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

 

 

 

Slide2

 

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Slide5

 

 

 

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.

 

desire1Change management is coaching. Coaching is teaching. Teaching is helping someone learn. Learning to learn is change management.

Round and round we go. A bit circular. A bit abstract. If everything is everything, then nothing is everything. Oh boy, getting a little deep there. We won’t go there. Maybe some place a little lighter.

Reminds me of a scene from the Tom Hanks movie “Volunteers”:

Chung Mee: Opium is my business. The bridge mean more traffic. More traffic mean more money. More money mean more power.
Lawrence Bourne III: Yeah, well, before I commit any of that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?
Chung Mee: Speed is important in business. Time is money.
Lawrence Bourne III: You said opium was money.
Chung Mee: Money is Money.
Lawrence Bourne III: Well then, what is time again?

But seriously, isn’t change management at its heart essentially targeted coaching? Obviously I think the answer is yes. Perhaps coaching of a manager or a management team or a project team or an operations team.

Let’s try another round about.

Change requires coaching. Coaching requires motivation. Motivation requires desires. Desires are emotions. Emotions spur change.

I’m getting dizzy. Yet we keep ending up in the same place. Change. Change requires learning and learning requires desire.

Desire. What is desire? A dictionary tells me it’s a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.  Sounds good to me.

The trick in change management is finding out what that something is. Because that something is different for almost everyone.

In the process engineering world I know we almost always think that something is a number. A throughput number or a quality number. In the sales world I’m sure it’s often number of units sold or percentage of quotas met. It is not a number.

Our basic desires don’t speak in numbers. They speak in emotions: love, respect, recognition, pride, fulfillment, and so on. Find out what emotional desire they want to fill. That is the most important step.

Then and only then do you begin to ask how to achieve that. That’s when numbers come into play. That’s when data is important. Data helps us make decisions. Decisions that drive us toward our desired something.

I ran across some wonderful YouTube videos form Mike Lally on coaching. Does a much better job than I could at explaining the role of emotion in coaching.  How to Coach with Emotional Intelligence. Check him out. He has a good website as well.

I’ll leave you with this. Find your desire.

 

perspective1

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.

bars

Are the bars limitations?

Change is everywhere, believe me…

I was listening to a health and nutrition podcast the other day in the car. The host was talking to a caller who had some health issues. He was giving advice on the right nutrition and other steps that could be taken to address the issues.  Then he said something I wasn’t expecting. He asked “Do you know what a kaizen is?”

I raised my hand and said “Ooh, ooh, I do.” Essentially the host said while what I’m telling you may seem overwhelming the key is to make small changes. Yes!

Overwhelming. That’s what it feels like so often when faced with a need to change.

My favorite example of this is at companies who are so dependent on software. The truth one has to come to grips with immediately is that most of these companies would not be able to survive without the software. The dependence on software and technology gadgets will become even greater. This is awesome.

But the business world is fluid, ever changing. Unfortunately, as softwares and companies grow larger and larger their agility becomes more and more limited. Their ability to flex cannot keep pace with the demand to change. The software becomes our prison bars, caging our need to change.

Curse you, software teams. Why can’t you keep up? If we only had this change or that change we would be awesome.

Wait, wait. That’s not going to help, is it? That’s like cursing the sun for coming up every morning. Futile and filled with negativity.

No, best to apply the Serenity Prayer:

Give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

And what do I know that I can change without coding? Behaviors and process. I can work to change attitudes and approaches to process and culture.

It reminds me of a legend about Dr. Seuss. The legend goes that he wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” on a bet that he couldn’t write a children’s story with only 50 words, obviously an extremely limited and arbitrary set of conditions. But look at the masterful and creative result. A result very much influenced by the limits placed upon the process.  Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

So think of software not as a limitation but an environmental situation that calls for creative solutions.  My mantra is always to use software as a last resort.

I do not ask for software changes.
Not in a day
Not in a week
I do not ask for them
With a plan
I do not ask for them
From the man
I do not ask for them
With a promise
I do not ask for them
With a kiss
I do not ask for software changes

vote1

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.