“Honey, do I look fat in this dress?” That is a question any wise man approaches carefully – very carefully. It is prescient when it comes to change management. Why? Well, we all say we prize honesty but upon closer examination there is a desire to get by which comes in direct conflict with the need to be honest.
Everyone loves to clean house and get rid of the bad guy(s) and girl(s). After the euphoria the sweeping out creates dies down something surprising happens. It is the fear created by the need for those remaining to be honest in a piercing manner. Why is that?
As mentioned in previous blogs, having the bad guy around supports the creation of bad habits. For example, there is the opportunity to fudge billable time and expenses. A while back there was the infamous $500 coffee pot charged to the U.S. Air Force. (I got to talk with one of the lead accountants on that issue and it turns out dishonesty wasn’t present but let’s assume for this blog it was a blatant rip off.) In the every day world of projects how can that occur? All that is needed is a leader out to get as much money as possible and will gouge the client to the extent the client is blind, naive or both. When an engineer has worked under such a person for a long enough period of time it becomes easy to get sloppy and gradually expand what “honesty means right along with “cheating.”
Sociologically, it is well established that we all like to leave ourselves some space, some wiggle room. Let’s say 15 minutes a day of billable time. So, if we only charge for 15 non-productive minutes we can claim we are honest. After a while under a disreputable boss that 15 minutes becomes an hour. The process continues until all hell breaks loose and then all sorts of time is charged simply because we can do it. So what happens when you clean house?
For the housecleaning to be complete there is a need to return to honesty. This is the point at which panic sets in. If your situation is typical a flood of requests start coming in to explain exactly what you mean when you say, “In order to bill for one hour you have to do one hour’s worth of work.” All sorts of lawyering begins. It is accompanied by confusion and more than a slight degree of hysteria. Remember, people have been let go for not being honest. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I next?” (For what it is worth, I am championed for bringing the light of day and a breath of fresh air to the organization when getting rid of the bad guy. That quickly turns to pitchforks, tar, and feathers once the issue of accountability is brought to the masses.) What to do? Answer: State the obvious.
“The only way out of the mess you are in is through frank discussions as to what it means to bill an hour of time. This isn’t free-floating. It needs to reference a sound business case.
In other words, know what will work in your industry. Find standards that are reliable. Then add that to a solid business case. Determine what “serving the customer” means in terms of billable hours, expenses, and productivity. By all means, stay away from witch-hunts. Tell the troops you will be out of business if the sloppiness continues. The best way to keep one’s job is to work to acceptable standards. Have them participate in the defining of standards as it applies to their discipline, keeping in mind that who ever is responsible for the business case will have the final say.
What this all amounts to is a focus on emotional honesty rather than a Salem witch trial. When done in a respectful tone those who want to work and feel significant appreciate it. As to the others…well…the human resource changes must continue. The challenges will continue and people will wonder if the housekeeping was worth it. In the long run, though, there will be an appreciation of getting back on track and billing one hour for an hour’s worth of work.
—Through his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter at @garymonti