Archive for January, 2014

Schoolboy Struggling with Math Problems

Change is life. And if you are a change agent, you are a teacher, an educator. Because helping a person gain an understanding of a concept is the best way to open the door for them to actually endorse and execute on a concept.

We don’t often think of ourselves this way. Sure we throw around ideas like teach a man to fish but do we really think through what it means to really educate people on how to change. We throw a few presentations around, maybe send people to a couple trainings. They got it, right?

Sometimes they get it right away. Usually they don’t. And they don’t get it right away not because they are failing but because it takes time and repetition to get it.

I think we tend to underestimate how long it takes to assimilate new ideas. Once we become experts it is so easy to forget just how much effort went into it.

It reminds me of times I worked for a cousin of mine who was an experienced general contractor. He would say go do this, it’s easy. I would say, yes, it’s easy if you’ve done it a hundred times. Anything is easy if you know how to do it.

So you need to be a teacher. I almost said mentor. But in this case I don’t mean mentor because that’s something different. The goals are as important and you should certainly be one but it’s a different role and so a topic for a different time.

You need to educate. Though you may not be running a classroom the skills and efforts that go into teaching an effective class certainly apply.

Think of it as a combination between giving lessons and being a tutor.

The lesson part is about looking at what skills and knowledge your project needs to be successful. You may need to talk about the change process in general, you may need to talk about the whys and whats of the goals and vision of the project, you may need to teach about the process methodology, you may need to talk about success variable, etc.

Think about is as creating a lesson plan. What are all the lessons this person needs to learn to make it through this class/project successfully. Notice here I didn’t say the project had to be a success, but that the person has learning success through the project.

Patience. That’s another skill you’re going to need. The demands of the project will always want you to go faster than the education is occurring. You’ll have to stand as strong as you can in defense of the need to not push past the awareness points.

It’s like if you really didn’t get algebra and you are forced on to calculus. There’s a pretty good chance you will never get calculus. You won’t get it not because you are stupid but because the framework to understand was never finished. It will crumple.

There are a lot resources out there for creating lessons and teaching tools. Learn about these. They will come in handy because everyone will have their own way of learning. It will be your job to figure out what methods work best based on your pupil and the subject matter.

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f grade

As a change agent, I should be told to fail. In fact anyone doing improvement work should be told to fail. Well, not exactly told to fail. I should be told that I should be pushing the envelope far enough to fail regularly.

If I am always succeeding, then I am not risking enough. Real innovation requires risks. We hear this all the time from the innovation gurus. Real change requires real risk.

Yet we don’t tolerate failure very well, do we? In fact how often are projects scaled back to avoid failure? And how often are the things that get scaled out of the project the most aggressive and most innovative pieces? It’s because perception of success (or rather completion of a project) is more important than real change, real progress.

How do we get out of this mentality? How do we break free?

Perhaps we need to begin by acknowledging that change and risk are linked closely together. And since people perceive change as risk no matter what, you may as well build in enough risk to make real change. Otherwise you are just introducing stress with little chance of impactful change.

So leaders need to embrace failure as a positive possibility. And then need to let their people know this. Of course this means knowing the difference between failure caused by risk taking and failure caused by incompetence. You improve your chances of knowing the difference when you understand the vision and the processes being executed.

I know that’s asking a lot. But you can start small. Be aggressive on small projects where the cost of failure is manageable. Learn to fail well. It’s like learning to lose well.  And remember that you can often learn far more in losing than in winning.

Think of it as research and development instead of success and failure. In development you expect that you will develop things that don’t work. You tweak your way to a good result.

This isn’t some new concept. It’s the concept of being OK with failures that is missing. It’s a mentality and an attitude, not a process, that needs your love.

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You must believe. As a change agent you must believe in the task at hand. So you ask, what exactly is it that I must believe?  

You must believe in the goal or the vision. You must believe that it is a good place to go. You must believe that it is a good course.

Because not believing has awful consequences. I know because I’ve been there. It’s apparent. You cannot hide it.

