Archive for the ‘skills’ Category

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.

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?

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.

 

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.

 

 

sysiphus1

I’m a change agent. I know I’m a change agent. It’s my job to help things move along the change continuum.

But things don’t easily change if I’m the only change agent on the project. The inertia that is resisting change is just too substantial for one person to move. You need help. You need people from the project team to be change agents as well.

I’m going steal a belief from the annals of leadership thinking that tell us that leadership is a behavior not a position. It’s an attitude. So it is with change. Change is about attitude.

And what attitude is that exactly? That attitude is belief. Belief that you have the skills to make change. Belief that you can make a change. Belief that you will be allowed to make change.

Your job as an official change agent is to create that belief in as many team members as possible. Will everybody become a change agent? No, they won’t.  Why not? Because being a change agent requires that you be an optimist. And we all know everyone is not an optimist. But some people are.  Someone once asked me why I cared so much. I said I couldn’t help it. I said I believed I could make things better.

Our job is to nurture optimism in team members and draw them along with us to the attitude of belief. That we can do it. That it is worth it. So how do we do that?

I like to show by doing. I like to take a small manageable project that will illustrate that you have the skills, that you can execute and that you are allowed.

First step. Take a look at the project and determine what skills will be needed to achieve it. Make sure the team has the skills. Educate and train them on necessary concepts and tools. Perhaps it is data skills, tracking skills, charting skills or so on.

Second Step. Execute. Put the tools in place. Identify the steps. Iterate the process until proficiency is gained, until they can perform without your assistance.

Third step. Project team presents to progress to management. Of course, your job is to make sure management understands the point of the exercise. That management recognizes the effort and applauds it and approves it.

Badda Bing, Badda Boom. You’ve started to create an environment where change agents can emerge and help you. You’ve shown them that they can be the change.

value

It’s complicated. Complicated and convoluted processes are often at the heart of change projects. The goal is usually to untangle and improve.

One of the obstacles you often run into is people holding onto to their complicated processes. Often in the form of the words “Our processes are different.”

That’s often followed up with “You don’t understand the complexity,” which is probably true. But if it’s that difficult to understand then the complexity is probably a problem.

The hardest part of a project is often not untangling the knot but in helping people let go of the complexity.

Examining some of the reasons why they won’t let go can benefit us greatly.

Being Valued

Or not being valued. Holding on to complexity is about a need to feel valued. If the process is so complicated only I can master it, then I have a higher value. I’m a limited commodity and you must treat me as such.

This attitude results from a failure of management to make the team members feel valued. Are the team members not engaged enough? Is the work consistently not challenging enough (never changing)? Is there no opportunity for expansion of their skill set? Is there no hope for advancement?

So what do we do about this?

Anyone of these and more could cause team members to not feel valued. One of the typical environments I see is the lack of cross training and development opportunities. Cross training is an excellent way to quantifiably give team members more value to themselves and to the company. The employee is more valuable the more tasks or jobs they can perform. The organization wins as well by achieving a more flexible work force.

cloud-with-lightning1

No Control

Or feeling powerless. Holding on to complexity is also about gaining control and power. If I complicate a process so that only I understand it, I always have the upper hand. So if someone tries to recommend changes I can always pull out the unwritten laundry list of special cases that make the change impossible. I have the ability to keep layering complexity because you don’t understand the process well enough to dispute it. I am withholding and sometimes manipulating knowledge to maintain control and power.

I am using complexity to carve out some sense of self-determination. The key here is that if you make attempts to simplify my processes you are taking away what I perceive as the little control I have over my world. You will get resentment and resistance to this effort if you don’t address the power issue.

Since your aim is to simplify, you have to find ways to give them power. Do you need to give more decision making authority? Do you need to allow a larger voice in management discussions?

One of the ways I’ve used to give power is to institute localized feedback loops. Giving them the tools and training to measure and analyze their own performance and then give them the authority to make changes to process based on their own evaluations and learnings. This provides control over their work, a sense of self-determination. Of course this includes trusting them and rewarding them for these efforts. It has to be a give and take. If I take your complexity I must give back value and power.

There are of course many ways in which you could address the issue of power, control and self-determination. And again an initial evaluation of the environment is needed to get the lay of the land.  The key step is seeing it and acknowledging it. Being able to identify and react to the issues of value and power can be a huge lift in promoting change.

swirl2

 

Things change. Really. They do.

Even as a change agent whose job it is to foster change you will run into change.

What you’re trying to change will change. Who you are trying to change will change. Why you are trying to change will change.

We are always telling the people we are helping that change is constant or inevitable. But we don’t always deal with change so well ourselves. It’s easy for us to latch on to a goal and not let go. To be upset when our sponsor leaves us for another position. It’s natural to react this way even when we know it’s not helpful. We have to follow our own advice.

That’s when we have to remember our role and our goal. To change culture, which is to change people’s behaviors. Everyone’s behavior. Not just the sponsor or the manager or your star employee. Don’t get me wrong. It does suck to lose a key person and it can be demoralizing at times. But someone once told me that the sign of a great leader is not how well they prepare for a task but how well they respond when things go wrong, which they inevitably do. No battle plan survives the battle.

