Archive for the ‘Relationship Building’ Category

agent2a

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a change agent?

The Secret in Secret Change Agent

Is a change agent a job or is it a role? Do we approach change management as a project or is a project endowed with change management?

A true secret change agent has a secret mission.  Except that it’s not a secret.  Anyone can manage a project that will change the organization.  The change may be as small as verbiage on a letter template or as sweeping as shutting down a department.  But without a secret mission, it’s just another disruption to the team members. The role of a secret change agent is to transform every project into something greater by becoming part of the team, by building trust with them so you can promote change from the inside. You are doing the project with them, not to them.

So what is your mission, should you choose to accept it?   

The key difference between a Secret Change Agent and your run-of-the-mill process engineer is the mission.  And the mission is to change the culture.  It doesn’t need to start as radical change – we’re not talking “smash the state” kind of culture change.  Think of it more along the lines of “gradual enlightenment”.   With every problem identified, the organization has an opportunity to grow.   Our reflex may be to slap a band-aid on the problem and desperately hope the blemish never shows its ugly face again.  But the opportunity presented is one of learning.  It’s not just about solving the problem, but rather about furthering a problem-solving culture.

I love it when a plan comes together

Every secret mission needs a good plan. Your job is to look at the project and the secret mission and figure out what lessons can be learned about problem-solving. It could be one simple process method. It could be a set of tools to use. It could be feedback loops. You could even be planting seeds for future learning. And as always assess the current capabilities and understanding of the team members. Your job is to set them up to succeed in the learning because that feels good, creates a sense of achievement that they’ll want to repeat.

So bring the people in 

By involving the people who live the problem, hopefully the people who identified the problem in the first place, you are taking the first step toward an inclusive learning culture.  People are always sensitive about projects and change so it’s your job to bring the right attitude. It’s your job to guide them not drag them. Take time to understand both the people and the process. Then make an effort to let them know you understand. They’ll appreciate that and you’ll build the trust necessary to move farther and farther ahead.

Today’s blog was a fun collaboration with Megan O’Neal. Megan is seasoned business engineer from Minneapolis. Thanks Megan. 

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Wizards. That’s what so many business analysts and engineers seem like when they show up with their weird terminology and strange tools. It’s like they’re casting spells to lighten the darkness for you.

Some engineers come across this way because they indeed want to seem magical, adding to their aura as special beings. Others come across this way unintentionally. Either way the effect on the victims is pretty much the same: instead of being awed by the wizard’s powers they are annoyed by the wizard’s arrogance. Not really the outcome you are looking for.

This always reminds me of a fantasy book series called “Sword of Truth.” The first book in the series is called “Wizards First Rule.” And there is in fact a Wizard’s First Rule (spoiler alert) and it is: “People are stupid. They will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”  It’s the people are stupid line that resonates with me not the lying bits since I know we all have good intentions. Now this might make a for a good novel or a comedic line, but treating people like they are stupid or trying to impress them with how expert you are is not good change management.

I didn’t intend this to be a list of things not to do but it kind of fell out that way. So here are three rules to follow to avoid being a bad wizard:

  1. Don’t use big words and jargon from your area of expertise. You end up sounding like some wizard casting spells.  Take time to explain in detail what they mean in layman’s terms as necessary. Educate them on the importance of the term in on-going efforts. Once people understand the term well enough then you can use it. Until then speak in practical terms they will understand. If you can’t do that, then you need to spend more time understanding them and their processes before you start speaking.
  2. Don’t be a Gandalf. Don’t come in and rile things up and then disappear for a month. This might make for a good movie but doesn’t do much good for trust. No one wants to feel abandoned. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have diddly.
  3. Don’t scare the locals with magic tricks. Unless you want to spook the locals, do not walk around with clipboards and stop watches. It always comes back to trust. Once you establish trust by explaining the terminology and the methodology, then you can explain the magic tricks that are the clipboards and stop watches. Everyone has to understand this, not just managers.

So let’s all go out there and be the best wizards we can be.

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You must believe. As a change agent you must believe in the task at hand. So you ask, what exactly is it that I must believe?  

You must believe in the goal or the vision. You must believe that it is a good place to go. You must believe that it is a good course.

Because not believing has awful consequences. I know because I’ve been there. It’s apparent. You cannot hide it.

Was it entirely my fault that I did not believe? No. Was I guilty of not making the right effort with powers to be to find a way to believe? Yes. I did a disservice to myself and the project by not making it clear to my superiors that if I didn’t believe in this I would fail, the project would fail, and we needed to work at my belief or get me off the project.

If I don’t believe my performance will suffer. That is certainly true. The greater damage will be that most people on the project  will know I don’t believe. And unfortunately, unbelief inspires unbelief. It inspires mistrust and cynicism that those who are supposed to help them don’t believe in the cause. The project members may not know why something is amiss and they may not be able to put a name on it. But they will know. They may see it as going through the motions, lacking optimism or lacking conviction.

Others must believe that you believe. That is why it is so important to do the upfront work before anything kicks into motion.

Again, it is relationship building. In this case it is both upward and outward.

Upward to those directing the work. You need to establish a relationship that says this is a joint effort. That change efforts need to inspire belief. They have to have tangible and visual value. The reasons for the change have to be meaningful and understandable to the people you are asking to change. You need to help the powers that be to understand that it’s part of your job to give projects the right kind of believable meaning.

And also reaching outward to your project team. If you want them to believe you not only must they believe that you believe, but they must trust you. You have to start building that bond before you ask them to do anything. Plant seeds and educate and understand before you ask for anything.

If the roots are not severed, all will be well in the garden.

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We want people to just get it. When we pitch an idea or concept to someone we want all the light bulbs to go on at once.

Sometimes people do just get it. But that’s the exception. And when they don’t get it right away we often get frustrated or we try to force it.

It’s as if we have forgotten what it is like to learn something new. How easy it can be to be overwhelmed by new concepts, especially when you have your real job to do. You don’t even know enough to be able to gauge the value of the new concept so you can’t even make a choice to prioritize it.

Then we start making requests of them to start making changes, implementing new things. It’s hard enough that they don’t fully understand yet (not that you don’t ask them to do foreign things because it is in doing that we learn). But the psychological risk here is that they often don’t see you as requesting them to try a new process but demanding that they try a new process.  They feel this because most likely you’ve been assigned this task by someone above them and view your requests as not optional. And no one likes to feel that demands are being put on them from an outside force.

I don’t know how to avoid this entirely. Change comes with resistance no matter how you sugar coat it. You can, however, minimize this by building the relationship first and then requesting change and experimentation.

There are many ways to build relationships. There are also many ways to damage relationships. One good way to damage a relationship is to start by asking for something before a relationship is built. Like in the example above, if you start asking someone to change before you build a relationship you’re creating a one way dynamic. You’re asking them to do something and you’re asking them to trust you. All the burden and effort is on them. I wouldn’t want to be part of that relationship.

What can you do then to avoid this? Plant seeds, not demands.

Plant seeds by educating them on the concept, illustrating the concept, highlighting examples of the concept without asking them to do anything. Give the seeds time to germinate. Continue to water the seeds by offering more knowledge. This shows a commitment to them by you. By offering observation on their operations in context to the concept. This shows you are paying attention to their world. This is how you build trust. This is how you build good will. This is how you can give without asking.

If you do it right, they may ask you when they can start a new project or process. If you do it right, you may see an opportunity to offer assistance in trying something new.  Yes, there will still be apprehension but there will also be willingness.

In fact, you should always be planting seeds with all your business partners. You should always be educating them. You never know when these seeds will germinate. Plant seeds, reap benefits.