Archive for March, 2014

 

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I’m a change agent. I know I’m a change agent. It’s my job to help things move along the change continuum.

But things don’t easily change if I’m the only change agent on the project. The inertia that is resisting change is just too substantial for one person to move. You need help. You need people from the project team to be change agents as well.

I’m going steal a belief from the annals of leadership thinking that tell us that leadership is a behavior not a position. It’s an attitude. So it is with change. Change is about attitude.

And what attitude is that exactly? That attitude is belief. Belief that you have the skills to make change. Belief that you can make a change. Belief that you will be allowed to make change.

Your job as an official change agent is to create that belief in as many team members as possible. Will everybody become a change agent? No, they won’t.  Why not? Because being a change agent requires that you be an optimist. And we all know everyone is not an optimist. But some people are.  Someone once asked me why I cared so much. I said I couldn’t help it. I said I believed I could make things better.

Our job is to nurture optimism in team members and draw them along with us to the attitude of belief. That we can do it. That it is worth it. So how do we do that?

I like to show by doing. I like to take a small manageable project that will illustrate that you have the skills, that you can execute and that you are allowed.

First step. Take a look at the project and determine what skills will be needed to achieve it. Make sure the team has the skills. Educate and train them on necessary concepts and tools. Perhaps it is data skills, tracking skills, charting skills or so on.

Second Step. Execute. Put the tools in place. Identify the steps. Iterate the process until proficiency is gained, until they can perform without your assistance.

Third step. Project team presents to progress to management. Of course, your job is to make sure management understands the point of the exercise. That management recognizes the effort and applauds it and approves it.

Badda Bing, Badda Boom. You’ve started to create an environment where change agents can emerge and help you. You’ve shown them that they can be the change.

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“Know thyself” is a good Greek saying. As a change agent I’ve always thought “Know thy role” is also a good saying. And as a change agent one of the things I’ve found most helpful is tackling the slippery idea of role.

What is a change agent’s role? The biggest challenge I’ve discovered is arriving at a common understanding of that role. Does everybody involved think it‘s the same thing? The answer is usually no. That’s OK. It provides us with the opportunity to think a little deeper and know thy role.

The three groups that need to be on the same page: you, the management and the team. 

Let’s start with you. What do you think your role is? This is probably different for each of us. It might be different for each project. That’s OK. The goal is to understand your expectations of yourself for this project. If you don’t have clarity, who will? 

You might define this yourself. You might define it along with your manager. Defining this before you start helps you know where to insert yourself and where to draw lines. Of course you always you need to be adaptable, but having a starting point is priceless. 

Now, what does management think your role is? They probably have ideas of what you will and won’t be doing. They’ll probably be different than your ideas. That’s OK.  A little negotiation may be in order. Negotiations often hinge around perceptions, wishes and realities. Be positive but real. If your role has to change, try to make sure all parts of the role you defined are handled by someone. 

And lastly, what does the team think your role is? Here is where you’ll probably get the most variety of belief. This is also going to be more of an education than a negotiation. Based on the agreements made above, you’ll walk through the approach and what it is you’ll be doing. And sometime you’ll need to talk about what you won’t be doing. 

That’s not to say there won’t be any negotiation. The team’s level of sophistication will enter into the equation. Some teams may need you to do things others wouldn’t. Again, be positive but realistic. 

Why is this important? 

Obviously, it starts out as just good communication. We should talk about these expectations as part of the greater project anyway. But in the end it’s about relationship building. You are working towards avoiding misunderstandings that lead to disruptions in flow. About minimizing the “Why are you doing that?” scenarios that lead to friction about the wrong things. How many times have people thought you were over stepping your boundaries when you thought you were just doing your job? That’s never good for trust, I am sure of that.

And the reality is you can’t do everything. So having everyone on the same page about your role also allows you to begin defining other people’s roles.

value

It’s complicated. Complicated and convoluted processes are often at the heart of change projects. The goal is usually to untangle and improve.

One of the obstacles you often run into is people holding onto to their complicated processes. Often in the form of the words “Our processes are different.”

That’s often followed up with “You don’t understand the complexity,” which is probably true. But if it’s that difficult to understand then the complexity is probably a problem.

The hardest part of a project is often not untangling the knot but in helping people let go of the complexity.

Examining some of the reasons why they won’t let go can benefit us greatly.

Being Valued

Or not being valued. Holding on to complexity is about a need to feel valued. If the process is so complicated only I can master it, then I have a higher value. I’m a limited commodity and you must treat me as such.

This attitude results from a failure of management to make the team members feel valued. Are the team members not engaged enough? Is the work consistently not challenging enough (never changing)? Is there no opportunity for expansion of their skill set? Is there no hope for advancement?

So what do we do about this?

