Archive for June, 2014

fractal1With all the buzz around some wonk dashing some other wonk’s theory on disruption, I thought I’d go back to the theory I like to use in change and process management: Chaos Theory.

Chaos Theory or Complexification was all the rage some 20 years ago. No one even talks about it anymore (well someone does, just not everyone). Which is a shame, though I think a lot of that is due to confusion about what it was really about.

Chaos Theory was never really about chaos per se. It was about trying to understand complex systems. Excuse the rather academic quote below to explain:

The term “chaos” currently has a variety of accepted meanings, but here we shall use it to mean deterministically, or nearly deterministically, governed behavior that nevertheless looks rather random. Upon closer inspection, chaotic behavior will generally appear more systematic, but not so much so that it will repeat itself at regular intervals, as do, for example, the oceanic tides.

The point I took from this to inform my own chaos philosophy in change management was this: systems may appear chaotic but can have an order of sorts if looked at from the right perspective.

For those of you who missed the fad, here is a good intro.  http://fractalfoundation.org/resources/what-is-chaos-theory/. You should read it now.

Finished? OK, let’s move on.

Back to the chatter about disruption and my chaos philosophy. Fellow change masters Jen Frahm and Gail Severini both posed in different ways the questions about disruption or innovation in change management. I attempted in an earlier post to make a point about innovation often occurring when you intersect disciplines (a concept I certainly did not make up).

So here is an example of intersecting disciplines: change management and chaos theory. The complexity of an organization certainly falls into the realm that chaos theory is interested in. So I thought I would use some of the bullet points in the intro to chaos theory above that you just read to illustrate the possibilities. I’ll just pick a few of them.

  • The Butterfly Effect

We’ve all heard of this one. A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in China. This is a good one to remind us that it’s not always large sweeping changes that affect the world. In fact system is often designed to buffer large sweeping changes as part of its self-preservation mode.  For example, a massive deluge of rain can cause water to course ragingly through rivers and streams. But rarely do the rivers and streams change their course because of this. But a lone beaver working slowly on its dam can change the course of a stream in a couple weeks. Sure, small changes can just as well be assimilated by the Borg, but there is the possibility that small changes affecting the right variables can move mountains. And how much more often do we have the capacity and authority to make small changes rather than large ones?

  • Unpredictability

You cannot know well enough all the initial conditions and variables in a complex system to accurately predict long term effects. You have no choice but to be comfortable with the fact that the outcomes of your choices will be difficult to predict too far into the future. While you’ve basically been given a pass here to not know the future, the upshot of this is that you need to focus on more contained and visible short-term changes. You need to simply focus on the next single obstacle. Because if that works many of the initial conditions and variables will have changed, so any prior efforts you made to see far into the future have all been made pointless.  It’s like mapping sand dunes. It’s just pointless. So one thing at a time is actually a credible strategy. Just make the best you can with the knowledge you have available.

  • Feedback

Feedback has significant influence and impact on a complex system. Just look at the stock market. All the noise from media, rumors, boards of directors, etc., can have massive impacts on stock prices. The same thing happens in organizations. Pay attention to the feedback loops in your organization. I mentioned incentives as a big influence the other day. Whether monetary or attempts to please or not displease management, these feedback loops can totally skew behaviors for good or bad. Of course here’s an opportunity for more structured feedback loops, like PDCA. Find the right feedback points and you find your influence.

OK, you get the point. A seemingly unrelated discipline offers us insight on how to affect change. If chaos theory is not for you, look to another discipline. Go read about innovations in biology or artificial intelligence or space flight of whatever. Oh, the places you can go.

agentThis is for Jen Frahm. A slightly more coherent response to a question she posed on her website about whether the pace of transformation in the change management world is sufficient. Essentially, do we need disruption to give it a kick into gear?

This is not quite a Grand Unification Theory that I was hoping for but hopefully it actually answers the question this time.

The answer is yes. We need disruption. We always need disruption. You see for me disruption is just another nuanced word for innovation. Or perhaps a rebellion against the status quo.  Or even more edgy, a revolution.

“So you say you want a revolution,” as the Beatles would say. “Well, ya know, we all want to change the world.”

What does every good revolution need? Besides a theme song, history tells me every good revolution needs a manifesto, a utopian vision of how things should be, a utopian vision that fights against what isn’t working. Only then can you know what to do.

