Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Be the Gardener

Posted: January 1, 2016 in Change
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Control is an Illusion

Control. So many people want it. They want to use it like a super power, like a panacea against all that is wrong with the world.

Yet, who wants to be controlled? Not many that I know of. In fact the exercise of control usually yields the opposite intent because I certainly don’t’ want to cede my control to you.

And what people usually exert when they think they are exercising control is dictation: the power to dictate the terms and conditions of the situation.

Again, who wants to be on the receiving end of that? As suspected, not many.

Add this to the reality that you don’t get control of the countless variables swirling around you that impact your environment, if in fact you are even aware of them.

So what is one to do when one realizes control rarely yields the results one desires and the rest of it is beyond your reach to control?

Acceptance. Acceptance that you only have agreeable control over your own actions.

Why is this so important? It’s important because you can begin to shift your energy away from counterproductive actions and you reduce all the negative vibes around resistance to your attempts to control. You end up with more positive energy. Positive energy that is so often in short supply.

And when you become the purveyor of positive energy, you become a beacon. People are drawn to positive energy. And as a beacon you can move from control to influence.

Think of yourself as a gardener. The plants are the people and the projects you are trying to help thrive. Your job is not to change their DNA, to turn them into different plants. Your job is to water, fertilize, pull weeds and keep the soil loose. Your job is to create an environment where they can thrive. And yes sometimes you have to move plants from sun to shade or from sandy to clay. A healthy garden is always changing.

Be the gardener and reap the rewards.


swing1I give up. I don’t give up. I give up. I don’t give up. I give up.

I’m an optimist. I always think there is a way forward, a way to progress. I can’t even admit to myself that there is a limit to this position.

But yet. That ever possible and frustrating but yet. But yet there are times when forces overwhelm your position and you must retreat. Those things just too far outside of your control.

Let me wander for a moment. I know things must evolve. I know evolution of an organization or even a person does not go from point A directly to point Z. It’s a journey.

I have recently been faced with interacting with an organization so unevolved that I don’t know or can’t comprehend what point A is. It’s like pre-history to me. The evolutionary divide is so great that I can’t even speak the same language. And what language I attempt to use that seems to be recognized gets translated into terms from this pre-history and entirely misses the point.

So guess what? And this is difficult to admit. I quit trying. I came to grips with what could simplistically be called failure.

I know I have been told that this happens and others have even shared similar stories with me. It is highly unpleasant feeling. I don’t like it. Remember the optimist part of me. I believe there is hope. But yet.

But yet the return on investment here is awful. The drain of energy for little return can’t go on.

In counseling circles they say it’s almost impossible to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Barkis has to be willing.

Yes, this is all a “learning” process. But we tend to talk so much in these blogs about how awesome we are and that we have all the right tools and methods and attitudes. We don’t talk about how much this flailing sucks. And it does suck. I suppose this post is a way of working through that suckage and moving on.

So be wise enough to give up. Move on to the next place that is willing to multiply your energy instead of divide it.






continuous improvement










visionHow about some building blocks to starting a change effort out on the right footing.

Priority and Time

If you want a successful change effort, it has to be a priority. It doesn’t have to be THE priority but it will have to replace an existing priority. Something has to give. You can’t just pile it on. It won’t get worked on. This applies to both you and your people. Everybody’s priorities will have to change.

Not only does it have to be a priority for your people, it has to be a priority for you. If you’re not making it a priority, it’s not a priority. People will work on the things they know are a priority for you. And no amount of cheap talk will steer them away from knowing what your real priorities are.

Your desire to make this happen it isn’t enough either. Your understanding of the need isn’t enough. It requires that you make it a priority and making it a priority requires time. Time is the most precious and most powerful tool you have. If you don’t spend real time on it, it’s not a priority.

You can’t hide it. Trust me. Everyone will know if you are devoting time. And if you are devoting time, your people will devote time. Simple equation.

And you can’t hand it off. Not to anyone. Not to your right hand, not to a project manager, not to a change agent.

