Archive for February, 2014

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I used to tell my last boss I was an abstract kind of person. He would laugh and say don’t you mean obtuse. He was joking of course. Though there are times when I think it is true.

Like with the idea of Empowerment. I capitalize it because that’s how I see it when I hear management say it.

Because when I hear them say it I think, I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I know what empowerment means. But I don’t know what Empowerment means.

This is where the obtuse part comes in. I’m like I don’t think I know what Empowerment looks like yet alone how to implement it. And then I get snarky because I don’t like feeling obtuse and I say, I don’t think you know what it looks like either.

Now, to be fair to myself I think perhaps it is less obtuseness and more extreme dislike for management buzz words that sets me off.  And Empowerment is one of them.

So obviously empower means to give power. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some good, some bad. Power has way too many connotations and implications and insinuations to be a healthy conversation piece.

I prefer to think of it as giving people influence. Because is influence is really what you want them to have.  And as we all know, influence is power.

Give people the tools and skills to influence behavior and processes, which vary of course depending on the goals and environment. Give them some self-determination. Because having self-determination makes us feel better about our situation.

This is great. But there’s one thing that’s usually missing. It’s not the commitment. It’s not the resources. It’s the trust.

(I think I’m going to give myself a bonus every time I use the word trust. Because it always boils down to that.)

But this time the trust is not between the change agent and the team. This trust is between management and the team. Management has to show that they trust the process.

Management often states in good faith that they trust the team and the process. Then they undermine it in word or in action, often in the form of control. The unwillingness to give up control. I don’t really trust you if I second guess everything, if I micromanage the process steps, if I have to run everything up the ladder, if I throw barriers in the way. That’s not trust.

What do we want management? We want trust. Without trust Empowerment is just another four letter word.

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 Methodologies abound in change management and process engineering. I’ve worked extensively with a few, been exposed to a few more and have read about countless others. I have my opinions on many of them but that would take days to ramble through and not necessary today.

What I want to talk about today is the need to define your own approach. I don’t mean you need to invent one (That would be quite the assignment), and I don’t wish for you to regurgitate the text book definition of a method you favor. What I mean is that we all have a way of approaching projects that have evolved over time based on our own experiences and our exposure or study of methodologies.

What is the benefit of doing this, you might ask. Sometimes we are so busy doing our jobs we don’t take time to reflect on how we are doing them. This is a good exercise to explore how we currently think even if you never show it to anyone. Our approaches should be fluid so this is good periodic exercise to see how we are changing.

I have come to find that there is nothing like having to explain your approach as a way of synthesizing what it is. You must organize all the thoughts and actions you might take into a workable and actionable framework. You must clarify the reasons and objectives behind these thoughts and actions. You must clarify expectations and roles.

You might also find holes or weaknesses in your approach. If necessary you can then go in search of tools and techniques to fill the holes. A good motivator to search out knowledge.

As you do this you begin to see where a whole trove of philosophies you’ve adopted fit. Like all the blogs that have come before this for me. These ideas and techniques all fit somewhere in my method. Then they begin to become more present. More available.

Once you have done this your ability to walk a new partner through your approach becomes much easier . Communication becomes so much easier. You feel much more in control.

You might even have more than one approach depending on the context of the project. That’s good. Flexibility is valuable.

I’ll end by giving you an abbreviated example of my approach. I call it the Lewis and Clark method. You can tell I’m not a professional method designer because first letters of the sections of the method don’t spell anything. They just make sense. This method assumes I already have a vision or a goal for my project.

Explore, Map, Analyze, Decide, Move, Repeat

Explore

Look around. Get to know the people, the lay of the land. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Map

Visualize the situation. Get down as much as you currently know that lies between you and the goal. Don’t map too far ahead. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Analyze

See what the map tells you. Gather more information and data based on what you know and where you want to go. Look at the map again. Find some places you can reasonably get to. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Decide

Make the best decision you can with what you currently know. Be flexible. Take what the beast will give. Choose your destination. Identify necessary resources, give assignments and roles. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Move

You can send a scout by doing a prototype or you can do a pilot by using a whole team. You just need to move and be directionally accurate. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Repeat

Once you are near or at your sub-goal you start over by exploring the new conditions.

This is just a shell and I could add all sorts of actions around relationship building and communication and so on. I could visualize it. Make a presentation with all sorts of paths and graphics (which I did do about a year ago).

But this alone allows me to talk about my approach with ease. Once I had more specifics on a project I could begin to fill in with more specific tools and techniques I might use.

You’ll notice I repeated educate, build bonds, build skills. That’s the piece for me that is so often missing. So I put it in all phases to remind me.

Your approach will look different because we all have different backgrounds and experiences. Give it a try. See what you can learn about yourself.

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Convincing people that things need to change is hard. Convincing them that change is good is harder. Convincing them that they should actively pursue change is hardest of all.

There are so many good methods and techniques and tools for pursuing change. They are, however, of limited value if you can’t get your team to take the change steps willingly.

