About Cai Kjaer

Cai Kjaer is a partner and co-founder of Optimice. Please visit www.optimice.com.au for more information.

The wilting initiative – Are you at risk?

Dying InitiativeA new corporate initiative has been established. Business sponsors are hand picked, a program office is established to manage it and the change team is driving the initiatives across the organization. But then a key person leaves and suddenly the initiative loses momentum and starts wilting.

Think about the string of initiatives that runs through organisations today like Six Sigma, Lean, Social Enterprise, Cloud, Innovation, etc. To get the organisation focused, and to get these initiatives launched, they need sponsorship and a core set of people who drive them. But all too often there is an ongoing critical dependency on the key people driving these initiatives. We only find out that sustainable change has not been achieved until the core team disbands. Initiatives are really easy to get going, but hard to embed into ‘business a usual’ and so the organisations end up being dependent on a few passionate souls to keep the momentum going.

We’d like to suggest a way to determine exactly the extent to which your initiative is reliant on a selective few, and what you can do about it.

Case Study

EngineeringdrawingOne of our clients, a relatively young organisation responsible for delivering capital projects has a project portfolio worth $3 billions. At the point of our engagement there were 13 project teams delivering large construction projects across a geographical area of almost 1,000,000 square kilometres.

The organisation knew that Organisational Change and Communication were critical elements that had not been addressed well in the past. Staff were not happy when they could read about a local project in the media before any announcements had been made internally. They knew that this needed to be addressed.

Selected staff members had been appointed to drive the adoption of a change and communications approach across all of the project teams to create a step change in planning and execution. These staff members were available to assist the project teams by creating reusable templates and act as ‘coaches’ to the project teams.

Eighteen months after the initial creation of the change management and communications program, the central team were unsure exactly how well the project teams were working with each other, and how well the central team were connecting with the project teams. A recent escalation in workload suggested that the local project teams were not drawing on each other but still heavily reliant on the central team.

We were engaged to help uncover the collaboration patterns within and between project teams and their interactions with the central team. We surveyed 4 key project roles across the 13 teams as well as core members of the central team, and in the map below you’ll see what we found.

Each of the people surveyed are circles and we have drawn lines between the people based on the question ‘who are the most important people you draw on to deliver this project’. Arrows indicate nominations. In other words, many incoming arrows indicate a really important person.

(interactive version)

Program With Central TeamTwo of the key members of the central team is right in the middle of the map. Below we have removed the central team. 

Programwithoutcentral-teamWhat is left is a number of quite weakly connected project team members and some of them are now working isolated from any other project teams.

Armed with these insights the central team started planning towards the next phase of the ‘maturity’ of the program. That is, to enable the teams to work with and learn from each other and become less reliant on the central team.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are a couple of ideas about how you may lessen the (over-) reliance on a few individuals:

  1. Create regular knowledge sharing sessions where the central/program team don’t act as ‘experts’, but as brokers
  2. Rotate the role of ‘chair’ for meetings so more people take ownership
  3. Make ‘site visits’ a part of the induction process to foster sideways collaboration
  4. Short exchanges of team members. Working along side someone else creates a stronger connection
  5. Peer reviews of major deliverables before ‘top down’ approvals

Organisations should be acutely aware of the risk of relying on a few passionate souls. The first step to mitigate this risk is to map out exactly how reliant you are and on whom. Once you understand the exact gap you can put in place very targeted interventions to minimise the risk. Finally, map the relationship patterns at regular intervals to check the effectiveness of your interventions.

Connectedness – The New Differentiator



Back in 2005 Thomas Friedman wrote about the globalized world in his bestseller book ‘The World Is Flat’. The world was inthe process of being transformed to a level – and global – playing field opening up new opportunities.  7-8 years later Friedman’s observations of the early adopters have become mainstream business. But, one of the consequences of opening up the world is that we are left with an overwhelming amount of information and options.  What we need is the ability to take advantage of globalisation, without getting caught up in examining and analysing the huge sea of endless information, and variety of choice.

This is where ‘connectedness’ comes in. Given that it is impossible for us to read everything and speak to everyone, we need to be connected to people we trust to bring us relevant resources to our attention. The better these connections are, the better the result will be.

We use the term ‘Connectedness’ to describe the concept of being ‘smartly’ connected.  When you are smart about the connections you establish and maintain, you keep a balance between the following aspects:

  • Quality vs. quantity: Having too many connections is distracting and with too few you become too reliant.
  • Diversity vs. conformity: Diversity is critical for innovation and conformity may better serve continuous improvement
  • Open vs. closed: Having unique connections that no one else have can put you in a better position, but a closed network can also bring much needed focus and attention

Depending on your business objectives you set the appropriate balance to deliver the best outcome. Connectedness is applicable at individual, team, business unit, organisation and inter-organisational levels. High performing individuals are exactly that because they are able to get things done faster by leveraging their connections to access resources. This is true for all organisational levels.

Connectedness doesn’t happen by chance, but fortunately it isn’t all the difficult. First you need to determine what your network looks like today, and then you need to figure out what it should look like to enable you to meet the demands of the future. Advances in both mapping and visualisation techniques greatly assist in making it much more accessible for mainstream businesses. Being ‘smart’ about building your connections for the future will optimise the investment where it provides the highest return. What’s the point of being connected to 100 people if you can develop a close relationship with one person who already knows the same 100 people?

Smart networking’ is about understanding the various roles that people play in connecting you with the resources you need. ‘Central connectors’ are those people around you who know lots of other people. Examples of central connectors include head-hunters, politicians and journalists. These people can be of very high value providing access to resources you might not have discovered, or might not be able to access directly.

Brokers’ are those who connect communities of otherwise disconnected people. For example, think of a person who is an accountant during the day, but plays in a band in the evenings. Brokers play a special role as potential innovators being able to solve problems by seeing solutions through their experiences drawn from various different communities.

Finally, we have the ‘peripheral specialists’ who have special knowledge, but often operate as lone wolves. You will need these people for their deep insights. But, if those are the only ones you know you risk missing out on the multiplier effect you can get from the relationships connectors and brokers can bring to bear.

Trusting that your network will provide access to the resources you need is a departure from the ‘island’ mentality we are used to. You may feel as it you are somewhat loosing control by having to rely on others. But there simply isn’t an alternative anymore. In a ‘flat world’ your level of connectedness will drive success, as you shorten fact-finding and decision making cycles. This makes the ROI for connectedness compelling as other organisations are pacified by an overwhelming amount of information, conflicting advice and endless options.

Cai Kjaer is a presenter at the Hargraves 2013 Innovation Conference and is speaking on 13 March on the topic of connectedness as the new driver for innovation and organisational performance. You can reach Cai at cai.kjaer@optimice.com.au, or connect on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/caikjaer.