Clarity of Purpose

No reason to move ahead if you don’t have this. What are you trying to change? What are you trying to achieve? These have to be real tangible things. They can’t be things like, we want to be more nimble. Sure, we all want to be more nimble. But I might be thinking I’m nimble and you might be thinking I’m a clod. Doesn’t work. Everyone has to be able to understand where you are going.

You have to get to the heart of what you are trying to achieve. Or you at least have to be close and be willing to be flexible as you dive into the process.

There are many different ways to get to the heart of the matter. However you get there, slow down to speed up. Get this right.

Focus and Discipline

Fires will start up for whatever reason. We all know they will. They’ll be very distracting. Do not give in to firefighting mode. Stay focused. You have to keep the change a priority.

But the fire will come and they often have to be put out. Send someone to deal with it. Not you. Not anyone who will have to de-prioritize the change project.

Why? Because it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that firefighting is more important than the change project. It is not. Firefighting is reactive. Change projects are proactive.

You say you have to send project members to fight fires because you don’t have enough resources? Well, you better plan for that. You know it’s going to happen. Designate someone to deal with that now. If you don’t have that person, you need to start looking now.

Education and Engagement

Everyone needs to understand the purpose of the change;  they also need to understand their role.

That takes active engagement. This can’t be a top down activity. This can’t happen by directive.

This takes active education—of everyone impacted. Whether that education is on the change itself or the act of changing. That has to start right now. Not right before the change is rolled out.

It takes dialog. Lots of dialog. You have to keep discussing it because it will evolve. It will not be in the end what it was in the beginning.


Yes, back to time. All of these take time. Lots of time.


If you can accept that this is what it will take, then you can start. Now you can walk into the fire with Eyes Wide Open.

dispersion1Life is so scattered and overwhelming. So much going on inside the mind and outside in the real world. We spend so much time trying to get our hands around it all, trying to collect it and manage it.

We think we are jugglers who must continue to juggle more and more things. We think must hone our juggling skills to take on every new problem that comes along, become virtuoso jugglers to cope with the world.

We invent new technologies to help us juggle more and more. We become tour de forces of juggling. We become multitasking, juggling maniacs. We get really good at it. The complexity of it all.

Except isn’t that really bad? I know dealing with complexity seems so much more impressive to others than dealing with the simplified. Yet we expend so much energy juggling we hardly have any left for the task and objects we are juggling. They are just tasks to be completed so we can move onto the next. We lose context. Lose track of the reasons why.

What if we just stopped juggling? Just said no. Just came to grips with the unsustainability of it all. Let all the balls just fall to the ground. Let them just disperse back into nature. It’s a leap of faith, I know. I’m asking you to walk through the looking glass, which is full of the unknown. Let’s at least do it in our minds. It will be fun. Trust me.

Imagine those fifty balls in the air held up by your juggling skills, by your project plans, by your smart devices, your applications with in applications and so on. Now imagine turning the machine off. All the balls have fallen to the floor and scattered about the room. And in front of you see this complex system that’s trying to hold it all together. Probably rather too complex for its own good.

Now look around the room at all the balls on the floor. Think about the things you are trying to achieve or must achieve. Rank them, prioritize them. The higher the priority the more difficult it is to juggle. Now start picking them up in order. Start to juggle them. Ignore the old system. Juggle as many as you can without gadgets and applications. Juggle them so that you’re giving each object the attention it deserves. In this way the new system will self-define itself without sacrificing the needs of the individual pieces. That’s good juggling.

Are you meeting all your main priorities? Maybe, maybe not. If not, is that semi-critical important ball one that you need to juggle or could someone else? These are the questions you need to ask for every ball you want to bring back into play. You have to make choices. As one strategist once said, he who defends everything defends nothing. We all have to leave things undone.

Let the balls fall. For your own good. For the balls’ good. For everyone’s good. Let your priorities disperse so they can come back together more focused than ever. Be the ball.

crookedaI’m the kind of guy big data hates. I can’t blame them. I’ve been known to profess that if I need data to find my path I’ve already failed.

Don’t get me wrong. I find data important to help determine whether things are getting better. But you see, that’s later when you’ve actually plotted a course and actually know what data is important.

