Archive for the ‘Relationship Building’ Category

spiders1“I don’t know” can be hard words to utter when you are trying to lead or guide people. I’ve always said you have to become comfortable with the unknown in order to take people somewhere new.

But there was something I didn’t get (read as something I didn’t know) that went beyond my comfort with the unknown. I didn’t get that people were not always comfortable with my willingness to admit that I didn’t know. Their expectation that I knew something was valid and they could fairly assume was the reason I was there to begin with.

I suspect this lands in sector known as building trust, but I sensed still that I wasn’t getting it. I think I have a handle on the communicating and the relationship building and the proof is in the pudding tactics. So what I realized I needed to do was help them redefine the idea of knowing.

For most of us knowing is knowledge, facts, figures, available answers, definitive solutions. But to a continuous improvement or a change person, knowing is defined by the process of getting to a desired state. The knowing is how to navigate the path to that future state.

I suppose this seems like a rather “duh-like” epiphany but it hit home that I needed to take extra care in coming back to the idea of process as knowing: by hook, crook, allegory, anecdote or metaphor. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Clearly, there is no one way to explain or communicate. Every environment is different. It’s like marketing. Repeat the message in different ways until it begins to crystallize.

As Tom Petty might say, the knowing is the hardest part.

TrustTrust. I know it’s kind of a tricky word to begin with. Trust can have many different meanings to many different people. The dictionary definition is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Back to our opening salvo: Why should they trust you? The answer is that if they don’t know you there is no reason for them to trust you. Why not? I’m going to grab onto two of the words in the definition of trust here: reliability and ability. If they have no knowledge of your ability or reliability they have no way to judge your trustworthiness.

Think about when you say “I trust she’ll get it done” whether at work or in your personal life. What are you basing that on? You’re probably basing that on experience. Positive experiences to be precise because we know that negative experiences bring distrust.

Trust we know is the foundation of a good relationship. And good relationships are the key achieving great things. When trust exists in a relationship people will allow you to act in ways that would not otherwise be allowed, and they may follow guidance they otherwise may not. It can mean the difference between getting lip service or feelings of coercion and getting well-intentioned investment. So how are you going to build trust?

Essentially you need to prove yourself. A good reference can get you in the door but only trust will keep you there.

But how do I provide good experiences if they don’t trust me with the opportunity? An age-old conundrum, for sure. Well, there are ways to open the door. Here are a couple thoughts.

• Start with education or coaching before asking them to do work or asking for work. Take in the environment and the context. What are some of the activities you foresee? Based on these, introduce concepts that open the door to the knowledge around these activities. Provide illustrations and anecdotes about how they work elsewhere. What this does is begin to establish a link between your knowledge and the ability you want them to trust you with.

• Give without expectation. Find a problem that they need solved that you think you can help them with. This problem may or may not have anything to do with your mission to help them, in fact the benefit to it not being related is that it eases feelings that an agenda is being pursued. The goal is to demonstrate ability. Keep your eyes and ears open. When you find something make an offer to do some research or an analysis.

• Show that you’re listening. Pay attention to dialogs that are occurring. Look for topics where you might be able to provide insight, especially those not tied to your mission. Look for topics where you may be able to refer them to someone with knowledge or insight. This provides glimpses into your knowledge and experience and also shows good will. Needless to say that piping in about everything might back fire when you end up looking like a know it all. So step gently.

• Common ground. Look for places where your experience and their experience overlap. This will undoubtedly happen. Highlight a few where you can tie back to education and concepts. Everything in moderation, of course.
• Be human. You have a personality. So do they. You have a personal life. So do they. Acknowledge that. Inquire. Share. It’s the little things.

• Deliver. Do what you say you will do. It doesn’t get any simpler. Delivery builds trust. Non-delivery destroys it.

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?

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.

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.


passion1What if I didn’t care? 

Seems like an odd thought to begin with. Yet the other day while researching a subject I thought, What if I didn’t care? Would I be researching this subject? Would I write this blog? Would I continue to explore new ideas?

I suspect I wouldn’t continue these activities but I had a hard time imagining the larger effect of not caring. What would that be like? You see, this caring is a good feeling and certainly a handy tool. Drives me to do a good job. I like to be around other people who care as well. Not necessarily what I care about but that care about something.

Since I couldn’t imagine not caring I took another step forward and asked another question that seemed more useful. Why do I care? And perhaps then in understanding why I could take another step and ask  how do I help others care?

After all in change management, and hopefully business as a whole, the key to success is getting people to care about what needs to be done. And we know this is hard because we have so many people jaded and cynical about change because of poorly executed projects or hollow cheer-leading efforts or many other sins committed in the name of change.

I want people to care about the change I’m helping them with. I want them to have some passion. I don’t, however, need them to be fanatical or extreme or obsessive about it.  You can have passion without being over the top. But wanting them to care is not enough.

So how do we get them to care?

  • Show that you care. Show your passion. That’s infectious.  Show that you know the situation and process of method or plan. First because you can’t have passion about something you don’t understand. Second, your mastery of the knowledge illustrates a commitment. And third, because you’ll need to educate them.
  • Be on a mission. Make it a priority. Do not get distracted. Nothing kills passion like distraction and rapid changing priorities. If you get distracted, your people will get distracted.
  • Power to the People. Knowledge is power. You can’t care about something you don’t understand. Treat your people as if they need to understand as much as you do. Educate them as much as possible on the situation, the subject matter and the methods.
  • It’s about each person. Everyone will be motivated differently. Acknowledge that. Attend to that.  Don’t treat your people like a mob. Don’t try to whip them into a frenzy. Mobs get out of control. Burning down the vampire’s mansion is not the goal.

I think these are excellent behaviors in all endeavors. Yet the first and hardest step is that you have to choose to care that they care. Take that first step. It’s caring and it’s free.

And speaking of passion.



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.














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.


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.


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.