spiders1“I don’t know” can be hard words to utter when you are trying to lead or guide people. I’ve always said you have to become comfortable with the unknown in order to take people somewhere new.

But there was something I didn’t get (read as something I didn’t know) that went beyond my comfort with the unknown. I didn’t get that people were not always comfortable with my willingness to admit that I didn’t know. Their expectation that I knew something was valid and they could fairly assume was the reason I was there to begin with.

I suspect this lands in sector known as building trust, but I sensed still that I wasn’t getting it. I think I have a handle on the communicating and the relationship building and the proof is in the pudding tactics. So what I realized I needed to do was help them redefine the idea of knowing.

For most of us knowing is knowledge, facts, figures, available answers, definitive solutions. But to a continuous improvement or a change person, knowing is defined by the process of getting to a desired state. The knowing is how to navigate the path to that future state.

I suppose this seems like a rather “duh-like” epiphany but it hit home that I needed to take extra care in coming back to the idea of process as knowing: by hook, crook, allegory, anecdote or metaphor. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Clearly, there is no one way to explain or communicate. Every environment is different. It’s like marketing. Repeat the message in different ways until it begins to crystallize.

As Tom Petty might say, the knowing is the hardest part.


Be the Gardener

Posted: January 1, 2016 in Change
Tags: , , ,

Control is an Illusion

Control. So many people want it. They want to use it like a super power, like a panacea against all that is wrong with the world.

Yet, who wants to be controlled? Not many that I know of. In fact the exercise of control usually yields the opposite intent because I certainly don’t’ want to cede my control to you.

And what people usually exert when they think they are exercising control is dictation: the power to dictate the terms and conditions of the situation.

Again, who wants to be on the receiving end of that? As suspected, not many.

Add this to the reality that you don’t get control of the countless variables swirling around you that impact your environment, if in fact you are even aware of them.

So what is one to do when one realizes control rarely yields the results one desires and the rest of it is beyond your reach to control?

Acceptance. Acceptance that you only have agreeable control over your own actions.

Why is this so important? It’s important because you can begin to shift your energy away from counterproductive actions and you reduce all the negative vibes around resistance to your attempts to control. You end up with more positive energy. Positive energy that is so often in short supply.

And when you become the purveyor of positive energy, you become a beacon. People are drawn to positive energy. And as a beacon you can move from control to influence.

Think of yourself as a gardener. The plants are the people and the projects you are trying to help thrive. Your job is not to change their DNA, to turn them into different plants. Your job is to water, fertilize, pull weeds and keep the soil loose. Your job is to create an environment where they can thrive. And yes sometimes you have to move plants from sun to shade or from sandy to clay. A healthy garden is always changing.

Be the gardener and reap the rewards.

swing1I give up. I don’t give up. I give up. I don’t give up. I give up.

I’m an optimist. I always think there is a way forward, a way to progress. I can’t even admit to myself that there is a limit to this position.

But yet. That ever possible and frustrating but yet. But yet there are times when forces overwhelm your position and you must retreat. Those things just too far outside of your control.

Let me wander for a moment. I know things must evolve. I know evolution of an organization or even a person does not go from point A directly to point Z. It’s a journey.

I have recently been faced with interacting with an organization so unevolved that I don’t know or can’t comprehend what point A is. It’s like pre-history to me. The evolutionary divide is so great that I can’t even speak the same language. And what language I attempt to use that seems to be recognized gets translated into terms from this pre-history and entirely misses the point.

So guess what? And this is difficult to admit. I quit trying. I came to grips with what could simplistically be called failure.

I know I have been told that this happens and others have even shared similar stories with me. It is highly unpleasant feeling. I don’t like it. Remember the optimist part of me. I believe there is hope. But yet.

But yet the return on investment here is awful. The drain of energy for little return can’t go on.

In counseling circles they say it’s almost impossible to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Barkis has to be willing.

Yes, this is all a “learning” process. But we tend to talk so much in these blogs about how awesome we are and that we have all the right tools and methods and attitudes. We don’t talk about how much this flailing sucks. And it does suck. I suppose this post is a way of working through that suckage and moving on.

So be wise enough to give up. Move on to the next place that is willing to multiply your energy instead of divide it.






continuous improvement










visionHow about some building blocks to starting a change effort out on the right footing.

Priority and Time

If you want a successful change effort, it has to be a priority. It doesn’t have to be THE priority but it will have to replace an existing priority. Something has to give. You can’t just pile it on. It won’t get worked on. This applies to both you and your people. Everybody’s priorities will have to change.

