Cynthia Owens

Senior Consultant

Recent Posts

Process Problems Aren’t Just About Process

12-14-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Process

Most process problems in organizations today are about people, not machines, assembly lines, or just-in-time inventory strategy. To succeed, companies need to reach beyond traditional process improvement methods.
In most organizations today, where processes break down is with people:

  • Teams are stuck in silos and can’t or won’t collaborate
  • Functional leaders aren’t aligned and are focused on different priorities
  • Structures and culture slow people down
  • Metrics and rewards are focused on the wrong things, so they derail objectives
  • Employees don’t know how what they do fits into the bigger picture
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Why Visual Thinking Trumps Documents and Spreadsheets

“We need this.”

“This” is visual thinking and the “we” are professors from the top MBA programs around the world at the annual meeting for the Production and Operations Management Society earlier this month.

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Three Kick-Ass Visual Icebreakers

Our  discovery sessions, in fact, our entire business, is built on visual thinking.  Still, we know that in any session, some people will exchange nervous glances as soon as they see the Post-it Notes and Sharpies and we mention that everyone will draw.  
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If There Were No PowerPoint… A Plea For Conversation and Connecting to Your Audience

Slide decks can be amazing.
When used right PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote, and all the other presentation tools can inspire, persuade, educate, mobilize and motivate. 

But there are times when slide decks aren’t the best way to communicate. For large business changes, strategy execution initiatives, and new process roll outs, PowerPoints often don't hit the mark. Recently, a lot of clients have complained about the 50-slide decks that monopolize business meetings today and consume forests worth of paper printouts. There's got to be a better way to break out of the long slog of slides and better engage customers, internal teams, and industry peers. 

So, what else can you do to communicate change besides using a PowerPoint deck? How can you communicate more successfully through change?

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Breaking Down Silos to Foster Collaboration

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Culture

Whether separated by thousands of miles and timezones, or just by two floors in the head office tower, teams are stuck in silos.

Teams don’t collaborate. They hoard information; they are focused on different priorities; and they blame each other when projects stall or fail to deliver.

This isn’t an easy fix. There isn’t a piece of technology or a software tool that organizations can buy that suddenly makes people collaborate. Managers can’t just set up a meeting or a conference call and assume they’ve covered their bases.

In part, that’s because as Ron Ashkenas wrote in Harvard Business Review last year, "There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration". Cooperating is working in parallel tracks completing a task and handing the project off to the next team in the next silo. Collaborating is putting everyone to work in the same track and changing the way they work every day; it requires them to behave and interact in a new way. That’s why breaking down silos is so hard.

To design and nurture a culture of collaboration requires a new roadmap.

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Why Your Strategy Activation Fails

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Strategy


Most companies fail at strategy execution. Why? Despite a lot of talk, most leaders never clearly articulate what people need to do and why they should care. They fail to make meaningful connections between the strategy and the people who need to implement it.

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You Can’t Get People on the Same Page if You Can’t Get Them in the Same Room

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Culture

In today’s complex, global organizations, it seems impossible to get people in one place at the same time. And yet, given the pace and demands of business today, leaving big decisions to an email thread or a 70-page presentation deck seems nuts.  

What are the chances that everyone on a conference call clearly understands a new process or a marketing initiative because they're fully engaged in it rather than checking their email or playing games on their phone?     

As challenging as it is to organize everyone’s schedules, it’s more important than ever to get people in the same room to get them on the same page. 

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How to Get Past Just Telling People to Change Their Behavior

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Vision


Organizations spend millions designing a new vision or strategy or creating a process improvement plan. Then executives send out an email or hold a Townhall and expect to see results. It rarely works and often backfires. 


