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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.

https://www.boundless.com/communications/informative-speaking/effective-informative-speaking/tailor-complexity-to-your-audience/

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Something’s wrong. Maybe the data is telling you. Maybe your gut is telling you. Either way, you know you’re on the wrong path. It’s not that you’ve even failed yet. It’s just not going to work and you know it.

And you’re the one who insisted you take the path. You were so sure. It’s OK. No one’s perfect. But you know this isn’t working.

Now what?  Obviously, you need to steer the team to a new course. So buck up and own up.

What are your options for doing that? Here are two.

Be the Expert

You would do this when you feel the team still needs stronger direction or illustration of how to change course. In this case you would work to present the case for why.  That means digging into the data or your guts and finding the root cause for your discomfort.  Illuminating the obstacle or the dead end that you see.

You may also need to propose the alternative path. Again this will require you to have done your homework on what a better path is and the rationale for taking it. You could also present multiple options.

The key here is knowing where the team is developmentally and psychologically. Will they accept your leading them?

Be the Guide

In being the guide you almost follow the same steps above in that you still need to make your case for changing course. You even need to explore what alternatives you would take.

But as the guide you make your case for change but you don’t tell them the alternatives. You go through some exercise to help them choose an alternative. You’re still the guide so you make sure they don’t get off track. You make sure the goal is still intact.

It’s a good opportunity for the team to learn and gain experience.

The key here is knowing where the team is developmentally and psychologically as well. Are they ready to do some heavy lifting? If so, this is the way to go.

Of course, I am sure there are other options out there to communicate a need for changing course. The key is to understand where your team is developmentally, psychologically and even emotionally.

Turn the wheel and off you go.

 

prohibition_poster3Change and politics don’t mix. They don’t mix in government and they don’t mix in business. We don’t like to talk about politics. It’s taboo. Oh well, here we go anyway.

You see sometimes politics like change. If it sees advantage in it. Sometime politics dislike change. If it sees it as threatening to the status quo. And of course politics are fickle. Change that was good may abruptly become bad. Or the other way around. Makes you skittish to deal with it. You lose trust. Losing trust is bad.

I talk about politics as some abstract concept, which it is, but on practical level it is about leaders and managers. And leaders and managers are people. People whose behavior can be changed.

Politics happen for all kinds of reasons. The ones I see as most destructive to change are leaders jumping ion the latest management craze or jumping on the band wagon of the latest and hottest manager. I don’t know that either of these is avoidable and necessarily all bad.

The problem is that existing  improvement initiatives get the heave ho. Creating an environment of starts and stops. Attempts at improvements become out of joint, as Shakespeare might say.

I guess you might say we need to get used to it. This is after all a sort of ongoing change that we should know how to handle. But I’d rather not get used to it. To me these stops and starts caused by politics are juts chaos. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can change it.

I wrote about managing managers a bit ago in this blog: Change Managing the Management:  It was about educating managers about how change works. This is piece of the puzzle.

It’s not the whole puzzle. The other piece in the puzzle is awareness. Awareness of the ramifications and repercussions of swaying with the political winds.

We sometimes think everyone is in tune with all the ramifications of choices.  Unfortunately, they’re not. And the more they’re not in tune the more the term “unintended consequences” comes up. It’s not good when that term comes up.

Yes, there are certainly times in any situation that you can get bit by unintended consequences bug. But you’d much rather be bit by the unintended consequences complexity bug than by the unintended consequences clueless bug.

How do you teach someone to be more aware? That’s a tough one.

You could be blunt and say ” Hey, let’s not be that guy.” That might work. Make sure to know your audience on that one.

You can certainly start with education and communication like I mention in Change Managing the Management. This is always a good path to enlightenment.

But I like metaphors or analogies to spread complex ideas.

A good analogy for unintended consequences is Prohibition.  Prohibition is a good metaphor because it was clearly political. It had good intentions. And it snapped into place in the snap of a finger.

Unintended consequence heaven. That’s what it was. And it’s a good example because some were good and many were bad.

Increases in alcohol poisoning, DUI arrests, prison inmates, organized crime and so. Lot’s of fascinating stories out there on this.

Here’s a nice infographgic:  America’s Hangover: Prohibitions Unintended Consequences

 

Change One Person at a Time

light2We like to talk about process change. We like to talk about cultural change. About organizational change. We like to talk about big picture change.

