Archive for August, 2014


Cheesy fictional private eyes are always asking “What did he know and when did he know it?” It’s a good question. Perhaps modified for our purposes it would be “What does he know and what does he need to know more of?”

We are tasked with helping people through change. I like to take it one step farther. We are tasked with helping people understand change, both generally and specifically. I think we owe that to them. The difference lies between me guiding you through the maze and me teaching you how to navigate the maze.

I grant that this is easy to say and much harder to do. So how do we go about that?

Let’s presume you are tasked with helping a manager through a change. I think there are three pillars needed to make this work.

Pillar #1: Understanding the nature of the change being introduced: your understanding and your manager’s understanding. What’s going to have to be different?

  • What are the characteristics of the specific change?
    • Is it process? Is it organizational? Is it cultural? Is it system? Is it rigid?
    • What new skills are required?
    • What new attitudes are required?
    • Is it large or small?
    • What is the context of the change?
  • What is the impetus of the change?
    • Is it productivity or quality related?
    • Is it compliance? Is it a new product?
    • Is it internal or external?

Pillar #2: Understanding how much your manager understands. The trick here is you need to understand the gap between what your manager has experience and what the change will require so you can help them but not turn it into a witch hunt for their weaknesses.

Understand their previous experience

    • Look for skills, projects, experience that intersect with the change needs
    • Leverage existing skills and guide them to the next level
  • Introduce a restrained number of new skills
    • Don’t overwhelm them
    • Better to learn a key new skill well than a bunch poorly

Pillar #3: Build context. Look at how the current organization is always adapting to change at a systemic level. Sometimes well and sometimes not so well, but that understanding upstream and downstream and across the stream can help mitigate the not so well.

Tie the change to the bigger picture

  • Illustrate the ongoing nature of change
    • Tie it to other current projects
    • Tie it to past changes
dancer1Too Busy to Dance

Processes and people. Managers all have process and people that they manage. We usually have a lot of knowledge around these.  We’re paid to make these work well together.

Inputs and Outputs. We all have them too. We know what we’re getting and we know what we’re giving. We have expectations around them. Quality, quantity, pace. A lot of reporting and measurement and discussion can take place about inputs and output. They’re very important

Find the Dance Floor

These inputs and outputs are, of course, attached to upstream and downstream partners. And often these are black boxes. Products just flow out of them or product just flows into them. We don’t know much about the people and the processes. We probably have a general idea of what they do, but do we know enough?

Not usually. And often for good reason. We’re busy keeping our own ducks in a row. Department can be in silos organizationally and physically. Competition and distrust can be at play. Many things keep us separated and at hands reach from understanding upstream and downstream partners.

Find a Partner

But in order to have managers and departments who are flexible enough to handle constant change, we need to break these barriers down. We need to understand the context round us. And the context is usually our upstream and downstream partners. We need to be able to dance with them.

What does this mean? It means our understanding of our partners needs to go beyond the inputs and outputs. We need to understand their processes, their organizational structures. We need to understand their inputs and outputs. We need to understand their constraints, their incentives, their priorities.

Having this context helps us understand fluctuations in output or quality. Having this context helps us understand changes in their attitudes or priorities. Having this context helps us be more proactive and more poised in reaction.

This context can also allow us to ask questions. Why don’t we have the same priorities? Why don’t our incentives match up? Why aren’t our metrics in synch?

Start Dancing

Make a concerted effort to understand your partners. If they’re suspicious, manage up. If they don’t’ get it, send them this article. Or this video.

I think this has implications for change as well.

Fortress of Dissolitude

the-borgI’ve Googled. You’ve Googled. We’ve all Googled.

And if you know anything you’ve probably been Googled into obsolescence. You may not know it yet, but you have.

Do you remember when if you needed to know something about something you tried to think of someone who might know?  If you couldn’t think of anyone, you asked others if they knew anyone who knew something about something. Do you know anybody who knows this? Do you know anyone that knows that?

People became known as experts or in the know.  These people were good repositories of knowledge. Going to these people fostered good community and communication. It was personal. Social.

Sure you might learn more than you wanted to know, you might learn nothing or you might get referred along.