Was it entirely my fault that I did not believe? No. Was I guilty of not making the right effort with powers to be to find a way to believe? Yes. I did a disservice to myself and the project by not making it clear to my superiors that if I didn’t believe in this I would fail, the project would fail, and we needed to work at my belief or get me off the project.

If I don’t believe my performance will suffer. That is certainly true. The greater damage will be that most people on the project  will know I don’t believe. And unfortunately, unbelief inspires unbelief. It inspires mistrust and cynicism that those who are supposed to help them don’t believe in the cause. The project members may not know why something is amiss and they may not be able to put a name on it. But they will know. They may see it as going through the motions, lacking optimism or lacking conviction.

Others must believe that you believe. That is why it is so important to do the upfront work before anything kicks into motion.

Again, it is relationship building. In this case it is both upward and outward.

Upward to those directing the work. You need to establish a relationship that says this is a joint effort. That change efforts need to inspire belief. They have to have tangible and visual value. The reasons for the change have to be meaningful and understandable to the people you are asking to change. You need to help the powers that be to understand that it’s part of your job to give projects the right kind of believable meaning.

And also reaching outward to your project team. If you want them to believe you not only must they believe that you believe, but they must trust you. You have to start building that bond before you ask them to do anything. Plant seeds and educate and understand before you ask for anything.

If the roots are not severed, all will be well in the garden.

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Going Native

Good change agents need to engage with the people they are trying to help.  They need to have empathy so they can understand the different attitudes that inevitably spring to life. They need to take time to observe and analyze the processes and jobs performed so they can relate those back to the attitudes and behaviors of the team.

This approach is not without risk. While it is important to understand the people you are working with, it is also important not to go native, to become so immersed in their world that your vision becomes blotted out by their objections and fears. Instead of you helping them change, they change you. You become their mouthpiece and then you are lost. I have seen  many a good analyst go native.

The classic analogy of course is Kurtz from “Heart of Darkness” (or “Apocalypse Now” if you are a movie buff). He went upstream and went mad, went native. His mission or vision became contorted and justified and horrific. For however intriguing the story of Kurtz is, it’s probably not a path we should follow for helping teams. So how do we avoid this?

Vision. There that concept  is again. What are you trying to achieve? Where are you trying to go?

It’s your compass and your map. You need to know your vision. Then you need to make sure it’s a shared vision.

In order for it to be shared, the team needs to be educated.

Here’s our vision. Here’s what it’s trying to do. Here’s how we’re trying to get there. Here’s how these tactics work.

Change is education.  Education needs to be ongoing through the process. Because it’s in doing that the learnings are cemented into the consciousness. And when they are cemented into the consciousness, then behaviors can change. This is your goal after all.

But there will be pitfalls and traps. You will see where they are coming from, you will see the logic they present for turning from the vision. You will be shown the trees and forget the forest.

Stay calm. Keep educating to the vision and the process along the way. It reinforces lessons for the team, but just as important it keeps these things in front of you as well. It’s your compass to let you know if you are getting lost, if you are going native. It will be more work and you may have to be more patient, but the effort is worthwhile. You don’t have to follow Kurtz into the Heart of Darkness.

This is why relationship building is so important. Lot’s of good points here.

Change Whisperer - Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Are we just “ugly giant bags of mostly water”?—alien’s description of humans, Star Trek, The Next Generation, “Home Soil”

physiology of changeThis may be a contentious topic. Are we servants to our base instincts or are we higher, sentient beings capable of controlling our instincts with intellect and morals? Or, on any given day or situation, somewhere in between?

When we better understand why we, as human beings, “do the things we do” we are all better off. We can be more conscious of our personal choices. In our role as strategy execution and change management leads we can help people navigate their reactions to change more consciously.

Proceed at your own risk: this post includes serious thinking (Simon Sinek’s) mixed in with liberal doses of “mesearch” (observations based on my own experience) and (hopefully) thoughtful reflection.

Do you know when you are moved?

A couple of days ago I was…

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We want people to just get it. When we pitch an idea or concept to someone we want all the light bulbs to go on at once.

