Posts Tagged ‘organizational change’

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

eyesofsauronmisfit

I don’t know when it was I realized I had my own personal philosophy on how to get things done. I suppose it’s unique in that it’s my own alchemical amalgamation of existing philosophies. Perhaps this was bound to happen since my basic view on life has always been that there is no one method or school of thought that has all the answers. I suppose a quite pragmatic view at the end of the day.

Perhaps it was my dislike of absolutes and excessive certainty that led me to my alchemy. Consistent run ins with consultants and experts excessively tied to their methodologies rankled my sensibilities. I naturally rebelled.

At the end of the day that probably wouldn’t have mattered much (you see us process people have large egos and we all think we are right), except that I noticed the reactions of the people they were supposed to be helping. Defensiveness is natural when trying  to “help” an organization. So that was never alarming. What was alarming was the unnecessarily high levels of distrust and dislike exhibited by the organization. Exhibited in reaction to the ego-driven, heavy handed, unempathetic demeanor put forth. A serious turn off.

I didn’t want to be like that. I couldn’t be like that.

So while other engineers were designing their future states, I was building relationships. Methodologies were useless if no one wanted you to be there. So that’s where I began to diverge. And that’s when I became a misfit.

Now there are many other qualities that make me a misfit that we’ll get to eventually.  But I like it. I find advantage in it. And it works.

So we’ll talk about those kinds of things. And some of it you’ll love and some of it you’ll hate. And that’s just the way it will have to be.

Cheers