I was shortlisted by an upcoming institution to motivate their staff. This institution had put in place, state-of-the-art technologies but lacked the state-of-the-art attitude to go along with it.
Two other trainers made impressive powerpoint presentations to the representative group who would decide between us. I used the opportunity to get them to clarify their own requirements, by asking a number of buying facilitation questions through PowerPoint slides. The session was vociferously interactive. I got every single participant to voice his/her opinion in a language each was comfortable with.. I “won” the contract hands-down.
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) was keen to maximize benefit: He wanted maximum no. of participants to attend my “sessions”. I pre-warned him of the consequences of running an attitude change programme for a non-homogeneous group. He felt confident of dealing with any eventuality. The sessions opened to a disastrous start with initially everybody being mum and ending with a vicious free-for-all.
The CAO tactically back-tracked and I managed to salvage the situation by interacting with them in small, homogeneous groups – departmentwise. The process became more time consuming, but the sharing became very personal and intense. People broke down emotionally; recounting instances that had caused them hurt/emotional pain and to subsequently harden up and become insensitive to protect themselves. This intense sharing opened up avenues for making up, healing and bonding amongst the group. The CAO acknowledged me for my foresight and for pre-warning him of the possible undesirable consequences. It greatly increased his confidence in my recommendations thereafter.
From this level, I moved the intervention to the next higher level – The Core Management Team. This group comprised the CAO, his direct reports who were Function/Department Heads and sometimes key consultants hired by the hospital. These intensive 2-3 days sessions occurred once a quarter for about a year. The entire culture of the hospital was gradually remolded through these twin efforts.
The Managing Trustee of the Hospital had initially appeared for a short time in a few of the sessions and then stopped coming altogether. As the Management Team gathered strength and discovered their spine; flashpoints erupted. Facing insurmountable trustee-level resistance, each of these now well-groomed professionals left the institution one by one. The person who took over as the new CAO methodically reversed earlier decisions and altered the culture. Everything that had been previously been put together was destroyed. The place subsequently erupted with negativity, IR problems and even violence.
The professionals who actively participated in the training sessions, benefited as individuals and professionals. The hospital that paid for my services did not. Looking back, I realized I had worked with practically everyone – except the one who really mattered. I had mistaken the attending consumers to be my clients – instead of the paying customer.
This was my last assignment, working with employees alone – at company’s expense. I consequently, consciously stayed out of the corporate sector. My focus decisively shifted towards the MSME Owner as my Client of Choice.
This is the reason I am careful to take up assignments where I get access to and coach/mentor the # 1 decision maker.
The other learning was that the top-down approach worked exceedingly well for me rather than bottom-up.