Guest interview with Michael Burnett, Interim, HCPC registered Occupational Psychologist & registered EuroPsy Psychologist.
Michael, can you give readers of Perspective a quick overview of your interim background?
I’ve been an interim manager and consultant since 2011 when I founded taranis-PHI which specialises in behavioural aspects of organisational and business change and the use of measurement including psychometrics. I’m also a qualified and very experienced Occupational Psychologist with extensive line management experience in the IT and talent management sectors.
What preceded that?
I came to interim management with a varied background, having been an account manager in EDS (now part of HP) where I led a large UK-based consultancy team specialising in business process analysis, change management, training needs analysis and usability design. This period was invaluable as I gained insights into how technology teams across a range of industries and public sector areas work from the inside, whilst still maintaining a focus on the client’s perspective of what’s needed to improve overall business performance. I then joined SHL (now part of CEB) which included stints leading Client Delivery Services and Media Production during which time I helped transform the psychometric test publishing company. I also re-organised test production processes on a global scale and simultaneously helped to convert it from paper-based testing to a fully online software-as-a service model. At taranis-PHI, I repeated this role; again working closely with the CEO of a SME to develop a new online business model - this time in careers guidance within the UK education sector.
Can you tell us a bit about a recent high profile interim assignment that you’ve undertaken?
I took on a role in 2013 that was to provide behavioural focus to an organisation-wide Oracle-based technology change programme in one of the UK’s largest construction organisations. My experience was to prove invaluable. The construction industry is heavily project-based which immediately creates a tension between strong centralised control over costs and profitability along with the requirement to meet client needs often under demanding timescales and conditions. On top of this challenge, the business had also grown by combining several major operating companies with very different practices and cultures.
It sounds demanding...
It was... The first challenge was to understand the journey that people in each part of the organisation would have to undertake in order to accept new ways of doing things but under the banner of one company. Workshops were held with subject matter experts and with business representatives in order to surface perceptions about the challenges and to also identify the detail of the changes to processes and operating skills that were needed. This is a necessary analytical phase combined with awareness-raising and has to be carefully managed as it can quickly set the tone as to how people will perceive the changes to come.
The second challenge was to develop a consensus as to what needed to change amongst the leadership teams of the major business streams, projects and specialist support groups. This was really a negotiation with the business to demonstrate the value of the change, the resource implications if change is to be effective, and a firm agreement on how it will all be managed. In part, it means making effective board-level presentations, but it also requires a willingness to create - and to engage sensitively with - a network of formal and informal ‘Change Champions’ and ‘Superusers’ who all have other responsibilities and pressures. Once these first two challenges had been met, with a clear idea of the changes to come and the leadership support and resources allocated, the real behavioural change process can start.
What happened next?
I used a behavioural change approach formally known as COM-B which was first developed by Professor Susan Michie at UCL and is in effect a ‘Columbo’ style approach. This requires gaining a clear understanding of how to ensure that people will have the means, the opportunity and the motivation to behave in the desired way. The challenge here was how to operationalise this in hundreds of projects, in an extensive supply chain, in human resources and other back office functions and, most vitally, amongst leadership teams! Having identified the changes required in each job role, I worked with the business itself, and with communications and training specialists, to simultaneously plant key messages, ways of working and metrics within the business units involved.
What were your key learnings?
I completed this interim assignment after 16 months. During that time, I learnt a lot about how the construction industry works and how it sits alongside my experience in the Public Sector, Defence, Oil and Newspaper industries and the talent management sector.