Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms

Navigating Business Transformation with Lisa Carlin

December 06, 2023 Kyle Roed, The HR Guy Season 4 Episode 182
Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms
Navigating Business Transformation with Lisa Carlin
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Are you ready for a turbocharge? Unleash the power of transformation in a captivating conversation with Lisa Carlin, the co-founder and director of Future Builders Group. Lisa unveils her compelling journey from a mainframe coder to a transformative figure in project management. She reveals why the human element can often be the game-changer in project outcomes and why even the best-laid plans for digital transformation can go astray.

Can you guess the secret sauce for successful business transformations? Hint: it starts with C and ends with e. That's right, it's Culture! We unravel the pivotal role of culture and the importance of incorporating people, process, business, and organization into project management. Our membership community, Turbo Charge Your Transformation, masterfully intertwines these aspects to create a robust framework for success. Imagine the power a cross-functional working group can wield if they're engaged right from the start of a project. Intriguing, right? 

Finally, we touch upon the flywheel effect and its profound impact on return on investment and innovation. We delve into the art of tailoring the pace of change to the organization's culture, creating a win-win-win scenario for organizations, individuals, and projects. Sounds like a dream come true? Well, it is! We conclude with a conversation about the power of collaboration and teamwork, and the importance of pausing to celebrate success. Lisa's invaluable insights are not to be missed! So tune in, and let's turbocharge your transformation journey!

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Speaker 1:

This is the Rebel HR Podcast, the podcast about all things innovation in the people's space. I'm Kyle Rode. Let's start the show. Welcome back Rebel HR listeners. We are extremely excited for the guest this week with us. We have Lisa Carlin. She is the co-founder and director of Future Builders Group. Welcome to the podcast, lisa.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, kyle, I'm really excited to talk to you today, all the way from Sydney, australia.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for taking the time in your day at probably a little bit of an inopportune time we both had to modify schedules just because we're so far apart in time zones but I think, from my standpoint, well worth the exercise. To talk a little bit about the topic today which we're going to be talking about how to turbocharge transformation. So I'd like to maybe start off with the first question what got you interested in looking at how to do transformation correctly?

Speaker 2:

Well, I started with a fairly securitist route Kyle because actually my first job was doing coding behind a mainframe COBOL computer screen at Accenture, all the way in South Africa, which is where I grew up. And then I realized that a lot of the reason why the systems weren't actually implemented well or people didn't adopt them properly is because there wasn't really any attention paid to making people comfortable with those systems. So I became really interested in the behavioral side of the workplace and then I landed up moving to the US and working for McKinsey. And a lot of the work we did I'll cut a long story short, a lot of the work. So I landed up in the US, a lot of the work we did was strategy work and we would give these beautiful reports that are beautifully written to the clients and then I had the sinking feeling like often they just didn't know what to do with them or how to actually turn them into a reality, and so again it was the people side that made the difference. So, long story short, I moved to Australia and since 1999, what I've been doing I worked for a short while for a culture change organization, which was fantastic, and then I put it all together in 1999 to look at a multidisciplinary approach that takes into account all disciplines, so the business, commercial aspect, the systems aspect, the people aspect and, very importantly as well, the project management aspect. To get the traction.

Speaker 2:

And I was doing a whole lot of these transformation projects and I looked around a few years ago and realized I've plucked up over 50 of them with a 96% success rate. So only two of them had failed. And I keep reading out there that the failure rates are really high. So you can argue well, what does it mean to fail in a project? But essentially, harvard Business Review reported last year 77% failure. Mckinsey reports 70% failure on their site. These are all those sorts of projects, kyle, where you're doing transformation or systems change or projects or strategy execution, call it whatever you like, and that's unacceptable. It's unacceptable that at this day and age, with all the tools that we have and all the knowledge that we have and all the change management and project management, where people throw at this stuff, I actually think that's crazy.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's crazy and it sounds. It's a little bit depressing because I think the reality is that we've got such high hopes for these digital transformations and I've been a part of a number of them. I'll be honest as I reflect back on some of those journeys that I've been a part of, the first word that comes to mind is painful. I don't know if I'd call them all failures, but I would certainly describe many of them as very challenging and certainly almost nine times out of 10, you'd fall behind schedule or the actual deliverable would not be what we had planned on.