This is where the Lewis and Clark method comes in handy. When you know where you are headed, it’s much more possible to make course corrections. If the bridge is washed out, then you must look for options and knowing which general direction you need to go makes the decision easier.

This is also where people fall off the track. At the beginning of a project they think they must and can map out all the points of failure. Endless sessions of contingency planning which suck the life out of everyone and everything around it. And you can’t do it. It’s flawed from the start. The things that go wrong are never the things you predicted. There are too many variables.

But you can prepare for contingencies without knowing specifically what they will be. Like Lewis and Clark bringing rope with them.  The rope might be used to pull something up, lower something down, hold something in place or hog tie a bear.  You just don’t know but you have a tool that can do all these things.

These concepts can be applied to people as well. You can look at it two ways. You can work to make sure you have the right people with the right skills (or rope) to address challenges that come along. Since you don’t always get to choose your people, it becomes really important to know your people, to understand what they are capable of. Like a skills or knowledge assessment. So when those challenges come you can look at your list and go, oh look, Joe has skills that would work well here.

So in the end once again it comes down to vision and people. Knowing where you are going and knowing your people and yourself is how you handle change in the change world. Educating and cultivating your people to handle change in the same way as you have trained yourself is key. Change is people, people.

Feed-Your-Head_000

 

So you want to be a change agent. That’s awesome.

I first ask myself what does that mean. It means different things to different people.

To me it means helping change culture and attitudes so that change and improvement can occur more naturally. Changing processes and rules and mechanics are just a subset of change.

Well, in order to attack change in this way you need the right frame of mind and the right skills. Essentially you need to train your brain. These will be different skills than typical process methodologies like Lean or Six sigma or whatever the latest trends are. So here are some thoughts on your brain.

Being in control of your brain

This skill probably applies more universally that the one that follow but perhaps the key. I have people tell me as a point of pride that they’re always thinking, their brains never turn off. They think about shit when driving, when lying in bed at night, when standing in line. It never stops. In fact they can’t stop it.

I’m sorry but that’s not good. Not for your health or your cognitive abilities. You need to be able to control when and what you think about.

You need to quiet your mind. Give it a chance to recover, reenergize itself. It’s like a muscle and if your work it, work it, work it, it will wear out. You need to meditate (or I guess the buzz word now is practice mindfulness).

Meditation is basically quieting your mind. It serves two key purposes here. It supplies the recovery mentioned about. But also in practicing to quiet your mind you gain discipline and control over your mind. Think of when you have struggled with a  problem and then gone to bed and woke up and have an ah-ha moment. Meditation is like controlling that process. It’s allowing your subconscious mind to do some heavy lifting and association. It’s really good at that. You should let it do that. In fact you should make it do that.

There are lots of good resources out there for meditation. Check them out. Be your brain.

Become a Psychologist

One of the keys to change is knowing it’s the people. Most of the books I’ve read on change and process improvement spend about one chapter on how to work with the “difficult” people, with the resistance. One chapter. Really. You’re going to help me master an understanding of the human psyche in one chapter. I highly doubt it. So you’re going to have to become a psychologist on your own.

You need to understand human behavior. What makes people do what they do? You need to look into motivational psychology, cognitive behavior therapy and even counseling techniques. It’s so helpful in reducing frustration over unwanted behaviors as well as helpful in creating counter-measures.

If you’re going to practice some psychology then you also need to learn how to read people. You need to learn about body language and facial expressions. You need to understand what they are saying and what they are not saying.

Again there are lots of resources out there. Be the counselor.

Become Empathetic

Understanding the people you are trying to help is obviously important. Empathy is the act of being able to place oneself in another’s shoes. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathetic feelings or condoning of behavior.

Too often we think that empathy is a thing you have or you don’t. And surely some people’s genetics may make them more empathetic. But empathy can be learned. It’s skill that takes practice but it can be acquired. Check these thoughts out: http://www.experis.us/Job-Seekers/Research-and-Insights/Career-Center/Strengthening-Your-Empathy-Ski.htm

A word of caution on this though: Gaining empathy skills can often be offset by reacting to our newfound insight with cynicism and judging. It’s probably easy to go there. Kind of like the Dark Side.

Feed Your Head  

Literally, feed your head. Just like taking care of other parts of your body, your brain needs nutrients. Make sure it gets them.

Oxygen. Your brain needs lots of it. This means being in shape and maintaining good cardio conditioning. Get the blood to the brain. Get up and move.

Brain food. Amino acids are what make your brain go. Especially Dimethylglycine (or DMG).  Look it up. Here’s a start: http://www.needs.com/product/NDNL-0605-01/l_DMG_Dimethylglycine

And of course you should eat foods good for the noggin. Again lots of sources on that. Here is one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/brain-food-superfoods_n_1895328.html

Badda Bing

Off you go. Take a step in the right direction.