And every manifesto needs an agent provocateur to spread the word, to inflame the hearts and minds of the people.  You are so right Jen when you say we can’t continue to come in and do tactical work and leave. What I call doing it to them and not with them. It doesn’t sustain.

We have to have what R.E.M. would call “A Disturbance at the Heron House.”  We need to rile the locals up. We need permission to rile the locals up.

So who’s going to write this manifesto? You are. I am. The first secret change agent provocateur who reads this. We’re all going to have our own because we all have our own revolution to start. One spark can start a fire.

You light enough fires and people start to notice. Now we just need management to understand. And oh, they’ll notice.

Strangely enough this is a post in response to my own question. If I wasn’t so opinionated I might feel as if I was being duped into this.

The question came from a longer Twiiter exchange with Gail Severini. The last several  comments were thus:

Gail: Don’t we all dream of being engaged in an org that encourages us to think for ourselves and to think together?

 Me: Spot on, Gail. So putting on my Theory of Constraints hat I ask, what’s the barrier to that happening?

 Gail: Great question – I am going to have to reflect on that. What’s your answer?

Hmm. I probably wouldn’t have asked that if knew I had to answer it. Just kidding.

The short answer is: It’s the Incentives.

The long answer is:

We do what we are incented to do.  Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s very bad.

The problem is that we mostly incent things with the best intentions and don’t understand the unintended consequences of not quite getting that right.

And you see incentives aren’t always monetary. Or at least not blatantly so. You see my incentive might be to please my manager by prioritizing his pet projects. Or my incentive might be to avoid the wrath of my manager by prioritizing tasks or projects that really upset him if they are not done.

So in the case of being encouraged to think for ourselves and think collaboratively, we must ask if we are incented to behave that way. Are we rewarded for that behavior?

That’s not an easy question. Lots of organizations talk about it. Lots of organizations have suggestion boxes and collaborative meetings. And nothing comes of it, not diddly squat. Because it’s just talk.

There’s no incentive to make it happen. And without incentive there’s no priority. And without priority we are all too busy to get it done.

But once you have incentive, it gets prioritized. And once it’s prioritized you put a system in place to make it happen.

And what’s the incentive? You make your manager happy.

So all the way back to the beginning. You remove the barrier by training managers at all levels to show appreciation and approval and happiness for the signs of independent and collaborative thinking. If that’s what makes you happy, that’s what your people will do.

Or something like that.

Also, you can check out Gail’s great website here.

 

Science.1How does change look? How does change happen?

I suppose the answer to this is that it looks and happens in many ways.

One of the ways to make it happen is at the grass roots level. You start small and it grows from seeds and reactions and fertile environments and energy being pumped into the system by you and then at some point the system begins to generate its own energy.

This week’s message takes the form of a visual. It ended up looking like chemical reaction at the molecular level, like fusion. It’s a series of progressions.

I’ve attached a legend for a bit of clarity:

Change Agent: Obviously, that’s you.

Manager: A manager at some level

Barkis: This is the person who is willing. Could be manager, could be supervisor, could be team member. Barkis is the person most receptive to your ideas

Team Member: Anyone under said manager in the org chart

Arrows: The influence and ideas that you and others are injecting into the system

So no more words. Here are some pictures.

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dunce2I like this headline because it’s almost as obnoxious as “Everything You Know About Change Management is Wrong.” I love those kinds of headlines. Great way to offend your audience and under-deliver. Needless to say there are no indisputable things about anything and I certainly hope you are not wrong about everything.

My goal here was to force myself to choose five tenants I could put my convictions behind (and of course, get your attention) . Creativity via limitations. Here’s what I came up with.

1. What to Change

In my last assignment I often said our hardest job was not knowing how to do it but what to do it to. What do we attempt to change? That is THE question.

I blatantly steal from the Theory of Constraints here. But instead of focusing on what is the most significant process constraint to change, we focus on what is the most significant cultural/organizational constraint we need to change.

What cultural behavior or norms stop us from making improvements? Organizational silos? Incentive systems? Education? Distrust? Chaos?

They could all be constraints. Which one is the lynchpin? Evaluate and make a decision. It’s not an exact science.  You might be wrong. That’s OK. The act of trying to solve the problem next to the lynchpin will probably lead you to the lynchpin. And that’s progress. It’s part of the process.