Sometimes people do just get it. But that’s the exception. And when they don’t get it right away we often get frustrated or we try to force it.

It’s as if we have forgotten what it is like to learn something new. How easy it can be to be overwhelmed by new concepts, especially when you have your real job to do. You don’t even know enough to be able to gauge the value of the new concept so you can’t even make a choice to prioritize it.

Then we start making requests of them to start making changes, implementing new things. It’s hard enough that they don’t fully understand yet (not that you don’t ask them to do foreign things because it is in doing that we learn). But the psychological risk here is that they often don’t see you as requesting them to try a new process but demanding that they try a new process.  They feel this because most likely you’ve been assigned this task by someone above them and view your requests as not optional. And no one likes to feel that demands are being put on them from an outside force.

I don’t know how to avoid this entirely. Change comes with resistance no matter how you sugar coat it. You can, however, minimize this by building the relationship first and then requesting change and experimentation.

There are many ways to build relationships. There are also many ways to damage relationships. One good way to damage a relationship is to start by asking for something before a relationship is built. Like in the example above, if you start asking someone to change before you build a relationship you’re creating a one way dynamic. You’re asking them to do something and you’re asking them to trust you. All the burden and effort is on them. I wouldn’t want to be part of that relationship.

What can you do then to avoid this? Plant seeds, not demands.

Plant seeds by educating them on the concept, illustrating the concept, highlighting examples of the concept without asking them to do anything. Give the seeds time to germinate. Continue to water the seeds by offering more knowledge. This shows a commitment to them by you. By offering observation on their operations in context to the concept. This shows you are paying attention to their world. This is how you build trust. This is how you build good will. This is how you can give without asking.

If you do it right, they may ask you when they can start a new project or process. If you do it right, you may see an opportunity to offer assistance in trying something new.  Yes, there will still be apprehension but there will also be willingness.

In fact, you should always be planting seeds with all your business partners. You should always be educating them. You never know when these seeds will germinate. Plant seeds, reap benefits.

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Things change. Really. They do.

Even as a change agent whose job it is to foster change you will run into change.

What you’re trying to change will change. Who you are trying to change will change. Why you are trying to change will change.

We are always telling the people we are helping that change is constant or inevitable. But we don’t always deal with change so well ourselves. It’s easy for us to latch on to a goal and not let go. To be upset when our sponsor leaves us for another position. It’s natural to react this way even when we know it’s not helpful. We have to follow our own advice.

That’s when we have to remember our role and our goal. To change culture, which is to change people’s behaviors. Everyone’s behavior. Not just the sponsor or the manager or your star employee. Don’t get me wrong. It does suck to lose a key person and it can be demoralizing at times. But someone once told me that the sign of a great leader is not how well they prepare for a task but how well they respond when things go wrong, which they inevitably do. No battle plan survives the battle.

This is where the Lewis and Clark method comes in handy. When you know where you are headed, it’s much more possible to make course corrections. If the bridge is washed out, then you must look for options and knowing which general direction you need to go makes the decision easier.

This is also where people fall off the track. At the beginning of a project they think they must and can map out all the points of failure. Endless sessions of contingency planning which suck the life out of everyone and everything around it. And you can’t do it. It’s flawed from the start. The things that go wrong are never the things you predicted. There are too many variables.

But you can prepare for contingencies without knowing specifically what they will be. Like Lewis and Clark bringing rope with them.  The rope might be used to pull something up, lower something down, hold something in place or hog tie a bear.  You just don’t know but you have a tool that can do all these things.

These concepts can be applied to people as well. You can look at it two ways. You can work to make sure you have the right people with the right skills (or rope) to address challenges that come along. Since you don’t always get to choose your people, it becomes really important to know your people, to understand what they are capable of. Like a skills or knowledge assessment. So when those challenges come you can look at your list and go, oh look, Joe has skills that would work well here.

So in the end once again it comes down to vision and people. Knowing where you are going and knowing your people and yourself is how you handle change in the change world. Educating and cultivating your people to handle change in the same way as you have trained yourself is key. Change is people, people.