Not only does it have to be a priority for your people, it has to be a priority for you. If you’re not making it a priority, it’s not a priority. People will work on the things they know are a priority for you. And no amount of cheap talk will steer them away from knowing what your real priorities are.

Your desire to make this happen it isn’t enough either. Your understanding of the need isn’t enough. It requires that you make it a priority and making it a priority requires time. Time is the most precious and most powerful tool you have. If you don’t spend real time on it, it’s not a priority.

You can’t hide it. Trust me. Everyone will know if you are devoting time. And if you are devoting time, your people will devote time. Simple equation.

And you can’t hand it off. Not to anyone. Not to your right hand, not to a project manager, not to a change agent.

Clarity of Purpose

No reason to move ahead if you don’t have this. What are you trying to change? What are you trying to achieve? These have to be real tangible things. They can’t be things like, we want to be more nimble. Sure, we all want to be more nimble. But I might be thinking I’m nimble and you might be thinking I’m a clod. Doesn’t work. Everyone has to be able to understand where you are going.

You have to get to the heart of what you are trying to achieve. Or you at least have to be close and be willing to be flexible as you dive into the process.

There are many different ways to get to the heart of the matter. However you get there, slow down to speed up. Get this right.

Focus and Discipline

Fires will start up for whatever reason. We all know they will. They’ll be very distracting. Do not give in to firefighting mode. Stay focused. You have to keep the change a priority.

But the fire will come and they often have to be put out. Send someone to deal with it. Not you. Not anyone who will have to de-prioritize the change project.

Why? Because it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that firefighting is more important than the change project. It is not. Firefighting is reactive. Change projects are proactive.

You say you have to send project members to fight fires because you don’t have enough resources? Well, you better plan for that. You know it’s going to happen. Designate someone to deal with that now. If you don’t have that person, you need to start looking now.

Education and Engagement

Everyone needs to understand the purpose of the change;  they also need to understand their role.

That takes active engagement. This can’t be a top down activity. This can’t happen by directive.

This takes active education—of everyone impacted. Whether that education is on the change itself or the act of changing. That has to start right now. Not right before the change is rolled out.

It takes dialog. Lots of dialog. You have to keep discussing it because it will evolve. It will not be in the end what it was in the beginning.


Yes, back to time. All of these take time. Lots of time.


If you can accept that this is what it will take, then you can start. Now you can walk into the fire with Eyes Wide Open.

dispersion1Life is so scattered and overwhelming. So much going on inside the mind and outside in the real world. We spend so much time trying to get our hands around it all, trying to collect it and manage it.

We think we are jugglers who must continue to juggle more and more things. We think must hone our juggling skills to take on every new problem that comes along, become virtuoso jugglers to cope with the world.

We invent new technologies to help us juggle more and more. We become tour de forces of juggling. We become multitasking, juggling maniacs. We get really good at it. The complexity of it all.

Except isn’t that really bad? I know dealing with complexity seems so much more impressive to others than dealing with the simplified. Yet we expend so much energy juggling we hardly have any left for the task and objects we are juggling. They are just tasks to be completed so we can move onto the next. We lose context. Lose track of the reasons why.

What if we just stopped juggling? Just said no. Just came to grips with the unsustainability of it all. Let all the balls just fall to the ground. Let them just disperse back into nature. It’s a leap of faith, I know. I’m asking you to walk through the looking glass, which is full of the unknown. Let’s at least do it in our minds. It will be fun. Trust me.

Imagine those fifty balls in the air held up by your juggling skills, by your project plans, by your smart devices, your applications with in applications and so on. Now imagine turning the machine off. All the balls have fallen to the floor and scattered about the room. And in front of you see this complex system that’s trying to hold it all together. Probably rather too complex for its own good.

Now look around the room at all the balls on the floor. Think about the things you are trying to achieve or must achieve. Rank them, prioritize them. The higher the priority the more difficult it is to juggle. Now start picking them up in order. Start to juggle them. Ignore the old system. Juggle as many as you can without gadgets and applications. Juggle them so that you’re giving each object the attention it deserves. In this way the new system will self-define itself without sacrificing the needs of the individual pieces. That’s good juggling.

Are you meeting all your main priorities? Maybe, maybe not. If not, is that semi-critical important ball one that you need to juggle or could someone else? These are the questions you need to ask for every ball you want to bring back into play. You have to make choices. As one strategist once said, he who defends everything defends nothing. We all have to leave things undone.

