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.

I think this has implications for change as well.

Fortress of Dissolitude

the-borgI’ve Googled. You’ve Googled. We’ve all Googled.

And if you know anything you’ve probably been Googled into obsolescence. You may not know it yet, but you have.

Do you remember when if you needed to know something about something you tried to think of someone who might know?  If you couldn’t think of anyone, you asked others if they knew anyone who knew something about something. Do you know anybody who knows this? Do you know anyone that knows that?

People became known as experts or in the know.  These people were good repositories of knowledge. Going to these people fostered good community and communication. It was personal. Social.

Sure you might learn more than you wanted to know, you might learn nothing or you might get referred along.

Well, forget all that. Your knowledge has been assimilated by the Google Borg.  All your practical knowledge, caveats and wisdom are…

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TheThinker1We are always under pressure to act quickly and boldly. Go, go, go.

But how are we going to act? With so many methodologies and strategies and tools and tactics available and burdened with our own not unimportant biases, how do we choose to act and what do we choose to act upon? Where does one start? How does one choose?

This is where we take a deep breath. This is where we take a moment to ponder.

And what are we going to ponder? We are going to ponder our environment. We are going to ponder what I call the materials at hand. What do we have to work with?

I encounter this “materials at hand” situation quite often when I have people ask me to build them a piece of furniture but don’t want to spend money on materials. So we begin to ask questions. What is that we are trying to build? What material do we have sitting around? What are the characteristics of those materials? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What tools do we have to work with these materials?  How much can we change the design? And so on.

We can ponder the material at hand in the change world as well. Not only can we ponder this way, we should always ponder this way.

Since we know what our change proposal is, we can start asking questions. What are the characteristics of the process we are trying to change? What are the characteristics of the organizational structure? What are the characteristics of the leaders, the managers, the people? What skills sets and experiences are available? What ones are not?

This is how we begin to understand the materials at hand. This is how we understand the maturity and developmental level of an organization. What foundation do we have to work with?

This is how we know what wrung of the ladder we can start on. This tells us which strategies and methods and tools are in play. And that is what we are after.

So breathe and ponder.

 

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.

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?

Thought this might have some interest for my change peeps. Cheers.

Fortress of Dissolitude

road1a“I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Not bad words to live by I suppose, but I get the idea somehow that this leads us to believe there is some one choice that will make all the difference.

Life is a lot of choices and in fact maybe life is just a continuous series of choices. Granted, I’m not saying they’re all significant, though certainly a pattern of similar small choices can began to have as much impact as big choices.

You see, sometimes in life you want more choices and sometimes you want less.

Too many choices and you are paralyzed. Too few choices and you feel trapped. The trick is knowing when to limit your choices and when to expand them.

For example, some young people graduating from high school or college have the world before them. They…

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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.

 

 

Thought I would share a post from my personal blog. I think it is appropriate to the world of change.

Fortress of Dissolitude

measure1cI am the opposite of a perfectionist. That is undoubtedly true.

What am I then? Apparently if you’re not a perfectionist you’re a rebel.  I found this out by searching for antonyms of perfectionism. Here’s a list of some of the antonyms:

Oddity, dissenter, defector, eccentric, fanatic, individualist, loner, maverick, radical, rebel, nonconformist, romantic, unorthodox.

I had no idea that’s what the world thought of me. I like the list because I like to think of myself as a rebel.  But on the other hand I don’t like it because it seems to imply then that perfectionism would be the norm. I don’t know. Maybe it is the norm. But that is so wrong. So misguided. I think I need to find a better word for the opposite of perfectionism. I’ll have to come back to that.

Fellow blogger Mirror of Encounters had a good entry the other day on…

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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?