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So you want to be a change agent. That’s awesome.

I first ask myself what does that mean. It means different things to different people.

To me it means helping change culture and attitudes so that change and improvement can occur more naturally. Changing processes and rules and mechanics are just a subset of change.

Well, in order to attack change in this way you need the right frame of mind and the right skills. Essentially you need to train your brain. These will be different skills than typical process methodologies like Lean or Six sigma or whatever the latest trends are. So here are some thoughts on your brain.

Being in control of your brain

This skill probably applies more universally that the one that follow but perhaps the key. I have people tell me as a point of pride that they’re always thinking, their brains never turn off. They think about shit when driving, when lying in bed at night, when standing in line. It never stops. In fact they can’t stop it.

I’m sorry but that’s not good. Not for your health or your cognitive abilities. You need to be able to control when and what you think about.

You need to quiet your mind. Give it a chance to recover, reenergize itself. It’s like a muscle and if your work it, work it, work it, it will wear out. You need to meditate (or I guess the buzz word now is practice mindfulness).

Meditation is basically quieting your mind. It serves two key purposes here. It supplies the recovery mentioned about. But also in practicing to quiet your mind you gain discipline and control over your mind. Think of when you have struggled with a  problem and then gone to bed and woke up and have an ah-ha moment. Meditation is like controlling that process. It’s allowing your subconscious mind to do some heavy lifting and association. It’s really good at that. You should let it do that. In fact you should make it do that.

There are lots of good resources out there for meditation. Check them out. Be your brain.

Become a Psychologist

One of the keys to change is knowing it’s the people. Most of the books I’ve read on change and process improvement spend about one chapter on how to work with the “difficult” people, with the resistance. One chapter. Really. You’re going to help me master an understanding of the human psyche in one chapter. I highly doubt it. So you’re going to have to become a psychologist on your own.

You need to understand human behavior. What makes people do what they do? You need to look into motivational psychology, cognitive behavior therapy and even counseling techniques. It’s so helpful in reducing frustration over unwanted behaviors as well as helpful in creating counter-measures.

If you’re going to practice some psychology then you also need to learn how to read people. You need to learn about body language and facial expressions. You need to understand what they are saying and what they are not saying.

Again there are lots of resources out there. Be the counselor.

Become Empathetic

Understanding the people you are trying to help is obviously important. Empathy is the act of being able to place oneself in another’s shoes. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathetic feelings or condoning of behavior.

Too often we think that empathy is a thing you have or you don’t. And surely some people’s genetics may make them more empathetic. But empathy can be learned. It’s skill that takes practice but it can be acquired. Check these thoughts out: http://www.experis.us/Job-Seekers/Research-and-Insights/Career-Center/Strengthening-Your-Empathy-Ski.htm

A word of caution on this though: Gaining empathy skills can often be offset by reacting to our newfound insight with cynicism and judging. It’s probably easy to go there. Kind of like the Dark Side.

Feed Your Head  

Literally, feed your head. Just like taking care of other parts of your body, your brain needs nutrients. Make sure it gets them.

Oxygen. Your brain needs lots of it. This means being in shape and maintaining good cardio conditioning. Get the blood to the brain. Get up and move.

Brain food. Amino acids are what make your brain go. Especially Dimethylglycine (or DMG).  Look it up. Here’s a start: http://www.needs.com/product/NDNL-0605-01/l_DMG_Dimethylglycine

And of course you should eat foods good for the noggin. Again lots of sources on that. Here is one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/brain-food-superfoods_n_1895328.html

Badda Bing

Off you go. Take a step in the right direction.

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Indeed Barkis is willing. And he has his reasons. In Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield” Mr. Barkis is a character who is interested in marrying Peggotty based on her cooking chops. He sends a simple message via David to Peggotty: Barkis is willing.

Now perhaps we would prefer maybe that Barkis had a different motive for wanting to marry Peggotty, such as her beauty or her charm or gentleness. But Barkis is willing to marry for his own reason. And in the context of the book we have to accept that.

