Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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. http://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/systems_what.html
  • 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.

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floodA few years ago quite a few members of my family were displaced by flooding. Ultimately their houses were condemned or determined not worth the effort to restore. They were displaced. Displaced in a dramatic fashion as they had twenty four hours to evacuate what they could. Everything was different. Immediately.

That’s traumatic change. There are multiple government and non-profit agencies set up to deal with displacement. It’s a big deal. From afar we don’t always see the trauma beyond the physical damage but the psychological and emotional needs are there. What can we learn from this when helping others work through change?  Here’s some thought.

Basic Needs:

The first thing you have to deal with is providing basic needs. In a natural disaster this is water, food and shelter.

In the business world it might be awareness and training on new processes and conditions, access to the right or new resources and a thorough understanding of expectations.

Security:

You want displaced people to feel safe. They are, after all, in a foreign place of shelter and surrounded by strangers. Routines have been upset. Having authority figures around to show that order and control still exists helps ease the anxiety.

In the business world you need people to feel secure as well. Authority figures need to be seen here as well. That means management needs to be visible during and after change. They need to be accessible. They need to be there to answer questions, assuage fears or patrol the perimeter to watch for outside threats. You need to have their backs.

Keys to the House:

You want displaced people to feel there is a little permanence in the world, that they have a little control. They don’t want to feel dependent on others. Give them keys to the shelter, show them around the new neighborhood. Also creating a little permanence edges them toward the possibility that they can’t go back. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go back to.

In business as well you want to start to instill ownership of the new environment. Make sure they stay involved in decision making. Continue to explore new resources.  Need to work at making it the new normal.

And there are many more ways to help the process. How will you help?

china2Don’t be a Change Thug, Please

Change Thugs. They mean well. They’re knowledgeable, experienced, bold. And they’re like bulls in a china shop. They put up some new signage, break a bunch of plates and then leave, touting all the good work they’ve done. They never look back long enough to see the damage done.

And damage they do. I know it and you know it because either it’s been done to you or you’ve walked into the aftermath. They didn’t like the Change Thugs and now they don’t like you.

Yes, Change Thugs know how to spur change. They have their favorite tools and tricks to pull the right levers and make things happen. These are good tools: maybe visual management, or PDCA or standard work or others. All good tools. All very useful.

And all abandoned when the Change Thug leaves. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon after. And with a bitter memory of how change was forced on them. And you are one of the Change Thugs until you prove otherwise.

We’ll save how to dig out of that hole for another day. Today we’re going to talk about how not to be a Change Thug because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So let’s look at the mistakes a Change Thug makes and what you should do instead to work better with the team.

Your Ego vs. Their Self-Esteem

Yes, you are the expert. And yes you need to demonstrate your fluency. Change Thugs, unfortunately, make things about them, about their expertise. But this isn’t about you. They already know you’re the expert. Every time you forget and make this about you the team will notice and you’ll have one more hurdle to clear.

Instead, your job is to boost their self-esteem, their belief that they can make improvements and change. In fact your job is to make sure they so strongly believe they can carry on the change, that they don’t need you.  If you don’t change them, you’ve changed nothing.

Doing it to Them vs. Doing it with Them

I call it the cookie cutter approach. This happens when within days or weeks the Change Thug has already decided on the solution and often the tool to fix the problem. It’s visual management or it’s feedback loops. And often that is the right answer because the Change Thug has been here before. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. But that’s not the point.

The problem with the cookie cutter is that it’s the Change Thug’s solution. The Change Thug is the one who worked through the analysis and methodologies and understanding to that conclusion. There’s no way that in a couple weeks, the team came to that conclusion.

You have to work them through the analysis and the method and tool options until they have an epiphany or understanding. They have to get it.

Lecturing vs. Dialog

The Change Thug knows we need to teach them about methods and tools so they go to the PowerPoint on keys to visual management in front of the room like they are a bunch students at the university. They assign a management book for them to read. Then ask, “Did you get that?” Then get a room of blank stares and somehow take that as a yes.

This instead needs to be an engagement, a dialog. You need to gauge the current level of understanding so you can shape your message. Skimming over Algebra because you’re in a hurry to talk about the more exciting and relevant Calculus is just going to leave everyone in the dust.

Be patient. You need to spend time talking with them so you know what building blocks are necessary. And this dialog gives you the relationship building bonus, that wonderful tool for building trust.

Piling On vs. Prioritizing

The Change Thug says “Here’s all these great new tools and tasks for you to do. They’ll improve the process and make things wonderful.”

But guess what? Someone forgot to change prioritizations. The Change Thug forgot to help management understand the importance of not piling on. Managers decide prioritization. And prioritization is time. And no one has enough of it.

New process improving tools and tasks are great. Except like everything else they take time. So tasks have to get prioritized. And in the real world that means things at the top of the list get done and those at the bottom don’t. So as a team you need to make a choice as to what tasks are going to slide from the top of the list to the bottom, to below the line where they don’t get done.

You need to do this together to remove the anxiety and angst over things we now all know aren’t going to be done. And that’s OK. We know if we do the right things more and more effective work will get done and hopefully, if we’ve done the steps above, everyone will understand why.

And that, after all, is why we’re here.

 

steps1Necessity is the mother of invention. I’ve talked about that quite a bit. I like referring to the Dr. Seuss legend of the fifty word challenge.  I’ve gone off on the idea that a blank page is not your friend.

I usually don’t offer any practical advice here but I thought what the heck.  I have this exercise I want to go through.  Here we go.

What if you could just change one thing in the next three months to your organization or team? You can’t change anything else for the next three months. Nothing.

If you said to yourself, “THIS has got to change,” what would that be? Think about it.

Wait. There’s more.

