In Their Own Words: Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights for Children
THE BUSINESS CHALLENGE
With the massive technology changes facing the publishing industry, our organization needed to evolve, restructure, and position ourselves for growth. We needed to develop products in ways we’ve never done before, at a pace we’ve never done before. Finally, two major parts of the organization, editorial and marketing, needed to develop a new relationship.
WHY CHOOSE LIZ KISLIK?
Organizational consultants tend to come in two extremes. On one end, you have the human interaction, touchy-feely, Myers-Briggs psychological types. On the other end are your process-improvement, Six-Sigma consultants. They’d rather focus on efficient work processes, and let HR deal with the people.
Liz is that rare breed of consultant who understands both sides. She quickly picks up the full breadth of business issues in your organization, and brings insights back to you and the leaders about what’s really causing the problem.
After hearing Liz’s perspectives on various organizational change issues, I knew she was up to the challenge. Plus, she had expertise in direct marketing, which we do a lot of. I trusted her.
GATHERING DATA, REDEFINING THE PROBLEM
Initially, we thought our fundamental problem was communication. But Liz had a different perspective. ‘You don’t have a communication problem,’ she said after spending the day with me and two department leaders. ‘These communication issues are actually symptoms of unclear work processes and roles. People resort to head-butting when they don’t understand where the lines are drawn.’
We decided to bring Liz in to learn more. Her initial assessment involved visiting two sites and interviewing twenty people. People really liked talking to Liz. She offered them insights – as opposed to just coldly recording data.
BOOSTING MORALE, IMPROVING THE ORGANIZATION
Liz proposed we start by clarifying roles and processes. In doing so, we’d also begin to resolve some of the communication issues. For example, she recommended our HR leader create a systematic, internal onboarding process. Now every employee starts with a clear understanding of roles and processes.
Communication is at a level it’s never been before. Morale has improved as people implement new ideas and realize change isn’t painful.
Even if we were to stop now, Liz’s work would have made a difference. In discovering triangles of problems between operations, IT, marketing, and editorial, we began to solve a more global, organizational problem. That’s where the bigger win is for us, and that’s where I’d recommend Liz.
HOW LIZ WORKS – DIFFERENTLY
A PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO CHANGE
A psychologist would say, ‘Let’s get to the root of the problem to understand why these leaders can’t work together.’ Well, we’re running a business. If we have six months and a 40 percent chance of success, failure presents a huge business problem. We can’t go down that path. Liz is very pragmatic. She focuses on what’s doable, breaking things down into pieces we can attack. Some of the deeper things take a year or two to see results. But you keep making progress. The business moves forward.
LEAPING TO CONCLUSIONS – THE RIGHT ONES
Some consultants want to read every tea leaf and gather up mounds of information before offering up their grand vision. They seem to be more concerned with protecting their egos than with fixing the problem. They’re afraid of being wrong. Liz is different. She makes these intuitive leaps. She’ll quickly assimilate a spectrum of information – from psychological and emotional dynamics to organizational and business process issues. It’s uncanny how much she can conclude from a fairly limited data set. As she shares her insights, she also invites feedback, further refining her hypothesis. She doesn’t get stuck on conclusions. Sometimes she’ll even reject things she initially thought were true. If you have a complex problem, it’s pretty important to be able to do that.