Archive for May, 2014

perspective1

Danger, what Danger?

The advantages of being a change agent often come from being outside the process or the culture. We get to look at it from a different angle. We also have tools and skills that help us leverage that perspective. We can bring a breath of fresh air.

Or we can be annoying. I know, it’s hard to believe. We’re here to help. How can that be bad?  True, it’s not always our fault. You can work with groups that are in defensive mode, or jaded mode or cynic mode and will initiate those behaviors as soon as you walk in the door.

But sometimes it is our fault. Heaven knows I’ve fallen into the pit more than once. I have scars to prove it.

Besides being a charming cult of personality, what are some ways to avoid some of those pitfalls? Let’s take a look.

The Pit of Objectivity

This one is usually covered by branches of good intentions. We mean well.  Really, we do. But we often confuse having perspective with being objective. I hate to break it to you but not one of us is objective. Not a single one. We might not have the cultural baggage but we are not objective.

We come with process biases, strategic opinions, schools of thought, methodology approaches. All of which are good. And all of which will influence your interaction with your team. That’s OK. But it’s not objective. You know it and I know it and more importantly the team knows it.

How do we avoid this? A couple options. One: Do not tell them you are objective. Don’t bring it up or use the word at all. Two: Specifically tell them you are not objective for the exact reasons stated above.

Instead tell them how you are going to interact with. Tell them where you come from and what your philosophies are. And then show them.

The Pit of Ego

This is a tough one. It’s hiding in plain sight. We’re experts. We’re good at what we do. We need to have confidence in that. We need to have a healthy ego.  No one wants to follow someone who lacks surety.

So we have to talk about what we know. We have to talk about what we’ve done and seen. We have to illustrate some of our skills and knowledge. This is indeed necessary. The problem is that we are talking a lot about ourselves. A lot.

The team might start seeing us as the talking head, the expert from out of town, the know it all. In fact the team might give us a little nudge into the Pit of Ego.

How do we avoid this? Redirection.  Always, always, always bring it back to the team. Never end an exposition without bringing it back to the team or the project. This is what I know. This is what I see. Then. What do you see? What do you know? How is my perspective valid? How is my perspective not valid?

The best thing about this approach is that you can even use it if they’ve already pushed you in the pit. Bring it back to the team. They might even help you out.

The Pit of Immersion

Or sometimes called going native. This is a pitfall where we perhaps do not become annoying but ineffectual.  Out of good intentions, of course. We perhaps try so hard not to be annoying that we pass from empathy for their situation to sympathy. We take up their cause. We see and champion all the wrongs that stop them from moving on.

We often do this with jaded and cynical teams. We do it to build trust.  But we move in closer and closer and soon are in the middle and have lost whatever perspective we had. We’ve gone native.

How do we avoid this? Keep going back to the goal, your mission, your objective. We must ask ourselves repeatedly, what are we trying to achieve?

If the team is too jaded and defensive to buy into the objective, the objective needs to change. The objective needs to be to change their attitude. We need to be aware of how we’re achieving trust and not fall into the Pit of Immersion.

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Are the bars limitations?

Change is everywhere, believe me…

I was listening to a health and nutrition podcast the other day in the car. The host was talking to a caller who had some health issues. He was giving advice on the right nutrition and other steps that could be taken to address the issues.  Then he said something I wasn’t expecting. He asked “Do you know what a kaizen is?”

I raised my hand and said “Ooh, ooh, I do.” Essentially the host said while what I’m telling you may seem overwhelming the key is to make small changes. Yes!

Overwhelming. That’s what it feels like so often when faced with a need to change.

My favorite example of this is at companies who are so dependent on software. The truth one has to come to grips with immediately is that most of these companies would not be able to survive without the software. The dependence on software and technology gadgets will become even greater. This is awesome.

But the business world is fluid, ever changing. Unfortunately, as softwares and companies grow larger and larger their agility becomes more and more limited. Their ability to flex cannot keep pace with the demand to change. The software becomes our prison bars, caging our need to change.

Curse you, software teams. Why can’t you keep up? If we only had this change or that change we would be awesome.

Wait, wait. That’s not going to help, is it? That’s like cursing the sun for coming up every morning. Futile and filled with negativity.

No, best to apply the Serenity Prayer:

Give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

And what do I know that I can change without coding? Behaviors and process. I can work to change attitudes and approaches to process and culture.

It reminds me of a legend about Dr. Seuss. The legend goes that he wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” on a bet that he couldn’t write a children’s story with only 50 words, obviously an extremely limited and arbitrary set of conditions. But look at the masterful and creative result. A result very much influenced by the limits placed upon the process.  Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

So think of software not as a limitation but an environmental situation that calls for creative solutions.  My mantra is always to use software as a last resort.