Speaker 1:

My favorite is the one where you've got this plan to eliminate a head because of this digital journey and you end up needing a person just to manage the digital journey. So you got rid of the one head, but you added another one to man. I feel like you're preaching to the choir a little bit about some of the challenges here. I'm fascinated because you've got such a high success rate. What's different? Why is there a higher success rate with the approach that you've taken in some of these? No-transcript.

Speaker 2:

So thank you for asking me that, because this is my favorite topic I really need to talk about, because this gets me onto my bandwagon about why things aren't done right. So there's four reasons Business, change, management, project management and culture. So I draw three circles in a Venn diagram. So the top is the business focus. So the projects need to be very commercially focused and the more people that are working on those projects that really understand the outcome of the project, you know the strategy behind the project, the context and business reason for it. That is absolutely critical. That's number one and that's what gives you that precision of what you need to do. So you talk about outcomes not being achieved. Very often on these projects, people don't even have an even got agreement on what those outcomes are or they're not actually clear enough. So that's number one. Do you agree with me? Do you see that as a? Yeah?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely yeah. Yeah, the what I would call the stakeholder alignment right, Like, do we all agree what we're actually doing, right? So yes, I totally agree.

Speaker 2:

So actually, and that sits sort of between the middle of the seconds, that and the second circle. So the business focus is actually getting really clear on the right outcomes for the business and then the next circle, change management, is getting the people aligned to that outcome. So it sort of sits between those two. Right, and that's what gives you the momentum on the projects. Right, and if you can get people behind you, like I've done this way, I've built communities inside organizations. I'm really passionate about communities and I built them inside the organization so that as you do co-design with of the projects, of the transformation, with the people in the organization, you build in that excitement. So you don't have a separate strategy formulation stage, separate to the implementation. You're actually implementing right from the beginning. Because if you talk to people at all levels, they will already start adjusting what they're doing in line with the new strategy. So, for example, if it's AI, right, we were talking before about AI and how it's just so you know it's grown so prolifically, there's so many people scared of AI. So you know, get them involved right from the beginning in your digital transformation and already they're learning and they're doing things differently, rather than having to wait until the strategy signed off by the executive, signed off by the board, announced to the organization, and then you walk four, five months down the line and then the world's changed. So people are.

Speaker 2:

Second, the change management is absolutely critical. What third ingredient is project management. And I don't believe enough folks that are implementing projects understand project management to get the traction and it's all done by separate project managers who are often just ganttcha jockeys and they don't actually understand the business and the change. So you've got those three circles. But you know, in the most sophisticated organizations that I deal with, I work with a lot of multinationals, big organizations, big Australian organizations, you know governments, they all tend these days to have change management and project management right and they have obviously the executives that are the business focus.

Speaker 2:

But those three circles are like separate islands, they're not integrated well and the people, the leads that are running those projects, don't understand how to integrate them well so that one task can actually suit all three objectives if you know what you're doing. So those are the three things. And then all of that needs to be aligned to the culture. So if you draw a big circle around my Vendroiogram and imagine that those three circles are floating in the sea of culture. That is the context of the organization and I don't believe, I don't see projects being the approach being adjusted to the culture sufficiently, and that's my approach. So it's not. It's not hard to achieve if people actually take the time to understand and learn it, and that's what I'm all about. Does that make sense?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think you know it all makes perfect sense.

Speaker 1:

I do love a good Gantt chart, you know, so I am a little bit guilty of being a Gantt chart jockey, as you described it, but I'm fascinated. I want to talk a little bit more about what you talked about being a building a community and having that be, you know, kind of a what I would call a, you know, part of the sustainable transformation or part of that change management, and certainly I have a feeling that that leads into the, you know, having the right culture as well, you know. But I think, in all, to sum it up, you know you're kind of preaching the choir here because you know it doesn't matter if you have the best tech tool in the world or you know AI or HR system or whatever, but the reality is a lot of this comes down to people, right, it's really it's the people fulfilling the tasks and working on the project. And so, as you look at the transformation, how do you, how do you determine how and when you need to focus on building that, that community, within this transformation process?

Speaker 2:

Okay, I'm going to answer your question about community Hile, but I'm going to go back to Gantt chart jockey because I really think that again chart is important and useful. I didn't mean to denigrate it, but what I do, what I do believe is that the folks that can only do those Gantt charts and do like the pieces of the project plan in a mechanical fashion and don't have any business acumen and don't understand the people side, those are often the folks that are put in charge of projects and that's where there's that that circle around project management is disconnected from the rest of the Venn diagram, right, and that's where you don't actually leverage all the other parts sufficiently, and that's what I can give you some examples of projects that have failed because of that. So that, so I do want to give respect to the Gantt chart because I can use them myself in my days of doing program management, absolutely.