Anyone of these and more could cause team members to not feel valued. One of the typical environments I see is the lack of cross training and development opportunities. Cross training is an excellent way to quantifiably give team members more value to themselves and to the company. The employee is more valuable the more tasks or jobs they can perform. The organization wins as well by achieving a more flexible work force.

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No Control

Or feeling powerless. Holding on to complexity is also about gaining control and power. If I complicate a process so that only I understand it, I always have the upper hand. So if someone tries to recommend changes I can always pull out the unwritten laundry list of special cases that make the change impossible. I have the ability to keep layering complexity because you don’t understand the process well enough to dispute it. I am withholding and sometimes manipulating knowledge to maintain control and power.

I am using complexity to carve out some sense of self-determination. The key here is that if you make attempts to simplify my processes you are taking away what I perceive as the little control I have over my world. You will get resentment and resistance to this effort if you don’t address the power issue.

Since your aim is to simplify, you have to find ways to give them power. Do you need to give more decision making authority? Do you need to allow a larger voice in management discussions?

One of the ways I’ve used to give power is to institute localized feedback loops. Giving them the tools and training to measure and analyze their own performance and then give them the authority to make changes to process based on their own evaluations and learnings. This provides control over their work, a sense of self-determination. Of course this includes trusting them and rewarding them for these efforts. It has to be a give and take. If I take your complexity I must give back value and power.

There are of course many ways in which you could address the issue of power, control and self-determination. And again an initial evaluation of the environment is needed to get the lay of the land.  The key step is seeing it and acknowledging it. Being able to identify and react to the issues of value and power can be a huge lift in promoting change.

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It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of focusing all out energy on the team members who we are asking to change. They’re on the front line. If they’re not engaged and bought in, nothing happens.

We tend to give managers a pass as long as they consent to the project or mission of change. In fact sometimes we like it if they consent and then go away. Life is easier that way, at least until management balks at the proposed change or doesn’t get it.  Then that’s not so great. It’s actually quite frustrating.

So we need to address the obstacles of management as much as the obstacles of the team. We need to have an approach with them as well.

Again, the context and the environment will obviously need to be assessed. Let’s look at a couple familiar things we can do.

Strengthen Relationship with Managers

Managers are often stretched thin and will have limited time to work with you. Do you already have a relationship with management? If so, that’s a bonus. If not, you need to begin to build some bonds.

I like to start by telling them what I think I am going to be doing. This is especially important if they didn’t ask for your help. Set the expectations. And then expand the expectations and tell them what I think they are going to be doing. They might disagree. That’s OK. Time for some negotiation. Dialog around the expectations can be a good way to increase understanding of the process.

Then I shoot for some education. Here’s what we’re going to do and why. I don’t want them to just nod in understanding. I want them to regurgitate the ideas and concepts. Then I want them to explain it to the team so the bond between them, the team and me is strengthened.

Communicate and Continue Education

Communicating often to management on progress is important. Find as much one-on-one times as possible. Unfortunately, the project update seems to be the only exposure you have to them.  Take advantage of it.

I’ve found that bland project updates on tasks and milestones, while necessary, leave so much opportunity for improved understanding on the table.

Keep educating. There is so much more to learn as you get deeper and deeper into a project, the nuances and detail that drill down beyond the high level concepts.

Take your status update and make it an education tool. We completed this task. This task is important because we learned this and sets us up to do that in line with this concept and goal.

For example, we put in data collection around A, which allows us to track B which allows us to trend C which allows us to make better decisions on D. We‘ve created a feedback loop that allows us to become a learning organization. This allows us to go on to the next task. Badda bing! We’ve expanded and reinforced understanding.

Remember, change is about education. Education for everyone.

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Having the right perspective can mean all the difference in the world. Opportunities can open up with just a little shift in position.

Unfortunately, knowing that you need to shift position often requires the objectivity you don’t have when you’re inside the process.

Which of course is why people employ change agents and process engineers. Improved objectivity.

We know people don’t like change. They also don’t like being told they need to change their perspective. They essentially interpret that as “you’re stupid.” That’s never a good place to start.

So how do you avoid that reaction? Especially since you know you have to arrive at that conclusion at some point.

Well, to be honest, it’s highly unlikely you can avoid it altogether. That’s human nature. Maybe the question is then how do you minimize it and then move on?

A good way to do this is to lead them to a new perspective. Don’t tell them they need a new perspective. Don’t tell them what perspective they should have.

Illustrate perspectives you think will resonate with them. Use an unrelated example to walk them through. Move on to a simple internal example.

Use the examples to educate them on the principles that make them tick. Classic training technique. Illustrate, educate, illustrate. Raise awareness.

And when someone finally gets the concept, they’ll blurt something out and you’ll go “That’s it!”

You’ll be excited. They’ll be excited. You’ll develop a bond from having figured it out together.

Now you have a foundation and can talk more openly about changing perspectives and the power that comes from that.

This is yet another example of the value of doing with them and not to them.