I do not ask for software changes.
Not in a day
Not in a week
I do not ask for them
With a plan
I do not ask for them
From the man
I do not ask for them
With a promise
I do not ask for them
With a kiss
I do not ask for software changes

vote1

I had a daydream about a change meeting the other day that went like this. Heaven knows what manager would let me do this but it would be intriguing to see it play out.

The scene: Meeting room with a team whose manager has asked me to mentor on changing culture.

The actors: Myself, team manager, fifteen team members

Good morning. My name is Joe. I’m a change agent. Manager Bob has asked me to help create a culture more adept at creating and dealing with change.

I know you’re thinking  “Oh great, another consultant come to tell us how to do our jobs.” Fair enough. And in some ways that is true. But in most ways it is not.

Think of me as an architect helping you build your house. You brought me in because you want me to help you design a  really cool house. I am not here to tell you what kind of house to build. I’m not here to tell you how many rooms you need.  I’m not going to tell you what amenities you should have. That’s not my job. That’s your job. Because frankly, I don’t know.

What I am here to do is help you make decisions, to learn new ways to make decisions. As an architect I might help bring issues like physical limitations or repercussions. You may want to have a pool above the garage. My job is to tell you that might require different engineering and a different budget. Oh, you want a four season porch.  It’s my job to talk about the different heating options you may not know about. Or to probe about how you will use it so the design can reflect that.

You see it’s my job to introduce you to methods or approaches or attitudes about work that needs to get done that may be new to you. And not just to you but to Bob as well. So not only are you going to be introduced to unfamiliar things so is Bob. Because if you are going to change the way you work and approach work so will Bob need to change.

But at the end of the day what I want is for you to learn new methods and approaches and acquires a new attitude about change so you don’t need me. I want you to think in a new way. We want the culture itself to change and that is all about you.

The key to achieving that is attitude. Change is about attitude. It’s about belief that change can happen. It’s about desire to learn how to control that change.

Here is the deal. If you don’t think things need to get better. If you don’t think things can or will change. If you think this is a waste of time.  If you are just going to go through the motions. Then I don’t need to be here. A lot of time will be wasted and no one wants that.

That’s not to say you can’t be cynical. That’s not to say you can’t question.  That’s not to say you can’t offer alternatives.

So what we’re going to do is vote. Voting will be anonymous and majority rules. Manager Bob will count the votes. You just have to answer this question Yes or No.

Do you think things can get better?

If more than fifty percent believe we can change, we’ll get to work.

If more than fifty percent believe we can’t, I’m out of here.

Thank you.

translate1a

We are always harping the mantra of communicate, communicate, communicate. You can’t communicate too much is what we say. Just keep getting the word out there.

But what I like to follow that with is “Know your audience or lose your audience.”  If your audience tunes you out, you’ll get nowhere.

So you need to know your audience. You need to know how they communicate. Within any given project  there will be different communication  styles or preferences.  You need to be nimble and flexible in your communication style. And sometimes you need to know the difference between how they tell you to communicate with them and what will really reach them.  Understanding the vernacular is what I would call it.

Pay attention to how the members within different groupings communicate out. Essentially, how do the locals communicate with each other? The vernacular. Incorporating elements from their style can make it more familiar, easier to digest.

This is not to say that you need to give up your preferred style altogether but be aware your job is to communicate not win a Pulitzer. Know your audience.

Gauge their level of sophistication. Gauge their depth of knowledge. Gauge their awareness of the nomenclature.

Fancy Powerpoints with big words and big concepts is good for your colleagues and upper management but not may not work so well on the project team.  That’s not to say the project team won’t understand but they may be turned off by what they consider to be consultantese and ivory tower BS. Your job is to communicate with them, not impress them. They’ll be more impressed if you talk to them on an equal footing. Throw your template out the window. Ask your self, How would they communicate?

To know your audience you’re going to have to spend some time communicating with them, hanging out with them, testing the waters, drinking the Kool Aid. No wait. Scratch that. Do not drink the Kool Aid.

Oh, that reminds me of another trick. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Dare to be irreverent. Dare to show that you’re human. People like humans. We want change to be normal and comfortable and yet we end up sounding like robots. Don’t sound like a robot. Sound like a human. You are human, aren’t you?

So what if this kind of communication is not your strong point? Writing or speaking publicly is not your thing. That’s OK. Don’t panic.

Pair with someone who has these skills. Whether it is a fellow change agent or an internal team member. Find the person who can help you. It’s like using a translator. There’s nothing wrong with using a translator. I’ve translated for a lot of people. It can be a good partnership. Learn from your partner.

But I’m not letting you off the hook that easy. You still need to work on communications. Especially paying attention to how other people communicate. It can tell you a great deal. Just take it slow. Make it a point to be more aware of how people communicate. It’s worth it.

Here’s a good article on writing a speech. It makes come good point about tailoring your message to your audience.  Take a look.

https://www.boundless.com/communications/informative-speaking/effective-informative-speaking/tailor-complexity-to-your-audience/