Posts Tagged ‘process’

spiders1“I don’t know” can be hard words to utter when you are trying to lead or guide people. I’ve always said you have to become comfortable with the unknown in order to take people somewhere new.

But there was something I didn’t get (read as something I didn’t know) that went beyond my comfort with the unknown. I didn’t get that people were not always comfortable with my willingness to admit that I didn’t know. Their expectation that I knew something was valid and they could fairly assume was the reason I was there to begin with.

I suspect this lands in sector known as building trust, but I sensed still that I wasn’t getting it. I think I have a handle on the communicating and the relationship building and the proof is in the pudding tactics. So what I realized I needed to do was help them redefine the idea of knowing.

For most of us knowing is knowledge, facts, figures, available answers, definitive solutions. But to a continuous improvement or a change person, knowing is defined by the process of getting to a desired state. The knowing is how to navigate the path to that future state.

I suppose this seems like a rather “duh-like” epiphany but it hit home that I needed to take extra care in coming back to the idea of process as knowing: by hook, crook, allegory, anecdote or metaphor. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Clearly, there is no one way to explain or communicate. Every environment is different. It’s like marketing. Repeat the message in different ways until it begins to crystallize.

As Tom Petty might say, the knowing is the hardest part.

Nomad Walking in Desert

That’s the analogy I use when people try to plan too specifically too far out.

In the change world the environment changes constantly while being buffeted by forces inside and out.

Trying to map too far out causes three key certainties. First, you will be wrong. Second, you will have generated solutions based on this wrongness.  Third, it will be really hard to banish those wrong solutions. These wrong solutions will persist and influence ongoing thought processes. And that doesn’t sound like a good plan at all.

So instead of bashing that approach let’s just talk about an alternate way to get where we need to go.

First, in choosing not to map sand dunes that does not mean you don’t know where you want to go. You have to know where you want to go. Now where you want to go may change as well but that’s a different challenge. For now, we’ll assume we have a fairly well defined goal.

I call it the Lewis and Clark method. Lewis and Clark where charged with getting to the West Coast. But they had very little idea of what was in between them and the coast. They had some scanty information available but hardly the kind that you would trust the lives of your expedition on.

So what did they do? The short and sweet version is this. They travelled for a distance. Stopped and mapped. Analyzed the knowledge they had acquired, chose the next direction and then travelled some more. Stopped and mapped. Analyzed the knowledge they had acquired and so on.

They adjusted. They took what the land would give them. If there was moose to eat, they ate moose. If there was bear to eat, they ate bear.  If the banks on the river were too steep to cross where they wanted they moved up or down stream. Take what the beast will give.

Think about the pitfalls they avoided by no having preconceived notions of how they were going to get to the West Coast.

What if they would have predetermined that they just had to cross the river at a certain place. But the banks turned out to be too high for the wagons to traverse. Someone would have started looking for a solution on how to get down and up the banks. A whole sub-project would be started to build ramps and sleds and whatnot. Because that’s what the plan was.

Time is lost. Resources are wasted. Attitudes are affected. Maybe that is what you have to do. You never know. But are there other options.

But by travelling and mapping and analyzing in short chunks, you are not married to a solution. Your mindset is geared to making decisions on what you know at that moment. You don’t have preconceived notions to fight through. Lewis and Clark could choose to move up or down stream to cross.

This path is never straight. That can be frustrating. But if Lewis and Clark had drawn a straight line on the map from St Louis to Portland and tried to strictly follow it none of them would have made it.




And the winner is… Both.

They are equally important to the objective. They are not, however, equal when it comes to which comes first. The Art of Sensitivity should always come first.

It’s similar to the old saying you only get one chance to make a first impression. Now that first impression is important but it’s also the ongoing impressions you make as you interact with your customer, especially when you are acting as a change agent.

People are extra sensitive when they are being asked to change. While there are varying degrees of sensitivity and defensiveness, they are always there.  You can preface it with as many non-blaming catch phrases as you want, they will still be sensitive. It’s a normal, natural behavior. And the cues they pick up on that may rankle their sensitivity can be subtle.

And they are watching you closely for any sign to be wary. Anything you say or do to them, to their bosses or to unrelated parties is fair game for inspection.

No matter how careful you are someone will put up their defenses. So how do you minimize that?

Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Check your ego at the door. Your customer already knows you’re there because you’re good at what you do. People can smell feelings of superiority for blocks. I know this is hard for engineers since it’s important for people to know you are good otherwise you can’t get work. But you tell their bosses that, not the people you are working with. If you have to fake not having a big ego, then at least do it with a genuine attempt. Otherwise faking it just comes across as condescension and we all know how helpful that is.


  • Put yourself in their shoes. This is age old advice. And sound. Try to remember the last time someone came into your world to “help” you. I’ve had consultants come into my world and start spewing their expertise at me like I was entirely ignorant. Did they actually think I was ignorant? Not sure. Didn’t matter. The fact they didn’t bother to get to know me and the situation before impressing my with their knowledge is irrelevant.  They were insensitive and uninterested in me or the situation. I don’t care how right they may have ended up being. They lost me. Seek to understand before being understood.


  • Don’t do things to your customers. Don’t tell them how “your” going to help fix things. Teach a man to fish. Because if they don’t understand they can’t change. And if they don’t change behaviors, you haven’t fixed anything. Educate them. They will recognize the difference. And if people are impatient about this approach (probably their bosses) then you need to educate them too.


Our mantra should be: Be sensitive. Observe. Understand.


Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2010

Hello Analyst, Engineer, Change Agent or whatever we call ourselves now days.

You’ve been assigned a project that is about change. So what’s your angle going to be?

Here’s what your angle shouldn’t be. Your job is not to attend a meeting or two and then head off into the wilderness and return with the 10 commandments. Your job is to forge a path to the solution.  This is especially important for young analysts to learn. Do not go back to your cube after gathering a few facts and drum up a solution and then present this back to your customer. Epic fail. You’ve just lost your audience.

Listen to your audience. Find out where their own personal frustrations are not just the frustrations of the process. We engineers are fond of saying “it’s the process not the people,” which is rather cold way of saying don’t blame the people. But while we don’t want to blame, the secret to success is the people.

It’s not your job to have a brilliant answer for everything. Your job is to have insight.  Your job is to navigate through the morass to a solution. You need to navigate everybody to the solution or almost everyone. If you end up there alone, no matter how brilliant the plan, the plan will fail.

Sometimes you will have to compromise. I know that’s hard for smart people with lots of experience to accept.  Win the war not the battle. Compromise. Adjust the path.

I’d love to be a dictator and tell everyone what to do, but you don’t always get to do that. If you are getting significant push back on a project point, ask yourself if you can concede that point and not jeopardize the plan. Digging your heels in like a donkey just like the person across from you will get you gridlock.

Go around it or let it be. The process is never going to be a straight path. Learn to be comfortable in tacking your way across the ocean.

Small bumps in the road often get swept up later in the maelstrom of change anyway.  Lose the battle not the war. I am always fond of saying “it’s not always worth it to be right.”

Learn to understand the power of conceding a point. Your audience will appreciate it. Good will is powerful. More powerful than you think.