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“The success of any organizational initiative depends on those who must implement it.”

Ivan Rosenberg is an experienced management consultant and change agent, who for more than 20 years has coached myriad organizations to breakthrough performance. His engagements include broad organizational culture changes in support of corporate restructuring, as well as individual executive coaching.

Frontier Associates is a management consulting and organizational coaching firm that works with clients to produce breakthroughs in performance.

Frontier Associates

BusinessInterviews.com: When it comes to facilitating change within organizations your approach is not based on providing extensive analysis or giving business advice. Can you explain why it’s important to implement processes that are supportive and leave organizational members with a sense of empowerment?

Ivan: The success of any organizational initiative depends on those who must implement it. Anyone works best when they are working on what they want to work on, rather than something they were told to work on (this is particularly true for the GenX and Millennial generations). Thus, part of the job of a leader is to have the people want to work on what the organization needs them to work on. Another way of saying this is that the workforce “owns” the initiative, which includes having some say, you might say they are empowered, in the decisions.

Today’s world is changing so quickly that you need on-the-ground quick response innovation. My experience is that, in general, the workforce does know best about how to improve things, particularly at the tactical and operational level. They just need to be empowered to suggest and implement those improvements.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some ways that you help produce organizational performance breakthroughs when people are often anxious and resistant to change?

Ivan: A breakthrough is something that, before it is accomplished, is seen as likely “impossible”. It occurs as impossible because accomplishing it requires thinking that violates commonly accepted or personal “truths”, often referred to as “thinking out of the box”. The walls of our box are our truths. Thus, analysis (which occurs inside the box) is unlikely to produce breakthroughs. For most of us, thinking outside our box is uncomfortable and produces anxiety.

Despite frequent attribution of failures to “resistance to change”, that is hardly ever the real cause. The word “change” is often heard as “there is something wrong with you or what you are doing that needs to be fixed”. The resistance is not to something being different, it is to that invalidation.

In our process to produce breakthroughs there is no attempt to arrive at an understanding, evaluation, or agreement on the present or on people’s beliefs – it wouldn’t do any good in producing the breakthrough anyhow. People are allowed to fully express their views and be heard without challenge. Thus no resistance to change is generated. In fact, this process has them be ready to think out of the box. The walls of the box are interpretations that are seen as obvious facts, such as “That was a bad movie.” We ask questions that has them see the difference between a fact (which is observable and everyone agrees on) and their interpretations (their assessment of something). When they see their own interpretations as interpretations, not facts, then they are freed to think “outside the box” and produce breakthroughs.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some of the most common causes of teams not working well together and how can this issue be rectified or avoided altogether?

Ivan: A fundamental cause of poor teams is the lack of understanding exactly what a team is and is not. Not all groups working on a common project are, or should be, teams. Based on the classic work of Katzenbach and Smith reported in The Wisdom of Teams, there are four fundamental attributes of a real team: a well-defined group with a common commitment and common work-product for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. If a group lacks any one of those they are not a team.

There is a similar operational definition for a “high performance team”.

Using this definition, our clients are able to create the four elements of effective teams in 2 days or less, as evidenced in part by the success of the space missions on which we have worked.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some emerging trends that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?

Ivan: There are two big trends in business today that people should be paying attention to.
One is the realization that incremental improvements are not sufficient for long term success. In almost every area, the winners are and will be those who continually redefine the game for everyone else, such as Amazon did for book buying and continues to do for retail, Dell did for computer sales, and Apple did for personal computing. Note that as soon as such companies stop innovating, they fall behind.

The other trend is the recognition of the importance of managerial people skills, the “soft skills”, relative to functional skills, e.g., being a good engineer or salesperson, in the selection of organizational management. Because innovation is so important, and innovation comes from the creativity and ownership by the workforce, people management skills have become much more important to success.

One of the techniques we have used to help our clients deal with these trends is to teach them how to plan from the future backwards to the present, rather from the present forwards. This process frees them from the constraints of present circumstances and allows the planners to see possibilities they wouldn’t have otherwise seen, as well as having the workforce own that new future.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share some tips or advice when it comes to dealing with multiple generations in the workplace?

Ivan: A fundamental tip is to understand that the differences between the generations is as big as those between people brought up in different countries. When we think of generations other than our own, we think “when they grow up they will think just as I do now”. But that is not true. The generations have fundamentally different, and sometimes opposing, views of the world that will stay with them throughout their life.

The worldview of each generation has its own unique strengths. For example, GenX’rs are typically risk takers, where other generations might be much more conservative. The effective manager is able to meld these different points of view to have the group accomplish something that no one individual could do on their own.

Managers are often taught about generations as lists of characteristics. Unfortunately, hardly anyone can remember the lists. If you are trying to remember the list when interacting with someone, then you are not present to what is going on now, and are therefore less effective. Lists tend to pigeonhole people, but no one really matches the set of generational characteristics exactly.

There are only four distinct types of generations, which cycle over an 80-100 year span. About 5 years ago we developed a single phrase for each type of generation that represents the filter through which they view the world. For example, the Millennial filter is “Let’s change the world together.” If a manager remembers those four phrases, and remembers that they themselves are viewing the world through their own generational filter, then they have a good basis for effectively dealing with multiple generations in the workplace.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you expand on your recent experience supporting the Aerospace and Defense industry and the impact his has on the direction of your company?

Ivan: The A&D industry is going through a number of major challenges. Those in defense are dealing with the impact of a much smaller defense budget and the consequent lack of new major programs. Those in commercial aircraft are dealing with capacity constraints as the production volume of the major manufacturers dramatically rises.

For everyone there are huge pressures to lower prices, and thus costs, sometimes as much as 15% below their “best price” in one year. Added to this, are the new challenges of the globalization of customers, suppliers, and competition. Despite these circumstances, suppliers must continue to maintain an extraordinary high level of quality (because people’s lives depend on it) and on-time delivery, because in the drive to reduce costs, there are few buffers left in the supply chain.
To minimize cost and weight, how a part is manufactured should ideally influence the design. Thus, customers are increasing outsourcing engineering design along with fabrication, where before they did the engineering themselves, provided a blueprint to fabricators, and chose the one with the best price. With the outsourcing of design, suppliers have to develop skills in new areas, such as engineering and subassembly, which require a culture change. The customer-supplier relationship also has to change from subcontractor to partner.

Our company focuses on helping our clients successfully deal with these challenges of building partnerships, creating the new organizational cultures and management skills required by lean manufacturing and new competencies, and producing the breakthroughs required to meet the price demands.

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