Let the balls fall. For your own good. For the balls’ good. For everyone’s good. Let your priorities disperse so they can come back together more focused than ever. Be the ball.

crookedaI’m the kind of guy big data hates. I can’t blame them. I’ve been known to profess that if I need data to find my path I’ve already failed.

Don’t get me wrong. I find data important to help determine whether things are getting better. But you see, that’s later when you’ve actually plotted a course and actually know what data is important.

I won’t say that I go just on gut instincts, though I certainly often do, but instead of data I like to look at behaviors and system activities. Data at that point just muddies up the view for me in the beginning, clouds when you need clarity.

So instead of beginning with data I like to go stream of conscious in the beginning. It’s like brainstorming with a narrative. Your goal is to get new possibilities on the table.

You start with brainstorming because even a stream of conscious narrative needs a place to start. In most brainstorming sessions we start out by saying there are no bad ideas, which is good because we want to open up the floor. The challenge we have is that as we begin we also want to view them all as equal. But if you’re looking to open new ground they are not.

The analogy I use here is one I learned writing headlines for a newspaper. If you want a fresh headline, here’s what you do. Obviously you read the article. Next you write down the first headline that comes to mind. You throw it away. If you thought of that headline that quick so will have 90% of the population. Think of a second headline. You had to think a little harder but you’re going to throw that one away too. Maybe you’re down to 40% of the population thinking that one up. OK, now do a third. You had to dig got that one. Let’s keep it. While it may not be the most original, it’s probably pretty fresh.

Same thing with brainstorming for a stream of consciousness session. We don’t want the obvious so we go through the brainstorming exercise and in the end we lop off the top half, maybe more depending on how long the list is.

Now we can start playing with our stream of conscious narrative. Pick one of the brainstorming ideas. Give it to a person who didn’t throw it up there. The person’s job is to take the idea and run with how it would be implemented. A moderator’s job is to prompt with hows: how do you account for this, how do you account for that. At this point the group can jump back in recommending solutions.

No filtering. You take the first idea that jumps up. That’s it. Now what? Now what? Now what? And then you peter out. Who knows what the process or solution will look like? Doesn’t matter.

You can repeat the exercise with the same brainstorming idea and different person. See where it goes. Some place different.

The goal here is not to find “the” solution. The goal is to open up the mind. Let it simmer. Let people go and digest the possibilities. You might even ask groups to take these impromptu processes and fill out the details and come back with a beefed up proposal. Good exercise without pressure.

Team members start to think. Doors are opened. The idea that the path is never straight starts to sink in, which is good. The belief that crooked path is OK is even better.

TrustTrust. I know it’s kind of a tricky word to begin with. Trust can have many different meanings to many different people. The dictionary definition is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Back to our opening salvo: Why should they trust you? The answer is that if they don’t know you there is no reason for them to trust you. Why not? I’m going to grab onto two of the words in the definition of trust here: reliability and ability. If they have no knowledge of your ability or reliability they have no way to judge your trustworthiness.

Think about when you say “I trust she’ll get it done” whether at work or in your personal life. What are you basing that on? You’re probably basing that on experience. Positive experiences to be precise because we know that negative experiences bring distrust.

Trust we know is the foundation of a good relationship. And good relationships are the key achieving great things. When trust exists in a relationship people will allow you to act in ways that would not otherwise be allowed, and they may follow guidance they otherwise may not. It can mean the difference between getting lip service or feelings of coercion and getting well-intentioned investment. So how are you going to build trust?

Essentially you need to prove yourself. A good reference can get you in the door but only trust will keep you there.

But how do I provide good experiences if they don’t trust me with the opportunity? An age-old conundrum, for sure. Well, there are ways to open the door. Here are a couple thoughts.

• Start with education or coaching before asking them to do work or asking for work. Take in the environment and the context. What are some of the activities you foresee? Based on these, introduce concepts that open the door to the knowledge around these activities. Provide illustrations and anecdotes about how they work elsewhere. What this does is begin to establish a link between your knowledge and the ability you want them to trust you with.

• Give without expectation. Find a problem that they need solved that you think you can help them with. This problem may or may not have anything to do with your mission to help them, in fact the benefit to it not being related is that it eases feelings that an agenda is being pursued. The goal is to demonstrate ability. Keep your eyes and ears open. When you find something make an offer to do some research or an analysis.

