Thursday, February 03, 2011


The Hartford: Breakthough to Excellence

The phrase "breakthrough to excellence" was the mantra wax loquaciously throughout the corridors of The Hartford in 2010 and was a call for the employees in P&C IT to take personal accountability for making IT better. In reflecting on my experiences, I think there was one fatal mistake that has been time proven that employees of the Hartford should noodle...

Have you ever been to one of those leadership seminars conducted by a motivational speaker? Notice how after you leave, you feel energized and your head is on cloud nine where you feel you can conquer the world? Have you ever noticed that motivational speeches tend to only have a short lifespan and that after a few months thing return back to status quo?

The Hartford didn't make this money wasting mistake and pursued Cruxpoint training whereby the goal was less of a float your boat and felt more like an intervention where people were broken down in an almost militaristic basic training model (emotionally speaking) in hopes that they would reset their perspectives.

Human nature typically can rationalize otherwise broken and dysfunctional behavior where organizations continue to operate in a suboptimal manner. Of course, the first step is in realizing your culture is broken, only then can real progress towards excellence become possible.

As a student of the human aspects of technology, I understand that no form of change can be successful without accounting for fundamental dynamics of human needs. Are you familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs? The single must be present ingredient within the human mind and in successful organizational chance is safety.

The majority of IT professionals define themselves - at least in part - by what they do professionally and therefore changing what they do gets deep into the matter of personal definition.

The human mind by nature is resistant to change and can stimulate thoughts of hiding, hostility, vituperative and otherwise destructive actions. One has to acknowledge that against all of this, managerial coercion is simply no match. You can't make change happen, but can only help it along.

Change always implies abandonment. What you're abandoning is an old way of doing things. Management needs to understand that you are asking for change that requires people to abandon their mastery of the familiar and to become novices once again.

We all have read Dilbert and can identify with the fact that the pointy-haired boss in many ways resembles our own. Yet, how many of us have came to the conclusion that maybe the problem isn't the boss but Dilbert himself? Ever notice how Dilbert never pushes back, never puts his job on the line in order for the right thing to happen or otherwise is passive/aggressive?

For some that do not have enough constitution to not care whether they get fired or not and/or choose to proactively stand for higher principles, the fear of safety will always be an impediment to meaningful change.

Even for those who have overcome this hurdle, there is an even more insidious kind of fear than just losing your job that interferes with change and this is the fear of mockery. If you want to make change initiatives flame out, then allowing the mockery of people as they struggle with the new unfamiliar methods you just forced upon them.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Managerial tantrums, exasperation and eye-rolling are the true enemies of meaningful personal change. To make an organization change receptive, savagely eliminate all forms of disrespect from the culture and replace them with a clearly felt sense that people at all levels are to be honored for the struggle they've been willing to take on.

During periods of great change, every failure and setback has to feel like a treasure (a gift) and that each and every person who fails is a hero and the spine/nervous system of the effort to improve.

In closing, I need for my peers at The Hartford to acknowledge and embrace that failure gains that person more respect, not less...

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