Managing Alignment Challenges (Part 2 of 3) – Managing Complexity

Now that's Managing Complexity




During many consulting engagements we identified that organizational misalignment as a major factor in organizations and individuals were not achieving goals

This changed our focus to ground other work by aligning people’s expectations first before designing learning, coaching etc. Over the last 10years, the PDS team developed their expertise and alignment practice with AlEx™ by serving companies in Canada and the US.

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Over the years we have learnt that anticipating and managing misalignment goes to the root of building successful change whether it’s a family business transitioning between generations, construction projects with many different companies involved or implementing electronic patient records.

Today I want to cover the second in a three part series on Managing Alignment Challenges to improve the odds of bringing successful change to the listeners’ organizations.

Last month we covered, Managing Conflict and Relationship Tension. This month I will cover…

2. Managing Complexity and then next month

3. Improving Performance

The Strongest Shape in Construction and in Managing Change

I chose the second as the need for change can seem deceptively clear yet being comfortable with  complexity is something people want to avoid. Somehow “complexity” has become associated with ineffectiveness, something to be avoided.

Why is this so important as we climb out of this recession?

It’s a good question. Over the last 15 years the odds of making a successful change in North America haven’t changed appreciably. Two thirds of change initiatives fail, including family businesses trying to pass on their company to the next generation. Just consider this, in a KPMG (2002) survey of 134 public companies.

  • 56% per cent of Companies wrote off at least one IT project in the last year,
  • Average cost of US$12.5M, while the highest loss was placed at US$210 million.
  • US$1.7 billion for this group alone.
  • 67% said their Program management was “in need of improvement or immature“
  • 44% rated project performance against any established measures.

In other words unless we must become better students of not only what to change but how to change the climb out your referred to will be longer and more painful.

In an earlier program on to hire or rehire people as companies recover prompts me to ask: How are the employees affected by such failures?

Jaundiced….Post recession employees reveal they expect far more than the status quo, which could have significant implications on company bottom lines, employee morale and turnover. In Q3 2009 conducted their Employment Confidence Survey of 1,195 employees conducted by Harris Interactive®.

  • 57% expect a raise, bonus and/or promotion
  • 35% expect hiring freeze to be lifted and/or more employees to be hired in
  • their department
  • 24% expect health benefits and perks that were previously reduced to be restored
  • 19% expect to look for a new job

These factors don’t sound like change isn’t getting any simpler. How do you see it affecting leaders managing change and this increasing complexity?

Martha Maznevski and her colleagues at IMD put it like this.

“Complexity” is today often considered the latest business buzzword – it reflects a current common reality but not a lasting one. Executives say, “Yes, complexity is the real leadership challenge that I face. How can I focus on my area when everything else is connected? How can I be held accountable when everything is interdependent? How can I sort this out?

It’s overwhelming.” Good questions with few answers. We think “complexity” is much more than a buzzword, but a reality that is here to stay.”

How leaders react to this inevitability is curious. Many see their world as complex so their organization should be complex. But, the key is to focus on what to simplify. Central to this is your purpose and values; core processes and decentralization; early awareness systems; and leadership. Once these are clear and consistent, managers in different areas of the company can respond to complexity according to their own needs and realities. Here are some examples of complexity issues leaders face..

“Our management structure and style gets in the way when dealing with complex and changing business environments.”

This is often not so much one of structure but style. The key lies in effective delegation. Delegating task and responsibility, i.e. enabling others to do a job for you while ensuring that:

  • They know what you want
  • They have the authority to achieve it
  • They know how to do it.

By communicating clearly:

  • The nature of the task
  • The extent of their discretion
  • The sources of relevant information and knowledge.

Each task delegated should have enough complexity to stretch – but only a little by including:

  • Agreeing criteria and standards by which the outcome will be judged.
  • Agreeing first how often and when information is needed to monitor progress
  • Avoiding making decisions for the delegate when they are capable
  • Not making a decision unless provided with clear alternatives, their pros and cons, and the individual’s recommendation.
  • Not judging the outcome by what you would do, but rather by its fitness for purpose.

Delegating the task and its ownership so that it can be changed or upgraded, if needed.

So, you are managing complexity at the coal face rather trying to do everything back in the office on the surface.

How do you then get an organization’s purpose across to people?