I won’t say that I go just on gut instincts, though I certainly often do, but instead of data I like to look at behaviors and system activities. Data at that point just muddies up the view for me in the beginning, clouds when you need clarity.

So instead of beginning with data I like to go stream of conscious in the beginning. It’s like brainstorming with a narrative. Your goal is to get new possibilities on the table.

You start with brainstorming because even a stream of conscious narrative needs a place to start. In most brainstorming sessions we start out by saying there are no bad ideas, which is good because we want to open up the floor. The challenge we have is that as we begin we also want to view them all as equal. But if you’re looking to open new ground they are not.

The analogy I use here is one I learned writing headlines for a newspaper. If you want a fresh headline, here’s what you do. Obviously you read the article. Next you write down the first headline that comes to mind. You throw it away. If you thought of that headline that quick so will have 90% of the population. Think of a second headline. You had to think a little harder but you’re going to throw that one away too. Maybe you’re down to 40% of the population thinking that one up. OK, now do a third. You had to dig got that one. Let’s keep it. While it may not be the most original, it’s probably pretty fresh.

Same thing with brainstorming for a stream of consciousness session. We don’t want the obvious so we go through the brainstorming exercise and in the end we lop off the top half, maybe more depending on how long the list is.

Now we can start playing with our stream of conscious narrative. Pick one of the brainstorming ideas. Give it to a person who didn’t throw it up there. The person’s job is to take the idea and run with how it would be implemented. A moderator’s job is to prompt with hows: how do you account for this, how do you account for that. At this point the group can jump back in recommending solutions.

No filtering. You take the first idea that jumps up. That’s it. Now what? Now what? Now what? And then you peter out. Who knows what the process or solution will look like? Doesn’t matter.

You can repeat the exercise with the same brainstorming idea and different person. See where it goes. Some place different.

The goal here is not to find “the” solution. The goal is to open up the mind. Let it simmer. Let people go and digest the possibilities. You might even ask groups to take these impromptu processes and fill out the details and come back with a beefed up proposal. Good exercise without pressure.

Team members start to think. Doors are opened. The idea that the path is never straight starts to sink in, which is good. The belief that crooked path is OK is even better.

attitude1We try to get people to change, to adapt, to innovate. We teach them new analytical skills and new methodologies.

But does any of that matter, is any of that sustainable if we don’t change people’s attitudes towards the environment, the situation? I think the long term answer to that is no.

So how do we go about changing attitudes? Clearly just talking about it doesn’t work. Re-education is a bit out of favor so we won’t go there. I think we have the elements around us to make some progress. We just need to combine the right pieces to create a more robust attitude-changing environment.

Now before I drop this new combination on you, I just want to make it clear that I don’t know what that specific attitude is.  As with any complex situation it will depend on the circumstances. It is not about my attitude is right and yours is wrong. The goal is to match the attitude to the environment. It’s about the evolution of the attitude.

So my idea is a simple, at least on the surface. You combine the change that’s going on with an ongoing dialog about how our attitudes are changing or need to change.

The first part we are doing all the time, whether it is organizational change, process change, technology change or any other change. While we certainly have a plan to implement these changes, our knowledge and understanding of the change evolves as we move through it. We know more and more about the impacts, the repercussions and unintended consequences a week in, a month in and so on.

With this evolving knowledge we should also have evolving attitudes. How can we not?

The second part is then that we need then to have on-going and proactive discussion about how we think about these changes. Some of this will be positive and some of this will be negative. That’s OK. The goal is to talk through these, to see how old attitudes don’t mesh, to look for new ways to approach the new environment.

The changing environment is also an opportunity to talk about the way we view change. To view hiccups in the plan as normal, to see the need to adjust as a sign of agility, to be comfortable in questioning original assumptions. Using a real, practical implementation to talk about these attitudes is so much more enlightening than talking about them in the abstract. You can actually choose to behave and react in these ways on real-time, in-your-face, challenges.

Make attitude a part of the on-going dialog. Get it out in the open.

How do you talk about attitude?


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.

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.