But change is fundamentally about people changing. In fact it is about one person changing at a time. Because change is, at the end of the day, well, personal.

And we don’t like to change. It’s hard. It’s hard even for those who embrace change.

We know that to help change along we need to talk about the benefits. We need to talk about how the need for change isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just a need, a constant need. We know about good goals and good communication.

But what about me? This is about my personal relationship with change not some need or goal or mission statement. It’s about me. The individual.

I always like to tell people that you change the world one interaction at a time, one choice at a time. You hold the door for someone carrying a bag. You smile at a stranger. You buy local. One interaction at a time.

It’s the same for business change. You change the organization one person at a time. One interaction with that person at a time.

It’s like being a guidance counselor. You talk to individuals about their needs, about how they react to change. Each person’s relationship with change will be different. Some will be nervous. Some will be afraid. Some will be resistant. Some will be bitter. Some will be cynical. Some will be all for it.

Find out. Find out for each person. What are their concerns. What are their needs.

Their needs may have nothing specific to do with the given project. Assuage their fears. Help them understand process. Get them engaged and remove the unknown. Or other behavioral options that might be called for.

Bring them enlightenment.  Don’t be the light. Give them the light.

Help the person with change and you help everyone and everything. And yes, it takes time. It’s time well spent.  Teach people to change and they will change the world.

RedAlert1Failure. It will happen. You don’t know when and you don’t know where. But it will happen.

It’ll be annoying and it’ll come at the worst possible moment. It’ll be unwelcome and it’ll be unexpected.

That’s OK. It happens to everyone. It needs to happen. It means you are pushing boundaries. Looking to make real change. It’s these failures and adversities that test and develop your leadership skills. It’s not whether you fail.  It’s how you react when you do. In this care it is not only about how you react but how the whole team reacts.

I’m not going to talk about how to avoid failures and do a better job. Initiatives can fail for so many reasons. Most of my posts talk about how to do it right. This is about how to succeed at failing.

It’s like being a boy scout. Be prepared.

Deal with the psychology. Prep the team. Make sure to let them know that sometimes things fail. I know it can be tricky to talk about failure with a new team that is already skeptical. The downside of not taking about it is when you fail and the skeptics get to say, “Ha, I told you so.” You need to talk about it. It just doesn’t have to be the first thing out of your mouth. Sometime after you have covered the basic concepts and goals and tactics is a good time. Instill confidence, then instill reality.

Communicate the reaction plan. Some variation of PDCA (Plan Do Check Adjust).  Avoid the message that this is our Code Red Disaster Plan. Convey the message that this is our process regardless of the degree of success or the degree of failure. If necessary, you can emphasize the Adjust part.  Progress is a continuum of adjustments, not an end point. Adjusting to failure is a part of normal operating procedure.

Focus on the education. Reacting to failure is a learning process. This is how we learn. This is how we get better. Let them know that you’ll find the right tool to react to the situation at the time. Since we don’t know how it might fail, we don’t know what tool we’ll use. That’s OK. We’ll find the right tool then. If we don’t understand the tool, we’ll figure it out. One more learning experience.

You could get clichéd and say failures are opportunities. I wouldn’t, but you could.

 

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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.

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“Know thyself” is a good Greek saying. As a change agent I’ve always thought “Know thy role” is also a good saying. And as a change agent one of the things I’ve found most helpful is tackling the slippery idea of role.

What is a change agent’s role? The biggest challenge I’ve discovered is arriving at a common understanding of that role. Does everybody involved think it‘s the same thing? The answer is usually no. That’s OK. It provides us with the opportunity to think a little deeper and know thy role.

The three groups that need to be on the same page: you, the management and the team. 

Let’s start with you. What do you think your role is? This is probably different for each of us. It might be different for each project. That’s OK. The goal is to understand your expectations of yourself for this project. If you don’t have clarity, who will? 

You might define this yourself. You might define it along with your manager. Defining this before you start helps you know where to insert yourself and where to draw lines. Of course you always you need to be adaptable, but having a starting point is priceless. 

Now, what does management think your role is? They probably have ideas of what you will and won’t be doing. They’ll probably be different than your ideas. That’s OK.  A little negotiation may be in order. Negotiations often hinge around perceptions, wishes and realities. Be positive but real. If your role has to change, try to make sure all parts of the role you defined are handled by someone. 