What if it had to be something that over half the people on the team or in the organization do? So it has to be somewhat common. No taking care of big exceptions or one offs. Ain’t nobody got time for that. What might that be? Ponder on that.

Hold on. What if that one thing had to be an everyday occurrence? It could happen once or it could happen twenty times a day. No changing some KPI or end of month report. Think about it.

Nope, not yet. What if that thing had to take less than five minutes?  So we are talking a relatively small task. It might have great significance but it doesn’t have to. Obviously it’s something that needs to be done. What would it be? Hmmm.

OK, one last thing. What if you could only change one step in the process or the situation? No re-engineering the whole thing, no sweeping changes, no week long brainstorming event. One step in the process. What would it be? Done pondering? What might that change be?

Is it different than what you may have first pondered? Maybe you ended up somewhere you didn’t expect.  Perhaps you painted yourself into a corner.  There is no right answer.

The idea is that you were forced to make choices. You had to think about the limitations. Which is good because despite all our theories and methods, there are always limitations. Learn to make them work for you. Learn to find the creativity born out of necessity.

It’s a skill. Even if it’s just an exercise to stretch your mind, the above example illustrates that innovation is not always of the pie in the sky variety. Sometimes it’s hiding in plain sight. Sometimes you get there step by step by step.

Now try it again. Would you start in the same place? Will you end up in the same place?

box2Where do we find inspiration for innovation? Where do new ideas come from when you’ve become so expert in your discipline that everything around you is familiar? You’ve seen it all. Your massive weight of experience is actually holding you back.

Granted there are lucky few who can look through the experience around them to see new horizons. But where do the rest of us look? Indeed, where do we look?

One option is to leave your discipline. Go on a walk about, you might say. If I’m trying to inspire myself within change and organizational management, I need to leave them. It’s like thinking outside the box but instead you are intentionally going to another box.

See, the problem I have with the thinking outside the box metaphor is that you are basically asking if you could do anything different what would it be. That’s just a paralyzing question. You may as well stick your hand into a box of ideas and pick one out at random.

So no, we instead need to go to another discipline’s box. First, this is good because different disciplines inherently think in different ways that you do even if not particularly innovative within their own box, though innovative thinking is a bonus.  Second, this places limitations on what you’re going to be looking at. Allows the dialog to be specific.  And because it is limited you are forced to think creatively about how their thought processes and innovations intersect with your world.

So here’s an example of looking in someone else’s box.

The Biology Box

I chose to look inside the discipline of Biology. I chose biology because I don’t know anything about biology. My knowledge of biology stopped when I was in middle school and we had to dissect a frog and I passed out.  So this should be new ground for me.

So I did a search for innovation in biology. I came across many articles. Most of which I didn’t have the biology knowledge to understand. But finally came across a shorter article that was approachable.

Bacterial Colonies Evolve Amazing Diversity

cell2This article caught my eye because of the words evolve and diversity. Two words very much alive in the change and organizational management lexicon.  You can read the article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630124413.htm

The essence of the article is that with the help of new tools biologists are able to look at bacterial colonies in more detail and specifically at the cell level to identify different environmental impacts and such.

These things called out to me as interesting:

  • The layers of bacteria on the bottom nearest solid source have access to more nutrients and less oxygen
  • The layers on top have access to more oxygen and less nutrients
  • The layers in between have a diverse combination of access to nutrients and oxygen
  • As the colony ages cells adapt to rising levels in toxins and decreasing nutrients, adapting and evolving to the changing environment.

So how can this help me think about organizational change?

Let’s say the cells on the bottom near the source are the line workers and the nutrients are the knowledge gained at the operational level. Let’s say the cells on top are management and the oxygen is the ability to see beyond the daily grind.

The first and not particularly new thought was that in order to have better access do we strive for a thin organization where oxygen and nutrients are, if not equal, more available to the all? Would a thinner organization minimize unwanted mutations (like attitudes, processes, sub-cultures)? Would an organization be healthier while thinner because it would be easier to identify and remove toxins? Something to think about.

My next thought was yes, it would be great to thin an organization’s hierarchy out, but in larger companies a wholesale reorganization of that type would be a major shakeup and could take years. What other options do we have?

Well, since we think having access to both nutrition and oxygen are important for a healthy cell and overall organization, do we force oxygen down into the bottom layers?  Do we force nutrition up to the top? Sounds logical. So we need to create channels or mechanisms for this to happen.

We could try a couple things. We could send managers to the floor to observe and interact and do as much hands on work as is feasible. Not for a few hours not for a day. But like a week or more. You need time to see it.

Why? Because higher up we forget or never knew what it was like to work at the source, on the line. Things evolve so any being removed a few years can leave us blind to the current environment and culture. We get perspective. We get nutrients coming right form the source. Oh, this is what it’s really like to work in my company. Might be eye opening. We get to see how life has evolved and adapted, for good and for bad. So now the oxygen rich cells have access to the nutrients below.

And what about the cells near the source, near the nutrients.  Send line supervisors to planning and strategy and decision making meetings. Ask questions back and forth.  Learn to see that the strategic and the tactical have to work together.

And what if we put in elevators so that oxygen and nutrients could flow more strongly from top to bottom and bottom to top. Communication that is making sure the right information is flowing back and forth. We all know we need to communicate but what is the right information? Well, that’s what you learn when the top is embedded in the bottom and the bottom is embedded in the top.

The Point

I could keep going but you get the point. Looking inside biology’s box allowed me to think about change from a different angle. If I keep digging deeper and start bouncing these ideas off my colleagues maybe we find some insights. Maybe we don’t, but we keep looking, we keep infusing different attitudes and ideas into our discipline. Maybe there is inspiration in the physics box or the logistics box or the Dr. Seuss box.

Oh, the places you’ll go. You should go take a look.

 

 

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.

Slide1

 

 

 

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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.