Well, forget all that. Your knowledge has been assimilated by the Google Borg.  All your practical knowledge, caveats and wisdom are…

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TheThinker1We are always under pressure to act quickly and boldly. Go, go, go.

But how are we going to act? With so many methodologies and strategies and tools and tactics available and burdened with our own not unimportant biases, how do we choose to act and what do we choose to act upon? Where does one start? How does one choose?

This is where we take a deep breath. This is where we take a moment to ponder.

And what are we going to ponder? We are going to ponder our environment. We are going to ponder what I call the materials at hand. What do we have to work with?

I encounter this “materials at hand” situation quite often when I have people ask me to build them a piece of furniture but don’t want to spend money on materials. So we begin to ask questions. What is that we are trying to build? What material do we have sitting around? What are the characteristics of those materials? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What tools do we have to work with these materials?  How much can we change the design? And so on.

We can ponder the material at hand in the change world as well. Not only can we ponder this way, we should always ponder this way.

Since we know what our change proposal is, we can start asking questions. What are the characteristics of the process we are trying to change? What are the characteristics of the organizational structure? What are the characteristics of the leaders, the managers, the people? What skills sets and experiences are available? What ones are not?

This is how we begin to understand the materials at hand. This is how we understand the maturity and developmental level of an organization. What foundation do we have to work with?

This is how we know what wrung of the ladder we can start on. This tells us which strategies and methods and tools are in play. And that is what we are after.

So breathe and ponder.


shovel3Leadership is not a position, it is an attitude. It comes from inside. I don’t know who coined this phrase but I love it, which is why I have stolen it for my next sentence.

Being a change agent is not a position, it is an attitude. And not only is it an attitude but a skill. Every manager at every level should possess a change attitude and the skills that need to go with it.

It’s not a nice to have. It’s a need to have. In a world where we expect change to constantly bombard us, we need people who have the right attitude and the right skills.

Sure, you say, it’s hard to argue with that. But how do we get there? Yes, yes. How? That is indeed a good question. I’m sure there are many good answers.

I’m going to skip all the vision and mission jabber, not because I don’t think it is important but because wiser people than I have expounded on that. I’ll make the assumption that we have one.

I was going to launch into my typical angle of needing to train people on continuous improvement and feedback loops and theory of constraints and so on.  Then I thought, no, those are tools. And the tools I might use might be different than yours, which am sure are good too. And tools are always subject to context. Don’t want to get into those weeds. So let’s not go there. Hmm. So where do we start?

Architecture. That’s it! Just like a computer system needs a good architecture. Just like a building needs a good architecture. A management system needs a good architecture.

So back to the question of how. If we want managers to have the change agent attitude and skills then it must be part of the management architecture.

Now just like a system’s architecture is dependent on the role the software needs to play, management architecture will depend on the needs of the business so no two would or should be the same. But if I were developing a management architecture for the modern world where change is constant I might include some key structural building blocks. Some basic expectations of capability and attitude that would allow the system to run efficiently. Here we go.

  • Systems Thinking – You Are Not Alone
    • This is a three for one.
      • If your managers don’t know about systems thinking, educate them. The understanding of context is crucial to interacting with the world around you.
      • Require them to understand the world around them. A thorough understanding of the processes that impact them and the process that they impact.
      • Systems thinking means people will question the world around them. This has to be encouraged and supported.
    • What is Systems Thinking? Here’s a primer.
  • Support Role – Why You are Here
    • Unless you are creating value, creating output, you are support.
    • This means your role is to make sure that all processes related to that are efficient and accurate.
    • Your role is to remove barriers to production and work toward continuous improvement.
    • Everything else is secondary. Everyone has to understand this.
  • Change Management – It’s the People
    • You are not managing processes you are managing people.
    • You are helping people perform to meet the needs of the organization.
    • Learn it, live it, love it. Understand the human condition. Motivations, habits, behaviors.
    • Relationship Management. Build trust and you build willingness.

There you have it. Some basic conditions and attributes of a management architecture that will allow you to more systemically approach change and many other business challenges. Give your people this knowledge and these expectations. Give them a strong base of support to stand on.

And especially give these attributes to yourself. Perhaps this is where the “leadership is an attitude” comes in.

And just because it came to mind, a little Pete Townshend digging away.