Second point is Creating Momentum for change by leaders modeling what it means to be, say, the Customer’s Choice. Including:

  • Defining what value you want to give customers
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Probing and testing teams’ understanding of the change in hand
  • Aligning people’s expectations and actions with corporate goals and “The Vision”
  • Persevering when “the going gets tough”
  • Making decisive, courageous and consistent decisions
  • Motivating others to reach higher goals
  • Encouraging others to effectively manage risk
  • Communicating verbally up, down and across the organization – not just e-mail or presentations
  • Most importantly soliciting feedback on actions taken

What other ways should leaders be mindful of in getting decisions taken earlier and at lower levels in their companies?

After delegation and momentum it has to be teamwork where the weight of complexity can be shared. Specifically, building and growing teams that delivers customer and stakeholder value by:

  • Identifying key stakeholders to lead partnering activities, e.g. suppliers, subcontractors, branch offices
  • Sharing common strategies and building solutions with customers and other functions within the spirit of “we are all in this together”
  • Focusing team effort on delivering value for both customers and other stakeholders
  • Making and delivering on commitments
  • Supporting and implementing team decisions
  • Resolving conflicting positions inside the team
  • Engaging others to improve solutions and decisions.
  • Developing external alliances to develop new and innovative solutions

It sounds like you are encouraging leaders to develop trust in their people to do the right thing, but to many that is going to seem risky especially if they have tried before and they have had to take back control

It’s an astute point. It’s down to leaders actively cultivating a climate to anticipate mistakes through praise for prompt action in dealing with the errors and avoiding risk. The last thing to do is to “reward the inactive and hang the innocents” – The Blame Game.

It’s crucial that Risk Managing and Planning are yoked together, back to an earlier program when I mentioned Clauswitz and Contingency Theory. This includes:

  • Scheduling, anticipating and alerting to avoid risk situations.
  • Reviewing plans from a risk perspective
  • Praising people for coming up with solutions
  • Ensuring every plan is reviewed from both the risks to subcontractors, suppliers (“respected friends”) as well as Customer’s perspective.
  • Developing options and contingencies with costed options at each project milestone
  • Engaging all appropriate stakeholders in a timely manner to get multiple perspectives on how the schedule is developed
  • Creating rapid feedback to alert when a task is delayed or accelerated

How would you sum up managing complexity?

Effective Delegation, Building Momentum, Developing Teams and linking Planning to Risk Management lie at the heart of navigating complex situations, but above all Leadership cannot be repetitive, but should be predictable. Permanent communication is therefore the leadership survival tool in complex organizations, but much more in terms of “storytelling”, interpreting context and meaning, and investing in relationships than in transferring dry facts or ultimatums.

Tip of the month

If you want to follow these three programs you will find an article “Eternal Triangle” in the resources section at where you will see a summary of what I have covered today.

Here’s my tip.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. S. Eliot

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more,
we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

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© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

14 responses to “Managing Alignment Challenges (Part 2 of 3) – Managing Complexity

    • Hi Charleen
      Thanks for your comments
      We will be publishing survey findings of 1072 managers on manaaging change for competitive success next week.
      Let me know if you want to be on the mailing list


  1. I am an RU student in Ken Trzask’s class. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and will be back next month to read improving performance! You are right on track that tTop management must give their employees room to grow as they are empowered to do the job. Regarding the desired outcome, how do you feel that top management should monitor the progress? I have sat in meetings where certain individuals “sugar coated” what really were high risk issues resulting in needed decisions that management should have been aware and perhaps a part of. But they were only told a partial truth and had no idea of . Cultivating a climate where an employee has no fear “and we are in this together” is the culture necessary to avoid situations such as this.


    • Thanks Patricia,
      In answer to your question on management monitoring progress?
      1. Develop Leading indicators so they have a heads up of when the change initiative starts going off track so there is time to take corrective action.
      2. Track the extent and type of misalignment across indiividuals and groups – see AlEx (Aligning Expectations) on
      3. Monitor the extent to which agreed expectations between people is being met both by the extent to which coaching is being done and are the agreed deliverables being met.