Speaker 1:

I, you know I couldn't agree more. I think you said it much more eloquently than I could, but it's the you know. The fact is that the you could use all these project management tools that you want or know how the tools work, but if you don't understand the people, the process, the business, the organization, it's, it's, it's not going to matter and the maybe the only thing I'd say there too, for any listeners if you haven't gotten some level of project management training or experience in your career, I would highly encourage you to, because an HR person with a project management background you're like, unstoppable. You can exactly it.

Speaker 2:

That is exactly it. You couldn't have said about it up in the set, about it. So that is why the work I do in this membership community that I've got, which is called turbo charge, your transformation is has that integrated approach right, so that an HR person can come in and learn project management from the angle of people rather than from that boring angle. So many HR people that I work with, they don't really like the very overly processed parts of it and it's talked from a very process point of view. So so what I do is I teach project management, change management, business acumen and tools like AI, all together as an integrated whole, from from that behavioral perspective. So, so, so, that said so, so let me go back to to sorry, and you know I don't mean to just talk about my membership, because I but I'm just really excited about it, because I don't think there's anything at the moment out there that is quite like that, and because it's not just training, it's ongoing community that I'm building of professionals in the transformation space, and they don't all call themselves transformation, they call it. You know, they might be an HR manager or a marketing manager or people that are just doing projects as part of their work and they don't want to go and do a five day week, you know Pembuck or Prince II course, and have all of that processed. So, so it's not done in that way, it's. It's a light, a lighter touch and more practical. So so, building community let's go back to that topic that you asked me, kyle.

Speaker 2:

So this is this is really important, because if you set up so I don't separate the strategy development and the strategy implementation phases I do all together right at the beginning, involving the people, and I usually do that with a cross functional working group that sits across the organization in the strategic spaces where we need to influence and involve people.

Speaker 2:

And those cross functional working groups are amazing. So, like one of them, on a project we had for a professional services firm, we had just about eight or nine core project team members, but when we celebrated it as a project all about digital and customer service, when we celebrated the project at the end because the organization won numerous awards in for service and for technology, there were 120 people on the video for the celebration and they had all changed their jobs. These were marketing people, these were HR people, these were trainers, these were IT people because they were involved from the beginning. They had changed what they were doing in their jobs along the way and they saw they had total ownership in what we were doing. So they saw that their role was as much part of the project team as the very core project team. Have you seen that in organizations where you've seen that level of buying dispersed for a program of work? Have you come across that sort of that internal community?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think it's funny that you mentioned that. Rarely, I think, is the honest answer. But there are, it's the individuals that still lament about oh, you remember when we had to do this together and it was this oh yeah, larry had to go do that, and then we had to, and then so and so had to step in here and oh, and this was crazy. Remember that. It's like, it's almost like this, it's like this, this lore that's created around these projects and it's, it's. It is fascinating to see. It's almost like like individuals that have built a kind of a, you know, a fraternal bond through these types of projects, but I would say pretty rare in my experience, especially as I think about more recent projects that I've been a part of.

Speaker 2:

And it's so powerful because that's what creates a critical mass of momentum in the organization and you can't stop it. It's like a rolling stone that just gathers pace and then it's got a life of its own. And then, you know, many change managers talk about. I presented a conference on Friday and a lot of the talk was about you know, how do you make change stick? And do you actually make change stick? Because change is always constant anyway. So you know, but the point is that whatever you do has got to be sustainable so that when the project team goes away and takes the pressure off, that that that journey is continued, because it is a journey, it doesn't really have a defined. You know, digital transformation, transformation, change it's a journey, isn't it?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely so, you know, I do think that it's one of the bigger, the bigger challenges that I think many of us have felt, this within our organizations and outside. If you look at the news media, you know it almost seems like change is getting more and more rapid, and I think a lot of the challenges that, at least that I deal with, are how to manage that change appropriately without either, you know A, going too slow and falling behind, you know everybody else or, b, going too quickly and like burning everybody out and like leaving your team in the dust and, and you know, not bringing everybody along, so so, so how how have you found to to to do that effectively where you kind of you balance the, the change appropriately so that you're in that kind of sweet spot within transformation? How do you work through that and make sure that it's you know that it's that's appropriate level of of kind of you know, change and and stasis.

