Ask 100 people to define Change Management, and you'll get 100 different definitions. At the end of the day, the definition is just semantics. What really matters is whether you can implement a Change Management program in a practical way that allows you to support your organization in successfully achieving its goals. Whether you're a Change Manager, a consultant, or the tech. guy who was told to "figure out some Change Management stuff," this blog will help address common issues and topics you're likely to run into along the way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Negative Impact of Ghosting Hours

Forgive me, Readers, I'm about to get on my soapbox.  Over the years, dozens of new consultants have listened to my speech about the dangers of ghosting hours.  Today, I'll share the speech one more time.

First, let me describe the phrase "ghosting hours."  Unlike the legal profession, where new associates are encouraged to work as many hours as possible and bill them all to a client, in the consulting profession, consultants are often encouraged to work as many hours as necessary, then only record 40 hours at the end of the week.  The hours that were worked but not recorded are "ghosted."

Even on projects where ghosting is never explicitly discussed (and most managers know better than to directly tell their team to ghost), it is implied.  Too many weeks with too many hours recorded generates frowning leaders and hard discussions.  The expectation, however, is that the work still get done...usually without any additional resources.

The benefits of ghosting are obvious.  Keeping (recorded) hours under control helps projects make their margins.  It makes the client happy.  It makes the consulting organization believe that the project is running smoothly - on time and on budget.

These are only short-term benefits, though.  In the long-term, ghosting has a negative impact on the organization, the team, and the individual.  And I firmly believe that the long-term negative impacts far outweigh any short-term benefits.

Five Dangers of Ghosting Hours

  • Estimating - Many consulting firms have an estimating model they use to determine how long a project should take, how many resources are required to do the work, and how much they should charge the client.  These estimating models are typically based on extensive review of past projects.  Even firms that don't have a set estimating model will look back on their projects and use them as a guideline for bidding on new projects.  Despite these estimating models, projects consistently run over budget and miss deadline after deadline.  Teams are constantly asking for more resources.  It has gotten to the point where many consultants assume from the start that every project they're on will be extended.  There are a hundred reasons why this might happen, but one of the root causes is ghosting.  When team members hide the true number of hours they are working, the historical record of the effort required to complete a project is wrong.  This leads to inaccurate estimating models, which leads to low-ball bids and project timelines that can never be achieved.  It might not seem to matter if a low-level testing resource shaves 10 hours a week off of his time report.  But if every tester does the same, you are quickly looking at enough hidden hours to support an extra full-time resource.  Multiply this across all of the teams on a project, and it's easy to see how a "little ghosting" can lead to a grossly under-estimated project and a large time and money over-run.
  • Finances - The short-term financial benefits of ghosting are obvious.  Recorded overtime eats into a project's hours and budget.  The Partner can either choose to eat these hours, which kills his margin, or he can pass the hours along to the client, which leads to a very unhappy client.  When you consider the cost of missed deadlines, project extensions, and budget over-runs discussed above, however, one or two projects that miss their margins in the short-term are a small price to pay for better estimating models and more accurate bids that lead to consistently more successful projects across the organization.  What would your consulting firm save if it could reduce the number of projects that required an extension?  What would you gain in repeat business from clients who were happy to finally work with a consulting firm that met all of its deadlines? 
  • Quality of Work - I'll keep this one brief.  No one does their best work after 5 straight months of working 60 hours a week.  On many occasions, consultants will ghost hours without letting their managers know.  They don't want anyone to think they can't handle the job.  Or they've received the cultural signals that overtime is frowned upon, so they hide it.  Whatever the reason is, let me pass on this advice I once received from a very good manager, "No one can help you if you don't let them know you need help."  Clients pay a lot of money for consultants.  They expect top notch work.  Ghosting degrades the quality of work.  This upsets clients and makes them less likely to pay for your company's work in the future.
  • Trust - Many companies have policies against ghosting.  When the company policy states that ghosting is not allowed, but a project is asking team members to ghost, the consultants are put in a tricky situation.  Do they ghost, and go against company policy?  Or do they record all of their hours and risk the wrath of their immediate leadership?  This situation degrades the trust between consultants and their leadership, and reduces the team's ability to work together as a cohesive unit.  When a team can't work together, it takes longer to produce lower quality work.  I direct you again to the cost of missed deadlines and poor output.
  • Burn Out - Consultants burn out at an alarming rate.  When I tell people I stayed at one firm for five years, they're usually surprised.  That's a long time to stay at a consulting firm.  Studies have shown over and over, though, that there's a huge cost associated with losing an employee.  Not only are you losing all of the time and money you have invested in that person - think training and mentoring - but now you have to spend time and money to find a replacement and get that person ramped up to a comparable level.  Ghosting directly contributes to burn out, which directly hurts your organization.
The short-term benefits of ghosting may help an individual project, but the long-term negative impacts affect the entire consulting organization.  It becomes a cycle that amplifies the damage over time and is increasingly hard to break.  Considering the cost of ghosting, though, the question isn't whether your company can endure the immediate pains of breaking the cycle...it's whether it can afford not to.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Change Management for Non-Profits: Motivating Volunteers

