Breaking Down Barriers And Speeding Time To Market In A Financial Software Division
The Financial Software Division, a key business unit of about 300 people within a $100 million computer services company, was generating good revenue from its core business, however…
- Because its software managers and marketing managers were not working together effectively, its new software products were always very late, and customers (financial institutions) were constantly complaining.
- The division’s top managers usually maintained a veneer of politeness, but they did not work effectively cross-functionally and, under the surface, there was actually a good deal of distrust.
- The VP of the division frequently learned of problems at the lower levels of the organization in a delayed manner, often when there was little that could be done about them. The division did not have a good process for communicating effectively up and down the hierarchy.
- The division’s managers needed to manage cross-functional projects more effectively.
Because of its difficulties delivering new products on time, the parent company had begun to treat the division like a “cash cow” that couldn’t handle new strategic challenges.
The initial idea of the division’s SVP was to do some team-building to help front-line software and marketing groups call a truce long enough to get the three new products out the door as quickly as possible. But as we talked with him, he realized this would only address the symptoms, not the underlying causes of the problem. To his credit, he realized that the way he and his management group worked together was a major cause of the division’s repeated project delays. After discussion with the group, they decided to create a more agile organization, by developing a more agile leadership culture. It had to start with them.
We began our work with the division by conducting a diagnostic process that provided:
- An objective assessment of the division’s current agility level and the dynamics underlying its business difficulties, along with recommended changes.
- A facilitated forum where the top management group could come to its own conclusions about what its issues were and how to tackle them. The result was a strong alignment between and commitment from all members of the group.
Meeting with us to discuss our report, the top management group confirmed that the unit was caught in a vicious cycle of non-collaborative individual behavior, dysfunctional group dynamics, and problematic procedures. From an “agility level” perspective, the top group, whose members had Achiever-level capacities, was operating primarily at the (previous) Expert level, as was the rest of the division. To be successful, the they needed to transform to the Achiever level and, if possible the (next) Catalyst level.
This assessment helped them stop the finger-pointing, take collective responsibility for their problems, and decide on the leadership initiatives needed to solve them.
They took action in several areas simultaneously:
- Under the SVP’s leadership, we facilitated several meetings where his group made important structural changes that increased the division’s agility and performance. These changes included new cross-functional teams of marketing and software design managers.
- The top management group engaged in a Team Development Process that included selective facilitation of key business meetings.
- We provided Executive Coaching to the VP and the members of his management group, focusing on their lateral relationships and on their leadership of their own units.
The top management group also participated in our Pivotal Conversations training and coaching process we call , where they learned more collaborative ways to think, problem-solve and take action.
Positive changes came immediately and began to build. The top group overcame its chronic in-fighting and evolved into a very cohesive leadership team, able to discuss and resolve difficult strategic and organizational issues. An extraordinary level of teamwork continued even when the majority of members were promoted. Subsequently, when the VP took a 3-month executive training sabbatical, the team was able to self-manage effectively in his absence. By the time our engagement phased out, they had become a highly productive Catalyst level leadership team.
Through the leadership team’s work, the division experienced a real turn-around. They developed a strong organizational culture based on teamwork, communication, and mutual trust, operating at the Achiever-level and beyond. Even people who had not attended Pivotal Conversations workshops were behaving in new ways. As a result, both morale and business performance improved significantly. Not only were new products being installed on time, the quality and innovativeness of their products increased as well.
The Bottom Line
As the intensive phase of our consulting work with the division concluded, the SVP described the results of our work together as follows: “We’ve now moved to a stage where collaboration has become a part of the division’s culture. The bottom line is that now we’re more agile, extremely profitable, and we have more control over our own destiny. Communication and trust have increased dramatically within my team and the division as a whole. Employee morale has improved significantly. We have achieved a level of success that otherwise simply would not have been possible without the work we did with ChangeWise.”