It comes back to trust. And this time it is two kinds of trust.  The trust that they place in you and the trust they place in themselves.

Trust can be built in many ways. One way to build trust is by giving without expecting. For example, if I am working with a team I make sure to understand the people, the process and the current environment. I learn about things related to what I am there to help with and but I also learn about unrelated things and general conditions. I look for things that they are struggling with and I try to find a way give them something to help.

Perhaps a contact to reporting resource. Hey, I think Bob might have data on that topic. Or a link to an article on how people are dealing with a customer service problem. Or maybe I take some of their data and do an analysis and create a chart that says hey look I noticed this trend you might be interested in.

Just give it to them. Don’t belabor it. Let them take from it what they will. That’s it. You can do this for the manager. You can do it for a team member.

Here’s what that just accomplished. You showed them you are paying attention. You gave them some of your expertise without asking for anything. You’ve demonstrated your capabilities.

This might sound disingenuous but it’s not. It is good human relations. When building a relationship with a friend you do things for them you think they would like. It makes you feel good to do this. You get a serotonin boost. It makes them feel good. They get a serotonin boost.  You don’t ask for anything in return. You’re trying to build a bond. The bond is what you are getting in return.

And it’s not disingenuous because everyone knows you are there to get things done so no one is going to be surprised when you finally ask them to get involved.

Then there is the trust they have in themselves. You can help them with that. Because the more trust they have in themselves the less daunting the challenges of change will be.

Find out what their skills and capabilities are. Illustrate to them how those will translate to even unknown future tasks.

And if you find out they might be missing a key skill, then do what you can to help them acquire it. Provide education, examples, practical application. Build their knowledge, build their confidence, build their trust in themselves.

When in doubt, lend a hand.

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People know when you’re not listening.

That’s it. That’s today’s important lesson. Trust me, it’s far more significant than it seems.

To understand why it is so significant we start with basic human condition of needing to feel valued. This need doesn’t go away just because you are at work. In fact feeling valued is one of the few things that can turn work into something more than just work. How sweet is that? Pretty sweet.

There are people who have thought about this a lot, whether personal or work related. Check these examples out. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201206/relational-value and http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/06/the-only-thing-that-really-mat/)

You can provide feelings of value in many ways, like through recognition or appreciation, and that’s important to do.

But you can destroy all that value building by doing one little thing: by not listening.

Let’s try an empathy exercise here. Let’s go back and reflect on our own personal and professional lives and even our childhoods and think about how you felt when you thought someone ignored you, cut you off, gave you a canned response, poo-pooed you, brushed your concerns away or was clearly distracted. I’m going to guess you didn’t like it. You felt you weren’t being taken seriously. You felt you were being dismissed or belittled.

Now, should we be tougher and have thicker skin and be more Zen about these things? Sure. Are we always able to do that? No. And just because I think you can handle being dismissed doesn’t mean I should do it.

That’s why listening is so important. Because it’s powerful. Because it’s personal. Because it’s subtle.

Especially because it is subtle. It’s the art of communication. It’s why companies spend billions of dollars a year crafting their messages to consumers. You have to work at it.

The art and science of listening is then to gain information and understanding while not sparking negative reactions.

The good thing is listening skills can be learned. There’s a whole school of thought around the idea of active listening. There are books and training and gurus aplenty. Lots of good resources out there like this http://www.studygs.net/listening.htm. These resources provide you with the science but remember that there is an art part.

You have to avoid the pitfalls of applying these listening tools mechanically, though. You have to make your listening is genuine or at least project the feeling that you are trying to be genuine.

The mechanical application ends up in a scenario where someone is sitting across from you and waits for you to finish and says “I hear what you’re saying” or “Let me repeat what I think you said.”

What the hell? is what I think. Are you a robot? Did you just read that off the Quick Tips sheet from the Active Listening class you just went to? You seem intelligent. But you just listened to what I had to say and the most personal and thought out thing you can say is “here’s what I think you just said.”

OK, so that what is a little harsh. But the point is don’t be a robot.  Because I’m not a robot. Just prove to me that you were listening.  Treat me as individual and behave like you’re having a unique interaction. Because that’s what I feel it is.

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a change agent?

The Secret in Secret Change Agent

Is a change agent a job or is it a role? Do we approach change management as a project or is a project endowed with change management?

A true secret change agent has a secret mission.  Except that it’s not a secret.  Anyone can manage a project that will change the organization.  The change may be as small as verbiage on a letter template or as sweeping as shutting down a department.  But without a secret mission, it’s just another disruption to the team members. The role of a secret change agent is to transform every project into something greater by becoming part of the team, by building trust with them so you can promote change from the inside. You are doing the project with them, not to them.

So what is your mission, should you choose to accept it?   

The key difference between a Secret Change Agent and your run-of-the-mill process engineer is the mission.  And the mission is to change the culture.  It doesn’t need to start as radical change – we’re not talking “smash the state” kind of culture change.  Think of it more along the lines of “gradual enlightenment”.   With every problem identified, the organization has an opportunity to grow.   Our reflex may be to slap a band-aid on the problem and desperately hope the blemish never shows its ugly face again.  But the opportunity presented is one of learning.  It’s not just about solving the problem, but rather about furthering a problem-solving culture.

