Reviewed Piece of SF work: Philip Lievens
Do we have to become sheep, or can we still be entrepreneurs ? Moving top down management to better communication and cooperation in a merger situation. September – November 2012
Following a process of acquisition, a group of autonomous sites producing building materials was integrated into one organisation with a strong central and directive management. Local plant managers’ experience was not happy: central services made decisions for local production plants without much communication although these decisions affected their business results; there was a lack of communication, both vertical and between sites. The new organisational structure led to slow decisions, little information, less connection with the the market and little awareness of the company’s policy goals. The effects were: many discussions, not feeling respected, and feeling less responsible (because decisions were being made higher up). As one plant manager put it: “Local managers still know what and how to produce, but they do not know why anymore.” The business unit manager, under the stimulus of a local plant manager, took the initiative to start a project to improve communication, consultation and cooperation in the organisation unit and with the central services.
The sessions were helpful in that sense that the design of the workshops allowed all parties to give their input from an equal position, and that it went further than a discussion: there was a clear structure to work on goals and solutions. What did they appreciate in particular in this work ? All participants reported spontaneously the openness and input of all visions. By the design of the workshop, conflict situations were switched into opportunities to improve the way we function. I learned especially that communication is something that one can start and organise oneself, even from an underdog position. If we bring that into practice, we can only become better (and happier).
When I introduced the design of our project, I saw curious faces. How could an external consultant make a contribution: “the decisions about structure had already been made!” I announced a solution focused approach in co-creation with all the stakeholders. We would include the perspective of all participants in a dialogue, appreciating that all stakeholders are the experts in their solution. This gave the group of participants a good feeling. The initial aim was to improve communications in the new organisation structure, with more consultation where useful and necessary. We used a metaphor: ‘we are not changing the motor, but it is important that the engine has the right oil to make it run smoothly’. At the kick-off meeting the participants stated the results they hoped for:
- Productive and respectful relationships between services and production plants.
- Better information and communication, respecting those who are responsible for production.
- Stronger unity, all pulling in the same direction.
- Restored confidence by the top managers and central services in what plant managers do.
- Better horizontal communication between production plants, and a better self-organising competence.
- The participants prepared for the first steps by means of some pre-work questions.
Philip produced a beautiful example of SF consultancy in the field of organisational development. What I appreciated in this piece of work was:
- The balance between allowing his clients to talk about what is important for them, and having them talk about what they want instead.
- The care he took for the process, allowing the client to evaluate every step of it.
- The way in which he designed his workshops: full of variation (plenary, kitchen table, small group discussions, prioritising, …).
- The ‘briefness’ of his interventions: focussing on what needed to be done. I think that suited the company he was dealing with well.
During the review talk, we discussed an important topic Philip raised: “Who do we need to involve in the process in order for the change to spread in the organisation? “… Being part of this review process made me realise again how much we can learn from these case studies, especially if we can engage in a constructive discussion with such valuable colleagues as Kirsten and Philip. I want to thank Philip for all the work he put into it. Brilliant work.
Second Reviewer summary:
Philip Lievens’ Piece of Work is a great example of how Solution Focus can make a real difference in organisational development. There were so many traps into which one could have fallen, and Philip avoided them all. He was consistently curious about what would work and stayed in good contact with his clients. He enabled them to have respectful and constructive conversations using Alan Kay’s “kitchen table” format. His whole process was designed deliberately and carefully without losing the idea that you can never know what the next best action is before you have completed the previous one. All in all: Proficiat, Philip !!
- Lead Reviewer: Anton Stellamans
- Second Reviewer: Kirsten Dierolf
About The Candidate:
Philip Lievens, M.A. M.B.A., is an independent Consultant, Trainer and Coach. He is a former Training manager in the non-profit sector and in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry (Bayer Antwerp NV). From early in his career he has been trained in process-consultation by Rene Bouwen and Felix Corthouts. He participated in several master classes in Solution Focus organised by Ilfaro, and found a deepening and practical methodology in SF. His main focus is on training of learning managers, developmental competence management, leadership and organisational development, cooperative skills and team coaching. Philip has 3 grown up children, and in his leisure time is a nature guide and a sculptor, living near Ghent.