In the change world sometimes you will have the fortune to run into Barkis. Barkis is often not who you were expecting. Whoever it is, whatever there motive for wanting involvement in your vision, ignore Barkis at your own peril. Barkis is a seed that has germinated. Give Barkis the right amount of love.

We tend to ignore Barkises  when they’re not in the appropriate position of power. We tend to ignore Barkises when they’re not totally aligned with us. We tend to ignore Barkises when they’re on the periphery of the project. It can be easy to dismiss Barkis.

But I repeat, do not ignore Barkis. Barkis is displaying interest and desire, sometimes even passion. Desire is the mother lode. Grab onto that.

This falls under the greater category of Take What the Beast Will give. We work so hard to educate people and inspire them to have vision and create motivation and focus towards that vision. I know it’s hard because we fail so often to generate inspiration. So when hear Barkis is willing, stop and listen.

Why is Barkis so important?

Like I said, desire is hard to create and find. Don’t squander the opportunity. But it’s perhaps the underlying impacts that a Barkis can have that make this important to nurture.

Desire and passion are contagious. They are palpable. Just like when you genuinely smile at someone they are more likely to genuinely smile as well. And smiling feels good. So does desire. And at work how often do you get to feel good? The key to change is changing culture, perceptions, moods and so on. What better to influence these than a collective increase in a desire to be part of a vision.

Credibility. You are dead in the water without it. And believe it or not the best credibility you can have doesn’t come from you. It comes from someone who probably doesn’t have a stake in the game. You and the management tasked with a project don’t count. Someone who’s gotten the vision, found some passion around it and is willing to talk about it will bring credibility to the vision that can’t be bought.

As with many things it’s your job to nurture your Barkis, mold your Barkis and of course not let Barkus go too far off path, which is why having a good vision is so important. You can be flexible without losing sight of the goal.

Because in the end it’s about Barkis and his friends changing course, not you.

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Do you have visions? Dreams of what the future could look like?

You should. You better.

When I say vision I don’t mean some crap ass mission statement about being the best. I mean envisioning a perfect future state. Whether for a small or large project, for your team, for your company, for your own job, you need to have visions.

Even Misfits need vision. Even if they are abstract and hard to define. Can you see it? Good. Then start talking about what you see (or writing about it if that is better for you). Maybe at first you’ll have a hard time describing it. That’s OK. Bounce it off people. They’ll poke holes. That’s OK, too. Every new concept has holes to fill in.  If you have passion for the vision, let that shine through.

And then start telling your customer about the vision. Start selling your customer on the vision, on the possibilities. Don’t confuse this with telling them what to do. This is about opening their eyes to opportunity. The what to do will come later. Create the desire first.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So we have desire. Now we can put the shared vision to work. As we take our first steps we can look ahead to the vision and ask where are we trying to go, what are we trying to accomplish and then finally we can ask what are the very first steps to move in that direction. Having that vision means we don’t have to have some detailed plan on how to get there. We just have to keep taking the next best and available step toward the vision.

Knowing the destination will allow us to make a wider range of choices, to use more discretion in concocting actions and behaviors that are conscience of the ever changing environment around us. We’re agile. We’re not tied down to the baggage of a plan concocted long before enough information was available to make good choices.

We have to get used to making directional, non-linear choices. And for many of us the only way to get used to that is to start doing it and working through the discomfort. This is important because we’ll never each a perfect future state and we have to learn to be comfortable that.

And sometimes we’ll be wrong. That’s why it’s uncomfortable. That’s OK. The advantage in going step by step by step is that if we are diligent at the wheel we can never get to far off track. And we always learn more from mistakes. It’s kind of like managed play time. But instead it’s managed mistake making.

I was reading an article the other day about re-inventing the public library. The author basically stated that if we as library managers are not making mistakes we’re not pushing hard enough to keep up with the changing times.

We have to push ourselves into discomfort and risk, knowing that our vision is our safety net. That is the ticket to the future.

As to how to cultivate visions, that belongs to a different post.