• Show that you’re listening. Pay attention to dialogs that are occurring. Look for topics where you might be able to provide insight, especially those not tied to your mission. Look for topics where you may be able to refer them to someone with knowledge or insight. This provides glimpses into your knowledge and experience and also shows good will. Needless to say that piping in about everything might back fire when you end up looking like a know it all. So step gently.

• Common ground. Look for places where your experience and their experience overlap. This will undoubtedly happen. Highlight a few where you can tie back to education and concepts. Everything in moderation, of course.
• Be human. You have a personality. So do they. You have a personal life. So do they. Acknowledge that. Inquire. Share. It’s the little things.

• Deliver. Do what you say you will do. It doesn’t get any simpler. Delivery builds trust. Non-delivery destroys it.

attitude1We try to get people to change, to adapt, to innovate. We teach them new analytical skills and new methodologies.

But does any of that matter, is any of that sustainable if we don’t change people’s attitudes towards the environment, the situation? I think the long term answer to that is no.

So how do we go about changing attitudes? Clearly just talking about it doesn’t work. Re-education is a bit out of favor so we won’t go there. I think we have the elements around us to make some progress. We just need to combine the right pieces to create a more robust attitude-changing environment.

Now before I drop this new combination on you, I just want to make it clear that I don’t know what that specific attitude is.  As with any complex situation it will depend on the circumstances. It is not about my attitude is right and yours is wrong. The goal is to match the attitude to the environment. It’s about the evolution of the attitude.

So my idea is a simple, at least on the surface. You combine the change that’s going on with an ongoing dialog about how our attitudes are changing or need to change.

The first part we are doing all the time, whether it is organizational change, process change, technology change or any other change. While we certainly have a plan to implement these changes, our knowledge and understanding of the change evolves as we move through it. We know more and more about the impacts, the repercussions and unintended consequences a week in, a month in and so on.

With this evolving knowledge we should also have evolving attitudes. How can we not?

The second part is then that we need then to have on-going and proactive discussion about how we think about these changes. Some of this will be positive and some of this will be negative. That’s OK. The goal is to talk through these, to see how old attitudes don’t mesh, to look for new ways to approach the new environment.

The changing environment is also an opportunity to talk about the way we view change. To view hiccups in the plan as normal, to see the need to adjust as a sign of agility, to be comfortable in questioning original assumptions. Using a real, practical implementation to talk about these attitudes is so much more enlightening than talking about them in the abstract. You can actually choose to behave and react in these ways on real-time, in-your-face, challenges.

Make attitude a part of the on-going dialog. Get it out in the open.

How do you talk about attitude?


Cheesy fictional private eyes are always asking “What did he know and when did he know it?” It’s a good question. Perhaps modified for our purposes it would be “What does he know and what does he need to know more of?”

We are tasked with helping people through change. I like to take it one step farther. We are tasked with helping people understand change, both generally and specifically. I think we owe that to them. The difference lies between me guiding you through the maze and me teaching you how to navigate the maze.

I grant that this is easy to say and much harder to do. So how do we go about that?

Let’s presume you are tasked with helping a manager through a change. I think there are three pillars needed to make this work.

Pillar #1: Understanding the nature of the change being introduced: your understanding and your manager’s understanding. What’s going to have to be different?

  • What are the characteristics of the specific change?
    • Is it process? Is it organizational? Is it cultural? Is it system? Is it rigid?
    • What new skills are required?
    • What new attitudes are required?
    • Is it large or small?
    • What is the context of the change?
  • What is the impetus of the change?
    • Is it productivity or quality related?
    • Is it compliance? Is it a new product?
    • Is it internal or external?

Pillar #2: Understanding how much your manager understands. The trick here is you need to understand the gap between what your manager has experience and what the change will require so you can help them but not turn it into a witch hunt for their weaknesses.

Understand their previous experience

    • Look for skills, projects, experience that intersect with the change needs
    • Leverage existing skills and guide them to the next level
  • Introduce a restrained number of new skills
    • Don’t overwhelm them
    • Better to learn a key new skill well than a bunch poorly

Pillar #3: Build context. Look at how the current organization is always adapting to change at a systemic level. Sometimes well and sometimes not so well, but that understanding upstream and downstream and across the stream can help mitigate the not so well.

Tie the change to the bigger picture

  • Illustrate the ongoing nature of change
    • Tie it to other current projects
    • Tie it to past changes