck sooner or later. Things have simply become too complicated. We are kindly invited to become chaos lovers.

Manhole by Maurizio Catalan

But chaos does not mean chaos. It means that we need to find a way between controlling the progress made – the old way – and supporting the progress to be made, in new ways. It means understanding and allowing things “to happen”. This includes things that from a purely rational perspective shouldn’t even have to happen to realise a target. But they happen anyway because people are allowed to make them happen, because they want to and most important because they see that – at that moment – it is the only way to get things done quickly. Following the normal way being too complicated because not yet adapted to the change their world is going through.
Formal vs informal
This is a typical moment where the formal versus informal organization are being introduced. You can compare a more organic view of organisation to the jazz orchestra. But it’s not realistic to expect people not tow worry about the change project. Or to assume that spontaneous collaboration, generated in an organic way, will do the job where we as managers fail, just because people are truly motivated. Period.
Spontaneous collaboration won’t do the change job, certainly not alone on itself, but it can make the difference, if embraced.
Embrace spontaneous collaboration
And here is one more challenge. What are ways to embrace the informal organization, to embrace the fact that it can get things done where the formal one is getting stuck, certainly when it comes to realizing change ?
Of course we can design the informal organisation and compare it with the formal one (although that can be confronting for certain people, e.g. in a management team). But when it comes to its actual, concrete performance in the realisation of a change project, it is not so easy to – here we go – “measure” that, is it ?
Everybody will know and perhaps talk about it. Very few people will add “informal contacts that may come up with something” as stakeholder to the project. Very helpful but politically a little bit delicate ? Nobody likes to see the formal organogram getting passed by. It’s difficult to acknowledge t that precisely that dynamic has made the change a success.
Unless…. we allow the formal world to truly embrace the informal one and visa versa, and let them collaborate, rather than going undercover for each other.
Let that be the key suggestion of this blog. And of course embracing non rational things is more a matter of our heart than our head.

“I can feel the discomfort in your seat and in your head it’s worse. There’s a pain, a famine in your heart. An aching to be free”
Depeche Mode, 1990, Violator, Halo

Both, head and heart should feel comfortable in allowing each other to do their jobs. Only then, managers can become successful, happy and freed performers (in change management) again !
I wish you a grand 2014, full of changes and letting go 😉