2. Strategy and Tactics

As Eli Goldratt put it, strategy is the “What For” and tactics is the “How To,” and they need to work together.

The What For defines what we are trying to achieve. The emotions involved with the What For make it complex because people’s desires are fluid and so their attitudes towards the What For will be dynamic.

The How To will be less complex but often more complicated, as it may involve many layered steps and processes that need to be tracked.

The key is to keep bouncing them off each other to make sure they remain aligned.

3. It’s the Psychology, Duh

If you don’t understand psychology, you will fail. The complexity of the What For requires you understand the human condition. It requires that you respond to each person’s reaction to the situation individually, one interaction at a time. There’s no one size fits all. That’s called propaganda. No one likes propaganda.

Emotional Intelligence. We are all motivated by emotions. To rely solely on cold-hard facts and logic is to ignore the human condition. No one wants to be treated like a cog in the process machine. Find a way to connect. If you can’t, find someone who can. It’s worth the effort.

4. Focus, Focus, Focus

There are a thousand thousand problems to solve. Every twisting turn in the path will call for change. It’s a siren’s call. Stay focused. There will always be something else that wants your attention. Better to do one thing well than a thousand poorly.

The reasons to stay focused are many. My go to reason is that if you do the right thing well, many of the other problems just cease to exist. The other reason I go to is that focusing minimizes variables. Too many projects means too many variables. Too many variables makes it hard to know which ones are working for good and which ones are working for evil.

So what do we say to the god of distractions. Not today.

5. Go back to the beginning. Often.

Keep revisiting the first four points.

This is important especially because of point #4. All the siren calls will fill the system with noise. It’s easy to lose the signal.

It’s also important because as you dive into the tactical details going back to what you are trying to achieve keeps you out of those rabbit holes that get you so easily caught up in the wrong priorities. Because just like you have to pick and choose what to change at the higher level, you also have to pick and choose what to change at the detail level.

And for point #3, make sure you aren’t losing people. It’s a long haul. You’ll have to work to keep them engaged.

Make sure it’s all still working together.

So there it is. Ready to be put right into action. Oh, the indisputability of it all.

 

desire1Change management is coaching. Coaching is teaching. Teaching is helping someone learn. Learning to learn is change management.

Round and round we go. A bit circular. A bit abstract. If everything is everything, then nothing is everything. Oh boy, getting a little deep there. We won’t go there. Maybe some place a little lighter.

Reminds me of a scene from the Tom Hanks movie “Volunteers”:

Chung Mee: Opium is my business. The bridge mean more traffic. More traffic mean more money. More money mean more power.
Lawrence Bourne III: Yeah, well, before I commit any of that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?
Chung Mee: Speed is important in business. Time is money.
Lawrence Bourne III: You said opium was money.
Chung Mee: Money is Money.
Lawrence Bourne III: Well then, what is time again?

But seriously, isn’t change management at its heart essentially targeted coaching? Obviously I think the answer is yes. Perhaps coaching of a manager or a management team or a project team or an operations team.

Let’s try another round about.

Change requires coaching. Coaching requires motivation. Motivation requires desires. Desires are emotions. Emotions spur change.

I’m getting dizzy. Yet we keep ending up in the same place. Change. Change requires learning and learning requires desire.

Desire. What is desire? A dictionary tells me it’s a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.  Sounds good to me.

The trick in change management is finding out what that something is. Because that something is different for almost everyone.

In the process engineering world I know we almost always think that something is a number. A throughput number or a quality number. In the sales world I’m sure it’s often number of units sold or percentage of quotas met. It is not a number.

Our basic desires don’t speak in numbers. They speak in emotions: love, respect, recognition, pride, fulfillment, and so on. Find out what emotional desire they want to fill. That is the most important step.

Then and only then do you begin to ask how to achieve that. That’s when numbers come into play. That’s when data is important. Data helps us make decisions. Decisions that drive us toward our desired something.

I ran across some wonderful YouTube videos form Mike Lally on coaching. Does a much better job than I could at explaining the role of emotion in coaching.  How to Coach with Emotional Intelligence. Check him out. He has a good website as well.

I’ll leave you with this. Find your desire.