Two years ago, I helped develop and deliver Project Management and Change Management training for non-profit organizations.  It was the most fulfilling work activity in which I have ever participated.  Not only were the participants truly grateful for the training, but I knew that they would put it to good use helping their organizations better achieve their goals of reaching out to those in need.

As I talked to different organizations, I noticed some key themes.  One major question was, "How do we motivate our volunteers to stay actively engaged with our organization?"  Non-profit organizations don't have at their disposal many of the traditional levers that companies use with their employees.  Volunteers don't receive a salary, which means there's no hope of a bonus or raise for going above and beyond the call of duty.  There are no performance reviews and no fear of being fired. 

Add to that the fact that many volunteers are giving their time on top of commitments to family, friends, and a full-time job, and you can see why non-profits experience high volunteer turn-over, absenteeism, and loss of motivation.

What can you do to motivate volunteers when many of the common corporate methods just aren't an option?

Three Practical Tips for Motivating Volunteers
  1. Renew their sense of purpose: With the possible exception of high school students forced to volunteer, people typically give their time because they are passionate about the cause.  Whether it's finding a cure for breast cancer, helping the homeless get back on their feet, or finding shelter for abused animals, volunteers come to their role with a sense of purpose and a drive to help the non-profit achieve its goals.  When volunteers lose this purpose and drive, it's your job to help them find it again.  Remind them of the people who are being helped.  Show them solid examples of how your organization has helped your target group.  Share with them your plans for delivering more benefits in the future.  Basically, remind them why they care, and pump them up to continue contributing to all of the good your organization is doing. 
  2. Show them their value: Volunteer work isn't always particularly glamorous.  After stuffing and licking hundreds of envelopes, answering phones for hours, or filing mountains of papers, it can be easy for volunteers to lose sight of how the tasks they are doing contribute to the greater cause.  You need to help them connect the dots.  Did the hundreds of envelopes they stuffed lead to thousands of dollars in donations?  Tell them!  Show them how even the most menial tasks help the organization achieve its goals.  If you receive positive feedback from people who have benefited from your services, share that with your volunteers, and explain how that person was directly affected by the work they did.  Everyone wants to feel like their small piece of the puzzle is important to the big picture.  It's your responsibility to help them see where they fit and why their work is important.
  3. Focus on "total compensation": Many corporations these days don't just talk about an employee's salary.  Instead, they talk about "total compensation."  This can include vacation time, training opportunities, and other perks the employee receives that can't necessarily be quantified as part of their pay check.  Since volunteers aren't getting paid, it's especially important for non-profits to think about the "total compensation" they can provide to their team.  If you have the money, small items like a branded t-shirt or hat can be a fun surprise for a volunteer, and everyone always loves a free lunch.  Even if you don't have any budget for your volunteers, though, that doesn't mean you can't provide compensation.  Remember to thank your volunteers for their time and hard work.  If you can, encourage the people who benefit from your organization to provide thanks.  There's nothing better than a thank you note from a group of kids whose school was painted by volunteers!  Recognize your volunteers publicly at events they've helped to stage.  And remember, for many volunteers, the best compensation is the great feeling they get from helping others. 
Readers - If you work at a non-profit organization, how do you motivate your volunteers?
Volunteers - What could non-profit organizations do to help you stay motivated?