And lastly, what does the team think your role is? Here is where you’ll probably get the most variety of belief. This is also going to be more of an education than a negotiation. Based on the agreements made above, you’ll walk through the approach and what it is you’ll be doing. And sometime you’ll need to talk about what you won’t be doing. 

That’s not to say there won’t be any negotiation. The team’s level of sophistication will enter into the equation. Some teams may need you to do things others wouldn’t. Again, be positive but realistic. 

Why is this important? 

Obviously, it starts out as just good communication. We should talk about these expectations as part of the greater project anyway. But in the end it’s about relationship building. You are working towards avoiding misunderstandings that lead to disruptions in flow. About minimizing the “Why are you doing that?” scenarios that lead to friction about the wrong things. How many times have people thought you were over stepping your boundaries when you thought you were just doing your job? That’s never good for trust, I am sure of that.

And the reality is you can’t do everything. So having everyone on the same page about your role also allows you to begin defining other people’s roles.

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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.

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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.

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It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of focusing all out energy on the team members who we are asking to change. They’re on the front line. If they’re not engaged and bought in, nothing happens.

We tend to give managers a pass as long as they consent to the project or mission of change. In fact sometimes we like it if they consent and then go away. Life is easier that way, at least until management balks at the proposed change or doesn’t get it.  Then that’s not so great. It’s actually quite frustrating.

So we need to address the obstacles of management as much as the obstacles of the team. We need to have an approach with them as well.

Again, the context and the environment will obviously need to be assessed. Let’s look at a couple familiar things we can do.

Strengthen Relationship with Managers

Managers are often stretched thin and will have limited time to work with you. Do you already have a relationship with management? If so, that’s a bonus. If not, you need to begin to build some bonds.

I like to start by telling them what I think I am going to be doing. This is especially important if they didn’t ask for your help. Set the expectations. And then expand the expectations and tell them what I think they are going to be doing. They might disagree. That’s OK. Time for some negotiation. Dialog around the expectations can be a good way to increase understanding of the process.

Then I shoot for some education. Here’s what we’re going to do and why. I don’t want them to just nod in understanding. I want them to regurgitate the ideas and concepts. Then I want them to explain it to the team so the bond between them, the team and me is strengthened.

Communicate and Continue Education

Communicating often to management on progress is important. Find as much one-on-one times as possible. Unfortunately, the project update seems to be the only exposure you have to them.  Take advantage of it.

I’ve found that bland project updates on tasks and milestones, while necessary, leave so much opportunity for improved understanding on the table.

Keep educating. There is so much more to learn as you get deeper and deeper into a project, the nuances and detail that drill down beyond the high level concepts.

Take your status update and make it an education tool. We completed this task. This task is important because we learned this and sets us up to do that in line with this concept and goal.

For example, we put in data collection around A, which allows us to track B which allows us to trend C which allows us to make better decisions on D. We‘ve created a feedback loop that allows us to become a learning organization. This allows us to go on to the next task. Badda bing! We’ve expanded and reinforced understanding.

Remember, change is about education. Education for everyone.

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Having the right perspective can mean all the difference in the world. Opportunities can open up with just a little shift in position.

Unfortunately, knowing that you need to shift position often requires the objectivity you don’t have when you’re inside the process.

Which of course is why people employ change agents and process engineers. Improved objectivity.

We know people don’t like change. They also don’t like being told they need to change their perspective. They essentially interpret that as “you’re stupid.” That’s never a good place to start.

So how do you avoid that reaction? Especially since you know you have to arrive at that conclusion at some point.

Well, to be honest, it’s highly unlikely you can avoid it altogether. That’s human nature. Maybe the question is then how do you minimize it and then move on?

A good way to do this is to lead them to a new perspective. Don’t tell them they need a new perspective. Don’t tell them what perspective they should have.

Illustrate perspectives you think will resonate with them. Use an unrelated example to walk them through. Move on to a simple internal example.

Use the examples to educate them on the principles that make them tick. Classic training technique. Illustrate, educate, illustrate. Raise awareness.

And when someone finally gets the concept, they’ll blurt something out and you’ll go “That’s it!”

You’ll be excited. They’ll be excited. You’ll develop a bond from having figured it out together.

Now you have a foundation and can talk more openly about changing perspectives and the power that comes from that.

This is yet another example of the value of doing with them and not to them.