September 14, 2016 JV

The art of SPIN

spinning-top“How come we never have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it again?”  That was the first and one of the best “I told you so’s” I ever heard in my working career.  I was a young Electrical Engineer at Lysaghts, Port Kembla at the time.  It has stuck with me to this very day, not just because of its cheek, but also, its correspondence to reality.

After eight years of CMMS implementations and 11 years of various Excellence and Improvement initiatives across BHP Billiton, I saw my fair share of cultural change programs (some successful, some not).  While leading my own business, JVP ie, I’ve witnessed the outworking of several of my client’s change programs, again some successful, some not.  This has led me to explore the ways of change assiduously.  Most organisations use “change management” as a rather blunt tool to placate the masses after a change is made.  Comms specialists work on crafting the best “message” or the “spin” after management have decided on a course of action, whether good, bad or indifferent.  Sad.  Doing “change management” effectively takes time, but that’s something we don’t seem to have up front.  Instead, we prefer to sashay about the place carrying trays of “s&#t sandwiches.”  Hello!  These programs rarely achieve their desired results.   After several years of suffering under poor change management, organisations either pretend it never happened, abandon all hope or start over again.  I told you so.

Let me tell you about a different kind of SPIN.  I am indebted to Neil Rackham and his book “SPIN Selling” for the following process.  He turned the sales process on its head through SPIN and I’ve attempted to use the same technique whenever “change” is required.  So let’s go for a SPIN.

Situation.  The organisation needs to understand its current situation and to do so with clarity and objectivity.  My earlier blog:   describes one effective way of doing this.

Problem.  The Problem(s) should emerge clearly from the Situation assessment process.  If done properly, the Problem(s) will not only be articulated clearly by the masses, but will become “shared” and not delivered from above by management.  The location of the US versus THEM dividing line is a critical outcome of the these first two steps.  Having employees on the same side of the line as managers and finding a common, external enemy gives the change program an excellent chance of success.

Implication.  So what?  Describe the pain caused by the Problem.  That is, the pain to the organisation as a whole as well as to the individual employees.  This must be coupled with an examination of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and WIIFT (What’s In It For Them).  If this case for change (Dissatisfaction level) is weighty enough, it will go a long way to exceeding its resistance.  There are other factors to consider, but they can be covered at another time.

Need.  If the process has been followed well till this point, the organisation will see a real need and will be asking the managers for assistance in making lasting change happen.  At this point, the change is implemented by the employees with the assistance of management.  Success factor ~ 0.95.

So, if managers are patient and skilled enough to engage employees in the change process, the outcome will be virtually assured.  This is where a leader emerges from among managers.

Now for a story that illustrates this process.  Back in the early 90’s, Jerry Ellis, the then CEO of BHP Minerals learned that his division was spending $1B in maintenance each year.  He wanted to be sure the money was being spent well.  He called the company’s Maintenance Managers together to ask them that question.  Not too much happened on the surface between 1992 and 1994.  Another conference was held two years later, but something was stirring way below.  Global benchmarking had begun to cause a sense of unease.  By 1996, a third conference was being proposed, but before it was held, Mr. Ellis (through Stan Jonsson, his senior management champion) laid down the gauntlet.  He asked the Maintenance Managers some focused questions that were akin to SPIN.  Unless there was a willingness to address them, this was going be the final conference.  The Maintenance Managers were asked:

  1. Are we world class?
  2. How do we know?
  3. What are we going to do about it?

The outcome of the conference was a unanimous agreement that their maintenance was not world class, their systems of measurement were ineffective and they required some corporate resources to assist in the process of benchmarking and sharing best practices.

I was in the most fortunate of positions in that my senior manager at that time in New Mexico Coal Operations was Stan Jonsson, Mr. Ellis’ corporate champion.  As part of his management team, I ran the global benchmarking process from 1994 – 1996 and helped him to design the third conference.  I saw the entire process unfold and was amazed to be in Jerry Ellis’ office when Stan delivered the conference outcomes.  Jerry made a comment to the effect that he had waited for almost six years for the organisation to admit that it had a need and was willing to ask for resources.  At that moment, Mr. Ellis had completed a SPIN job which gave birth to the fore-runner of the BHP Billiton Global Maintenance Network (which many of you would have heard of).

My 11 years with Operating Excellence / Business Excellence commenced with this Maintenance Improvement Process in 1996.  I was part of a global, cultural change initiative that helped to propel BHP Billiton towards becoming a major global company.  From 2002 through 2007, BHP Billiton saw year-on-year improvements across all major indices including EBIT, Net Profit and Market Capitalisation and this was before the mining boom commenced!  Additionally, BHP Billiton was named a Global Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (Teleos MAKE Award) for 2006, along with Microsoft, McKinsey and a few others you may have head of.

However, what I found to be most remarkable, were Chip Goodyear’s (outgoing CEO’s) comments in a 2007 “Australian” newspaper article.  When addressing the question “what is the big difference between the company he joined seven years ago and the one he will soon leave” he said “values and behaviour.”  He then mentioned a handful of examples, half of which were directly related to the OE / BE work which we had pioneered.

I’m not trying to big-note myself or claim that we were the X-factor in BHP Billiton’s success in the noughties.  I only want to state that while part of a very successful global improvement initiative, I learned a few things about improvement and change; one of them being this little known, yet unbelievably powerful SPIN technique.  I thought you too should know.

In summary, we can change the environment, but we can’t change people; they must be willing to change themselves in response to stimulus.  Helping people come to grips with what’s happening and to become part of the solution is the key.  How well that occurs depends on leaders and the approach they take.

May I end with a life application?   We may not get along with the people around us.  Although we may find them irksome, we cannot change them, whether they be our partner, our child or our neighbour.  What we can do, though, is to be willing to work together to understand our current situation, uncover common issues and locate the common ground on which to launch change.  If we have the guts to look at things without pre-suppositions, bias or prejudice, we will find the truth about ourselves and make our own changes.  If others choose to stick their head in the sand and ignore the facts, it’s to their own detriment.  Be brave and go where the evidence leads.  Your destiny awaits.  Godspeed.

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