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Visual Process Innovation: Phase 5 - Embed

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Process
To remain competitive, companies need to get people to embrace change and continually look for ways to improve what they do.
What does it mean to Embed process improvement?
Once an organization goes through a process change, people want to believe “we’re done.” To keep up with competitors, companies need to set up the mechanisms for assessing, prototyping, and improving how things get done on an on-going basis.
This is the well-known business concept of continuous improvement. The goal is to make it easy for any employee to suggest ways to make a process more efficient and more effective and for the company to quickly adapt and change.
We do this by co-creating a framework, so people ask the right questions and learn to spot process roadblocks. That framework helps organizations develop a culture that encourages and rewards people for suggesting potential improvements. It also puts in place the reviews and checkpoints to give people a platform to speak up.
Importantly, we help to design a nimble structure to embrace improvements and can quickly implement changes. We do this with culture and organizational mapping, which makes their goals and values clear to everyone and helps them change faster.
Why is Embedding process improvement so important?
No matter how groundbreaking the process design was when it was initiated, organizations will fall behind if process improvement doesn’t become part of the corporate culture.
Technology, business, and the competition are shifting too quickly for any company to stand still. The companies that succeed over the years are those flexible enough to keep changing and improving.

Culture & Organizational Mapping: Mapping your organization and its current culture can be game changing. Having clarity on where your efforts will encounter passive or direct resistance–or where you could leverage positive influences–enables you to plan for or even harness these issues.
Cycle Measurement and Metrics: Once organizations put new processes in place, it is vital to develop the right metrics to know whether they are achieving their goals. We help companies design life cycle measurements and other metrics to make sure new processes are on target and help recalibrate processes when they aren’t.
Visual Kaizen Event: Kaizen is a Japanese term that means small changes for the better. We help companies design a Visual Kaizen framework, so people using the process can easily demonstrate the benefits of their Kaizen idea, and teams can quickly move from “to do” to “done.”
Champions & Feedback Loops: Building reviews and feedback into the culture and the calendar creates a regular review cycle that encourages participation. Appointing and empowering change champions help fuel those feedback loops from the outset and opens the way for some of the most important learning from the people who see the process up close.

Cynthia Owens is a Senior Consultant at XPLANE.
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Visual Process Innovation: Phase 4 - Activate

11-23-2016 | Cynthia Owens | Process
Implementing a new process is the toughest step, and it’s often where organizations undercut their plan by not focusing time and resources on how to engage, teach, and motivate people to change.
Processes don’t change by themselves; people need to change. That’s where  Visual Process Innovation can be so effective.
What is an activation plan?
Co-creating and visualizing the future state jump-starts any process change, and because the multi-disciplinary teams that create the new process become advocates for it, those same people help to develop an engagement and activation plan to scope out what the organization needs to do over weeks and months to make sure change occurs and to make sure those changes stick.
We do this in a discovery session designed to understand employees and how to engage them. We focus on every touch point in your process. Employees need to know why they need to change, how it is changing, and what they need to do differently.
This provides insights to create an implementation plan that helps people understand and accept changes and moves them to activating and defending those changes.
We design learning experiences, so they can understand and practice new processes and behaviors. And, we work with organizations to develop reinforcement tools so change sticks.
Why do you need an activation plan?
Activation isn’t a one-time launch announcement or a communications plan. Activation is a strategy for creating support and lasting change in the way people work.
Without an activation plan, organizations often see only parts of a new process successfully integrated and won’t gain the full business impact of the improvement program.
People are creatures of habit, so change can take time, and activation needs to lead your team to the new process and then reinforce change.

Empathy Mapping: This is an excellent tool for understanding what any new process is up against. It maps the larger context for different stakeholder groups, so we can look for ways to engage them. The framework asks what each group is doing, thinking, hearing, saying, seeing, and feeling to get a clear picture of the audience and begin to look for ways to engage them.

Communication & Engagement Strategy: Focusing on key engagement principles such as transparency and two-way communication, we focus on questions: How do we reach employees? How do they learn? What tools are available? How can we create opportunities for social networks to support the new process? How can we answer questions? This helps us to work with clients to design a strategy for success.

Learning Experiences Activation: Once we know how to reach stakeholders, we work to develop the right tools; from learning games to training programs and playbooks, we work with organizations to design what will be most effective in helping people understand why and how the process needs to change.

Enablement & Reinforcement Tools: It’s easy for people to slip back into old patterns; that’s human nature. Simple engagement tools can test a new process, so you know what’s working and where you might be running into roadblocks. Then, we can turn those into opportunities to reinforce and redefine the engagement strategy to set people up, so they can execute the new process.

Cynthia Owens is a Senior Consultant at XPLANE.
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