Speaker 2:

I love that question because that's all about the culture. So I teach people how to define the culture of the organization and for me it's really important to be specific. So an article I published last year I said don't say you've got a great culture right, that's, it's too vague, it doesn't mean anything Like I hear that from the boards, I hear it from the CEOs, I hear from the manager, and it doesn't say anything when you're talking about your culture. You've got an opportunity to send a message and be really specific about the culture that you, you know, that you want. And so I say choose three words. And it's probably going to be a hybrid of the, you know, the standard archetypes.

Speaker 2:

So if you, if you look at the two, I'll take two extremes. So let's take a really high performance, results, focused organization on one, on one extreme, where you can actually get very fast change. And then let's take another example of a risk averse culture where very much focused on, you know, worrying about law firms, often government, large government bureaucracies, banks would fall into this category. There's particularly been a lot of scrutiny on the banks in Australia. But I know, you know, we're through all the changes in the US. You've also had a lot of issues in terms of bank failure. So they're very risk averse. So in those so by understanding those culture, the culture, you can then adjust your approach in those three circles that I mentioned to that culture. So let's say and then that will determine the speed that you can work at, because then you're working with the culture rather than I call it. I think of it.

Speaker 2:

As you know, so many people work against the culture because they're actually pushing things like. So any risk averse culture, if you're going to push very fast to try and get things through, of course you know it's not going to work. You're going to get a lot of resistance because those folks want to see. So from a business point of view, they want to see that the risk has been covered off and that the business case is solid. From a people perspective, they want, you know, they want buy in and they want confidence is really important in a risk management environment.

Speaker 2:

And then, from a project management point of view, you need a lot of type governance in a very risk orientated culture, because if they don't have that project governance, you don't know who's signing what off, you don't know about the. You know the due process can be compromised. So all those three circles are adjusted to the culture. And the same for high performance culture it's if you can go way faster, because in the risk averse culture you're doing a whole of trials and being really careful, whereas in a performance orientated culture you can. You know, you can just point people in the right direction, tell them what the you know, what the results are, why it's a good idea and they're off and you don't need a lot of project governance.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I think what's fascinating about that is the reality is that, without some sort of a way to think about this or some sort of like a methodology to be aware of this, you're relying on maybe yourself, or maybe a project manager, who may or may not know the players, to guess about how quickly can we go and how slow do we need to go, or who are the holdouts? Right, because that's the other thing too right? Some people are comfortable moving fast and some people are not.

Speaker 1:

And it can make or break a project.

Speaker 2:

Exactly.

Speaker 1:

So I'm curious as I look at the system and the transformation approach you've got. This flywheel effect that you have found is a result. Can you walk us through what you mean by the flywheel effect and how that leads to return on investment and, ultimately, innovation?

Speaker 2:

Great. So what happens is, once you've got the business focus really clear, you've got precision. Once you've got the change management integrated and clear, you've got momentum. Once you've got the third circle, which is the project management organised around the culture, you have got traction. And with those three things precision, momentum and traction you've got all the ingredients integrated approach to the culture. So you're working at the right speed and also the change leader or innovation leader or HR leader is actually investing their style to fit well in the culture as well. And all of that is what gives you that flywheel effect and you can go faster.

Speaker 2:

And yeah, and that flywheel I use the flywheel term because of that heavy rotational wheel that stores that energy and, like you're on a spin bike, it takes a little while to put on the pedal right and it just takes that because it's a very heavy wheel, that flywheel that's sitting at the back of your spin bike. I love a good spin bike class of the genre, but it takes a little while at the beginning because you've got to kind of put your foot down and push hard to get it going. But once it goes, it starts flying right. It goes really, really fast and that's what I do with the community building right. So you build these communities, you set up the project governance and the people involved in these cross-functional working groups, these internal communities, and they have a very clear business remit. And what is amazing, kyle, is the success of these people's careers. So I remember one very junior woman being involved in one of the projects and she was an HR coordinator like a junior HR business partner kind of role, but very junior, and she was put onto the project because the HR director, who was the sponsor, saw something in her and she just shone, she was amazing, so that when that project finished her career just took off. So that's what I mean by flywheel, because there's that win-win-win effect, right, it's a win for the organization because we implemented a coordinated digital HR like a help desk, right, like a service center. So there's a win for the organization. There's a win for the individuals that are seconded onto those projects because they shine. You can really see, you know they're stepping out of their roles and they really can step up. And then the third win is for the people in the organization because if you do this, if you approach these projects in a participative manner, people that are closest to the customer. You know they have got so much shop floor people.

