Change: you do it together and it starts in your head!

In the past I was general manager at KPN Netherlands. During this period we worked together with 220 people in a region and we sold all telco services. Our region performed well under our slogan: “ we make it together” but still I had the impression that we could do a lot better. The reason this didn’t happen, had to do with the way we worked together. Traditional and in most cases top down.

I always wondered how it was possible that so many people just did what they had to do. Afterall in private we take big decisions of which we sometimes can not even clearly see the consequences. (e.g. we buy a house based on our present day’s income or we choose an education together with our children not knowing if there will be a job in the future or after work we are passionate chairmen of sportsclubs with all its responsabilities). In cases like this we deliberately take risks and we look a lot further than we normally do during our job.

Realizing that, we decided to hold a workshop in which some themes were central (very satisfied customers, very satisfied employees and very satisfied financiers). One of the parts of this workshop was that we asked all 220 people to bring 1 idea of which she/he found that it should be implemented to make our region even better than it was. Lots of ideas were brought in, ranging from changing the funiture to changing labour times. From all those ideas we chose the 10 most mentioned.
What the 220 people did not know was that I had decided to make them projectmanager themselves and that they would be reponsible for the results of their project. I did tell them that after we had chosen the 10 projects. Of course the audience was shocked because with this decision the normal way of working was disturbed. Suddenly I appointed to a mechanic to de the person responsible for the oranisational change or a secretary. All felt very uneasy.
This changed as I informed everyone of the 2 rules in which errors could be made. The rules were simple:

If the projects went well, the project managers had done well and if the projects went wrong I had not properly supervised.

At the beginning of each month I would send all 220 people the status on the progress of projects; Project managers had to ensure the input and I would write the following in the absence of input: “had no input”; “status unknown”.
In this way our slogan “we make it together” got a new and much deeper impulse. Nobody wanted “status unknown” because then, collegues would start to ask all kinds of questions like how did it go and whether they could help etc. Our region scored higher than ever across the board.

The 10 projectmanagers inspired lots of collegues to think and act over the borders of their job discription. The freedom to do so had always been there but we, the management, had failed to make that clear. Our approach not only changed something for the employees but also for our style of management. This style became one of trust and togetherness. The fact that you like your own management style is all right, but it means nothing. Only if employees, customers and stakeholders also think you are doing a good management job and the results are good, you do just right.

Change: you do it together and it starts in your head.
André Meijer