    • There are several factors.
      1. Develop more leading indicators
      2. Track the extent to which agreed expectations are back up with evidence of what it takes to meet an expectations
      3. Ensure that people are expected to discard any activity that relates to “doing what we have always done” and doing new and different things.
      4 Track and manage unresolved expectations and ensure these potential road blocks are removed
      5. Track competency improvement of those who have delegated responsibilities.

      These five things are explained in more detail on our web site


  2. Mr. Anderson,

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. My name is Robert McFatter and I am in Ken Trzaska’s class at RU. I am very excited to read the remaining articles. I often have heard of Chaos and Complexity in the higher ed arena. I was excited to see your application of it to a managerial alignment. One of our good friend’s (Mike Dalton) just authored a book that you might find interesting, Simplifying Innovation. It is a business novel so to speak of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. After just reading it and then your blog, I am more inspired than ever. Higher ed must become more business minded and concern themselves collectively on ROI. Here are a couple of links you might enjoy.

    I welcome your thoughts and look forward following your blog.




  3. Nick, thank you for such a thought provoking response. Your response has prompted me to do more research on the area that you’ve outlined above. Also, I will definitely check back to read your next article. Thanks again.


  4. Regarding Managing Complexity:

    I am a student of Ken Trzaska, at Roosevelt University. I also want to become a better student of not only what to change but how to change. Therefore, I started with your excellent article. Our culture does seem to avoid anything from learning about investment strategies to downloading music on a MP3 player, if it is viewed as too complex. However, you sum up the idea of managing complexity so well, and it only makes sense that “permanent communication is the leadership survival tool in complex organizations”. Communication is an extremely valuable, yet sometime understated concept. How can I prevent the use of communication as a survival tool from also being viewed as too complex? How do I get an organization to value communication, in the form of storytelling, interpreting context and meaning and investing in relationships if it doesn’t already?


    • Thanks for your interest.
      Your first question goes to the very attributes of the leaders (both formal and informal). Both Greenleaf and Goldman contribute to this debate. Greenleaf for his faith based perspective on the Leader as Servant and Goldman on Emotional Intelligence. This enters the world of “Are leaders born or made”
      Unless the leaders are going to get specific about things like Delagation nothing will happen, also they have to reward changes in behaviour. If your next promotion depends on the frequency and inproved performance of your people, as in GSK nothing will change.
      Your second question goes to the heart of Seng’es work – The Fifth Discipline and the Learning Organization. You might go back to Pettigrew and Whipp’s work on competitiveness and his nition about “Sensing”
      Let me know what you think


  5. Hello I am Robin Joyce; I am a Roosevelt University Student in Ken Trzask’s class. In the KPMG (2002) survey mentioned,”44% rated project performance against any established measures” What measures/formulas could be used to rate project performance? Is there established measures part of the analysis prior to the project work or is there a set of best practices that guides any project?


    • Hi Robin,
      Project Performance cab be rated many ways;
      % completion to project milestones
      Running over planned dates
      Managing Project Contingenices
      Turnroung time on RFIs (Reuests for Information)
      Is the solution fit for purpose?
      How many of the user population used the application as intended?
      Were the predicted savings or increased revenues forthcoming?
      What idid the customers think of the new levels of responisveness, etc?
      To what extent were the time to market times cut?
      Level of adoption by customers?

      Best practices _ Six Sigma, Demming, Kaizan etc. on the Quality or Lean movements will have their “best practices”
      Hope this helps


  6. Some thoughts on the article:

    I can definitely see companies failing when having to carry over change, such as in a family business with second generations running it. People in general make everything seem so much more difficult than it needs to be. What ever happened to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) philosophy??

    I really enjoyed the section on delegation and teaching others to make better decisions so that they learn. After all, are we not trying to mentor our employees to become great at not only their positions, but to mold them into eventual leaders? We want people who can come to the table with their own ideas and mentor them to become eventual leaders themselves?

    This part here will stick with me..

    “It’s down to leaders actively cultivating a climate to anticipate mistakes through praise for prompt action in dealing with the errors and avoiding risk. The last thing to do is to “reward the inactive and hang the innocents” – The Blame Game.”


    • Thanks Katie,
      One business owner confided that she was known as the “black widow” because when ever she turned up to one of her branches she would fire someone.
      Then she has an ephinany – instead of reacting to problems with “I’ll do it” She now says “OK. How do I help you to not make that mistake again?”


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