Speaker 2:

I've involved a group of clerical people in one organization that had never been involved in the projects. They always had senior people do it and when we reported on projects that I took them on the train we've got a really good train system in Sydney and I took them all on the train together up to head office to present to the executives about what we were doing, because I wanted them to hear it directly from people. And the executive was really surprised, like why are you bringing the whole? You know really, and the team were super excited because and really nervous because they'd never gone to head office to present to the executive. And it's a win-win. It is such a win-win it was. You know the project was just. It was such a flywheel effect of momentum. It was just amazing, amazing.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I think you know the spin-bike thing resonates with me because I am a cyclist like only outside typically Like I'll get on a spin-bike and I'm desperate, pure desperation. It's also really you know, this is a PSA it's really hard to stop, so don't try to just stop the pedals or stuff. But I think that's that exemplifies the benefit of that flywheel effect. Right, it's like once you get going, it's a lot harder to stop. Right, the momentum can carry you through. Even as you see an obstacle in your way. It can help carry you through Exactly.

Speaker 1:

So you know, so I, you know, I think, a couple you know really really great takeaways from our conversation here. You know, certainly, you know, I think, a really good reminder that you know, as HR professionals, as practitioners, we've got to be well-versed in many different aspects of our organizations and be curious and willing to learn in order to help drive transformations and really be the change that our organizations need us to be, which is why I'm guessing you're listening to this podcast. So, lisa, thank you so much for spending a few minutes here with us. I want to shift gears and I want I'm fascinated to hear your response to the Rebel HR Flash Round. Are you ready?

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

All right, perfect, okay. Question number one where does HR need to rebel?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think HR could be so much more powerful if they take the time to focus on the business aspects of like, really, if they give really good commercial advice. The HR folks that I've seen that are the strongest are the ones that really understand the business. They get amazing respect, amazing respect, and so what I think they need to do is they've got that, you know, the T-shaped model of skills that got the depth and the specialization they need to round out the top of their T, that multidisciplinary approach, which includes a business focus. Project management is great for them too, just to understand all those mechanics, so they can just be awesome in their jobs.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, couldn't agree more. You know, I think it's what sets the good apart from the great right. I think we need to be willing to admit that and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone a little bit. Question number two who should we be listening to?

Speaker 2:

All right. Well, I think everyone. I think we're, the more we put our ear to the ground and really listen to different perspectives. So, right from the most junior people in the organization through to the most senior, to the customers that are out there, to all you know, whatever we can listen to in terms of great podcasts like this one, go to conferences, go find mentors. Just talk to different people and get different perspectives on what you're doing, because I think the world's got to a very complex place and I think not one person will know everything they need to know in this future of work.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. You know it's funny I just did a presentation last week about similar context but it's like you know, if you're starting a band, you're not going to be lead singer, guitarist, drummer, bass player, whatever else is in the band, right Like you have to lean on other people and that's the reality of you know the work that we do in human resources. You've got to listen to everybody and everybody's got something different and a different perspective or a different part to play. So you know, if we can be anything, we should be the connectors and listen and learn from others. So couldn't agree more, all right. Last question so as we reach out, connect with you and learn more about how to turbocharge their transformation?

Speaker 2:

Well, I have a whole turbocharge page on our website, which is futurebuildersgroupcom, and if you go forward, slash turbocharge, you'll find the turbocharge page. Also, at the bottom of that page is a free diagnostic tool where you can fill out some questions and actually get a percentage score of your confidence. It's a self-assessment your confidence in 10 different areas, that are, you know, all of these areas that I'm talking about, like culture and project planning and that sort of thing. So folks can fill that out and they can get their team to fill it out. And it's a fantastic resource because you can have a conversation with your team and really understand across the different functions in HR or your different business functions, where the different folks have their specialties. So you know, like you say, not everybody can be good at everything, kyle, but if you see your team, how the distribution is across your team, you'll know that you've covered all those elements really well of all the elements of transformation.

Speaker 1:

Awesome, yeah, yeah. And we will have all that information in the show notes, so you know. I encourage you to open up your podcast player. Check it out. Lisa, it's just been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you for spending your morning with us.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, kyle, it's been fantastic being here. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Speaker 1:

All right, that does it for the Rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at Rebel HR podcast, twitter at Rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebelahumanresourcescom. Views and opinions expressed by Rebel HR podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast.

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