I love it when a plan comes together

Every secret mission needs a good plan. Your job is to look at the project and the secret mission and figure out what lessons can be learned about problem-solving. It could be one simple process method. It could be a set of tools to use. It could be feedback loops. You could even be planting seeds for future learning. And as always assess the current capabilities and understanding of the team members. Your job is to set them up to succeed in the learning because that feels good, creates a sense of achievement that they’ll want to repeat.

So bring the people in 

By involving the people who live the problem, hopefully the people who identified the problem in the first place, you are taking the first step toward an inclusive learning culture.  People are always sensitive about projects and change so it’s your job to bring the right attitude. It’s your job to guide them not drag them. Take time to understand both the people and the process. Then make an effort to let them know you understand. They’ll appreciate that and you’ll build the trust necessary to move farther and farther ahead.

Today’s blog was a fun collaboration with Megan O’Neal. Megan is seasoned business engineer from Minneapolis. Thanks Megan. 

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Wizards. That’s what so many business analysts and engineers seem like when they show up with their weird terminology and strange tools. It’s like they’re casting spells to lighten the darkness for you.

Some engineers come across this way because they indeed want to seem magical, adding to their aura as special beings. Others come across this way unintentionally. Either way the effect on the victims is pretty much the same: instead of being awed by the wizard’s powers they are annoyed by the wizard’s arrogance. Not really the outcome you are looking for.

This always reminds me of a fantasy book series called “Sword of Truth.” The first book in the series is called “Wizards First Rule.” And there is in fact a Wizard’s First Rule (spoiler alert) and it is: “People are stupid. They will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”  It’s the people are stupid line that resonates with me not the lying bits since I know we all have good intentions. Now this might make a for a good novel or a comedic line, but treating people like they are stupid or trying to impress them with how expert you are is not good change management.

I didn’t intend this to be a list of things not to do but it kind of fell out that way. So here are three rules to follow to avoid being a bad wizard:

  1. Don’t use big words and jargon from your area of expertise. You end up sounding like some wizard casting spells.  Take time to explain in detail what they mean in layman’s terms as necessary. Educate them on the importance of the term in on-going efforts. Once people understand the term well enough then you can use it. Until then speak in practical terms they will understand. If you can’t do that, then you need to spend more time understanding them and their processes before you start speaking.
  2. Don’t be a Gandalf. Don’t come in and rile things up and then disappear for a month. This might make for a good movie but doesn’t do much good for trust. No one wants to feel abandoned. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have diddly.
  3. Don’t scare the locals with magic tricks. Unless you want to spook the locals, do not walk around with clipboards and stop watches. It always comes back to trust. Once you establish trust by explaining the terminology and the methodology, then you can explain the magic tricks that are the clipboards and stop watches. Everyone has to understand this, not just managers.

So let’s all go out there and be the best wizards we can be.

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Time waits for no man. Or project. Or idea.

Waiting to implement a good idea while running it up and down the flag pole is waste of time. I know, that’s a pretty blunt statement. I wouldn’t call it an absolute (because I wouldn’t call anything an absolute) but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

The tough thing about this mantra is that it’s a lesson not only change agents should learn but bosses and managers need to learn too. Why is that?

Mostly because if you bother to run an idea up the flag pole the idea will at best be bogged down in the mire of politics and bureaucracy or at worst just be rejected. They will want assurances that it will work when really all you can do is assure them that you don’t know if it will work. That’s a little risky for management.

That’s because when you sit at the top you tend to make decisions that will keep you there. You make decisions then out of fear of losing that power. You engage in fear-based decision making, the bane of progress.

So managers and bosses, you really need to try and temper that. Now that’s asking for quite a lot, I know. So maybe we’ll ask for something just a little bit different. We’ll come back to that.

Back to the change agents. You need to stop asking for permission. You need to be comfortable in asking for forgiveness instead. Because nothing inspires forgiveness more than success.

If you or more likely the team you are working with has an idea for change, look into it. In fact there will be lots of ideas for change if you open up the flood gates. The caveat here is that you still have to choose wisely, of course, since you still have limited time and resources.

I see these ideas as wonderful opportunities for prototypes and piloting. Think of it as research and development. Prove the concept in a controlled environment. A chance to experiment. Then you move it up the ladder, maybe. If it works, you move onward and outward.  If it doesn’t work, you learn from it and move on.

But if you see an opening you have to go. Now. Speed and urgency are key here. Small prototype teams make that possible. And a quick succession of wins builds excitement and energy.  That’s why working grass roots is so powerful. Be bold. The key here is that in a small, controlled environment you have shown your team that change can occur and they can control it. That’s what it is all about, isn’t it?

Now back to the managers and bosses. So here’s your job. You need to be comfortable with your teams doing this. You have to let go and empower them. Can you do that?