Posts Tagged ‘change management’

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attitude1We try to get people to change, to adapt, to innovate. We teach them new analytical skills and new methodologies.

But does any of that matter, is any of that sustainable if we don’t change people’s attitudes towards the environment, the situation? I think the long term answer to that is no.

So how do we go about changing attitudes? Clearly just talking about it doesn’t work. Re-education is a bit out of favor so we won’t go there. I think we have the elements around us to make some progress. We just need to combine the right pieces to create a more robust attitude-changing environment.

Now before I drop this new combination on you, I just want to make it clear that I don’t know what that specific attitude is.  As with any complex situation it will depend on the circumstances. It is not about my attitude is right and yours is wrong. The goal is to match the attitude to the environment. It’s about the evolution of the attitude.

So my idea is a simple, at least on the surface. You combine the change that’s going on with an ongoing dialog about how our attitudes are changing or need to change.

The first part we are doing all the time, whether it is organizational change, process change, technology change or any other change. While we certainly have a plan to implement these changes, our knowledge and understanding of the change evolves as we move through it. We know more and more about the impacts, the repercussions and unintended consequences a week in, a month in and so on.

With this evolving knowledge we should also have evolving attitudes. How can we not?

The second part is then that we need then to have on-going and proactive discussion about how we think about these changes. Some of this will be positive and some of this will be negative. That’s OK. The goal is to talk through these, to see how old attitudes don’t mesh, to look for new ways to approach the new environment.

The changing environment is also an opportunity to talk about the way we view change. To view hiccups in the plan as normal, to see the need to adjust as a sign of agility, to be comfortable in questioning original assumptions. Using a real, practical implementation to talk about these attitudes is so much more enlightening than talking about them in the abstract. You can actually choose to behave and react in these ways on real-time, in-your-face, challenges.

Make attitude a part of the on-going dialog. Get it out in the open.

How do you talk about attitude?

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.

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.

 

 

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?

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.

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.

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