Posts Tagged ‘change agents’

Wizard1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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f grade

As a change agent, I should be told to fail. In fact anyone doing improvement work should be told to fail. Well, not exactly told to fail. I should be told that I should be pushing the envelope far enough to fail regularly.

If I am always succeeding, then I am not risking enough. Real innovation requires risks. We hear this all the time from the innovation gurus. Real change requires real risk.

Yet we don’t tolerate failure very well, do we? In fact how often are projects scaled back to avoid failure? And how often are the things that get scaled out of the project the most aggressive and most innovative pieces? It’s because perception of success (or rather completion of a project) is more important than real change, real progress.

How do we get out of this mentality? How do we break free?

Perhaps we need to begin by acknowledging that change and risk are linked closely together. And since people perceive change as risk no matter what, you may as well build in enough risk to make real change. Otherwise you are just introducing stress with little chance of impactful change.

So leaders need to embrace failure as a positive possibility. And then need to let their people know this. Of course this means knowing the difference between failure caused by risk taking and failure caused by incompetence. You improve your chances of knowing the difference when you understand the vision and the processes being executed.

I know that’s asking a lot. But you can start small. Be aggressive on small projects where the cost of failure is manageable. Learn to fail well. It’s like learning to lose well.  And remember that you can often learn far more in losing than in winning.

Think of it as research and development instead of success and failure. In development you expect that you will develop things that don’t work. You tweak your way to a good result.

This isn’t some new concept. It’s the concept of being OK with failures that is missing. It’s a mentality and an attitude, not a process, that needs your love.